|The Pirelli calendar‘s feminist makeover is nothing but lip service|
[ Suzanne Moore | 2 December 2015 | via The Guardian ]
A few beautiful shots of ‘real women’ and we’re supposed to forget about a fashion industry selling anorexia and self-hatred to our young girls
Sometimes, the very things we are told empower us simply serve to show how far from power we are. For the 2016 Pirelli calendar, shot by Annie Leibovitz, the comedian Amy Schumer sits naked except for knickers and heels, holding a coffee. Her skin glows, her hair looks fabulous and she makes no attempt to hide her squidgy belly. She is not sucking it in. Here is female flesh unSpanxed and devoid of Photoshop. Schumer looks knowing, cool and at home with herself. This brilliantly funny woman has said in the past that, however successful she has become, her self-worth can plummet when she is asked about her size. “I am not who I sleep with. I am not my weight,” she has said defiantly.
How come, though, images like this are such a rarity in 2015? The Pirelli calendar is a relic from the days of the pin-up. A well-known snapper shoots a lot of greased-up supermodels. The calendar is not hung in garages, but given to 20,000 VIPs. What these images have to do with burned rubber is debatable, but this is a branding exercise. This year, Schumer was shot alongside other impressive women, such as Patti Smith, Serena Williams and Yao Chen, for Pirelli has had a feminist epiphany. Out go long-limbed creatures in latex, now they want women who have achieved something outstanding in their lives. As its chief executive, Marco Tronchetti Provera, says: “This represents what Pirelli thinks is beautiful.”
Phew! I am sure most of us were terribly concerned about the aesthetic sensibilities of a tyre manufacturer. Actually, this “feminist makeover” is more about the market than some sudden enlightenment. Naked women are everywhere. Explicit sexual imagery is only ever a click away. In the virtual flesh pit, where porn vies with “fashion” and selfies full of teens with sucked-in bellies, one is struck by the drear sameyness of it all. Globalisation has not produced aesthetic diversity, but bland homogenisation. The conventions of what it is to be desirable or attractive appear ever more narrow. It is now compulsory to be a certain size, with long, straight hair. This is as dull as it is oppressive.
As regular as clockwork, we are fed some images of “real women”, as though we should be grateful. What next? Pictures of real men? Who just woke up like this?
The demand for “realness” exists at precisely the same time as owning the means of production of imagery means just owning a phone. To look at Instagram is not to see how others live, but their own fantasies of life. Such lives consist of constant filters and retouching.
This may not be as joyful as it sounds, for what gets lost, especially in the images so many young women post of themselves, is a sense of loving and inhabiting a body that may not always be perfect. The often-regurgitated line is peddled by many women: doing a nude shoot has somehow made them feel better about themselves. This confuses actual self-esteem with the approval of strangers, which may indeed be a definition of celebrity.
I often feel sorry for Kim Kardashian as she strips naked in various hostile environments – such as deserts or, for Juergen Teller, an actual slag heap – while Kanye “styles” her, which means he flaps around her hemline like a lost chihuahua. All this, she claims, has helped her get over “body issues”. She may look beautiful, but she never looks comfortable. And even her nakedness no longer shocks. We have reached peak T&A, so saturated by online porn that even Playboy has given up the ghost.
As Tavi Gevinson, who is featured in the Pirelli calendar, said: “A white, able-bodied cis-gendered woman being naked is just not revolutionary any more.” What would be? The kind of diversity that Gevinson is alluding to is still only paid lip service by the fashion industry, and again only within extremely narrow confines. Diversity remains token at best.
The ongoing argument about the pressure models are under to remain scarily thin is once more being brought to the attention of MPs, who are considering legislation such as exists in France or Spain to stop the use of women with BMIs of less than 18. While the modelling agencies insist they put no pressure on women, the girls themselves are giving different evidence, talking of emaciated Siberian teenagers on the catwalk covered with the downy hair that severe anorexia produces.
This then is the context in which our girls grow up. Disordered eating constantly presented as cleansing; a huge pressure to conform to unwavering standards of beauty, and to make sure their faces and bodies are “liked” online. Confidence, we then tell them, is sexy, while draining away every resource in which they may find it. For the online hall of mirrors can only really work for the professionally perfect.
It’s no wonder, then, that when we do catch a reflection of something else, we applaud. Schumer’s ease with her own body is as beautiful to see as Serena Williams’s display of strength. We like Adele because her clothes did not all fall off the minute she got famous. As the author Fran Lebowitz, also featured in the calendar, noted drily: “Perhaps clothed women are going to have a moment.” Just imagine that day! When keeping your kit on may say more than stripping yourself naked. That may look like actual power.
Sadie Rain Hope-Gund