Forever 21: Let our knees be (knees)!

Discount fashion retailer Forever 21 is adding another item on the drop-down menu of “body parts to feel self-conscious about”: knee caps.

The web site featuring their skirt-purchasing options has more than 100 items in which the models’ kneecaps are completely airbrushed out, or are cleverly obscured so only a hint of curvature is detectable. The preposterousness of these photos is compounded by the fact that they list the model’s measurements, as a very ineffective and pernicious piece of sizing guidance.

As if our consumer culture doesn’t do a good enough job of providing us with an endless stream of warnings about how our organic bodies are inherently flawed, we now need to turn a curious eye to our knees to see how presentable they may appear.

Sure, this idea of feeling insecure about the appearance of my kneecaps seems a tad comical and over the top, but it’s the larger implication that does the most damage. It’s not enough that we’re forced to come eye-to-eye with the unattainable measurements of the model appearing in the photo and her lithe lower limbs — a cursory view of the picture sans kneecaps simply gives us another way to notice that we don’t look like the people who advertise our clothes.

Until I read another article that highlighted this oddity, I never really took much notice of the knees of models in skirt shots, but that seems to be the point. It is these pernicious and seemingly undetectable ways in which we are exposed to altered body parts that are simply not real. But we unknowingly internalize these images that contribute to the overall unattainable and illusory ideal that women measure themselves against and unfailingly come up short. It’s another bit by which our bodies are shamed for their natural state.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention how horrifyingly unvaried the choice of models are for these pictures. We all know the fashion industry is notorious for reinforcing a specific standard of beauty, but the lack of lower-body representation is especially evident in these screen shots. This further reinforces the idea that only individuals that are facsimiles of these models can wear and look good in these clothes. I don’t know that I see many retailers providing a variety of bodies when presenting their products online, which just shines a light into another corner of the ways in which the thin ideal is unknowingly reinforced.

In writing this piece, I look down at my own kneecaps, sheathed in ruddy skin, bearing several discernable scars, battle wounds from youthful adventures. I have a moment of gratitude that they are operational and remember that’s how knees look. If only we could all feel that way about the totality of our bodies — thankful for all they allow us to do, instead of being constantly exposed to damaging messages about how innately inept we all are. So, Forever 21, I implore you to stop digitally altering your models in this way.

And most importantly: let’s let our knees be knees, please.


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