Representation of Young Men and Women in Reality TV and in Fashion

I once found it difficult to shop for clothes; being below average height and slightly overweight as a teenager meant that clothes which fit me chest-wise would look disproportionate length-wise. As I’ve lost over 10% of my weight since starting university, I have now found that a medium or a large depending on the store will generally fit me.  I often find myself browsing through the sales or clearances of many online sites. I usually never buy anything but it’s a good way to spend a bit of time in the evening.

But I began to notice that many of the models look, well to be honest, nothing like me. Most of the high street male models are tall, tanned and muscular with toned arms, defined jawlines and six-packs, probably a tattoo sleeve as well. But it’s not just clothes modelling where we find this type of man; this man is everywhere.

To me, the media has painted this idea of a “perfect man” – a gym-honed muscular tall man with a light tan and maybe even a clean-shaven face. No other kind of man gets represented, in my opinion, on reality TV very often. You’ll often see the well-groomed tattooed gym-goer wearing a muscle fit t-shirt with ripped skinny jeans and an undercut to boot (and for girls, it’s just large boobs with huge lips and fake tan, eyelashes and eyebrows with hair extensions) appearing on shows like Big Brother, Love Island and Geordie Shore.

And yes these people don’t represent the whole population but these shows have pretty big and dedicated young followings; if young people don’t see anything but these two standards on their screens, how else can they celebrate their natural bodies? How can they learn to love themselves from a young age if all they see is people who may fuel their insecurities by being all of the same type?

Why can’t a normal guy who doesn’t lift weights in the gym or a normal girl who doesn’t wear makeup or have breast enlargements take part in Love Island? Why can’t a normal guy who doesn’t have tattoos or a normal girl who doesn’t wear have huge lips be in Geordie Shore? Why can’t a normal guy who doesn’t wear ripped jeans or a normal girl who doesn’t wear fake eyelashes and threaded eyebrows take part in Take Me Out?

Anytime I see this man on TV, I just think where are all the other types of man out there, the non-sporty ones, the non-tattooed ones, the ones who think they look good without looking bright orange? Anytime I see this type of woman on TV, I just think where are all the other women who are completely natural, free of implants and are their natural skin colour? I can’t be alone in thinking this.

There is this sense that I am meant to aspire to be this perfect man.

But anytime I see clothes modelled on these perfect men, I always feel that even though I may love the design or the item of clothing itself, I know that it probably won’t look the same on me. And that makes clothes shopping, online at least, incredibly difficult.

The clothes I think look good are put on a body that I can’t identify with and so I can’t imagine how it would look on me. I find myself being more and more discouraged from shopping online because I don’t feel like I am good enough to wear those sorts of clothes; it’s probably part of the reason I stick to plain clothing so much; I can work around and build many outfits from a solid foundation. I also know that they usually work and I will happily wear them.

Shops like Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister perhaps drive this perfect man image more. They used to garner much media attention for having shirtless models/lifeguards in their stores and on their bags too. For many, A&F and Hollister have an elitism around their shops and it makes it very difficult for us inadequate people to walk inside, let alone shop there! Fortunately they have stopped using the models/lifeguards and changed their job title to “brand representative” but are they not just sales assistants at heart; elitism at work!

As I have said, I don’t associate myself with being able to wear the clothes that these models are photographed wearing because I don’t look anything like them. This, of course, begs the question whether fashion models should resemble more of an average person, or at least have various models in the same clothes of different body shapes and sizes.

In 2015, sales of gym memberships increased by 44% so people are definitely becoming more body conscious. They want to look good and this is potentially down to the media. The photos which seem to get the most likes are the ones of the shirtless men with a bulging six-pack in the gym or posing on the beach or of a naked Kim Kardashian posing, showing off her Photoshopped curves. The people that get seen in reality TV are all of one type; the tan muscle fit t-shirt ripped skinny jean wearing man and the tanned fake breast Kylie Jenner lips girl. But where are the normal everyday people; the people we see in the supermarkets, the people we see walking down the high street; the people living on our roads?

We should be celebrating every body type and not just the muscular and enhanced bodies. Campaigns to increase body diversity in female clothing models have been well covered in media but frankly I’d like to see it more for male clothing models too as well as on our TV screens.

According to figures from the Office of National Statistics in 2010, in the UK, the average woman is 5 foot 3 and weighs 11 stone (70kg). Yet we never see high fashion, or in fact the majority of fashion, cater for the so-called average man or woman. Catwalks are full of tall skinny women modelling the height of couture clothing and yet who can focus on the clothes when the models themselves are gaunt, skeletal and unrealistic?

Where are the normal people who go down the pub every so often? Where are the normal people who work 9-5 office jobs or in retail? Where are the below average height people? Where are the slightly overweight people? Why aren’t models representing our richly diverse population?

I understand that the clothes are what is being sold however seeing models so skinny and emotionless so that they do not detract from the clothes, to me, feels rather sad.  I would much rather see an advertisement featuring someone who represents the population size-wise; I would much rather see a model who looks happy, like they are enjoying themselves and feel good inside as it gives the impression that the clothes they are modelling make them feel good. I’d probably be more likely to buy something if the model was happy and they exuded positivity.

The fact is that having models which represent different sizes can be of much benefit to shoppers and retailers. Having a catalogue of different models for different sizes and body shapes would show how the clothes look on people closer to your own size rather than a lifeless mannequin or a stick-thin model, allowing you to better judge whether the clothes would work on you because the clothes won’t look the same on us as they do on the skinny model. I doubt we will ever see that happen but if it did, it would be a huge step forward and I’m sure whoever does it, they would get a lot of publicity for it!

Stores are shifting towards more “normal-sized” mannequins but I can’t help but feel the damage has already been done. It has reported numerous times that models have literally starved themselves to death to maintain a “healthy” body and figure but there is nothing healthy about eating cotton wool or tissue paper in replacement of food. How can the fashion modelling industry continue to believe and promote that this is a safe and healthy idea; you can only wear the best designer clothes if you starve yourself and have stick-thin bodies? It borders on immoral. Why are governments not implementing real laws to police this? It has been reported that there is an increase in eating disorders in teenagers in recent years and body dysmorphia is on the rise. These two cannot be unrelated.

[Photo from aussieelite.com]

In fact, these “normal-sized” mannequins are often considered to be “plus-size” and there’s no middle ground. How twisted and dangerous to consider that being underweight and gaunt is considered perfect and anything else is plus-size! And alarm bells should be ringing when such a massive deal is being made over the normal sized mannequins, which really shows that this goes against the norm of the attitudes in the media and the fashion world. And these attitudes need to change.

The fashion industry is built around creating this idealized utopian idea of being the “perfect size”. For men, this perfect size is muscular with a six-pack and for women, it’s being stick-thin. These extreme ends of the spectrum do not represent the general public at all. How can men not feel insecure and inadequate when the clothes they want to wear are being put on models who look nothing like them; are we still having this muscle makes a man mentality in 2017? How can women not feel insecure or inadequate when the clothes they want to wear are being put on models who have gone to dangerous lengths to stay stick-thin?

As I have said, fortunately, there are changes are being made to the industry and not all shops use unrealistic models. France have implemented a law to ensure that models are checked by doctors for confirmation of health before modelling which sends out many positive messages to young people! Israel in fact first implemented a similar legislation back in 2012.

I feel that I have created a strong argument for why there needs to be change in the representation of the population in the fashion industry as well as the representation of young men and women in reality TV. We can’t deny that most people do not look like the models that are photographed in the clothes that could one day be on our bodies but the benefit of having a diverse range of models in all shapes and sizes is that consumers can see just how an outfit looks on someone of a similar body shape/size so they can see how the outfit works as an ensemble instead of buying it based on how it looks on a skinny model and then finding out it just doesn’t work on their body.

It’s no wonder that so many adolescents have body image issues when the fact is that they do not see themselves in the media except as a skinny model whose bodies are unattainable without causing serious damage to themselves physically and mentally or for men, as a tanned muscular man with a tattoo sleeve. Disorders such as orthorexia and bigorexia are on the rise and it comes as a very little shock that many young men are becoming addicted to the gym and gaining muscle; 42% of 16-24 year olds bought a sports nutrition product in the period from February 2016 to May 2016 and the number of products with a high protein content rose by 498% from 2010 to 2015.

We talk often as the British public about celebrating diversity and being proud of the wonderfully diverse nation that we have. It seems that when it comes to our reality TV and our fashion industry, we do anything but celebrate diversity.

Modelling is a harsh and demanding business and that’s understandable but it doesn’t excuse the fact that by using very similar kinds of people, it sends out a message of elitism and that you are not good enough to be a model and to wear these clothes, something which shops like Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister exude. And when the only type of people in reality TV being represented are people who go to the gym and wear muscle fit t-shirts with ripped jeans and have tattoos, you certainly have to question how diverse is the media in the UK?

What do you think about the whole issue of the fashion industry; should models be more representative of the population in 2017? And do you think that we should be seeing all types of people being represented in our media and not just the similar-looking people? Let me know down below!

Thanks to Emma, Molly, Alex and Sarah for helping contribute to this post! Check out their blogs by clicking on their names!

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