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Home / Articles / Editorial / Letters /  Why are all the models skinny, white, female and (mostly) blonde?
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Friday, May 21,2010

Why are all the models skinny, white, female and (mostly) blonde?

Editor's note: We don't usually post letters to the editor on our website earlier than our print edition. But we're going to start doing so, when a letter seems especially timely or topical. Like this one. TS

To the Editor:
I cannot find the words for the way today's Backdrop magazine made me feel. I fluctuated between vexation and exasperation with it, rage " abhorrence, even " toward the "genius" behind the issue, and an exhaustive sort of sadness that determined, regretfully, that the world, is, in fact, going to hell.

Ignorance is mildly less offensive when it's accidental, but knowing that Backdrop hails from Athens, Ohio (where it is almost impossible to not recognize and question the social implications of one's actions), knowing that its editor and chief was in my woman and gender studies class last quarter (where media constructions of beauty and femininity were consistently exposed and challenged) and knowing that more than 25 percent of the magazine's readers have diagnosed/diagnosable eating disorders, I almost cried. My body shook, at least.

A month ago, Backdrop sent out a Facebook event that read: "Backdrop magazine is holding an audition for male and female students to appear in a four-page photo spread showcasing swimwear for our Spring issue. If interested, select attending, and we'll keep you updated with more information, including location of the audition and what to bring with you" (emphasis mine).

Interestingly enough, today's issue of Backdrop didn't have a single man pictured. It also didn't really look like its intentions were to showcase the "spring wear." Did Backdrop actually represent the Ohio University student body when it "showcased"" "the students ... making this season one to anticipate?"

Not a single woman with an "average" body type? Not a single person of color? One brunette, stuck in the corner? It was reminiscent of the beauty ideal propagated by Nazi Germany.

Even the most shallow of fashion magazines try to at least feign a bit of diversity. Backdrop, however, was shameless. It displayed golden girls on a golden beach with a golden retriever; no one took up much space.

I'm in no way spiteful toward the women featured in the magazine themselves; they're real women. I am, however, more than spiteful toward Backdrop magazine for showing only women, and only women fitting a certain sort of mold (which happens to be abnormally thin, white and blonde).

I know for a fact that a diverse group of beautiful bodies auditioned to be in this issue, and feel that the editors of Backdrop magazine have done the Ohio University community a grave disservice by neglecting them. In fact, they've done a disservice to all women and all men. Eating disorders are epidemic on this campus!

Thanks, Backdrop, for making the four in five women my age who hate their bodies hate them even more, and thanks also for making all the jaded, quasi-apocalyptic-feeling social activists on campus feel worse about the state of things, too. Thank God for the Athens Shuffle, right? Gotta love substance and innovation.

Leslie Albanese
Shafer Street
Athens


 

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REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
amazing letter. thank you for putting it out there.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
While I agree with the overall point being made in this letter, talk about [b]dramatic[/b]. Seriously, this is way over-the-top. If something this typical of society makes you literally - [i]literally[/i] - shake, then you need to reevaluate your emotional management.

Like I said, I don't disagree. I think that with such a culturally diverse campus and community, [i]Backdrop[/i] really shamed itself by neglecting to showcase the other images of beauty relevant on this campus. But when you're this over-dramatic about making your point, it makes your letter appear as though it was written by some looney tune (and who ever takes looney tunes seriously?).

 

Well, a suggestion to you: if nothing makes you shake, makes you angry, maybe YOU should "reevaluate your emotional management." Sometimes, people care about things. It makes them feel emotions. Is that really so "looney?" WTF.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Most of the people in the world are brown-haired and brown-eyed. Just go out of the United States, and you'll see. I would argue that most of the ads and publications in the world feature mostly brunettes and people that don't look like "typical" Americans, i.e. blonde and blue-eyed. That is because they're in the minority world-wide, which makes them unique, and I think it's fine that they get coverage, even if it is less than others.

 

As someone living abroad where there aren't many white blondes, I can assure you they are extremely common in advertisements.

 

You're experience in one country proves nothing, except that all experiences are different. Mine was full of ads with brown-heads.

If you look at the populations, the Chinese and Indians alone make up 1/3 of the world, so by shear numbers alone, there have to be more ads featuring people that don't look like "typical" Americans. When you add in Africans, Hispanics, and all the other Asian countries, the numbers are even higher. And we haven't even gotten to Europe yet, which has Spanish and Italians.

My point is that I'm fine with blondes being in ads more because they're different when related to the rest of the world. People notice unique people. That's what sells. And I'm fine with that. Whether or not people want to admit it, I think most do like to see these skinny, white blondes in ads because advertisers keep putting them there. You don't think those advertisers are just putting out ads blindly, do you? Of course not. They're doing research out the wazoo, and that research is telling them to feature these types of models.

 

It isn't experience in one country, it is global experience from someone who happens to be living in one of many places visited. Representation of skin color in advertisements isn’t proportional to population. White and (and usually blonde and skinny) globally symbolizes wealth. Advertisements sell an image, so there is very little incentive for advertisers who want to sell as much as possible to target or represent what is typically viewed as a “lower” and “poorer” class. Not saying I agree with these tactics, just saying that is how it is.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Think about all the dumb blonde jokes you have heard in your lifetime for a few minutes. Everything isn't all one way or another.

Associating blonde haired people with Nazi Germany is cruel, false, and yes, racist. And so called "diversity" is sometimes an excuse for all sorts of bigoted behavior. If you haven't noticed, there are a lot of fair skinned people in this region of the country and many of them have blonde or light brown hair.

"Beautiful people" get a lot of breaks in every society no matter what their race or ethnicity, that is well documented. But sometimes "beautiful" is simply a reflection of "healthy" and that isn't a bad role model for all of us.

 

Which is exactly the point the initial letter writer was trying to express. The ideals of beauty have gone to both extremes of the body spectrum - from the over-the-top Reubenesque ideal of beauty to today's deathly thin skeletons. And let's face it - neither one of those is inherently healthy or unhealthy. To judge one's health by their weight, as you implied, is not only factually incorrect, but incredibly ignorant as well. I am an overweight individual. I am also healthier than many of my thin counterparts. Thin doesn't always equal healthy, and to imply so does you and everyone else a great disservice.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Blondie -
I don't see this letter as anything against the models, as you may be taking it. She related the type of female in the photographs to the Aryan ideal of beauty, she didn't accuse anyone of being a Nazi. That standard is based in historical fact, and is presented as an example of discrimination against those who do not fit this ideal. Although it may seem extreme, it is used to illustrate a concept in a way that everyone will recognize
Let's not throw the term "racist" out there in addressing this letter. It's just promoting more diversity among the models featured in the photo shoot. The issue isn't the models because they're beautiful, it's the magazine for putting out a message of wanting to use all shapes, sizes, colors and genders in their shoot and settling for just one type of female. I can guarantee that white girls with blonde and light brown hair are not the only ones who appeared for the casting call, but they are the only ones who were selected for the photo shoot. I don't think that this letter is saying "don't put in any thin, white females with light hair", it's just saying "don't put in EXCLUSIVELY thin, white females with light hair."
I also guarantee that you can be healthy without being stick thin, white and blonde, but that's a whole different argument.

 

 

 
 
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