Thursday, 1 February 2018

nudity in fashion magazines



British Vogue's March issue has already been met with divided opinion. Firstly, there is still no sign of the diversity we hoped for under new editor, Edward Enninful. The Hadid sisters are the most predictable Vogue cover stars imaginable. Many of the magazine's best covers have featured actual models and the Hadids have been impactful cover stars of other publications before, so, in theory, under Enninful’s editorship, the covers could be really interesting. Sadly, this is not the case. The sisters are styled the same, which is supposed to be a comment about how British Vogue has “reuinted” them by letting them work together, but it just comes across as too sentimental for fashion and lazy. Furthermore, the covers are so heavily photo shopped that Bella is hardly recognisable. Both sisters have had strong Vogue covers before. Bella's Vogue Italia cover shot by Inez and Vinoodh stands out. In comparison, this cover is very dull.

The covers were met with an eye-roll reaction from most- more skinny white models in the supposedly “new” Vogue. However, the nude photo of the sisters from inside the magazine is what sparked an internet debate that has stretched beyond conversation between fashion fans. The argument tends to fall into one or two camps; "why are they naked when Vogue is supposed to be a fashion magazine?" and "it's 2018, aren't women allowed to be naked?"

There are issues with both of these points. Of course, Vogue is a fashion magazine, but it also an arts and culture magazine. The editorials are not there just to show clothes; if they were, every editorial would be a boring studio shoot. The joy of Vogue is its engagement with wider culture, and the narrative angle its editorials often have. Besides, there is a long history of nudity in fashion magazines. Horst P. Horst was taking nude photographs for Vogue as far back as the 1930s. Nudity and fashion should not be mutually exclusive. Some of the most iconic and, yes, empowering editorials feature nudity. The most recent one that comes to mind is Serena Williams' pregnant Vanity Fair cover shot by Annie Leibovitz. It was powerful as well as being feminine. Gigi herself posed nude for her first Vogue Paris cover in February 2016 it was beautiful. Fashion magazines are a place for women to reclaim ownership of their bodies in a predominantly feminine space. In 2018 magazines can make powerful statements about body positivity and feminism through nudity. However, the Hadid Vogue image does neither of these things.


In theory, the Hadids embracing in an expression of sisterly love is a nice and innocent idea. It could have been executed well, if the shoot had gone in a more ethereal/Virgin Suicides kind of direction. Or even if they were both posed in more powerful stances, reflecting their status as two of the most powerful women in fashion. What we are left with is something that rests uncomfortably inbetween. The pose is awkward and that makes it look unnatural.

We shouldn't live in a society where women's naked bodies are automatically sexualised, but many people have pointed out the potential creepy readings of the image of two naked sisters posed in that way. The image has been called "incestuous and disgusted." I would never go as far as to call it disgusting. There is nothing "disgusting" about the female body. It has been pointed out that the photograph was taken by a gay man for a women's magazine edited by a gay man, but that doesn't remove the sexual undertones of the image. The image is still taken through the male gaze, even if it is not the heterosexual male gaze.

The nudity doesn't bring anything new to the magazine. No one is more natural than when they are naked, but the blatant, heavy photoshopping conflicts with that. What fashion magazine readers want from nudity has changed. We want honesty. Vogue Italia have the right idea with their Gisele cover for their March 2018 issue; natural hair, no makeup, no photoshop.

What individual women choose to do with their hair/makeup/clothes is completely up to them, but magazines have an audience to target and we increasingly expect them to take responsibility for their influence on young girls and women, and acknowledge that most of the time, that influence is toxic. British Vogue has repeatedly misread what it’s younger readership want.

As the second issue under Enninful’s editorship to feature models on the cover, there was scope to be more creative with it. The grey background alone is dull. Bella and Gigi are stunning, but the images don’t make the most of their potential. The Hadid image in is weak and that, more than anything, makes it a target for criticism. The Hadid sisters are beautiful and nudity very much has a place in fashion magazines, but the photograph doesn’t look like art, and it does nothing to challenge industry beauty standards.


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