Monday, May 17, 2010

Beauty and the Beast


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During my adolescence and well into my young adulthood, I thought that beauty was an elixir for all ills. I was well aware that people widely considered to be beautiful were the recipients of a number of life long social advantages. And from movies and television to the glossy ads in my issues of Seventeen, Essence, and Elle to even the treatment of particular girls/women in my high school, college, and graduate school classes, I was exposed, early on, to the high premium that society affords to those who fit the realm of "the beautiful".

Over the years, that notion has become more complicated for me, perhaps due to age and more life experience. Moreover, my work in popular culture has led me to study, among other subjects, fashion quite closely so I reacted with shock and sadness upon hearing of the suicide attempt of French model Noemie Lenoir.  Over the past couple years, there have been at least six high profile model suicides/suicide attempts (two of which were in the past couple of months alone), most of which were women. Though this number does not quite signify a mass epidemic, it is disturbing, leading me to wonder about the possible role that the fashion industry could have played in Lenoir's suicide attempt.

Some of the most beastly aspects of the fashion industry have been known for quite some time — its adherence to unrealistic profiles of beauty that rely on extreme thinness, the abysmal statistics on racial diversity and most recently a documentary that reports on the proliferation of sexual harassment and abuse. In Lenoir's case, on May 9th, she was found unconscious after ingesting a potentially lethal dosage of alcohol and drugs. Initial speculations are that her relationship troubles played an important role in her decision to end her life. Other models such as Daul Kim, Ambrose Olsen, Haley Kohle, Lina Marulanda, Ruslana Korshunova, and fashion designer Alexander McQueen all died prematurely by their own hand for reasons ranging from financial troubles to the difficulty of the industry to the unknown.

Last week, the New York times fashion blog writer Cathy Horyn interviewed Joerg Koch, the editor of 032c, a Berlin based fashion publication. The basis for the interview spoke to the lack of originality in fashion today, the opinion being that many fashion designers are opting more for replication, . What struck me the most about the interview was the following statement by Koch when asked why doing fashion stories for 032c was so difficult:

"It's the people in the industry. I don't think you will ever meet so many unhappy people. People in the fashion industry are really contaminated with bad habits. A certain human kindness evaporates once you make a career in fashion. In the beginning you're really treated badly and then you seem to get accustomed to it".

To be clear, its impossible to fully comprehend what would drive someone to suicide. In each of these unfortunate cases, there has been speculation from the media, those close to the deceased, and lay people alike. But I can't help shaking this nagging feeling that the virtually impossible standards and high expectations to success in the industry have in some way influenced these horrible occurrences. My best wishes are with Miss Lenoir and her family.


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