by Anoushka Boodhna
Last week the world’s media broke the joyful news that Kate Moss had grown boobs and gone “curvy”.
According to some columnists, her most recent advertising campaign for Topshop has ended the size-zero tyranny in fashion, media and advertising (collectively referred to in this article as the Industry), finally lifting an ‘embargo’ on real women’s bodies. A celebrity-watching columnist in The Mail online even went so far as to say that Kate Moss’ rounded belly was akin to Rosa Park’s defiant acquisition of a seat at the front of the bus.
However, are Kate’s pictures simply highlighting how body image in the Industry is being altered more and more in the pursuit of a time-defying youthfulness? The pursuit of youth is one of the core reasons behind the use of young and skinny models in the Industry and indeed a primary reason for the serious problem of body dysmorphia. The obsession with youth in our modern age is worrying for many reasons.
Many contemporary fashion trends have created a form of asexualisation in their attempt to synthesise the pursuit of perfection with the pursuit of youth (the idea of ‘perfection’ appears to be perceived as early adolescence). As Kate pouts seductively at her audience, one cannot help notice that Kate’s new boobs – enhanced cleavage a la Photoshop? – seem strangely disproportionate to her narrow hips. I think of the body proportions of a young girl who has entered the first throes of puberty.
Aren't image enhancement programmes just another one of the many ways in which youth can be pursued? The Industry can tame and perfect the adult human body and create an engineered construct according to its ideals – testing the notions of both ‘real’ and ‘woman’ to its limits – by way of aggressive health decisions and so on. Promoting crash-dieting, slimming pills, cigarettes, drugs (remember ‘heroin chic’?), excessive exercise regimes and, at the extreme end, cosmetic surgery.
The agenda in fashion is frequently changing. Back in the 1990s Kate won her supermodel status for representing alternative slighter body shapes on the catwalk in light of the dominance of the Amazonian-like supermodels, such as Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Elle Macpherson – she was one of the shortest and less curvaceous models of her era. Today, the Industry seems to be about preserving that youthful slimness and blemish-free body particularly found in adolescent girls.
Although this obsession with youth has pervaded in society forever, modern consumerism and celebrity culture is new. Alongside the obvious innovations in modern technological and chemical body enhancement there are other features that characterise our particularly modern obsession with body image in the Industry.
Firstly, there has been a downward shift in the age of the trend-setters in popular culture. Today it’s teenagers with pocket money, not adults with salaries and disposable incomes, that direct many things consumable and thus dominate the high street. Facilitated with the increased wealth and liberal standards of their parents they set the trends in music, fashion, even film. With such an invasion, you’re old and past it at 25. Especially if you don’t watch Skins.
Secondly, there are stories of people in the public eye who are aware of this teen dominance and in a desperate attempt to remain contemporary, pursue the projection of their teenage self: an invocation of an empowered (and more popular) version of their adult selves. That transfiguring pop star, Madonna, and her obsession with her 13-year old daughter – “we dress alike, Lourdes is my best friend” – is a good example of that.
Thirdly, there is a greater tendency amongst spotlight-seeking adults to behave like teenagers and view the world through the same one-dimensional perspective that comes from limited experience. And of course, this means claiming to hate politics and/or anything intellectual.
Why? Are these people in the public eye simply creating teen versions of themselves for consumer-ready, idol-seeking adolescents to buy into?
Or does it go deeper? Are they so driven by malcontent with their current adult lives that they find fulfilment in trying to relive their formative years? Are they trying to address adult neuroses by re-staging those painful scenes of being un-cool at the school dance, but this time writing in a happier ending? Or are they returning to a time of supposed innocence and security (before full-time jobs, mortgages, the fear of terror attacks, street crime, obesity) when their best and most exciting years were still ahead of them?
If the Industry (including the more recent growth of celebrity-driven magazines) is responsible for setting these trends then who, we must ask, is responsible for supporting them and thereby driving demand through voracious and indiscriminate consumption their goods and services?
Who these people really are and their psychological motivations deserves some pondering.
And further, if fashion is cyclical, what could come next?
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