Monday, 9 July 2012

Mirror, Mirror

(This absolutely stunning sample by Charlotte Taylor - sent to try on for size before I modelled for her lookbook - seemed to epitomise the notion of high glamour. I then found it rather subversive that the deep back allowed for framing of my neck-to-waist scar. I felt that I was inhabiting two roles at once: conventional elegance in the dress and unconventional beauty in the line running down my spine.)

According to a piece in the Guardian, up to 90% of women have experienced “body-image dissatisfaction”. Such a statistic is a sad reflection of the corrosive relationship between physical looks and self-worth. It demonstrates the power of the message – promoted through various channels - that we’re never attractive enough. In the West, we’re a highly visual culture, bombarded with endless images. ‘Bombarded’ suggests an attack, but even if photos, adverts and video clips aren’t reaching out to administer a quick slap, they still damage perceptions of appearance. I think that discontent with the way one looks can sometimes be traced back to more personal explanations and roots, but ideals promoted in the media still exert a powerful influence – whether in an image of a celebrity lauded for losing her post-baby weight or in the stock shots of models gracing features and ad campaigns. 

I model occasionally (and informally), despite my waist and hips being about two inches over the often expected norm. When I was first scouted I was a skinny thirteen year old, and my parents were still plying me with hot chocolate every morning to encourage weight gain. This was before growth spurts, before the twisting spine that re-moulded my torso, pretty much before the completion of puberty. It has only been my subsequent growth in the last year that has led to a realization of quite how narrow the body ideal of the industry actually is. My response used to be that: “I eat huge amounts of cake, sweets and full-fat food and am still slender, so people should stop suggesting that all models are unhealthy.” Although I still stand by the fact that some individuals are just naturally very slim, I’m much more suspicious of the extremes expected on the catwalk and in editorials. I fitted the high-end clothes at fourteen – I was a rapidly growing girl with a fast metabolism – but some of those pieces would now be too small to wriggle into at seventeen. Once I stopped growing upwards, then I began to fill out into my rightfully adult shape. If you’re tall like me, then it’s unusual for this shape to include a natural twenty-three or twenty-four inch waist (or even smaller). I’m confused as to why models my age and older are expected to be quite so slender. What is the purpose? I know that the counter-argument revolves around the reliance on fantasy and escapism, but surely it detracts from the clothes if one is distracted by the sight of a waist or thigh that looks dangerously breakable? This body shape, beyond reach of the majority of women, is almost fetishized – desirable in its unattainability. Even I occasionally feel the insidious whisper: the one suggesting that if I lost an inch here or there then I would somehow be better. It’s a false voice, but a persuasive one.

However, what alternatives currently exist within the industry? There are purportedly ‘plus sized’ models, but their use is always highly signposted; the model often clad in underwear, or nude. Editors claim that this is due to the refusal of some designers to provide anything other than a slip of a sample size. It’s dull and circular – some magazines blame the designers, who blame the model agencies, who blame those very magazines. The torch of responsibility is passed on quickly – hold it too long and it will burn.

Izzy of Misadventures of Me wrote a particularly insightful take on these matters.

A very singular ideal of beauty is subsequently promoted. It is young, slender, and – very sadly - often white. Beauty completely deserves to be celebrated, but in its wealth and diversity, rather than in banal similarity. Beauty can exist just as much in the grace (or disgrace!) of a seventy year old, as in a leggy, fresh-faced teenager. However, the current message is that only one type of beauty ensures approval – and that, as perfection does not exist, we all fall short. Germaine Greer in 'The Whole Woman' characterised it thus: “Every woman knows that, regardless of her other achievements, she is a failure if she is not beautiful... There must be bits of her that will not do, her knees, her buttocks, her breasts.”

We are encouraged to make up for these defects by the ‘beauty’ industry – an ironic name considering that it’s impossible to drastically alter your looks without recourse to plastic surgery. Instead it’s a business of ‘enhancement’. I’m writing this with my red lips pursed slightly, my kohl-lined eyes frowning at the screen. I have nothing against make-up – it’s part of the toolbox of dressing up, a paint-box, a further process of adornment. It can be fabulous. And yet, I also like the face that lies beneath those products. I don’t use make-up to hide my appearance, but to accentuate certain aspects. There’s nothing wrong with seeking to make yourself attractive to your peers or the opposite gender, as long as you do not define yourself solely by their responses. If the ‘real’ you must be concealed, moisturized and obscured then that’s not right. And yet the boundary line between something done for personal gratification, and something done due to certain expectations, is often hard to define.

Hair removal is just one example of this hard-to-define line. I only realised recently that my dislike of vests and sleeveless dresses stems from having armpits that resolutely refuse to be shaved properly – always retaining the faintest pin-pricks of stubble. It has taken several years to get the point where I don’t mind or fear some kind of judgement. If I’m honest, shaving of any kind is a tedious, time-consuming process. And yet, I prefer the look of my legs when they are smooth. I just resent the effort devoted to getting them to look that way, even if it’s only sporadic as they’re usually hidden away under tights. Removal of hair should be a personal choice, rather than a societal or peer-pressured expectation.

Perhaps this needs to be the defining question in any area relating to appearance – am I doing this for myself, or because I feel duty-bound? Will it improve my confidence, or do I feel confined? Is it an expectation, or something I enjoy? Of course such questions are much easier asked than answered, but maybe thinking about them is a move in the right direction. 

This is the third in my planned series of posts on feminism - but there will be a little hiatus before the fourth is ready to put up. Thank you so much to all those who have taken the time and energy to comment on these pieces. I'm grateful for the insight and depth of the observations and opinions that people have offered up. 


Gabriela Salvador said...

Honestly, I feel exactly the same way about shaving--I'm comfortable not shaving for weeks, but then slipping on tights. I find no point in shaving legs/arms/bikini area/etc (after all, didn't men like women with hair for thousands of years?), but I always like the feeling of a shaved body...

The Foolish Aesthete said...

Dear Rosalind, first of all, your photos exude old world Hollywood glamor, precisely because of that deeply cut back. You wear it like a screen siren.

Secondly, as you and Izzy have pointed out, it really is strange that anything beyond a size 0 is "plus sized." I see this outside of the modeling industry too. One could say I am definitely a "plus sized" dancer. Doesn't stop me from dancing, but it does make me feel less comfortable.

Women certainly have an awkward relationship with their natural selves. I was just at the dermatologist office for some medical salves for rash & eczema. I was surprised to see so many older women having beauty treatments, including Botox and other image-altering processes. RIght now, my mind is set on aging gracefully and accepting what nature gives. But will I stick to that a few years from now, when the grooves have been carved and gravity has done its work? I hope I will have enough integrity to leave things untouched beyond the use of creams and masks. But I cannot say for sure. -- J xxx

Anonymous said...

Really great article Roz, as always.

Reyna @fashionmist said...

Pretty .xx

Jacqueline M. said...

If you are ever in NYC, it would be lovely to shoot (with) you.

Also, thank you for committing yourself to writing - it's an art, and it's fallen by the wayside too often as of late. Perhaps this is a crisis of our (individual) modernity.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for all of your beautiful words regarding the pressure society places on women to look a certain way.

I really appreciated hearing how your personal story tied in with something that many deal with. Knowing more about you definitely helped me to grasp what you were saying better. To be honest, when I first came across your blog, I thought that you were just another pretty model taking pictures of herself and sharing them with the world. However, after having read what you have had to say regarding many topics (especially this one!), I've come to really appreciate who you are and what it is exactly that you are doing on your blog. I now understand that you are an extraordinary person and utilize your words effectively and with finesse.

I feel the same way about shaving that you do. Despite dreading the time-consuming and irritating ritual known as "shaving", I still put myself through an uncomfortable situation in order to be considered attractive.

But what is attractive?
Is it even something I can achieve?
Society tells me I can never be truly beautiful or perfect. I'm not tall or super slim and most definitely don't have perfect bone structure or a face that would make angels cry. At 5'6" I'm relatively short and weighing more than 100 pounds, I'm built athletically and not extremely aesthetically pleasing in the traditional long, graceful sense. As if to add insult to injury, I'm not even white!

Yet in spite of all this, I am beautiful in my own way. I know I am and I want to find people who can feel the same way.

With all that said, I think you look absolutely STUNNING in that Charlotte Taylor sample. It has such a glamorous sheen to it and highlights your beautiful leg as well as your very inspiring and breathtaking scar.
I can't wait to see pictures from the lookbook you're going to be in! :)


P.S. Sorry for all of my rambling. My comment is super duper long but I just couldn't help it! Beauty and the perception we have of it is something that I feel extremely strongly about.
I hope you don't mind having to read all of this!!

Melanie said...

I love these glam shots and how you've bared your scar as a part of being. I think most elite humans are hypermorphs in the sense that they are unrealistic. Athletes transfuse blood, and inject steriods and other harmful substances to excel. Runway models too, often like the over-the-top clothes they wear, are hypermorphs, unrealistic, meant for the catwalk or photo studio like art. The same is true for big-name actors. Without an ideal to admire, in sports or any sphere, what is there to dream of? Usually we don't dream of being the girl-next-door - we dream of being Harlow... We love to be swept beyond the drudgery of the norm. The problem is when these elites are mistaken as normal. There's a difference between reflections of ourselves and art. Danger. Tough, tough question. Ask me tomorrow, I'll give you another answer! :)

Thrifted Shift said...

Excellent points! I especially agree with the idea that beauty should be celebrated with more diversity. There are so many ways to be beautiful! Oh, have you seen the blog Humans of New York? That's one of the reasons I love it- it showcases so many different kinds of beauty. I also like your question at the end about the things we do for beauty- are they for our enjoyment or expectation? I think of myself as a low maintenance girl, because I'm not into nails, hair, nor make-up, but even so, how many products did I use just to shower, shampoo, shave my legs, and moisturize afterwards?! Thanks for this post, it gave my brain things to work on!

Willow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Fancy Teacup said...

I always love reading your excerpts--they are so insightful. That dress is absolutely magical.

Vanessa, Take only Memories said...

Wow, what a dress! You look positively sparkling ;)

DaBi Vintage said...

beautiful!kisses from Italy

Vix said...

You look like a mermaid in that beautiful dress. I loved reading your insight and found it fascinating. x

Ellie Jane said...

Having gone to an all girls school for the past five years you can't help but notice the amount of time not only spent by people trying to achieve 'beauty' and the amount of time spent criticising everything about ourselves which doesn't fit into the designated mould of expected beauty. Being surrounded my a few hundred other girls your own age acts only as a magnifying glass which I'm pretty sure we all feel burnt by! In a group conversation will always mention someone stating how they don't like their thighs or the size of their hips, sadly it's become norm to hear those kind of comments. I know I'm guilty of making them.
Furthermore, it's made me, personally, acutely aware of the fact that I wear make up to meet the expectations of those around me, not for myself. I know for certain I could never have gone into school without make up for fear of the reaction, which I'm sure would have been infinitesimal, that's if there even was any.I don't want people to view my face in it's natural state as 'ugly', sad but true.

Sorry for the massive comment but it's a topic which I relate to hugely.

The Cat Who Walked by Herself said...

Hi Rosalind,you look lovely!
For me,it' a always important to look in the mirror and ask myself.'Does it  look like I tried too hard?' For If you ask me,there is nothing more unattractive  than
On another note,i havn't been able to get hold of 'How to be a Woman' yet, though I have been listening to caitlin Moran's interviews on youtube.what I noticed was, she urges women to ask the question 'Are the men doing it?'and funnily enough the answer is er..yes,atleast some of the time,more and more men J see on t.v with waxed chests,shaped eyebrows.. This whole metrosexuality thing is rather strange and complicates feminism a little.Maybe it's the age of needless beautification,just part of the rampant consumerist culture..

Gloria Gisele said...

Roz, I highly recommend laser hair removal. I had it done years ago and it was the best investment ever. Nature doesn't always know best and hairy legs have no place in the modern age where sadly even pubic hair on a lover is seen as abhorrent.

On a different note, I'm a huge fan of your writing and photography. Keep it up Superstar.x

Caitie Schlisserman said...

these photos remind me of old hollywood glam.... you are so gorgeous! that dress is a dream


Lydia said...

This is the most beautiful dress I've ever seen! I would literally never take it off. I want!!!

I just read an open letter by Anna Wintour in a recent issue of American Vogue, in which she credits herself and the CDFA for apparently bringing size-standards in the fashion industry closer to a healthier "norm," and wanted to gag. Please! There is nothing wrong with being slim, and I don't entirely blame the fashion industry for women's poor self-image, but it's hard to look at thin, beautiful women and NOT wish you looked like that.

Izzy/Bella said...

My husband offered to cook dinner, so I have the chance at last to catch up on your blog, and I'm so happy I did. First I have to say this series is incredible. I went from feeling totally depleted from a long day's work to filled with energy and light after reading it. That's the gift of a great writer, the passion and truth in your voice, and the energy it conveys to others.

Also thank you so much for including a link to my I wish I'd worked on it harder!I felt like if I reworked that piece too much I wouldn't have had the guts to put it up. Anyway I'm so incredibly touched and honored.

I liked your point that some of the issues we feel about ourselves come from within. I actually grew up around a lot of African American women as my step-mother is Haitian. It was such a different perspective on beauty, life and especially eating. I think it's largely due to that that I was able to always hold out despite criticisms and never lose a lot of weight. I'd remember my step-mother asking me why white women aged so much quicker than African American women, and I thought it had to be cultural. From my observations of the two cultures it all stemmed to eating! My stepmother would create lavish, multi-course meals while the mothers of my white friends would warn me not to eat too many apples! I took that mentality with me into modeling. I did get a lot of work (I'm talking about it in the past, because I'm on a break), so I don't want to discourage other girls who venture to model at a size 4 with size 2 bits as I did. However, I did face a lot of criticism. I'm just not that confident enough in my looks to be able to shrug that off. Maybe I could/ will be..we'll see. But I need this break. Another girl might have been able to ignore all that.

And last, my goodness you look stunning in that dress. I don't even notice the scar. And anyway one of my favorite models Josie Maran had a huge scar on her belly and no one ever cared. It's the overall grace and spirit that are stunning in a person, and you have that in spades. I couldn't feel that way anymore about myself (from the inside is where it counts) and so I took a break.

Anyway thank you for that breath of fresh air! I feel revived :)
All the best,

Jean at said...

When I was in high school in the late '60's (and an artsy-type, not straight up hippie) my closest friend developed the true-boyfriend litmus test, which was "Is he worth shaving for?".

On a tangent, but also related, my husband recently asked me why I never wear dresses. I indignantly replied that I wear them all the time. (You know, you've seen my blog!) But then it occurred to me that by "dresses", he meant ones that show your legs. Well, I don't like them very much. I feel like one of those plucked chickens in the cartoons, a round body dancing on those little plucked legs.

So what do I do with all this?! There's a tangle of thoughts and emotions, i.e. he's comparing me to all those sexy young things out there with gorgeous legs, or I'll never be"right or good enough", or I'm delusional about what looks good on me and I'm second-guessing all of my outfits. I allow all the joy to be drained out of my daily dressing, usually a pleasurable, creative activity.

Then, I get ornery. Damn it, I'll wear whatever I please. If you don't like it, someone else will! Then I think, but I want you to to take pleasure in my appearance. We have different tastes; that's okay. So when it's all said and done, my compromise usually consists of several things.

When it's just us, I'll wear something he loves and that I can tolerate. When we're heading out and the situation means I'm arm candy or the "missus", I'll again try to select something I know he likes but that I can breathe in and feel comfortable in.

But most days, I can dress for myself and I do. I think about this compromise several ways. One, it's a tangible way of saying, "I love you and I've noticed you like this. I choose to please you with my choice." But additionally, I'm aware that doing so challenges my self-imposed boundaries, which is a good thing. The "Oh, I can't wear that!" or "I'm too old to do/wear this" etc. I get a chance to experiment a little and decide for myself where my comfort zone is, today -not yesterday- and not tomorrow.

I agree it's a fine line and I love your willingness to examine it.

polka dot said...

Oh, Roz. What a wonderful, and important, post.

I'm commenting before even having read all the other no doubt insightful, thoughtful responses - but I will, later, when I have more time. This is something I feel so strongly and passionately about. I am so glad you've written this.

There's so much I want to say.. I'll save it for a second comment. It's hard to type while applauding you! And by the way, the photos are beautiful - you are beautiful - but that's not just the point.

(It's funny: I can't wait for you to read my unpublished novel - if and when you have time. The theme of beauty - and of never being quite perfectly beautiful enough - is the cornerstone of my story).

It was so wonderful spending the day with your mom btw - can't wait to see you both again soon, and I hope it's all going well. Much love to you Roz!

Soccer Mom Style said...

I have the same "problem" with my armpit hair being stubborn and I have finally (at 40) made peace with my armpits, LOL

Interesting posts on feminism, Roz. I just wanted to say I agree with you saying feminism can be confusing (i think in your last post). Where I was born and raised (country of Georgia) there was a terrible double standard regarding sex roles and expectations (I won't get into the details, as it would be so long, it could be a book). Then, I came to live in the southern United States and in my circles here feminism has some negative meaning to it. Someone here might say feminists want special treatment for women and not equality. What an absurd idea. It was quite confusing...

While I am a stay-at-home mom by choice (the plan was for me to go back to work after children started kindergarten; but I still have not due to my health)...
so while I am a SAHM by choice, I think it was a personal sacrifice I chose to make. Unfortunately, there is no balance in life. Don't get me wrong, I think we can and should inspire to have everything but the reality is that it's hard (if not impossible) to have everything at once.

Love the back of your dress showing your beautiful and unique line.


Kelly-Marie said...

Another absolutely fantastic post! Again I am so happy that you are writing about such important issues on your blog.
I recently did some prop styling for a shoot that involved some very famous couture pieces. The model who was wearing them was a very young beautiful tiny framed ( but healthy) model.
I was shocked to see that one of the couture pieces didn't even do up around her tiny frame at the back. I can't even fathom how small you would have to be for it to do up! seriously I was shocked. It also really opened up my eyes to how thin the girls on the catwalk would have to have been to wear the pieces originally.
I find it all very sad. The modelling industry is so competative and girls must be under so much pressure to shrink down to such unrealistic sizes in order to get the work.

SabinePsynopsis said...

You channel the 20s vibe of the dress perfectly, Roz, and the scar is quite something. Personally, I love scars - to me they are reminders of life lived.
About the body-image... when I first worked with models I could not believe how thin they are. SO thin! It's beautiful for photos and runways, but this is not the average figure, and only very few women (I guess you included) have this figure (and even they often have to starve for it). I found this realisation quite a relief - it's the differences that make us interesting and attractive. xoxo

Opposite lipstick said...


Fashionistable said...

Another beautifully written post and again from another important perspective on the feminist issue. When I was your age I spent all my time counting calories and was never happy with myself. All my friends were slimmer and shorter. It took me years to learn to love being tall and getting used to my size. I find it amazing that you are not slim enough for modeling as you have a wonderful figure. I love to wear make-up but can be rarely bothered to put it on. It agree it is great as an enhancement but feel that women who cannot go out with out it are wearing as much of a veil as covered Muslim women, just in a different form. The dress in your pictures is amazing and look forward to seeing you in it again in the look book. Love the deep back. Xxxx

100%soie said...

it's been so long, I didn't have time to come visit you !!!! I just clic on your blog and find this beautiful and sparkling dress which feets you so perfectly !! the details on the back of the dress are so lovely !!!!!

Inass said...

Heey you,
You've got a lovely blog. Very interesting post!
I am your newest follower and I'm looking forward to more.
Check my blog, maybe you would like to follow me as wel.

Krystalle said...

Thought-provoking writing as always, Roz. I love how you use your talent and your gift to discuss social and cultural issues.

Gushing aside, I do think it's really difficult to transparently define the reasons for a woman applying make-up to her face. If she proclaims that she's doing so out of self-confidence and the idea of 'dressing for oneself', who is to say that her idea of self-confidence has not been subconsciously shaped by societal notions of make-up enhancing a woman's self-confidence and attractiveness? Who is to say that these societal notions are not shaped by the beauty ideals idolized by the mainstream media?

While you're right in pointing out that thinking about them is a move in the right direction, I think, inevitably, our answers to these questions will always involve some underlying level of complexity that points towards the media.

Apologies if my comment has been written in a more abstract manner than I intended!


Thea vintage said...

That dress is stunning! It looks really great on you!

Danielle Nelson said...

What a beautiful, beautiful post. Your words are lovely and that dress is stunning!!! Like many others, I didn't notice the scar until you mentioned it further down.

I agree with everything that you said, but as someone who has always struggled with about 10-15 pounds of extra weight, I'm trying to occupy the middle ground between wanting to be healthier for me and trying to get skinnier to fit society's set beauty standards. I fully admit it and as a strongly identified feminist, body image and self love is my nemesis. I've also written about my experiences with undergoing breast reduction surgery as well. My scars are pretty hidden from the outside world, but they are still a reminder that I have a ways to go in improving my perception of myself.

Wonderful writing! I hope you continue to write more about feminism... your insight is spot on.

Danielle from Collegiate Feminist

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you have wrote this post, it is so true. It's true, I mean I feel confident and prefer to shave etc, but in the cold winter days, when you are going to wear tights, leggings etc most of the time, you dont need to shave every time you have a bath.

Hope you can follow me, I am following you now, as your posts have great content and I would like to stay in touch

Great post

Leanna Kay said...

You look positively stunning. I love your hair.

I agree with you completely- culture expects entirely too much of women. Why is being 'skinny' regarded as the only form of beauty, I often wonder. It's just not fair.


Carly said...

Hi Roz, Great post!

I've not commented in a while but I just wanted to point you in the direction of this article. I think the way we talk to young children definitely affects their confidence and their attitude towards “beauty” when growing up.

Let me know your thoughts.
Carly x

Vetekatten said...

Hi, this is the first time I come across your blog and what an interesting posts!
I have to say I quite agreed with you while reading this, despict the initial annoyance in discovering you're a model who eat a lot and don't get fat. But I liked what you said until a discovery. You're only 17! And I'm happy to find out the maturity in your words, on the other hands I can't help but worry for you and the girls your age. Because I'm 30 and the kind of thoughts you do should be a territory of my age. At 17 I wasn't wearing much make up and I didn't really care, your body will change when turn 20 and it will change even more at 30. I feel it is difficult to cope with it now, I can't imagine how hard it can be for a teenager who's not as lucky as you are with your body

Fashion Tales said...

Wonderful post and beautifully written. I work with and have several friends who do runway modelling and they were the first to tell me that it isn't all glam. They definitely have a strict regimen that they follow. So, I think you bring up a good point, in the end "Will it improve my confidence, or do I feel confined?"
For me, I love the diverse parts of beautiful. We all have scars external or internal, I think it's in the way we choose to view them that makes the difference.
*The sparkled gown is absolutely stunning and I love the natural old glamourous effect it has on you.

Jessica W said...

Interesting read. I agree, beauty standards these days are utterly ridiculous. Yet, I still do try to conform to them :/ It is bloody hard!

Anonymous said...

Stunning photos!

Stephanie Hoff Clayton said...

Your back is beautiful, Roz. Thanks for showing us.
I don't like those "beauty standards". To me, there is beauty in imperfection and an interesting face, for starters. And that's only on the outside...
I think one reason personal style blogs have become so popular is because people are tired of only seeing beautiful clothing on models of a standard size, proportion and shape. We want to see lovely things on real people with style, with their own individual kind of beauty. That's not to say models aren't beautiful but there are many kinds of beauty.

Anonymous said...

OMG utterly exquisite


The Dandelion Chronicles said...

What a lovely post. As being among the 90% I have had my share of feeling dissatisfied with my appearance, and only now as I turned 25 I am starting to appreciate my features and also appreciate other people's features.
It is hard to figure out who or what is to blame, if any really, in the end, for this one way-outlook on beauty. For some years I was quite angry at everyone in the fashion/beauty industry but realised that they could not change how I felt about myself at this moment, only I could do that.
In stead I am going for a more healthy/overall approach - If I feel good/smart/beautiful/funny/quirky/flirty/etc. then I am. Nothing else should define me otherwise.
I hope we can all come to a point where we can be allowed to breathe and rejoice in all our diversity, because that is where all the beauty is anyway.
Thank you again for an amazing post. I really enjoyed reading it.

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