It’s starting to get boring. Yet again, we face a situation where a fashion advertisement causes controversy because of the unhealthy looks of the model featured in it. This time, the picture -advertising Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) in Elle Magazine UK– has gone far enough to actually get banned by the Advertising Standards Authority, after some readers complained about the “irresponsibility” of publishing such images.
“While eating disorders are most often caused by underlying emotional issues or events, the impact of the media on vulnerable young people can act as a dangerous catalyst – triggering disordered thinking and behavior. Adverts using underweight models are promoting a distorted image of beauty and yet this has become the norm”. — Anorexia and Bulimia Care for the BBC
Unhealthy looks, irresponsible advertising
It is the eternal debate in the fashion scene, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to end anytime soon: when does skinny turn into unhealthy? In this particular case, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said that Yves Saint Laurent “indicated that they did not agree with the complainant’s view that the model was unhealthily thin” but did not provide a detailed response. Which means that, of course, YSL sees nothing wrong with this image.
According to the BBC, the ASA said that “the model’s pose and the lighting drew particular focus to her chest, where her rib cage was visible and appeared prominent, and to her legs, where her thighs and knees appeared a similar width”. That is why, this organism indicates, they considered “that the model appeared unhealthily underweight in the image, and concluded that the ad was irresponsible“. It ruled that the advert must not appear again in its current form, adding: “We told the advertisers to ensure that the images in their ads were prepared responsibly”.
The power of perception
How can this two points of view be that different in such a delicate matter? It is true, indeed, that fashion doesn’t only sell clothes: fashion is about culture, art, lifestyle…about a whole way of looking at the world. And it is true, again, that designers and brands need to show their own special perspective on every single one of their works and, of course, with each advertisement campaign. But that is also what makes this kind of situations that dangerous: when a big maison like Yves Saint Laurent publishes something like this image, what they are saying is “this is how we think women should be”. And there is plenty of people out there that is going to listen to that message.
There is a big audience all over the world for everything related to fashion. And that means that those who are considered “big names” in that industry have a big power on their hands, and the ability to change -directly and indirectly- the vision of thousands of people worldwide. And we all know it by now: “with great power comes great responsibility“. When a fashion brand uses models in this situation for their campaigns, shows or adverts, what they are saying is that they refuse to believe the influence that they have in women -both young and not so young- and their perception of beauty. Or, what is much worse, that they just don’t care.