Glamour shows a glimpse of diversity amidst a sea of monotony

Lizzi Miller in the September issue of <em>Glamour</em>
Miller looks natural, smiling and laughing, as though the camera is not pointing at her—or at her stomach

Glamour’s move to illustrate a feel-good body story with a 3-by-3-inch nude image of 20-year-old Lizzi Miller has received a lot of attention — mainly praise. Miller is a “plus-size” (in the language of the skin-and-bones fashion industry) model, but her body is more representative of the average female reader. Some suggest that this image potentially foreshadows a shift in media representation of women.

Unfortunately, though, the reason it attracted so much attention is because the diverse representation of bodies is an anomaly. Indeed, even the surrounding articles in the magazine are peppered with articles such as “The Do’s and Don’ts of Looking Hot,” and ads with potentially damaging images of heavily airbrushed, unrealistic-looking women.

For years, I have been interested in the impact of fashion and celebrity magazines on the body image of girls and women. One day, I stopped buying magazines suddenly — as if the weight of them broke the camel’s back. I guess I became disgusted by the unrealistic images of women they portrayed, and noticed the negative effects on my own body image. Occasionally, though, a magazine shows a different side to this monotony of stereotypical beauty.

Miller’s photo in Glamour is not the first instance of a magazine making an effort to include “everyday” bodies. Another example is when Jamie Lee Curtis appeared in her underwear, without makeup or airbrushing, in a 2002 issue of More magazine. Juxtaposed with the shot was an image of her “glammed up,” surrounded by a team of stylists and makeup artists. This provocative comparison was intended to show a stark contrast between mundane reality and the hyperreality we see in magazines and advertisements.

Jamie Lee Curtis in a 2002 issue of <em>More</em> magazine
Jamie Lee Curtis poses au naturale (on the left) and glammed up (on the right) in a 2002 issue of More magazine

Of course, Glamour’s image was more incidental and not the feature of the article, but the questions remain the same: will these gestures change anything in the long term? Are they genuine efforts to challenge the status quo, or merely one-off publicity stunts?

When Cindi Leive (the editor-in-chief of Glamour) was interviewed on the Today Show, she said that the responses to Miller’s image are “a sign of the times that women are really looking for a little bit more authenticity, a little bit less artifice … Will it change our approach? I think it will.”

If this change doesn’t happen, will we continue to be confused and self-doubting? Will we still find it difficult to look with a critical eye at magazines’ impact on our self-esteem? I believe that real diversity of body shapes and sizes in fashion and women’s magazines has the potential to stimulate change, but this needs to be a consistent message. When that happens, I might just start buying magazines again.

–Tessa

Tessa Needham finished her PhD in Performing Arts at the University of Western Sydney (Australia) in 2008. Her thesis explored the potential of performance to provoke change, and part of her research was Bodily, a solo theatrical performance about body image. She loves technology and the creative arts, and is passionate about the different cultural forces affecting the body image of girls and women. She teaches computers and does freelance creative work: www.tessaneedham.com.

11 thoughts on “Glamour shows a glimpse of diversity amidst a sea of monotony

  1. I remember seeing this photo in Glamour. I was flipping through the magazine’s pages, and the picture caught my eye. I scrambled to get back to the page to look at Miller and read the article. I couldn’t believe they chose someone not a size zero to do a nude photo that wasn’t airbrushed to cover up “flaws.”

    Glamour is known to present a woman for each age group; 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s; for certain issues and entail about what to expect about your health, love life, etc. at this age. However, they always choose some beanpole of a woman that is far from the ideal body shape of a woman in that age group. I wish Glamour would do a more accurate job of selecting a representative female for each age group. In other words, do a little research and find out what the average weight, height, and body build is for each group and base the person you pick off that criteria.

    Thank you About Face for all that you do to inspire and educate women!

  2. I agree that the move to representing diverse and realistic bodies needs to be consistent, but it all goes back to the idea that the best way to sell a product is to make the consumer feel that they are inadequate without it. If a product tells us that we are fine just the way we are, will we buy into it?

    I think so. Especially now, with people spending their money much more carefully, I think that companies who adopt this more positive marketing approach will really stand out and win consumers over from their competitors.

    But magazines do depend on ad sales, and companies that buy ads want magazines that not only sell a lot of copies, but that send the message that readers need to buy the products that are advertised in the magazines; companies want to buy ads from magazines that tell their readers that they will not be good enough, or that they would be the best version of themselves, if they spend money on those products.

    So how can a magazine include consistent messages about feeling-good about oneself when it wants to attract advertisers who want them to send a very different message?

  3. Good point, Sabrina. I think that the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, while perhaps not a perfect advertising campaign (what is “real”?), went a long way to showing how companies can use advertising to make women feel good, as well as selling stuff. I’d be interested to know what their sales figures have been like since the campaign – is this data available?

    Tessa

  4. I always like seeing things like this, but sometimes I wonder if the magazine is just throwing a bone to keep a large segment of its readership happy. The German publication, Brigitte, starting in January 2010, will stop using traditional fashion models and instead will be highlighting “real” women readers in their articles. The real test of their commitment to improving women’s self images will be what they do if readership levels dip after the switch to “real” people instead of models.

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