You’ve been getting it all wrong. Working out, that is. Getting fit. Being strong. Lifting. Boxing. Ballet dancing. ALL WRONG.
I learned that I’d been getting it all wrong on the first day of December this year (2017) when LOVE magazine posted the first video of their ‘Advent calendar’, a montage of influencers (supermodels, Instagram personalities, singers and some I’d just never heard of): Ashley Graham sprinting up a street pulling a weight-sled (without weights on it). Emily Ratajkowski “carbo loading” by draping pasta all over herself (reminiscent of my three year old stepson). Slick Woods doing ballet (whilst I am not using this blog to critique any of the models’ techniques in the videos, I implore anyone who’s a stickler for ballet form to please, not watch this video).
The next day, I learned that the grande dame of French fashion, Carine Roitfeld, had teamed up with Technogym to produce a fashion book, shot by Steven Klein (a totally important fashion photographer). Including physiques as “diverse” (their word) as Victoria’s Secret models Gigi Hadid, Joan Smalls, Grace Elizabeth and Candice Swanepoel, the book claims to celebrate a “fresh, new beginning for 2018 with diverse beauty and strong, healthy bodies… [I]n a modern representation of beauty and body.”
The photos show each model in a bikini or pants ‘n’ bra combo, wearing very high heels, posing next to Technogym equipment. All proceeds from the sale of the calendar “benefit” the Special Olympics. Technogym CEO, Nerio Alessandri, says that the project conveys their message with “a very glamorous tone. We believe that a fashionable dress fits better on a healthy body.” There are some more bullshit, gratuitous and deeply patronising comments inspirational quotes from Alessandro and Roitfeld, talking about the joy of exercising, and how they’re “in awe” of athletes, “especially those with disabilities”.
So in awe, that they couldn’t feature a single one of these athletes in the calendar. Not one real, professional athlete is featured in the calendar. I don’t doubt that these models train hard to stay in shape, but if Technogym are so inspired by athletes from the Special Olympics, why didn’t they feature them in their calendar? What kind of message are they trying to sell? Why chose the one percent of the one per cent of women who fit the incredibly exacting standards of the fashion industry? How is that fresh or new? Am I the only one with a lot of questions?
I wonder how the athletes competing in the Special Olympics feel about the fact that they “benefit” – what does that even mean? – from the sale of the calendar (which I presume isn’t £10.99 from W.H. Smith, and you don’t get offered a massive bar of Galaxy for £1 at the till when you buy it), but aren’t good enough to be featured in the calendar.
As for a fashionable dress fitting better on a healthy body: The calendar doesn’t feature any dresses. Only bras and pants. And mega high heels. And some body oil. And gym equipment (not being used). And according to this calendar, healthy bodies only look one way: Like that of a Victoria’s Secret model.
The LOVE advent calendar (directed by another totally important fashion photographer, Phil Poynter) has really branched out in terms of body diversity: Ashley Graham and Kate Upton, two “curvy” models, are featured. Two from 24, or 8 per cent if you’re like me and prefer a percentage. Otherwise, we’ve got Gigi and Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Karlie Kloss, Jourdan Dunn, Doutzen Kroes (and more), who – guess what! – have all modelled for Victoria’s Secret.
Oh, and the hashtag/ theme/ motto for the LOVE project is #StayStrong.
I really thought we’d made it. When Instagram, the current social media reflective of all things zeitgeist, exploded with accounts showing women sweating, not giving a shit and most of all feeling full of happiness and self-acceptance, I thought it was time to celebrate.
We didn’t need fashion magazines any more (praise be!); we’d finally broken free of the passive aggressively-titled Women’s Health. We had each other, our unedited posts of healthy, happy and make-up free faces and bodies to share. The glamorous side of fashion hadn’t gone away, but there was now an alternative where we could immerse ourselves in a universe of like-minded women who most certainly would not get cast as a Victoria’s Secret model. And, most importantly, most certainly would not give a damn about not getting cast as a Victoria’s Secret model.
But then fashion realised that their market was suffering because of us. Women like you and me were rejecting their values, and creating our own. We stopped buying magazines promising rapid weight loss and selling us £400 shoes, and worked out instead. We stopped letting ourselves be told what to do by an industry. We stopped playing by their rules. The industry lost control.
The LOVE advent calendar, the Technogym calendar nonsense and the contractual requirement by Victoria’s Secret that all their models post videos and pictures of their workouts is their attempt to regain control of us. #StayStrong– but according to their rules. The inclusion of Ashley Graham and Kate Upton (who are both incredibly beautiful women) is a pathetic, impotent, half-hearted, stiff-necked, begrudging, tokenistic and insulting nod to female “diversity”. I have to put it in quote marks because it’s such a shitty, pitiful excuse for real diversity.
Ashley Graham and Kate Upton may have been rejected by Victoria’s Secret (to read a spokeswoman sling Mean-Girls style, teenage hormone-fuelled, bitch-fest-on-WhatsApp, ‘you-stole-my-boyfriend’ shade at Kate Upton, read here), but they do not reflect female diversity. They’re highly paid models who are in the one per cent (but not the one per cent of the one per cent). I don’t look like Kate Upton or Ashley Graham. You don’t look like Kate Upton or Ashley Graham. They may not be a size 6 with that unfathomable, almost alien combination of perky, full breasts; concave abdominals, a peachy bubble butt and thigh gap, but they’re still not reflective of women I see in the changing room of the gym.
Not only have we not made it; not only is it not a time for celebration of the rejection of unattainable beauty standards, I think it’s actually got worse. Girls of 21 years old (Slick Woods, Bella Hadid, Hailey Baldwin, Alexis Ren… I’m surprised Emily Ratajkowski made the cut: She’s old AF at 26. OAP Ashley Graham hobbles in on her zimmer frame at frankly prehistoric 30, so I guess I can’t accuse LOVE of being ageist) are telling us to “stay strong, bitches”. I’m sure they’ve all had their struggles, but I’m 37. I can’t take seriously a brand that uses a 21 year old Valley Girl as the definition of strong.
The models are not the problem. I don’t take issue with the Bellas and Gigis of this world. Sometimes I look at pictures of them and marvel at their collagen-rich skin and wonder about their speed-of-light metabolism. I hope that they all build successful and rewarding careers. Yay the new era of supermodels.
What is the problem is the capitalisation and sexualisation of “strong”. Spornosexual was coined by journalist Mark Simpson in 2014 as a response to the evolution (or perhaps from another perspective, the devolution) of the Metrosexual man. Men’s bodies had become the “ultimate accessories”, and the Spornosexual was born. You say ‘accessory’; I say ‘objectification of the human form’. Hugh Jackman’s changing physique in his various outings as Wolverine is often held up as the perfect example of the rise of the Spornosexual. Jackman went from Mister Softee to Mr Shredded Like Wheat.
Women have been Spornosexualised too. Supermodels used to be tall, slim (not skinny) and beautiful. The supers of the 90s that I grew up with did not have thigh gaps. Check Naomi Campbell and Helena Christensen: Definitely no thigh gap. Then came Kate Moss with her bow-legged self, the world fell in love with her (as a 17 year old Kate Moss fan, I was insanely jealous of a friend who was bow-legged) until Giselle arrived in the early 00’s with muscle tone, cleavage and a her famous Brazilian butt (which ironically, was considered pancake-flat by a Brazilian guy I once dated).
It’s no coincidence that the Victoria’s Secret fashion show took off when Giselle arrived. Before then, it was a lame and obscure parade of knickers and bras, suitable for middle America, it’s puritanicalism and mortal fear of nipples. Giselle, Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum et al., strutted down the catwalk looking sexy, healthy and fun.
VS and it’s fashion show steered fashion back to the male gaze. High fashion will always hold close to it’s heart the angular, androgynous coat-hangers of the modelling world, but those girls weren’t going to sell panties to pre-teens still stuffing their training bras with loo paper. What would shift billions of dollars worth of thrush-inducing, fanny-slicing, man-made fibre-tastic underwear is the female Spornosexual: Kendall Jenner pretending to be Rocky; Bella Hadid flipping a tyre wearing stilettos; Jourdan Dunn in a g-string swinging a baseball bat. We’ve completely outdone the Spornosexualisation of men, for whom the very term was coined.
It’s a joke. It’s a sick, sick joke. We’re back to square one- or worse. I get that the younger generation are meant to be “woke” n’all, but the libellous juxtaposition of strong in a thong is being sold as the only way to be: Because actual real athletes and women like me and you sure as hell aren’t being asked to shoot inspirational calendars.
Accompanying her LOVE advent video, Emily Ratajkowksi gives an impassioned memo about feminism, freedom and choice, urging that women should be free to do whatever they want and however they want, without the fear of judgement and harassment. Like drape spaghetti on their boobs. Emily, I whole-heartedly agree with you. But I still don’t understand why these marketing exercises only reflect the “diversity” (those passive aggressive quote marks again!) of the one per cent of the one per cent. And if women are so strong and so powerful, why, Carine Roitfeld and Katie Grand (LOVE magazine editor), did you choose male photographers? Is that not literally the definition of the male gaze? And if female athletes of all abilities are so inspirational, why are you only paying lip-service to them or getting models to pretend to be them? And Technogym guy, why is it that the women in your calendar can wear high heels but they can’t use the equipment you sell? Why does ‘strong’ have to have ‘sexy’ after it? Why can’t I go to the gym and not have to be sexy? Why did our new and exciting safe space of sweaty gym faces and thighs-with-no-gap get taken over by 21 year old influencers pretending to be athletes, as directed by male photographers and female fashion editors who, aged 60 (Roitfeld) and 46 (Grand) respectively, should have something a bit more original up their sleeves than a jumped up, faux-ironic Sports Illustrated shoot? Is this feminism? Is this choice? I don’t f*cking think so.