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Models In The Fashion Industry Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 2275 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In the contemporary world, fashion has become a powerful force. For most of the people in our daily life, fashion is something they read about or buy in stores. In a broad sense, fashion means all things and a global business which covers a diverse range of commercial activities, ranging from the unglamorous worlds of mass garment production to celebrity- patronized fashion shows and the associated reportage in the fashion press (Jackson&Shaw, 2009). In the fashion world, modeling industry plays a central role in its developments. Thousands of people, especially those little girls, are dreaming to be involved in the fashion industry. In their impression, models work in photographers’ studios or runways or on the cover of magazines, they are in a “fun”; models are creative because they create their own “look” (Parmentier &Fischer, 2011). They are the representation of artistic creativity and self- expression who always change their performance to project an appropriate image for different situations and specific clients and designs. In this sense, despite whether those youngsters have ever sought or gained entry into the field of fashion, in nowadays, they are encouraged to regard the life of the fashion model as an ideal myth. It is no exaggeration to suggest that many young girls treat being a fashion model as among the most glamorous and desirable of possible futures (Wolf, 1991).

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This article focuses on the real status of models in the fashion industry. Viewing models’ self-commodification as forms of aesthetic, entrepreneurial, and immaterial labor, I turn my attention on the polarized work of fashion models. Basing on the critical theory, this article uses three approaches (The culture industry, Governmentality, creativity) to explore how certain actors in a dynamic, constantly contested, cultural field may experience constraints on their individual identity quests. First, I argue that how the life of models looks like to the masses, and look for some reasons that why people would like to pursue the life of being a model. Then I focus more discussions on the unsustainable modeling identity projects in the fashion industry. Act as the aesthetic labor, models are faced with many restrictions and risks not only come from the groups that they cooperate with like agency, designer, editor, but also their competitors. Besides of that, some models also suffer from the discrimination and inequality because of the divisions of the fashion modeling industry. So in this sector, I will take the plus- sized model for example in order to advance our understanding the institutional contexts in fashion industry and our insight into the limitations of those “not general” models face in pursuing their careers.

Searching method

For the sake of a deep and comprehensive understanding of fashion modeling, the best way to do the research is using participant observations and interviews. According to many scholars, they adopt this method interviewing models in different levels, gender, age and so on. Basing on the questions and contents, they do data selection to integrate the valuable information and report the results. Because of some limitations, however, I cannot do such interview, so I take full advantage of other resources. This thesis mainly adopts two methods of study. One is documentary research method, which is collecting a large number of materials about the modeling fashion industry in order to understand this field and occupation more comprehensively. First, I select some books and journals which ranging from the history of fashion industry such as marketing today’s fashion (Paola& Mueller, 1980), to the development of this field like Angela McRobbie’s British fashion design: Rag trade or image industry? (1998). Basing on the predecessors’ research achievements I document an intensive aesthetic labor process. I also search information on the internet to see the characters of fashion models and some debates on the fashion modeling industry. Besides, I pay close attention to a reality show American &Britain’s Next Top Model. By observing and analyzing the process of the competition and track the future development of participants I realize the ruthlessness of fashion modeling industry. The other searching method is comparative analysis approach. In order to highlight the contradictory work in this aesthetic labor market, I compare the different treatment between the high fashion models and commercial models, and the discrimination of those “plus-sized” models.

Literature review

Since it is considered to have originated in the mid- nineteen century in Paris, models has appeared in the view of the public. With confidence and enthusiasm, significant numbers of young women launched their ‘own labels’ from the mid-1980s onwards. Back to the history, there are some critical factors to the success of start of fashion industry which include the support from the government and local authority by subsidy; the cooperation between designers with the producers, agencies and labors; recognition of the distinctiveness of fashion work as an independent cultural and artistic practice, not a conventional business activity.

The recent researches have focused attention on different aspects of embodiment in contemporary labor practices, such as detailing the ways in which bodies are managed and surveyed at work (Freeman, 2000; Entwistle, 2004), how bodily performances at work are gendered (Taylor and Tyler, 2000; Gottfried, 2003) and the role of dress in marking out identities at work (Entwistle, 2001). Then a classic account of ’emotional labor’ as important in terms of opening up questions about the ways in which contemporary work practices harness the many embodied capabilities of workers. Within this broad research agenda, analysis has been directed towards ‘aesthetic labor’ as one dimension of current trends in work practices (Pettinger, 2004; Speiss and Waring, 2005).

In this article, I argue that previous scholarship on modeling fashion industry seldom explore the tensions between fashion as art form and the demand of a ruthlessly commercial industry. Building on previous research that has examined the staged performance of fashion models, I look for the backstage aesthetic labor process. Combining culture industry, governmentality and creativity, I focus on the unsustainable identity projects in the modeling fashion industry.

The contradictory work in the modeling fashion industry

From the catwalk to the high-style boutique, the common perception of the modeling fashion industry is glamour and indulgence. Indeed, to many people especially in nowadays, fashion modeling is much more than an occupation, but a dream of every little girl. Just as the feminist scholar Naomi Wolf suggests that it is a fantasy that “probably the most widespread contemporary dream shared by young women from all backgrounds” (Wolf, 1991). People aspires the ideal “model life”, which means to become a member of an elite and small group. Their bodies and personalities are intensely sought after for their aesthetic singularity and in return they can get some rewards such as money, fame, luxurious goods as well as celebrity status. Undoubtedly, those models careers not just limited in the field of fashion but extend to other culturally celebrated professions like singer or film actor.

The models work as the aesthetic labor, which combines the affective, emotional and physical labor, they play to an advancing self production to extend beyond the confines of modeling work into daily life experience. As aesthetic laborers, they are demanded the effort of body in the production of an appropriately attractive appearance for work. However, in practice, models are always subject to fashion’s gaze, and endure many restrictions or discriminations coming from both outside and themselves, such as they have to engage in a range of bodily disciplines that relied on thin aesthetics, and do on beyond work hours, etc. We will talk about the restriction from the following aspects.

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3.1 Personality

In contemporary society, models are regarded as walking mannequins or passive hangers for clothes. The modeling industry moves in shorter cycles than ever before, comparing with other sectors, it is a personality based and subjective industry. In modeling much emphasis is placed on the projection of personality (Entwistle &Wissinger, 2006), which forms an integral aspect of the aesthetic labor of freelancing models. Thus models see their bodies as objects of aesthetic contemplation through all manner of bodily work. It just adapt to the ‘governmentality’ theory that Banks (2007) comes up in his book. It demonstrates that instead of using force and coercion, how the cultural worker has come to be governed only by subjectivizing discourses of enterprise. So models who want to succeed talk of having to become self-managing and astute about their ‘product’-their entire embodied self, must do self-control to ensure their current status. To produce a fashionable look, models need to wear the most fashionable clothes and go to the most fashionable parties. This situation will not be changed until they are successful. In the case of supermodels, they may no longer have to obey others’ instruction; they will be given the designer clothes, can cooperate with distinguished photographers and even can expand the career into other sectors. Take Tyra Banks for instance, as an excellent multi-dwelling star, she began her career as model, simultaneously she steps into other professions being the host of reality show, the actress, singer and dancer. Each of this field she has achieved remarkable achievement.

These practices involve both aesthetic labor, in which workers invest in styling their bodies and personalities to get and keep work (Entwistle &Wissinger, 2006), and entrepreneurial labor, in which workers invest time, energy and funds to foster professional relationships, and build their productive capacity in return for uncertain rewards. These two labors demand workers be enterprising, which they work to create an image that will sell. Models valorize their image, an image that is constructed on a whole day basis, making it difficult for models to distinguish between when they are on or off the job. This work to produce an image may be understood as aesthetic labor (Entwistle &Wissinger, 2006).

3.2 Marginalization within the field

The fashion system places a quite different valorization on different types of work within the field. There are quite lot of discriminations and unequal treatments between ‘commercial’ models and ‘editorial’ models. Commercial work is done for catalogues, website, and department stores; the aim is promoting products ranging from food to drink. While the contracts are regarded as relatively low status compared with the high-status brands promoted by editorial models. While one of the essential features of editorial models is being featured on the cover of or within the fashion pages of high fashion magazines like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Elle. Be the supermodel also means to modeling for couturiers and designers’ fashion shows and to be hired as the face for an international luxury brand of a fashion product such as shoes, clothing, or cosmetics(McRobbie, 2002). In contrast to commercial models, whose look are more conventionally ‘beautiful’ or ‘handsome’, fashion models are referred to as having an ‘editorial look’, their extreme appearance are often be described with such adjectives as quirky or edgy. A professional model is someone who consents in writing to or performs modeling for the transfer of the exclusive right to the use of his or her name, portrait, picture or image, for advertising or trade purpose. Models engage in identity construction within a field comprised of an international net work of relationships between various mutually dependent, but unequally powerful. But most models will do some of the less prestigious types of commercial work over the course of their careers, only a small set engages in editorial work, as it is much more restricted and competitive. When watching the American Next Top Model, the competitors are required have some personalities to be outstanding but as the same time observe the rules of the industry. They must match up what the photographers and judges demands and satisfied their clients. To those competitors they scarcely make their own decision, and the emotions and attitudes cannot express in the process of work.

The payment between commercial models and editorial models also has a big disparity. The structure of the work means that models are usually hired by the hour, day or project, which means they have no guarantees of continued employment. Rewards for top models are disproportionately high but most models’ incomes are modest at best. Like other artistic careers, fashion modeling consists mainly of short-term contractual ties, in which employment is on a per-project basis, and teams are assembled around specific jobs which are then dispersed after the project is finished. In this sense, it is hard for many commercial models to find a permanently clients to afford their basic life.


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