who’s pretty?

It is a fiction that a laissez-faire approach to markets create the results that we see in the world. An article on the front page of today’s New York Times talks about how despite the fact that Brazilians themselves see beauty in all shapes and colors, modeling scouts who send models to Europe continue to see beauty only in tall, thin, white, and blond girls of German, Italian, and Russian decent. A common defense of this practice is that the modeling world abroad only values this particular type of girl, therefore the scouts are only providing what the market demands – a simple economic explanation for racism and discrimination.

One commentor on the article put it like this:

Tall, slender, Teutonic looking young women wear clothing better than any other body type or coloration, that’s why they are in demand for models. They have to be built rather straight with long limbs TO DISPLAY THE CLOTHING TO ADVANTAGE. This is why the best, the most desireable, the most highly paid models are tall, thin, fair and blond, they do the job better than anyone else. It’s a business decision.

There are a few things wrong with the logic of this argument. First, when you walk into a store, and start to browse the shelves and racks, the first thing you will notice is that clothing comes in DIFFERENT SIZES. An assumption in the above argument is that clothing only comes in a size 0, which of course only a size 0 woman would look good in. Clothing made for the runway inexplicably only fits women of a certain size. To say that only those women can fit those clothes is of course true, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If runway clothes were a size 8 or 10 or 14, then tall, rail-thin women would no longer be the ideal. The runway shapes our perception of the ideal size, not the other way around. The magazines tell us what we should be aiming for, not the other way around.

The second issue with this argument is the issue of skin color, which is much more baffling to me. For I can understand, to a point, why one might think thinner women look better in clothing. But I cannot understand why one would think whiter women, or blonder women do. A particular color of skin or hair looks better in ALL clothing?? That is non-sensical. More than half the world is non-white – why would it be the case that the market would prefer to see women of a color so unlike what most of us look like? Again, the runway and the magazines are telling us what to prefer, not the other way around. It’s the runway and the magazines that are telling us the white and blond is the best, is what’s beautiful, and that all else is of a lesser caliber. It makes little sense that the market, the consumers, would be actually driving that trend when the vast majority of the world’s women are neither white nor blond.

I love fashion, and I’m sometimes ashamed that I buy these magazines and watch these runway shows knowing that there is no one that looks like me represented in the pages or in the show. But I will surely teach my daughter that she is not represented not due to the fact that tall, white, thin women do the job better, but because we’ve been brainwashed to believe they are prettier. But that’s a lie.

3 thoughts on “who’s pretty?

  1. I think this is an idealization of Brazil. There’s also a hierarchy of beauty in Brazil where European traits are preferred, which has roots in its own history of slavery and European and American cultural domination, its inequality based on skin color etc. If you look at Brazilian soap operas, which are done for internal consumption, they also have mostly people who are much whiter and European-looking than the average population. This has become a bit better in soap operas recently because of movement by black actors, but it is still biased toward very white people. So I’d say, yes, models are an extreme version of this, but not really a contradiction with Brazilian tastes


  2. I hear you Luisa, and think your point is a good one. Mine is this, though – we don’t naturally think of whiter and thinner as better – the market shapes our perceptions rather than the other way around.


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