A few weeks ago, I wrote about skinny models and my worries that our obsession with thin wreaks havoc on growing girls — their self-esteem, their body image, their eating (or more precisely, their lack thereof).
But, no matter how emaciated the cover girls are, I've always assumed they were real (real thin, yes, but real as in living, breathing human beings). I've deplored the celebration of twig-like bodies, but I figured there was a (teensy tiny) flesh and blood person there.
Not anymore, I guess.
The trendy department store H&M has just confessed to using a computer-generated body, topped with multiple models' heads (one-at-a-time, of course) on their website. This perfect body (for the record, my body would be perfect too, if it was made by a computer!) is colorized to match each model's skin tone. H&M calls it a "virtual mannequin" and claims that they never meant anyone to think it was real. The pose, left hand jauntily resting on hip, right arm extended down, is meant to show off the merchandise. A spokesperson said “This is not to be seen as conveying a specific ideal or body type." It is "merely a technique to show our garments.” Supposedly, the CGI figure ensures that the focus is on the clothes, not the model.
I think the focus is on a perfectly lovely body that is perfectly impossible for a mere mortal woman to obtain.
This is nothing new. The girls in the Victoria's Secret catalog sell lots of lingerie because of a flawed bit of consumer logic. "The model looks bodacious and she is wearing this $65 bra and panty set. If I wear this $65 bra and panty set, I will look bodacious too."
After all, what are they going to do? Put the lingerie on fat chicks? I think not.
But, there's still the assumption that even the most angelic of Vicky's heavenly bodies is a real-live woman. Sure, she may have won the genetic lottery, paid for cosmetic enhancements, devoted her life to Pilates, or (more likely) given up all carbohydrates for the past twenty-one years, but we're still looking at actual skin on an actual (albeit Photoshopped) body. Right?
This brings the pressure to an all-new level. Our daughters don't just have to compete with 6-foot tall 120-pound beauties. Now, they have to compete with avatars.
I'm disappointed. H&M is a store with cute and stylish fashion that appeals to tweens and teens (at prices that appeal to tweens and teens' moms). With this eager-to-consume audience comes responsibility. Why not show the clothes on real girls? Preferably on real girls with real bodies — strong, attractive, of course, but real.
You see, at the end of the day (or the end of my daughter's second helping of Ben & Jerry's Smores ice cream — no eating disorders here, thank you very much), the same damage is being done. Whether we are tall or short, thin or fat, or just plain average. Whether the idealized body in question is analog or digital.
We are still bound to be disappointed when we look in our own mirrors.