Catwalk Models And The Role Model Debate Communications Essay


23 Mar 2015

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Fashion models have been under the media spot light not only for their catwalks but also for posing as a main character on the ‘size zero' debate. Who is a size Zero and who is a role model? It is named to be a woman whose clothing size is a, size 2 or less in the US and a size 4 or less in the UK with a waist measurement which is less than 23 inches a size zero and a reality size model is a female who is a size 16 or above on average with a healthy body mass index, within the present sociological statistics of the UK. It has now become a trend for the teenagers and adult females to have a very skinny thin figure as a size zero where it would be equal to a waist measurement of an average 8 year old. Many health concerned organisations and pressure groups have brought forward the request of banning under weight models from the catwalks due to the loss of young models of ‘Anorexia Nervosa' which has sparked a global debate. On one hand this essay will evaluate how right it is for brands to believe that the use of a reality size model in association with their brands will cheapen perceptions, make the brand less desirable and drive them down - market and also on the other hand how insulting and rude it can be on a consumer when most of the lifestyle brand adverts use ‘fantasy images' on their marketing and communicational materials.

From the dawn of the day until we ‘call it a day' we are wrapped with different marketing communicational materials. Communications are being designed ‘for the public by the public'. The public opinions and view points could be strong enough to the extent of building or even tarnishing a brand image. As I see, products & organisations establish themselves as brands through thoughts, emotions, and psychological relationships built with consumers either by creating a positive or negative impact. It is very important for brands to develop and maintain a positive image amongst its target audience. The prices, product quality, services offered, ethical behaviour, corporate colours, logos, staff are some thoughtful points for a brand to position them in the minds of the consumers. Marketing communications help brands to establish themselves through effective methods of communicating with the public. Most brands use human models, celebrities, opinion leaders to represent and endorse the brand image. Brand identity and brand image realms the brand culture as a necessary complement to understanding brand meaning and brand creation (Schroeder and Salzer-Morling 2006).

Kelman (1961) explains the level of perceived credibility as seen in terms of perceived objectivity and expertise and the degree to which the source is regarded as attractive and message and thus recipients are motivated to develop similar association or position and the degree of power that the source is believed to possess. Brands make use of models with dynamic attractiveness who are perceived to be with likeable qualities and who blends well with the product category or organisational values and image, in order to develop a positive attractiveness towards the brand by recipients. More often as brands clearly identify the extent any society would go in accepting the appealing sense of a brand ambassador linked to the brand the more likely it is for brands to use very thin and size zero models for their advantage in creating communicational materials. According to Kahle & Homer (1985), when a celebrity/model's physical attractiveness is congruent with the presence and degree to which the product advertised enhances attractiveness (i.e., attractive model linked with an attractiveness-related product),the ‘Match-Up' hypothesis would predict a positive impact upon product and advertisement evaluations

Still many lifestyle brands have been accused for using skinny models for their advertisements. Should brands and fashion users use skinny models? If it is the right model and fits well with the brand identity the use of a skinny model may strengthen the brands position. I believe cutting edge

Image courtesy of the advertising Archives

Though it is appealing to admire skinny models in association with brands which strengthens brand identity, the public have accused many life style brands for not using reality size models over skinny models and that brands believe the use of a reality size models may cheapen its perception and drive them down - market. Is it actually fare for brands to invest in reality size models as per the public request? With the much debated size zero & the role model debate being wide spread Marks & Spencer who sells garments for any size individual challenged the stereotype techniques of advertisements. In 2001 RKCR/Y & R released a TV campaign for Marks & Spencer (M&S) which featured a size 16 naked woman running up a hill shouting: 'I'm normal!'. The nudity of the model suggested that the media have created another beautiful and sexual model even she is not a skinny one through the techniques of erotic creations. This advert then was heavily ridiculed by the public. M&S had to withdraw this advert in order to be safeguarding its brand identity. It is the same public who request for reality size models to be featured on advertisements ridicule them, once aired.Examples as such fear any other brands in investing on reality size models as the bottom line effect would be that the public would reject the brand as a whole.

However critics point out that the same firm uses more traditional images to promote its other brands as Lynx deodorant which features skinny models. The public keep appreciating this advert which is also making use of semi-nude models that are not of size zero to attract the target audience, which has been highly appreciated by the public. Why are sales on magazines and advertisements with not quite real but glamorous skinny models filled to the brim where airbrush imagery portraying in a fantasy world so high? Why do authors and doctors sell diet remedies quickly? Being thin and loosing the fatty deposits is what the public like to see. The editor of Vogue UK (Alexandra Shulman) says that ‘Magazines simply sell images that people want to see, and that the public wouldn't find even a size 14 model attractive'. It is not exactly a secret that gorgeous looking skinny models help make effective advertisements. Is it not right for brands to invest on skinny models rather than investing on a reality size model and been driven down market?

Media on the other hand which is regarded as a highly persuasive path, has been capable of developing photographic images through methods such as airbrushing, camera tricks & image touch ups to create certain body - types, shapes & figures in to the public eyes like never before. Simply media could be named as a very sharp weapon which depicts to us with images we have to be in order to be attractive and accepted by the society we live in. So, is it truly insulting to consumers that many lifestyle brand advertisers continue to portray fantasy images? The photographers are not the only ones with a thirst for creative and artistic images in this modern world; it's also the re-touches and the advance technology of Photoshop who does the trick of creating unbelievably beautiful and amazing images. Just about every image we see in magazines, adverts and most news papers will have been altered in someway to create a new level of human perfection with anti wrinkles, eye bags, pores, veins and facial hair. People in the industry always say women prefer fantasy and aspiration, but how far could this statement be true?

Lizzie Miller photographed by Walter Chin in the September issue of

US Glamour magazine.

The first photograph (left hand) of US model Lizzie Miller has not been air brushed at all whilst the second photograph (right hand) of hers is clearly done. She describes her experience as a ‘revelation' when she first went in to a fashion shoot with other skinny girls where most of them had either pimples or stretch marks which made her so comfortable with the marks she had, but by the time the photographs were published on magazines most of their real appearance had been airbrushed out. Why do females imaging that models are perfect? It's the photographers along with the retouches, publicists, models and brands who display a perfect image to enhance the brand perception. For a models fantasy image to look so amazing it takes a good photographer, good lighting, a quality makeup artist, and then a whole load of creative's to sit in front of a computer to produce an image. It may make one wonder why they bothered using a human model at all.

Why has it been to the extremes of airbrushing if it is not the real model's picture published? Brands have identified the degree how consumers reach towards their ideal self from the actual self image. Humans have multiple mental representations of self (Higgins 1987) namely actual self image and Ideal self image. A matured consumer would like to see herself way below the actual age, and a consumer who is of a fuller figure would like see herself with a perfect figure. This is why most beauty product rituals of feminine grooming aimed at senior female segments use air brushed. Images of models with healthy looking perfect skin and smiles and a perfect look that any matured looking female will be dreaming to have. In other words these brands seduce women in to consumption of the brand in order to be accepted by the loved once in an unrealistic manner.

Potential new buyer for the brands with the use of skinny models and models in fantasy images are challenged on the grounds that if a brand can make the skinny models look so amazing the way they look on the photograph then it should be good enough for them to use it too. If there is a consumer already making use of the particular brand then the product experience will contribute to a support argument and these advertising messages can be used to reinforce previous brand choice. These technology savvy laboratories help brands establish the values of differentiating their products from the competing other brands in the market and thus helping the brands to inform, remind and persuade through quality but artificial advertisements strategies.

In an ethical way of contributing towards marketing communications, I believe consumers need to be told the truth and appreciates seeing realistic images associated with brands in advertisements. Brands try to enter a consumers mind through designing the adverts emotionally and making the consumers feel guilt of how they posse in the society. The images decoded to gain brand perception are nothing but fantasy images of a dream world. With the development of technology and social networking the word of mouth spreads that these images are unhealthy and unrealistic. Consumers can no longer be fooled to believe they are real images. However as we live in an image culture we take our cues from the culture but are not taught how to deconstruct images correctly. It's like living in an audio culture and not being taught to listen. Thinking deep in to it, would a brand be famous for having models that look perfect to nothing and their by convincing the public the brand is for real? Or would the consumers be intelligent enough to say if the brand is trying to fool its customers by using fake and airbrushed images the brand too could be simply a cover up/air brushed product which is not for real?

If brands receive the prominence in the market place by the use of skinny models and as the media experts say that public keep on requesting for fantasy images what is all about the size zero Vs the role model debate? There are the more concerning fundamental and ethical issues related to this topic. In order to maintain and keep such an extra skinny figure, models have to watch what they eat. Models starve to maintain that figure and, as a result these models face the fears of ‘Anorexia Nervosa' which is a physical illness that describes an eating disorder characterized by extremely low body weight, body image distortion and an obsessive fear of gaining weight (Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders & The world health organisations international statistical classification of Diseases and related health problems) which can easily lead in

It has become the latest trend in fashion with retailers as, ‘Outfits Etc'-Mumbai, India selling garments only for the extra thin. Many major retailers in the high street as Top Shop, M&S and even George-ASDA store the size zero garments as there is a growing demand for these garments. Many parents are even concern that the favourite toy item ‘Barbie doll' figure could widen ups the opportunity for the kids to think that it's the acceptable size at their early stages. This is not only a concern about the girls but in the broad picture of the boys too. The perfect airbrushed images they see of females, the extra thin size they see on adverts make them

As a marketer, consumer and a female I see this communications issue in so many different ways.

There is surely a communications issue that imprints and decodes the incorrect message to the recipients where media can be pointed a figure, but we also need to understand that from year to year, age to age and country to country the ideal body shape changes. Certainly it is very thin at the moment. We experienced the Twiggy in the 60s and the heroine chic in the 90s when being thin was the most fashionable thing. There is so much attention been given nowadays to size zero models but the ideal has always been various kinds of thin, with a different name. It is a known fact that a woman's self esteem is highly connected with the way they look.

However it is only the people who lack self confidence and have low self esteem sink them selves with the idea of crossing any boarder of doing anything to look good. As the managing director of Propaganda Mike Philipson, correctly said to Haymarket Business Publications Ltd Using bigger women is only a cosmetic solution to a psychological issue for women with low self-esteem, who aspire to the 'catwalk look'. Culture, social impact, personality and many more could lead a women being skinny. Eating disorders are never the cause of just one thing. Dieting behaviours in the home environment, pressure from the loved ones to reduce weight could also draw a woman towards developing eating disorders. The editor of Vogue magazine UK, Alexandra Shulman once said ‘My dad said I will never get a husband if I didn't lose weight' It is sad but honestly the truth is that when brands make use of thin models and if they are on a cover page of a magazine with fantasy images people are drawn to purchase.

Each season when organisations and designers show off their tiring efforts of designs the size zero models are been hand picked for the mere reason of displaying the design and the true beauty of the garments more effectively to the general public. It has been identified that the use of size zero models and fantasy images destroy the minds of teenagers as well as adults like it has done with a few catwalk models in the past. The brands are responsible for informing the contemporary women how much little they have to rejoice with themselves if they do not adopt the modern style of living it approach. On one hand whilst saying that it is a more effective method for brands to use skinny models as brand ambassadors in order to keep the brands treated on the top of the consumers minds the media needs to have a great deal of responsibility on the impact it will have on the more vulnerable members of the society. Techniques as airbrushing need to be carried out without a doubt but with certain limitations and controls. There surely is a line somewhere between reality and fantasy when it comes to images and Photoshop has only helped to blur that line.

Advertising standards and consumer watch dogs complaints should be considered more seriously when ethical and humanitarian issues are been brought up. I believe we would be just as interested and keen in purchasing magazines overtime if magazines were strong enough to advertise real size models on their pages and covers. Trustworthiness and expertise are the two principal elements of source credibility (Chris Fill 2005).It is important for the public to realise that if a women displays a size zero figure, it could be due to the fact that either she have unusually skinny genes, or she is harming her self terribly to look that way. The younger women should be given some sort of understanding to read such articles with a certain degree of scepticism and emotional intelligence, which will lead them to make their own mind up without being seduced by this type of content.

Tools as public relations has been used as a means of managing communication between parties, where as now communication is regarded as a means of managing g relationships (Kent and Taylor 2002). This impact of brands and media needs to be neutralized by proper management. As consumers it is wise to think back if the relevant authorities and government bodies act positively towards saving the true victims? According to the Telegraph the proposed law in France request that all enhance photographs should read ‘photograph retouched to modify the physical appearance of a person' which would apply to all advertisements as well as press photos, art photography, political campaigns, on product packaging. The French fashion industry has come up with a voluntary solution of chartering to refraining from ‘extreme thin' images prior to legal intervention.Fashion weeks in Milan and Madrid have gone up the extent of bringing up concrete campaigns against the ultra thin size zero and even banning the size zero models and whoever was deemed unhealthy by the body mass index from the cat walks

This assignment articulates the ways in how brands perceive them selves in the top of the minds of the consumers by using size zero skinny models and also the ways of creating fantasy images with the help of advanced technology as airbrushing. What's in reality and how consumers should look at this communicational issue in order best practise healthy living in a real world depends upon how well the consumers understand this issue, the ethical concerns and the damaging elements of it. End of the day it is worth thinking if the media is worse than it used be or if consumers are more aware of what brands do to promote.

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* Featherstone, Mike. (1991) Body in consumer culture. Body: social process and cultural theory. London:Sage 170-196.

* Furman, Frida Kerner. (1997) Facing the Mirror - Older Women and The Beauty Shop Culture. New York: Routledge

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