“[W]e hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.”
As far as Jeffries is concerned, America’s unattractive, overweight or otherwise undesirable teens can shop elsewhere. “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he says. “Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”
This quote implies — if not outright states — that fat people aren’t the cool and popular and beautiful customers that Abercrombie & Fitch wants shopping at their store. Cue the Militant Baker’s Attractive & Fat photoshoot, the Change.org petition, and Baker’s rallying cry that, “I challenge the separation of attractive and fat, and I assert that they are compatible regardless of what you believe. Not only do I know that I’m sexy, but I also have the confidence to pose nude in ways you don’t dare.”
Jes Baker poses with a male model in an image from her Attractive & Fat photoshoot.
Okay, so I get it: Abercrombie & Fitch shouldn’t be exclusionary.
…except, I kind of don’t get it: this is Abercrombie & Fitch we’re talking about, right? I mean, hasn’t Abercrombie & Fitchalways been exclusionary? Isn’t that their frickin’ business model!?!
That 2006 Salon article from which the original quote was pulled is about Jeffries’ (arguably highly-successful) reinvention of the Abercrombie & Fitch brand-name into an in-demand uniform for America’s self-identified young social elite. Over the last several decades, A&F has built a fashion empire by selling clothes to a very select, very specific, target demographic. In Jeffries’ own words:
To Jeffries, the “A&F guy” is the best of what America has to offer: He’s cool, he’s beautiful, he’s funny, he’s masculine, he’s optimistic, and he’s certainly not “cynical” or “moody,” two traits he finds wholly unattractive.
Abercrombie & Fitch is as much about selling surfer clothes to America’s tween and twenty-something self-described “cool kids” as it is a large-scale vanity project for a 70-year-old man trying to remake America in the image of his own very disturbed ideas about who and what the ideal American is and looks like. I mean, Jeffries doesn’t just want to sell clothes to the “A&F guy”; he is actually trying to be the A&F guy. I mean just look at him:
He’s like Michael Jackson, except he’s (probably) never set his hair on fire.
His biggest obsession, though, is realizing his singular vision of idealized all-American youth. He wants desperately to look like his target customer (the casually flawless college kid), and in that pursuit he has aggressively transformed himself from a classically handsome man into a cartoonish physical specimen: dyed hair, perfectly white teeth, golden tan, bulging biceps, wrinkle-free face, and big, Angelina Jolie lips. But while he can’t turn back the clock, he can — and has — done the next best thing, creating a parallel universe of beauty and exclusivity where his attractions and obsessions have made him millions, shaped modern culture’s concepts of gender, masculinity and physical beauty, and made over himself and the world in his image, leaving them both just a little more bizarre than he found them.
Because nothing says “confidence” like thousands of dollars worth of plastic surgery.
As for the company itself, Abercrombie & Fitch‘s business model is best-described with the one word that Jeffries’ uses: “aspirational”. Like it or not, Abercrombie & Fitch sells to a very specific, self-limited demographic that can and will purchase their clothes; and those who can’t, really really want to. Abercrombie & Fitch cultivates that exclusionary atmosphere in its stores because it caters to a very real, if distasteful, aspect of society: there is an “in” crowd, and we all want to be a part of it. Or, put another way, if everyone can wear your shirt, there’s nothing special about you when you wear it; and everyone likes being special.
And so, Abercrombie & Fitch is the most ubiquitous exclusive club on the planet. Despite the fact that every mall in America seems to boast an Abercrombie & Fitch store, the company is clearly trying to limit its customer base. First of all, all of their clothing styles look exported straight off a California beach, and are therefore remarkably impractical for anyone who doesn’t live in Southern California. Further, their clothes only run between sizes 0 and 10 — a maximum of a 38″ bust or a 31″ waist for women — despite the fact that the national average in women’s waist size is 37.5″.
Consider also that every single Abercrombie & Fitch model looks like they were cloned from two surviving members of Hitler’s Youth Army rendered immortal as a result of Nazi doctors’ human experimentation but were then forced on the run at the end of World War II before they were covertly discovered by CIA spies in Europe and smuggled into the United States for study at Area 51 by scientists hoping to reverse engineer the secrets of eternal youth, but then were subsequently kidnapped by A&F operatives and are now imprisoned in an underground bunker at A&F’s Ohio headquarters where they serve as source genetic material for A&F’s army of clothing models/child soldiers being trained to carry out Jeffries’ plans for a military takeover of the Western hemisphere.
Photographic evidence of Abercrombie & Fitch’s clone army.
Don’t be deceived: these clones are trained killers… or, they will be, once A&F scientists figure out how to reverse the characteristic muscle atrophy that has rendered these clones incapable of carrying an AK-47 or anything else that weighs more than 7 lbs.
And in my final example, just take a look at your typical Abercrombie & Fitch storefront.
It’s like a fortress of douchebaggery.
Where other stores have floor-to-ceiling panoramic glass and bright gallery lighting, every single Abercrombie & Fitch store I’ve ever seen looks like this: dark black wooden slats oriented to block curious shoppers who might want a casual glimpse at what’s being sold inside. Walk in the front door and you are immediately greeted with a wall upon which is mounted a huge black & white picture of a half-naked Aryan clone.
Don’t look like this? Don’t come in.
To actually access any clothes in the store, you have to make a right or left turn to see the shop’s wares; none of which you could preview from outside. And if you’ve ever been in an Abercrombie & Fitch, you’ll know it’s like being transported into a whole ‘nother world: a mildly claustrophic world stuffed full of highly pretentious clothing, devoid of natural sunlight, and smelling just a tiny bit of musk and mothballs.
… or what I kind of imagine it would be like to be stuck in Robert Pattinson’s closet.
In short, Abercrombie & Fitch is deliberately trying to place obstacles between interested customers and their clothes, hoping to actually deter shoppers from buying their clothes. The idea is that those who have successfully navigated these deterrents — by making it into the store, fitting into their clothes, and having enough money to buy it — will feel that much more “emotionally attached” to their A&F wardrobe because they’re now a part of that exclusive club of “A&F customers”.
Like the finisher’s medal for the lamest adventure race ever.
So, colour me shocked that Abercrombie & Fitch is unwelcoming to plus-size customers. For a company with a history of being both sexist and racist, finding out that A&F is fat-phobic is a little like discovering that the guy who enjoys kicking puppies has also flushed a live goldfish or two in his life. I mean, this is a company that thought a woman’s t-shirt that read “Who needs brains when you’ve got these?” across the bosom was a good idea. And, this was the company that single-handedly galvanized the modern Asian American movement with its highly-offensive racist shirts depicting buck-toothed racialized caricatures of Asian men and hearkening to the stereotype of Asian laundries.
The only store that would sell a shirt like this is one that knows these designs won’t be insulting its “target demographic”.
Eduardo Gonzalez, a Stanford student from Hayward, California, was pleased with the settlement. “I remember how discouraged I felt when I applied for a job at the Santa Clara [Abercrombie & Fitch] store and the manager suggested that I work in the stock room or on the late night crew in a non-sales position. I felt it was because I was a Latino – but there was no one I could report this to at the time.”
Plaintiff Anthony Ocampo, a recent Stanford graduate, who was told he couldn’t be hired because “there’s already too many Filipinos,” agreed with Gonzalez. “It is important that Abercrombie seek out employees of color and provide them training and opportunities for promotion.”
Jennifer Lu worked at the Crystal Court Mall store in Costa Mesa, California for three years while she was a student at U.C. Irvine. She and five other Asian American employees were terminated after a visit from senior management and replaced with white sales staff. “I was very distressed after I was terminated for being an Asian American woman. I am now very excited about the policies and programs Abercrombie must implement that came about as a result of this lawsuit. I am looking forward to seeing a more diverse Abercrombie; one that actually reflects the look of America,” said Lu.
Carla Grubb, an African American student at California State Bakersfield, was constructively discharged from the Abercrombie store in the Bakersfield Valley Plaza Mall after being assigned cleaning and other menial jobs. “I felt demoralized being the only African American employee and being specifically assigned to dust the store, wash the windows and clean the floors. With this settlement, I now know that Abercrombie cannot treat other employees of color in such a manner.
So, yeah. Abercrombie & Fitch is also a little fat-phobic, too.
But, I guess what really inspired me to write this post is the overwhelming outrage against Abercrombie & Fitch. Where was this outrage 12 years ago when Abercrombie & Fitch was being racist? Where were the Asian Americans being invited on the Today show to talk about what it’s like to be Asian in America and how it’s totally not cool for a store to sell racist caricatures of our people, especially when you’re also putting your minority employees in the stockroom and on clean-up duty? Where were the hoards of mainstream reporters writing about how a company made routine practice of discriminating against employees of colour, while selling hatespeech on its t-shirts? How is it that only now — after Abercrombie & Fitch pissed off the fat-positive subculture — are people actually willing to call a discriminatory company discriminatory?
Which brings me full circle to Jes Baker and her Attractive & Fat photoshoot. Look, I’m a former fat girl: I totally and earnestly get what she was trying to do; really, I do. But there’s a part of me that’s a little disquieted about the message of the photoshoot. Here’s the thing: Abercrombie & Fitch is a multimillion dollar company because at the end of the day, the business model works. A&F has set itself up as an exclusive club, and there are customers who literally buy into it.
At the end of the day, because the Attractive & Fat photoshoot copies the Abercrombie & Fitch photographic style while merely replacing the size of one of the two models, I can’t help but wonder what exactly the message is supposed to be? In Jes Baker’s words, the problem isn’t necessarily that A&F touts an overtly restrictive beauty ideal, but instead that the restrictive beauty ideal doesn’t include short and fat people:
Never in our culture do we see sexy photo shoots that pair short, fat, unconventional models with not short, not fat, professional models. To put it in your words: “unpopular kids” with “cool kids”. It’s socially acceptable for same to be paired with same, but never are contrasting bodies positively mixed in the world of advertisement. The juxtaposition of uncommonly paired bodies is visually jarring, and, even though I wish it didn’t, it causes viewers to feel uncomfortable. This is largely attributed to companies like yours that perpetuate the thought that fat women are not beautiful.
Doesn’t this kind of imply that Jes’ problem is more that fat kids aren’t part of the “cool kids”, and not that there are cool kids in the first place? Or, it’s okay to exclude, just don’t exclude me?
I can’t help but remember the Abercrombie & Fitch protests organized within the Asian American community nearly twelve years — a movement that marked one of the first uses of the Internet for progressive social change, that provided momentum to build the politicized online Asian American community that thrives today, and that I was at least on the fringes of at the time (which I realize dates me but, y’know…). We took to the streets. We made signs. We advocated boycott.
Because what’s really troublesome about Abercrombie & Fitch isn’t that it’s exclusionary, but that it’s exclusionary and that it works. That people secretly or openly actually want to be a part of this dumbass exclusionary club, and they understand that if it didn’t exclude someone, than it wouldn’t be exclusionary.
That’s why twelve years ago, we didn’t suggest that there was anything positive about Abercrombie & Fitch‘s exclusionary business practices. So, yeah, Abercrombie & Fitch could throw in some pictures of short and fat models paired with tall thin models in their catalog. And that would certainly go a long way towards normalizing curvy folks into popular ideas of beauty.
But that still won’t stop Mike Jeffries from being the kind of racist dickwad whose stores stop uncomfortably short of hanging this sign on its front door:
Oh yeah, I went there.
So, in summary, I support Jes Baker’s Attractive & Fat photoshoot. I really do. I just wish that while she’s fielding calls from reporters this week, she takes a minute to mention how Abercrombie & Fitch has been discriminatory against a lot more people than just fat people. And maybe rather than advocating more plus-sized models in the A&F catalog, we should all be shopping at stores that aren’t trying to exclude people in the first place.
Because, there’s no part of me that wants to spend money in a place that thinks it can define for me what the American ideal is.
There’s a video that’s been making the rounds of the feminist blogosphere. It’s a viral ad by Dove, maker of all kinds of skincare and personal hygiene products, as part of their “Real Beauty” campaign. For a few years now, Dove has been marketing themselves as the enlightened skincare company, charging themselves with exploring and improving women’s self-esteem and beauty image issues (while selling us fresh-smelling soap).
Of course, this is your typical feel-good schlock, right? I mean, a beauty company that cares? We all know that this is largely a marketing ploy designed to target a particular subsect of women, typically older and perhaps more predisposed towards a dialogue on body image and beauty conventions.
Yet, there’s something remarkably heartwarming about the marketing campaign. There’s a part of me that can’t help but think: if Dove is sending a positive message to women about self-esteem and body image, why do I care why they’re doing it?
In their most recent efforts, Dove conducted what they’re calling a “social experiment” called “Real Beauty Sketches”. A group of women were ushered into a warehouse where they were interviewed — sans face-to-face contact — by an FBI-trained sketch artist on their appearance. The sketch artist used these details to produce a sketch of the women. A second sketch of the same woman was then produced by the FBI artist based on an interview with a stranger who spent time conversing with her. Both sketches were then compared side-by-side, and the contrasts are immediately evident: there’s an immense gulf between how each subjects sees herself, and how each subject is seen by others.
Sketches of subject Jenise, as described by herself (left) and by a stranger (right).
The power of this campaign is undeniable, and I confess that it resonated with me. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words; in this one simple “experiment”, we are able to see how profoundly a woman’s preoccupation with her physical beauty has distorted her own self-image.
Here’s how: the sketches on the right (based on the descriptions of strangers) can be assumed to be a more-or-less accurate representation of a woman’s physical projection towards the world around her, because strangers carry no specific value biases towards any particular facial feature or another. The sketches are highly symmetrical, and somewhat “normalized” (for lack of a better word), emphasizing how most of us construct and distinguish physical appearance: major features (e.g. shape of eyes, nose and mouth as well as hair and eye colour) are ascribed certain characteristics to produce a unique appearance profile that we then assign to a particular individual; meanwhile, small details are largely glossed over as unimportant or even unseen.
By contrast, the sketches on the left are based on a descriptions wherein particular emphasis is placed on specific facial features and with value judgements assigned to perceived imperfections and flaws, no matter how small. This reflects the relationship that people tend to have with their physical forms: we imagine that everyone is focused on the zit on our foreheads, our protruding guts, or our chicken-thin calf muscles. We forget that the flaws we perceive are not obvious to others, and that they appear monumental because we are focusing on them.
The take-home message in this “experiment” is not that the sketches on the right are innately more “beautiful” (although they are arguably so because they are often more symmetrical due to the lack of distortion through emphasis on perceived flaws; physical symmetry is an innate characteristic of perceived conventional beauty), but that the contrast between both sketches is an undeniable demonstration of the impact of self-perception on overall body image.
Or, in other words: we are not always the best judges of our own appearance.
Yet, there have been feminists out there who have strongly criticized Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches. One blog post has been making the rounds, written by Jazz of little drops. In it, Jazz makes a few arguments against the campaign.
First, Jazz argues that the campaign is not racially diverse:
When it comes to the diversity of the main participants: all four are Caucasian, three are blonde with blue eyes, all are thin, and all are young (the oldest appears to be 40). The majority of the non-featured participants are thin, young white women as well. Hmm… probably a little limiting, wouldn’t you say? We see in the video that at least three black women were in fact drawn for the project. Two are briefly shown describing themselves in a negative light (one says she has a fat, round face, and one says she’s getting freckles as she ages). Both women are lighter skinned. A black man is shown as one of the people describing someone else, and he comments that she has “pretty blue eyes”. One Asian woman is briefly shown looking at the completed drawings of herself and you see the back of a black woman’s head; neither are shown speaking. Out of 6:36 minutes of footage, people of color are onscreen for less than 10 seconds.
I’m honestly fairly confused by this comment. Out of the seven featured portraits on the Dove site, two are of African-American women and one is of an Asian-American woman. True, this does mean that a full 57% of portraits are of Caucasian women, but I would hardly say this renders the campaign monolithically White. Additionally, it’s clear that other women, whose portraits are not on the website, are also of non-Caucasian descent: at least one other African-American woman, and a darker-skinned (possibly Middle Eastern?) woman at 2:31 of the video above — both participated. None of these women of colour strike me as noticeably “lighter skinned”, or that they are somehow less representative of their race due to the particular shade of brown of their skin. Regardless, the comment troubles me: if the purpose of the “experiment” is to explore self-perception and identity, I don’t see how the experiment is made more or less valid by insufficient racial tokenism.
Jazz goes on to say that her primary problem with the ad campaign is that it emphasizes what some have termed “looks-ism” in our society — that people (male and female) are judged at least in part based on how we look.
….[M]y primary problem with this Dove ad is that it’s not really challenging the message like it makes us feel like it is. It doesn’t really tell us that the definition of beauty is broader than we have been trained to think it is, and it doesn’t really tell us that fitting inside that definition isn’t the most important thing. It doesn’t really push back against the constant objectification of women. All it’s really saying is that you’re actually not quite as far off from the narrow definition as you might think that you are (if you look like the featured women, I guess).
I get where Jazz is coming from, but I ultimately disagree with this take on the Dove campaign. I think this reflects a general misunderstanding of what the Dove campaign is trying to get at, one that — to be fair — Dove perpetuates in its editing of the video. As I write above, the point of the campaign (in my opinion) isn’t that the stranger-generated sketches are more generically beautiful, but that they are widely different from the sketches based on a person’s self-description.
Or, from the tagline of the campaign: it’s not “you are more beautiful than you think”; it’s “you are more beautiful than you think“.
The message isn’t that women should place greater value on our physical beauty (despite voice-over interview snippets to the contrary), but that we should stop internalizing our own distortions of our self-identity.
Ultimately, what I think troubles feminists like Jazz is that physical appearance matters — for men, for women, for just about everyone. Jazz is frustrated by a subject’s comment at the end of the video:
And actually, it almost seems to remind us how vital it is to know that we fit society’s standard of attractiveness . At the end of the experiment, one of the featured participants shares what I find to be the most disturbing quote in the video and what Dove seems to think is the moral of the story as she reflects upon what she’s learned, and how problematic it is that she hasn’t been acknowledging her physical beauty: It’s troubling,” she says as uplifting music swells in the background. “I should be more grateful of my natural beauty. It impacts the choices and the friends we make, the jobs we go out for, they way we treat our children, it impacts everything. It couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.”
What you look like should not affect the choices that you make. It should certainly not affect the friends you make—the friends that wouldn’t want to be in relationship with you if you did not meet a certain physical standard are not the friends that you want to have. Go out for jobs that you want, that you’re passionate about. Don’t let how good looking you feel like you are affect the way way that you treat your children. And certainly do not make how well you feel you align with the strict and narrow “standard” that the beauty industry and media push be critical to your happiness, because you will always be miserable. You will always feel like you fall short, because those standards are designed to keep you constantly pressured into buying things like make up and diet food and moisturizer to reach an unattainable goal. Don’t let your happiness be dependent on something so fickle and cruel and trivial. You should feel beautiful, and Dove was right about one thing: you are more beautiful than you know. But please, please hear me: you are so, so much more than beautiful.
Women clearly need to fight against this undue emphasis placed upon our physical appearance over our intellectual and professional skillset. We aren’t just pretty people and shouldn’t be treated (or treat ourselves) as such.
But, I would also assert that the quest by some feminists to completely eliminate the impact of physical appearance on self-perception, self-identity, and societal treatment is, in essence, a quest for pure truth. Women, like all humans, are physical beings, and the simple fact that each of us bear a unique physical appearance will impact our participation in the world around us. Male or female, how we look shapes who we are and how we think of ourselves, and will certainly impact how people treat us.
I can’t help but draw an analogy to race. To me, the argument that we can move towards a “post-looks” or “post-attractiveness” society sounds a lot like the flawed concept of a “post-racial” society wherein people purportedly don’t see racial difference. I have always had a problem with this notion on two counts: 1) being — and appearing — a (specifically phenotypically East Asian) Asian-American woman is a fundamental part of my self-identity and how I perceive myself; and 2) I wear my racial/ethnic identity on my skin, and am treated by others in a unique way because of it. My appearance — racially — is immediately obvious and impacts every social interaction I have with others (no matter how subtly). It influences my very presence in the world.
When people meet me, they don’t see a person with vague, non-descript, racial appearance. If they say they do, they are lying. I’m going to go out on a limb and say there are no colour-blind people. Every time a person notices I’m not White; every time they wonder what “brand” of Asian I am; every time they ask me what language(s) I speak or where I grew up; they are racializing me. I don’t necessarily say this as an indictment (although it can sometimes be). I say this as a simple statement of fact about my life.
How I look totally influences my life.
The simple truth that physical appearance matters when it comes to race is even evident in Jazz’s post (as it is in mine). As I noted above, Jazz makes a quick assertion about the races of the various study participants, based on their physical appearances. Shelly, Lani and Maria — the three women of colour whose portraits are featured on the Dove site — are singled out for their racial tokenism; thus, in race, the physical appearances of these women clearly matter. They have clearly influenced how these women are treated by the world around them. They have certainly influenced how feminists are judging the racial comprehensiveness of the Dove campaign.
Perhaps this is why I’m not all that troubled by the notion that my physical appearance, in general, will also shape how others see me. To me, the suggestion that more fundamental aspects of physical appearance such as hair colour or jaw shape or basic facial symmetry should have no impact on one’s social interactions when racial phenotypes clearly do strikes me as fallacious, and simply inconsistent with my own experiences as a person. I can’t help but feel that folks who advocate an end to looks-based treatment are speaking from a place of racial privilege, wherein the privilege allows for an absence of noticeably altered treatment in the world based on racial physical appearance, and so there’s an assumption that non-racial physical appearance can be similarly unimpactful.
Now, like I said above, I clearly do not support boiling a woman down to only her appearance. And, of course, Westernized conventions of beauty are clearly too Euro-centrically narrow. I agree with Jazz’s basic take-home message: we women are so much more than beautiful.
But, I would also hazard to say this: we are also beautiful. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. There’s nothing shameful in that.
I suggest that rather than to argue against the very concept of physical beauty existing in this world, that we instead work towards expanding our strict and narrow parameters of what we define as physical beauty, and in so doing, de-emphasize its impact on our perceived self-worth (as men and women).
Because, in the end, this shouldn’t be about shifting our focus from one isolated characteristic of ourselves to another. This can only lead to a different form of distortion. Instead, we should promote holistic self-image, and this must necessarily include the fact that we all have physical bodies with unique — and yes, often beautiful — appearances.
Sports Illustrated’d Swimsuit Edition is offensive. Who knew?
Note: this post contains images which may not be desirable to view at work… at least without having to explaining yourself out of some awkward moments.
Earlier this past month, Sports Illustrated released its 2013 edition of its popular “Swimsuit Issue”. This issue is, as far as I know, this magazine’s only influential “contribution” to American pop culture. I mean, who’s even seen any other issues of Sports Illustrated these days? Does anyone even have a Sports Illustrated subscription, anymore? It’s like people claiming they read Playboy for the articles.
According to Wikipedia, Sports Illustrated – started in the 1950′s — was once America’s most prominent and influential sports magazines. Credited with both popularizing many sports and many athletes over the decades, as well as liberal use of colour photographs in the magazine media, Sports Illustrated set out to legitimize itself as the premiere magazine for sports enthusiasts.
It’s interesting to note, therefore, that the magazine’s Swimsuit Issue, which was first published 14 years after Sports Illustrated‘s founding, was intended to fill space in an otherwise slow winter issue of the magazine when few sports were being played. The magazine’s editor requested that a then-unknown photographer conscript some aspiring models and take pictures of them in bikinis in exotic locales to fill a five-page spread and the cover. Since that time, the swimsuit issue has come to define Sports Illustrated, and has helped launch the careers of many supermodels. Yet, the irony of the swimsuit issue is that, even in its conception, the feature was never expected to have anything to do with athleticism. It was intended merely as a ploy to sell magazines, not focus on athletes or the sports they play in any way. Over the years, the swimsuit edition has evolved into what it unabashedly remains today: cheap regressive exploitation of (White) sexuality imperialistically juxtaposed against exotic locales in a seedy effort to sell more magazines.
And, the tragedy of the swimsuit edition is that it works: in 2005, it generated $35 million dollars in advertising sales alone.
Last week, several feminist and Asian American blogs including Jezebel, Shanghaiist, and Angry Asian Man wrote about Sports Illustrated‘s latest swimsuit edition, citing its use of Asian and African people and cultures as ethnic props. And indeed, the magazine’s usage of clearly ethnic signifiers to underscore the “exoticism” of each model’s environment is clearly offensive.
A Sports Illustrated model, Anne V, is pictured above in a bikini contrasted against a Chinese fisherman serving as an ethnic prop. The image is part of the magazine’s extensive Swimsuit Issue photoshoot in China.
In these photos, locals are not treated as human; instead they are ethnic and cultural scenery, no more human than the hat they are wearing or the boat they are poling around on the river.
But, I also have to express some frustration that of all the problems inherent in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, that the blogosphere has chosen to focuse largely on the few images (that I could find) of people of colour (and frequently Asia people) being used as ethnic props, and have spoken largely on the problem therein. No mention is made of the more widespread Orientalism inherent in these images and their design, wherein the same blonde model pictured above is also dressed in a chi pao-inspired one piece and stood up in front of a curtain with Chinese writing on it to evoke a sense of the wild, sensual East. True, no Asian person is being used as an ethnic prop in these images, but that doesn’t make them any less Orientalist.
Model, Anne V, poses in a chi pao-inspired one piece and a feather for SI’s 2013 swimsuit issue.
The very nature of these photoshoots is that they are (and have been since their conception) nothing more than an annual cultural safari that feeds upon the West’s fetishism for the foreign and the exotic.
Moreoever, while one can express clear anger towards the dehumanization and Otherization of the Chinese fisherman above as an ethnic prop, I would argue that that the models, themselves, are also no more humanized than their backdrops (human or otherwise). The visual juxtaposition that Sports Illustrated hopes to achieve through their swimsuit issue is one of culture clash: a “hot girl-next-door” meets “exotic locale”, all designed to tantalize and titillate. In that pursuit, it’s no surprise that just as Chinese fishermen, coolie hats, and feathers are used to signify the exotic and the Other, the swimsuit models themselves — and specifically their race, ethnicity, and overall aesthetic — are signifiers of the familiar (and specifically the West). It’s no surprise therefore that of the 21 models featured in this year’s swimsuit edition, no more than three are non-White or Hispanic. In fact, most are blonde or brunette Caucasian women, and all (regardless of race) share the same facial features and body-type typical of Eurocentric ideals of beauty.
Thus, these female models, too, are dehumanized props: of Whiteness, of femininity, of sexuality. These women are not presented in these photographs as intellectual and nuanced individuals, but as objects to evoke the reader’s sexual desire. They exist in these pages to entice the (implicitly male and implicitly heterosexual) reader, to be looked at and longed for. In short, it’s soft-core porn, pure and simple.
I mean, really. This picture doesn’t even have a swimsuit in it. And my problem with this photo really has almost nothing to do with the presence of the coolie hat
In short, there is no one in these photos who is humanized by the camera’s lens: neither the half-naked woman ostensibly “modeling” a swimsuit (whatever that has to do with sports) nor the Chinese fisherman standing behind her (whatever that has to do with sports). Everything about these photoshoots is about putting women and non-White people subservient to the sexuality of the White male reader of Sports Illustrated.
So yes, I’m outraged by the use of Asian people as ethnic props. But, I’m also outraged by the use of women as sexual props. And, most of all, I’m outraged that in 2013, Sports Illustrated is still managing to sell itself as a reputable and legitimate magazine when one month out of the year it’s about as racially and sexually progressive as Maxim.
You gotta give Honda credit on this one: they really listened to the female market here.
In addition to Honda’s helpful inclusion of the She’s car in white, black and brown (as well as the aforementioned pink) — all designed to match popular shades of eye makeup — the car also features special air conditioners that don’t dry out the skin on my hands and tinted windows because we all know that women’s eyes are far more sensitive to bright lights. Frankly, I find it amazing that we women even dare to go outside at all; maybe this is why we’re so much more comfortable doing domestic chores at home, where we can use curtains to block the devastating effects of the sun.
The interior of the car is also designed to cater to the female market; which we can tell because the leather stitching is also adorably pink. And check out that inspired heart in the “She’s” logo!
All the corners of the dashboard are also rounded, because we know women abhor sharp edges.
The Honda Fit She’s car is available to Japanese buyers, so CNN trekked out into the streets of a Japanese city to ask women how they felt. The universal response — “Kawaii!!” The lone dissenting response was a non-Japanese woman who found the car “a little sexist”.
“A little sexist”? “A little sexist”?!?
Pah, I say. I think it’s genius. I mean, think of all the lives we could save here. For example, I know that every time I try to drive all these masculine-coloured cars — in their ghastly Y-chromosomal shades of red, blue and grey — I get so distracted by how much they don’t match my makeup and carefully coordinated outfit that I routinely drive my car headfirst into walls. And, I think I could totally justify the cost of buying a Honda Fit She’s for myself and having it shipped from Japan, given how much money I’m going to save in skin lotion, anti-wrinkle cream, and sunglasses now that I can take advantage of the special air conditioning and window tinting in my new car!
And, who knows? There might even be other incredible features in this car that specifically cater to the female consumer: maybe the GPS comes pre-programmed with an app that automatically locates all the nearby hair salons, spas, and manicurists in a 10 mile radius. And maybe the trunk includes a miniature shoe rack so I can have a ready selection of stiletto heels with me at all times, and a handy blow dryer and vanity table that pops out of the glove compartment so that I can touch-up my makeup on the fly.
The only way this could get better is if Honda installed a writing surface so that I can drive my adorable new pink “For Her” car while I simultaneously use these awesome pink “For Her” pens from Bic:
From the description: “Cristal For Her ballpoint pens are reserved for women and feature a diamond-engraved barrel for an elegant, unique feminine style. The tinted, hexagonal barrel is thinner for better handling for women and still keeps the ink supply visible.”
Liu Yandong is speculated by some to have a chance of being the first woman to sit on the governing Standing Committee of the Politburo in China. She is currently the only female in the 24-member Politburo.
Woman could break Chinese political glass ceiling
Hong Kong (CNN) – A record number of American women will hold U.S. Senate seats after Tuesday’s election. In China, there is speculation over whether a woman will also make history by ascending to its top political core.
No woman has ever held a post in the elite nine-member Standing Committee of the Politburo that governs China. Thousands of senior Chinese officials gathered in Beijing this week and at the end of the conference next week, a new set of leaders will be unveiled.
Some observers consider Liu Yandong a possible contender for the exclusive ruling committee. Liu is the lone female member of the Politburo, a 24-member body atop the Chinese Communist Party. If promoted to the standing committee, Liu would make a crack in the political glass ceiling.
Even with the historic prospect of a woman joining the most powerful Chinese political entity, some are skeptical of the overall progress for Chinese women in power.