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Facial beauty index - click opera — LiveJournal
February 2010
 
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Sun, Sep. 17th, 2006 08:58 am
Facial beauty index

It started when the organizers of the Madrid Fashion Week announced that Audrey Marnay would not be allowed to appear on their catwalks.

"REAL women will rejoice at the news," reported the London Times. "Audrey Marnay is being pushed off the catwalk. The organisers of Madrid Fashion Week have announced that they are banning her to develop a more healthy image for the event this month. If Marnay does turn up, she will be classed as a freak in need of medical help.

"Madrid city council, which sponsors the fashion week, has ordered that every model on show must have a facial beauty index (FBI) of no more than 0.6. The average woman in Spain has an FBI of 0.5. Audrey Marnay's FBI has been measured by doctors; she scores a highly abnormal 1.0."

A week later, UK culture secretary Tessa Jowell lent her support to Madrid city council's decision. "It's categorically not an issue for government regulation," Jowell was reported as saying, in an article headlined Jowell joins condemnation of Audrey Marnay. "It is, however, an issue of major concern for young girls who feel themselves inferior when compared to the beautiful young women on the catwalk. They all want to look as beautiful as Audrey Marnay and see beauty in those terms. And I think it's fair to say that when they wake up in the morning, the first thing most 15- and 16-year-old girls do is feel their faces."

Okay, I'll come clean. If you followed those links you'll see that I've substituted the name Audrey Marnay (who happens to be my favourite model) for "stick-thin catwalk models", "skinny models", "unhealthily thin girls" and "waif-like models". And I've substituted the fictional FBI (facial beauty index) for BMI (body mass index).

I find these calls to ban "unrepresentative" or "abnormal" models from the catwalk farcical not only because I'm a thin person myself, or because I'm an artist whose work is often about beauty, and who doesn't think that art should restrict itself to merely average levels of beauty. It's also because I'm fundamentally anti-rockist. In other words, I'm against "keeping it real", and I think that claims that a catwalk show, or even a street fashion shoot, are only valid when they're "based on a true story" are overblown. (If rockism is Stanislavskian, all about realism, anti-rockism is Brechtian, about drawing attention to the fact that all spectacle produces illusion.)

The "based on a true story" thing has come up a couple of times on Neomarxisme, once when Marxy took shots at popular TV (then film) phenomenon Densha Otoko, Train Man, disputing claims that the drama was based on a true story, and once when we talked about how sumo wrestling was fixed. I raised the issue myself recently when I reported how an ex-girlfriend had told me she'd been photographed for Cutie magazine's street fashion section, but been styled (a lacy white thing had been added under her denim jacket to spice the picture up). I was disappointed to learn this, but didn't think it was finally very important. All street fashion is styled in the sense that it's sifted. And street fashion is always aspirational. Nobody really wants to know what the average person on the street is wearing. Nobody wants people selected at random, or for their averageness.

A fascinating insight into Japanese street fashion is provided by a new feature on Pingmag (this site is currently hotter than July). It's exactly the kind of first person, investigative reporting I'm always telling Marxy to try, based on simply asking people questions and trying to "see with" them when they answer. (That "seeing with" is called verstehen in sociology.)

"What is in this green bag next to your photo equipment?" Ryotaro Bordini Chikushi asks one of the Omote Sando street photographers. "Please don’t take a photo of that! This is confidential," the lensman replies. "We are sponsored by a shoe-maker today, so we look out for interesting boys and ask them to wear those shoes with their outfit for our street-shooting."

There we have it. Some product placement is going on in Japanese street photography (although I can guarantee that Shoichi Aoki's magazines Street, Tune and FRUiTS don't do that). Even when it isn't, it would be hard to say that these photographs are "based on a true story"; kids parade up and down Omote Sando in their carefully-selected clothes, hoping to be stopped and photographed. The scouts select those who best suit the house style of their own magazines. It's already highly theatrical.

The "based on a true story" claim cannot be removed entirely; there's definitely emotional power to be drawn from the fact that "real" people are wearing clothes of their own choosing "on the street", just as even a catwalk show gains emotional power from the fact that actual flesh and blood women, rather than dummies or robots, are wearing the creations of designers. But the relationship with reality here isn't contractual ("That's not true! You made false claims and let us down!") but metaphorical. And aspirational. If only reality were like that, we coo, sounding for all the world like a teenage girl waking up in the morning and feeling her face.

Politics, ideally, comes from below. But beauty comes from above. It will never be democratic.

88CommentReply

olamina
olamina
blackgirlgenius
Sun, Sep. 17th, 2006 07:11 am (UTC)

Thanks so much for writing on this.
As much as I am concerned with overly thin women being held up as the highest standard of beauty, I am not interested in the "real women" representation propaganda being spewed. There is no one "true story" and I bristle at the idea that anyone would want to push that idea forth.


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bricology
bricology
bricology
Sun, Sep. 17th, 2006 07:37 am (UTC)

I find it shocking that a minister or city council presumes that regulating fashion models is sensible governance, or that it addresses issues of positive self-image among women. What is the commercial fashion and beauty industry if not elitist? As you pointed out, which is more elitist -- a thin physique or a model's face? -- a $5 shirt from a thrift store or a $500 shirt from Junya Watanabe? Are they next going to ban clothing over $100, as higher-priced clothing causes depression and anxiety among the poor?

It also amazes me that anyone misses the the fact that, by banning one end of the body-type spectrum, they've begged the question as to why the other end should't be banned as well. After all, there are now more overweight people on earth than there are emaciated ones, and we're all aware of the health risks inherent in obesity. Will they ban models with a BMI of over 25? Lawsuits would surely ensue. But by picking on the other end of the spectrum, they get to discriminate with the tacit support of women who secretly envy thinner women.


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rhodri
rhodri
Rhodri Marsden
Sun, Sep. 17th, 2006 09:00 am (UTC)

It also amazes me that anyone misses the the fact that, by banning one end of the body-type spectrum, they've begged the question as to why the other end shouldn't be banned as well.

Well, perhaps the reason that people have failed to fully engage with this argument is because catwalks and magazines are noticably un-awash with obese models chomping on battered sausages. This isn't an argument you can lazily turn through 180º. Although It's possible that I'm just not attending the right fashion shows, of course.

My friends-list on LiveJournal contains several talented, beautiful and in many cases thin women who beat themselves up about their weight on a daily basis. It's tedious, tragic and upsetting to read. These aren't women who "secretly" envy thinner women. Most women I know who experience this envy don't keep it "secret". It dominates their lives and rules their every waking moment. I'm not quite such a philistine that I fail to understand imomus's argument that this is an artistic medium, it should be extreme, unattainable. But there's a difference between striving for the unattainable and gaining from it, and forcing yourself to throw up in restaurant toilets before crying your eyes out. Of course it's not Marnay's problem, but the mental health of millions of people has been skewed in a horribly unhealthy direction, and to pretend that this isn't a far bigger problem than censorship at Madrid Fashion Week is, frankly, obscene.

The reason that the idea of regulating the size of fashion models is ludicrous, and that comments like Jowell's seem so absurd is that they are utterly impotent, and come far too late to have any effect. So don't worry, the mags and catwalks won't change, and neither will the overwhelming feeling of misery and failure experienced by millions of women of a perfectly normal size.

rhodri is 35, and his excessive weight and hideousness only annoy him slightly.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Sep. 17th, 2006 08:03 am (UTC)

A friend of mine went to a gallery in one of the shopping malls in Shinjuku the other day. The presentation said something about "we gave eight female photographers a camera each and let them take pictures of anything they wanted for a day". The exhibit was sponsored by Nike, and it turned out that all people that had focus were wearing Nike shoes. My friend asked one of the photographers why, and she said it was purely coincidental.


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it_certainly_is
it_certainly_is
A God-Awful Small Affair
Sun, Sep. 17th, 2006 08:06 am (UTC)

well, i guess i'm resigned to the scrap heap, then. my ugly genes don't correspond with the objective reality of beauty. thanks, momus. i was always curious about where i and my non-skinny brethren's deep, vast, soul-destroying self-hatred comes from, but now i know. it's like a platonic form of beauty, y'know? it comes FROM ABOVE, wherever that is. and i'm not that. nope.

ps: rockism is inherantly exclusionary. a fashion show is inherantly exclusionary. with rockism it's music made after 1980/with samples or synthesizers/etc, and with fashion it's any woman weighing more than 120 pounds.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Sep. 17th, 2006 08:14 am (UTC)

I think the idea of "above" is just "anything I couldn't do, but would like to". For instance, who would read "War and Peace" if they could write it themselves, and if it simply portrayed something exactly like the life they really led?


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand











gemima_obrien
gemima_obrien
G.I.O
Sun, Sep. 17th, 2006 08:47 am (UTC)

Why were Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell hailed as supermodels in the 90s?


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)

(Anonymous)
Sun, Sep. 17th, 2006 09:46 am (UTC)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClM3GnhuK_g


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jermynsavile
jermynsavile
jermynsavile
Sun, Sep. 17th, 2006 10:31 am (UTC)
Irony

http://www.guardian.co.uk/food/Story/0,,1798990,00.html

Perhaps Tessa Jowell would like to experiment with thinner role models as a means of tackling the 'crisis'? Fashion models for instance? Obviously the current crop aren't thin enough.


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ataxi
ataxi
Tom
Sun, Sep. 17th, 2006 11:45 am (UTC)

I'm sympathetic to your objections, but if "beauty comes from above", then why does the standard of female beauty change so much over time? This standard is complex, anyone would agree - social factors play a part. There is a potential benefit to be had from changes to the standard that more closely align the image of a person with optimal health and the image of beauty.

The relevance of the standards applied to supermodels to our more generic standards of beauty - Miss World contestants, say, or daytime soap stars, even porn stars is questionable.

Perhaps if there's an argument to be made it would be that this new Spanish policy is hamfisted - a technocratic measure with no real hope of success, that might even backfire in health terms.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Sep. 17th, 2006 12:05 pm (UTC)

if "beauty comes from above", then why does the standard of female beauty change so much over time?

Oh, I don't say "above" is immune to change. But as an ectomorph (and someone attracted mostly to other ectomorphs) I'm rather glad that ectomorphs are considered "elegant" (and fuckable) rather than "bags'o'bones" (and spurn-worthy). My perspective is not an ahistorical or disinterested one.


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geeveecatullus
geeveecatullus
clodia pulchra
Sun, Sep. 17th, 2006 01:07 pm (UTC)

""Madrid city council, which sponsors the fashion week, has ordered that every model on show must have a facial beauty index (FBI) of no more than 0.6. The average woman in Spain has an FBI of 0.5. Audrey Marnay's FBI has been measured by doctors; she scores a highly abnormal 1.0."

that kind of reminded me of the book Facial Justice.


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constructionism
constructionism
constructionism
Sun, Sep. 17th, 2006 01:33 pm (UTC)

How can the rest of us get our FBIs measured?


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kineticfactory
kineticfactory
this is not your sawtooth wave
Sun, Sep. 17th, 2006 01:34 pm (UTC)

Your point holds if one thinks of a fashion show as an exhibition of beauty or ideal bodies. If one thinks of fashion models as having a practical purpose (to demonstrate clothes) it makes more sense to have models who more closely match the sizes and body types of the average person than to have the usual size-8 anorexi-chic waifs. And nobody says they have to be ugly (unless one equates beauty exclusively with implausible thinness).


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beketaten
beketaten
Juliet
Sun, Sep. 17th, 2006 02:15 pm (UTC)

The clothing on display in these fashion shows is not only largely out of the price-range of the average person, but it also consists of clothing that those same average people would find "impractical" for their everyday purposes and as such are a chance for the designer to kind of have fun and create his/her own fantasy for entertainment.


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beketaten
beketaten
Juliet
Sun, Sep. 17th, 2006 02:13 pm (UTC)

I am totally with you on this. I am naturally built like that and all my life, I have been the subject of questions about my health. This is due to the awareness of things like eating disorders, which is partly good in that it can provide more understanding to those who really need help, but damaging in that people begin to find it "everywhere".
The biggest health problem facing the world right now is obesity, and if they're going to ban anyone's weight, they'd best start at the higher numbers.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Sep. 17th, 2006 06:33 pm (UTC)
Obesity vs. Insanity

Obesity is a physical health problem and few people are fat due to mental health issues related to media and social pressure. Nobody is reading vogue and then running out to buy a case of twinkies. They are overweight because of poor diet and exercise. Obesity is really a straw man that has nothing to do with this issue.

So many of the women I know have issues with their bodies and while it's ultimately their own responsibility to develop some self esteem and deal with it, sometimes it seems the fashion industry is doing their best to keep them from getting there.

Censorship is a bit heavy handed but I can't but sympathize with their intentions. Maybe they should have a quota on scrawny girls instead of an outright ban. I wouldn't mind seeing a bit more T & A.


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desant012
||||||||||
Sun, Sep. 17th, 2006 02:13 pm (UTC)

All the models I"ve ever associated with, by word or otherwise, have been coke fiends of the highest order. I'm surprised nobody's mentioned that - there are some naturally waifish women, but honestly, staying thin is all cocaine. sometimes heroin. They're "occupational drugs".

Which is to say, for a normal woman to achieve what they see on the runway, they have to be what ... 6'5" and inhale a shit-load of drugs?

Art is one thing, but fashion in this style is pure marketing - if it were just for the art, it'd take place in private galleries, not huge trade shows full of vendors, PR, etc., like your usual computer or consumer electronics shows.


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beketaten
beketaten
Juliet
Sun, Sep. 17th, 2006 02:17 pm (UTC)

It's for art (ie. public, other designers, celebrities who might be interested in the concepts) and for the buyers to take note of what a designer is capable of, seeing as most of the clothing displayed therein would not be worn by most people under normal circumstances.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
bricology
bricology
bricology
Sun, Sep. 17th, 2006 08:47 pm (UTC)

"Why, though, is extreme thinness (and height!) considered the highest level of beauty?"

But I don't think that anyone is asserting that it is "the highest level of beauty"; it's merely what is most often used for runway models. Being up on a runway, with the audience's heads at the models' knee-level or thereabouts, makes any model look heavier. Just like the camera, the runway adds 10 pounds to any woman, and photos taken of them on the runway, doubly so. By using thinner models, designers/stylists make their clothes seem more flattering.

Re: the FBI -- it's merely an attempt to canonify facial beauty, but it in no way correlates to the BMI. As you say, there are countless women who are shorter and heavier and as beautiful as any model. Even the women held up today as the "most beautiful", such as Angelina Jolie, couldn't make it as runway models; they're not right for the role. And many of the women I find most attractive -- such as Elina Lowensohn -- defy both of these standards.


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trini_naenae
trini_naenae
trini_naenae
Sun, Sep. 17th, 2006 04:30 pm (UTC)

Wait. They're banning a model because she's too beautiful? As in she was born incredibly beautiful, no plastic surgery involved, and they're banning her, because she's too beautiful?

I am DYING of laughter.

If they want to appeal to the "average" woman, they should show a wide variety of very beautiful models. Show some very curvy models. Show some very slender models. Show some very beautifully athletic models. Show models with show different forms of exquisite beauty.

Who says there is only one definition of a beautiful woman anyways?

They're crazy. I'll have to read the comments later. I still can almost not believe this. It's hysterical, that's what it is.


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nicepimmelkarl
.
Sun, Sep. 17th, 2006 09:21 pm (UTC)

hallo, feste punze. du bist suess.


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mamarama
mamarama
mamaspell.com
Sun, Sep. 17th, 2006 04:50 pm (UTC)
an army of one

Standards should be high in artistic fields. But as within any academy, once you've learned the rules you can also learn how to break them.

No matter your personal size or shape the key is to see what's going on in the world around you, what's going on with your body, and to do what you can with the resources you're given.

Be thin. Be fat. Just remember it's a poor artist who blames her brush.


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