‘Too Fat, Too Thin’ at the Vogue Festival Strikes a Chord, but it’s Short of the Mark

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As the young and beautiful clomped their way past the southbank tourists, turning heads with every stiletto scratch on the pavement, it could only mean one thing. It was time for the Vogue Festival.

Now in its second year, the Vogue Festival aims to make fashion and the exclusive world of Conde Nast available to the masses. Housed in the Southbank Centre, guests are treated to an array of talks with the fashion elite. This year’s speakers have included Victoria Beckham, Mario Testino, Donatella Versace and Alber Ebaz to name but a handful.

Seemingly months ago, I frantically bought a ticket to the event. As a Vogue devotee for now the best part of ten years, I certainly wasn’t missing it. I chose to purchase a ticket for ‘Too Fat, Too Thin… Will We Ever Be Content?’ which has subsequently been the most talked-off item on the festival agenda in recent weeks. I don’t even need to explain the relationship between the fashion industry and body image. However, as Alexandra Shulman made clear at the start of the talk, this wasn’t just about the case of skinny models- it was about our own self-image. Essentially, will we ever be happy?

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The panel, hosted by Vogue’s editor-in-chief Fiona Golfar, consisted of models Daisy Lowe and David Gandy, actress and Weight Watchers ambassador Patsy Kensit, and Vogue contributing editor Christa D’Souza. To cut a long story short, the panel had the right ideas, but failed to execute them with any real application or address of the fundamental issues at hand. The initial talk lasted for a mere thirty minutes- quite bizarre considering the mangnitude of the subject matter.

Daisy Lowe and Patsy Kensit struck some intersting notes. Daisy, brought up in a house of glamourous women, and with a successful modelling career, was highly qualified to address questions of body image. She admitted to being sent home from a show aged 17 because she was too fat, and that she still feels like a ‘hippo’ next to the young generation of catwalk waifs. What she added, however, was that she hoped she added some kind of energy to the clothes. Obviously very comfortable and assured in her own skin, Daisy’s words were comforting and would have been inspirational could she have spoken for longer.

Similarly, Patsy Kensit spoke from the heart. Her best advice? Don’t read the tabloids. Great advice for fellow celebrities, but not really applicable to the mere mortals of the audience. Nevertheless, the message of being happy in your own skin, and not caring about what other people think, was there- just in fledgling doses. Kensit touched on how in London, body hatred is particularly bad. ‘Go sixty miles out of London, and the whole attitude is different’ she said. Speaking of her Weight Watcher’s experience, she cited a size twelve as most of dieters’ ‘goal weight’. A far cry indeed from the single-digit sizes of twenty-something London. The messages were there, but once again, it was cut short. Kensit’s words were wise, but the heart of the matter wasn’t addressed.

The other two members of the panel were, sadly, slightly less helpful. Christa D’Souza started the talk on a bit of a down note, commenting ‘let’s just remember that clothes do look good on thin people.’ Speaking to a majority audience of women under the age of 25, this was hardly the most helpful comment to make. Not that we should be lied to- to be honest, I agree that clothes do look better on slim people, but as Shulman had previously said, this wasn’t the point of the discussion.

David Gandy, as beautiful as he is, was treated rather unhelpfully by the other members of the panel as an ornament. His defence of the pressure men feel was strong, and his nutritional advice was well-informed. A quietly spoken Gandy insisted education was key. ‘It’s about learning about fat’ he said. ‘The body needs fat, but saturated fats aren’t good. People need to learn about carbohydrates and protein too.’ The presence of such a highly respected man could have been utilised by the panel as a tool for really addressing how women behave, and how the opposite gender feels about this. Instead, Gandy was little more than a gimmick. The constant swooning over his charm and good-looks undermined anything useful he had to say. If the whole discussion was meant to be about empowering women; setting loose those inner feelings of self-hatred and embracing what’s inside as much as what’s outside, then why was the audience invited to drool over a male model?

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After seemingly very little discussion, the panel was opened up to questions from the audience. After being probed as to the future of body image and the role played by the media, Christa D’Souza responded ‘sorry, I don’t know’. Daisy Lowe offered some heart-felt advice to one young member of the audience who desperately asked ‘how can I learn to like myself?’

The talk was cut fifteen minutes short, totalling three quarters of an hour.

For me, there was so much that wasn’t touched on. What about the position of magazine casting directors? What about the role of modelling agencies? Obviously, Vogue is an aspirational fashion magazine. Its editorials feature thin models, but they also create a fantasy; a dream that doesn’t even try to bear relation to the reality of its readers. What about the recent row over ‘real’ women? Golfar touched on the issue that ‘all women are real women’, not just those sold as ‘real’ by the likes of Dove.

To change the way fashion magazine are run; to insist on ‘average size’ (what even is average size?) models would be more of an insult than a cure. As women, we should be respected as wanting to appreciate other beautiful women as part of the aspirational, editorial vision.

Instead, what needs to be worked on, is the way women feel on the inside. As someone who has struggled with their weight and body image since my early teens, I feel more than qualified to say that it is not the models on the runway that need targeting. It’s the women that walk down the street. It’s us.

Sadly, I don’t have the answers either. If I did, I wouldn’t wake up in the morning and feel scared to face the world.

Today’s talk didn’t find the answers either, but I’m not really sure we can expect it to. Time was cut short, and things could have been probed a little further, but that’s not to say they would have reached a magical epiphany or conclusion.

To answer the initial question: will we ever be happy? No, I doubt it. Daisy Lowe’s best piece of advice, which was in my opinion the highlight of the talk, was to ‘surround yourself with other women who love you, and love themselves.’ It is a rare person that truly does not care what other people think. If we can never be happy in ourselves, the best option, like Daisy said, is to work as a united team of women. Perhaps Feminism hasn’t had its last hour just yet.

 

All image courtesy of vogue.co.uk.

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