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Friday, December 25, 2015

[Essay] The Fashion Industry: Abuse in Disguise

by Linda Appleman Shapiro

After observing for many years the media’s portrayal of fashion with regard to the female body, I feel compelled to speak about what I perceive to be abusive. In fact, I find myself wondering why so many of us question why seemingly reasonable – albeit impressionable – female teenagers and young adults are obediently parading about attempting to replicate what the fashion industry insidiously dictates.

I would further add that fashion photographers – more often than not – dress and pose male models as up-scale businessmen at work, dining, sailing or golfing, always appearing handsome, pleasant, and appealing, while female models are posed/dressed to look afflicted: facial expressions pained, bodies anorectic and cloaked in anything but flattering apparel, and always, always, with a subliminal sexuality that speaks of rage rather than a full range of emotions that would more readily be recognized as being “natural.”

None of this helps to promote the health or beauty of female sexuality and we, their elders, should not be surprised when we then see how an industry is able to influence not merely how our girls and young women dress but, consequently, how they then behave.

Once again, if female models are to be gainfully employed, it is apparent (at least to those who agree with me) that they must choose to perpetuate dramatically posed, often unappealing stances which, at best, reflect a coerced sexuality with eyes blackened and/or pained, lips parted wide enough to fit a football, in bodies bent and twisted into perplexing puppet-like positions. Perhaps that is precisely how our so-called pop culture’s perspective parades its bird’s eye view of what constitutes beauty and trickles down to the young people we see strutting about.

We should not then be surprised to find them losing their innocence all too quickly, becoming out of touch with their natural beauty and, ultimately, misguided as to the effective roles they might play in society’s ever growing need for propriety and sanity.

How welcoming it would be to see women – beautiful, natural-looking women – smile and dress in a style complementary to their figures and reflective of their day-to-day lives, as opposed to a moment in time when a photographer has purposely distorted their stance and a camera’s lens has captured the dis-grace of our female gender. I challenge the fashion industry to photograph women as wives, significant others, stay-at-home or working mothers, secretaries, executives, physicians, educators, politicians, astronauts – the many and varied roles in which woman of the 21st century are proving their strengths and sensibilities! We have never been – and hopefully never will be – the stick-figure mannequins created by the perverted eyes of a confused culture.

Yet, addressing or even displaying perversions of all sorts makes money. And the fashion industry is, I suppose, no different than other industries where money is often the root of all evil. With those who have the power to make the decisions regarding fashion, their power is in the lens of a camera. How they dress a model and what contorted positions they direct her to twist her body into is how the photographer captures what we then see.

However, what we see is an illusion, a distorted image of reality where skinny, dramatic, and intensely posed women appear waxen, wanting, and wanton instead of full-bodied, fleshy, and flirtatious.

The question that should be asked is why we allow the fashion industry to focus on the extremes of skinny to the point of anorexia or obesity to the point “fat” to gain our attention. Surely, we should know that either end of that spectrum is never healthy and always speaks of a life that is totally out of balance. Perhaps if we learn to place our values where they belong, those so-called messengers will devote themselves to delivering different images (e.g. different messages).

Here’s where I submit to the old axiom that all things in moderation is what should be the goal. What we need are new definitions for what is beautiful and new people in the fashion industry who won’t insist on starving their models in order to present what they believe to be fashionably preferable. That, coupled with an admiration for beauty that is real and attainable, will offer more of us a positive self-image which will allow for greater emotional and physical health and a far greater respect for bodies and how we choose to clothe them.

*Linda Appleman Shapiro has been a behavioral psychotherapist/addictions counselor/life coach for more than 30 years. She is also the author of the memoir SHE’S NOT HERSELF: A Psychotherapist’s Journey Into and Beyond her Mother’s Mental Illness. This essay is from a book of essays yet to be published: UNICORNS EAT STRAWBERRY ICE CREAM: A Psychotherapist Explores How Myths Create Our Realties. Linda can be reached at

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