German women’s magazine to ban professional models


Lately, Europe seems to be eons ahead of us regarding their recognition that the fashion and media having a significantly unhealthy effect on women’s body image. The latest is Germany’s most popular women’s magazine’s announcement of their intention to omit professional models from their pages in an effort to combat unrealistic social beauty standards:

The editor-in-chief of Germany’s bimonthly Brigitte told reporters that, starting next year, the magazine will feature a mix of prominent women and regular readers in photo spreads for everything from beauty to fashion to fitness.
Andreas Lebert said the move is a response to readers increasingly saying that they are tired of seeing “protruding bones” from models who weigh far less than the average woman.
“We will show women who have an identity — the 18-year-old student, the head of the board, the musician, the football player,” Andreas Leberts said in Hamburg, where the magazine, published by Gruner+Jahr, is based.

I like this sentiment; we should humanize models not just as “more realistic” subjects of voyeurism. I just worry these kinds of efforts (cough, Dove, cough) often end up having some contradicting issues to contend with – like if the new magazine’s campaign consists of shaming underweight women, that’s not very productive either.
Either way, it’s interesting to see how fast the efforts to combat body image issues and eating disorders are spreading among the fashion and media industries on one continent, while others (ahem) seem to be at a standstill.

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23 Comments

  1. InfamousQBert
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    my all time favorite catalog for women’s clothing uses real women (all athletic/fit bodies, but still real) and gives little tidbits of info about them through the spread. it’s very cool.
    http://www.titlenine.com/

  2. Wren
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Challenging unrealistic beauty standards with action = awesome!
    Shaming body-types = not so awesome
    Why is it always the “skinny is beautiful, fat is gross” camp vs. the “skinny is gross, fat is real women” camp. Can’t we just embrace whatever body type each woman is born with and be proud of it, while celebrating that there are so many beautiful different shapes and sizes out there? Skinny women develop body issues too after being described as “bags of antlers” and disgusting enough times.
    On another note, I wonder if this is the right strategy. It seems to me that the problem is the extreme standards for models not that models exist. Modeling really is a skill, one that is essential to the industry. As a photographer I know a photo shoot with a model who knows how to take a good picture and behave professionally will go a lot smoother than one with a non-model who has none of those skills. It can really be a matter of a two hour shoot with 100 good shots out of 200 vs. a five hour shoot with 15 good shots out of 200. It seems both the women consuming media and the models themselves would benefit if we started encouraging and hiring models with diverse figures (and skin colors, etc…) than just cutting out their jobs completely. Just an idea…

  3. gone2croatan
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    I agree completely.
    Phrases like “we will show women who have an identity,” which I really, really hope is just a poor translation from the original German, are very troubling.

  4. FrumiousB
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Can real women with protruding bones apply? Or are protruding bones incompatible with identity? Sounds to me like Europe is in exactly the same place as us – insulting skinny women and implying that they don’t exist.

  5. ENTP
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    My first thought on reading this was about the issue of shaming women who are thin and I’m glad to see others are concerned about this as well. I’ve had to manage the effects of thin shaming for my whole life. From a very early age, I internalized the message that my body was not the body of a “real” woman.
    In my view, the move to ban professional models implies that:
    a. All professional models are dangerously thin. (While many models are very thin, there are plenty of models and aspiring models with healthy bodies of all shapes and sizes. Why not hire some of them?)
    b. Professional models are the problem. (Modeling is a legitimate way to make a living. Professional models didn’t create body image issues and removing them from the pages of magazines will not resolve the problem of how our culture perceives and interacts with women and their bodies.)
    c. Models are not “real” women. (Of course, models are real people with real ‘identities’. It’s interesting/disturbing to see how the magazine’s attempt to represent healthy images of women simultaneously dehumanizes thin women who work as models.

  6. ENTP
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    My first thought on reading this was about the issue of shaming women who are thin and I’m glad to see others are concerned about this as well. I’ve had to manage the effects of thin shaming for my whole life. From a very early age, I internalized the message that my body was not the body of a “real” woman.
    In my view, the move to ban professional models implies that:
    a. All professional models are dangerously thin. (While many models are very thin, there are plenty of models and aspiring models with healthy bodies of all shapes and sizes. Why not hire some of them?)
    b. Professional models are the problem. (Modeling is a legitimate way to make a living. Professional models didn’t create body image issues and removing them from the pages of magazines will not resolve the problem of how our culture perceives and interacts with women and their bodies.)
    c. Models are not “real” women. (Of course, models are real people with real ‘identities’. It’s interesting/disturbing to see how the magazine’s attempt to represent healthy images of women simultaneously dehumanizes thin women who work as models.

  7. everybodyever
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Although I’m a skinny woman who’s usually pretty attuned to the thin-shaming that comes with backlash against the fashion and beauty industries, I don’t think Brigitte is engaging in that. Most of the thin-shaming seems to come from the reporting in the AP story.
    Quite simply, I think the magazine has found a smart way to publicize what may well have been a cost-cutting measure: No more professional models to pay. This is like the print equivalent of a reality television show, only with an easily applied reader-empowerment spin.
    Hell, it could even be a top-down dictum from the publishers, since according to the AP story the magazine’s circulation has steeply declined over the years.

  8. nikki#2
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Wow. Its seems that the people who work in the media and fashion industrys just can’t win. Somebody always complains about something. I personally think this is a fantastic idea and am excited to see the way it plays out.

  9. Femgineer
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    The statement did seem harsh, but aren’t models supposed to be like a blank canvas, upon with the artists (makeup, designers) can create an image? To me, models are actresses who are constantly playing a part. Of course, they are real people too, who have real lives, but when they are doing their job, they are acting. Do you want to see a model acting like a musiciain or head of the board? Because, I would rather see the women who ACTUALLY do those things.

  10. JesiDangerously
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    So we should be just satisfied with whatever the fashion industry throws our way? Shut up and just be grateful they even make clothes for women at all?
    I want to see the whole spectrum of human bodies in fashion, because every body type needs clothing. Not just big girls, not just skinny girls, but every thing in between. I want to see women of color, and not just the ones with perfectly permed hair. I want a visual representation of all of the types of beautiful people in the world, instead of nothing but one type of beautiful people.

  11. abatha
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    I listened to this woman on the radio this morning and, while I absolutely agree that the conception of this one body type as THE ideal of beauty is well in need of being overturned, it seems to me she is reinforcing the false dichotomy that pops up in every discussion about fashion between models and “real women.” Even though she opened by saying “of course models are also real women,” she continued to use the phrase as the opposite of models throughout the interview. The comments that the show received were also very shaming and obnoxious: that professional models are ugly, unhealthy, that no man would want them (because it’s all about what men want, right?), etc.

  12. abatha
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Also…. the women who will be featured in this magazine will still be made up and styled by professionals, air brushed/ photoshopped to high heaven, presented at only the most flattering angles, and put in clothes that most people could never afford… although they will (presumably) represent a wider range of body types and professions, there is still a certain level of artifice involved in the whole thing.

  13. everybodyever
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    And… still all thin white women.
    How is an “athletic” woman any more “real” than a bony woman? Is the career of an athlete more “real” to your mind than the career of a model? Because that’s what I’m getting from your comment.

  14. anna_banana
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    can i get more info on ur criticism of dove?? id be really interested in learnin more about ur critique…

  15. ooperbooper
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    To be fair to the women in the catalog, most of them aren’t professional athletes. Some of them are women who work in the stores. They’re “real” to me in that I’ve actually met a few of them. And they choose athletic women because they have them test athletic clothes to make sure that they preform the way they should.

  16. UnHingedHips
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think saying something like ‘we use real women, not models, in these pictures’ is saying that professional models are actually somehow not real women in their actual lives. But in context, there is a difference between a picture of a model attempting to portray something she is not and a more candid shot of a “real person”.
    In a documentary, you use “real people” and not “actors”. It doesn’t mean that actors aren’t people, it means that actors (and models) aren’t really the people they are portraying for the camera.

  17. Femgineer
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Taking a look at some of the bras, I was pleasantly surprised to see pictures of DIFFERENTLY SIZED BREASTS and some skin colors other than white.

  18. nikki#2
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    “So we should be just satisfied with whatever the fashion industry throws our way? Shut up and just be grateful they even make clothes for women at all?”
    Stupid beyond words.

  19. JesiDangerously
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    Obviously. Thanks for this thrillingly enlightening dialogue.

  20. Pharaoh Katt
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t read that as shaming, I read that as saying people would be chosen for their personality, not their looks. If this strategy is adopted there could potentially be a wide range of body types shown, including those co sidered conventionally attractive but not to the exclusion of those not conventionally attractive, which has been done in the past (and keeps getting done)

  21. voluptuouspanic
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    As both recovered from an eating disorder and a former professional model, I’m kind of baffled by this. Did I not have a real identity? Do professional models who actually “make it” not have real identities? I just find it puzzling, as though this magazine is perpetuating the reduction of these women to both theirs jobs and their bodies.
    I’m also skeptical that portraying “real” women in magazines will do much to address the epidemic of eating disorders. Eating disorders are much more rooted in cultural and social ideas of the female body, to me.

  22. Carrie_G
    Posted October 7, 2009 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Just joined this board – and scanned this discussion. What I’m seeing here is that we are still debating looks, body type, appearance.
    This, to me, means we are still debating the forest and missing the trees.
    Why are we still so obsessed with women’s bodies – fat or thin? Athletic, bony, emaciated, robust – what’s healthy, what’s not healthy as an image to sell women?
    Why are we not debating our moral value? Our intellectual prowess? Our contributions to society and the next generation?
    Here we are – still demanding that the media sell us “healthy body images” when, in my opinion, it’s our over-involvement with women’s bodies and not our souls that is the root of the issue.
    This magazine is making a change towards using women who have accomplished things – regardless of body type – heavy, thin, everything in between is secondary to WHO THEY ARE and WHAT THEY’VE DONE.
    Is this not what should be important?
    I personally, don’t care what body type they use – I just want to see women accomplishing.
    Supermodels accomplish. Mothers accomplish. CEO’s accomplish. So do counter staff at McDonalds.
    Why are we still debating our bodies instead of celebrating our achievements?

  23. Christine
    Posted October 7, 2009 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

    Could we not concentrate on every little spoken detail? Let’s look at the overall point here:
    The magazine is trying to redefine beauty.
    This is not to say that thin women are not beautiful or real, however the beauty industry has promoted the thin female body as the ideal body by repeating that specific image over and over again. It is not a realistic representation of women. I am looking forward to seeing how successful the magazine is. The intent is to celebrate multiple identities and beauties – thats how I interupt Andreas Leberts words (“We will show women who have an identity”).

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