Drop Dead Gore-geous

So, beauty pageants aren’t usually the kind of thing that get feminists excited(not in a good way, anyway)… but in Nottingham city, what would usually be unthinkable is actually happening; women of a feminist persuasion are ironing their silk sashes, polishing up their tiaras and rehearsing speeches on how they will make the world a better place ‘for the children’. The crucial difference here is that these beauty queens will also be a gruesome shade of green, dripping in blood and murmuring about brains.

The Drop Dead Gore-geous zombie beauty pageant/talent contest is the brain-child (mmmmbraaains) of the Ladyfest Nottingham team (hence the feminist link) and will be occurring, of course, on All Hallow’s Eve. Taking place at the marvellously named Spanky van Dykes, the night will consist of zombie contestants showcasing their talents (singing, dancing, fire breathing,whatever!) to win a cash prize and a professional photo-shoot… Although one assumes they don’t have to be zombified for the photo-shoot.

Perhaps I’m easily swayed by the presence of zombies (the addition of zombies to anything always cranks up the awesome-ness factor, IMHO) but I’m really enjoying the subversive twist on the beauty pageant theme. Let’s hope the zombies have fun displaying their more outlandish, gory talents and get to play around with the usual pageant formalities; “So, Miss Zombie Nottingham, why can’t a fifth humans locate America on a map?” “Because I ate their braaaains!”

All event details are here, so get yourself down there if you can. If I was in Nottingham, rather than donning a purple wig, tartan mini skirt and swearing profusely (can you guess who it is yet?) at some London based Halloween shindig, then I’d definitely be going along to see who will be crowned queen of the undead!

By: Sarah Barnes, 26.10.2010 | Comments (0)
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Crystal Renn, Still Hungry?

Since reading her autobiography, Hungry, I’ve become a bit fanatical about the (so-called) ‘plus sized’ model Crystal Renn, so I’m rather embarrassed to admit that her shoot for Vogue Paris’ October issue passed me by. Luckily it was brought to my attention by Fernando of L’ Art Noir blog and, boy, am I grateful. Why? Because there’s a lot going on in there. The food for thought is just as excessive and messy as the spaghetti lustily piled on Renn’s plate.

First off, the shoot is immediately arresting because it’s so at odds with the usual high fashion imagery we have become accustomed to; There’s no whimsical flights of fancy here, this editorial is coarse, garish and downright dirty. But that’s to be expected when you get enfant terrible Terry Richardson on board as your photographer – it doesn’t matter whether he’s working for Vice or Vogue, Richardson is still going to serve up a salacious slice of TerryWorld. So, this is quite a brave move on the part of French Vogue, allowing luxury items (in this case, jewellery) to be promoted in such a left-field manner.

So, let’s talk about sex. Because, this being a Terry Richardson shoot, of course it’s about sex. Here’s Renn wetting two fingers in her mouth… now she’s letting slimy squid tentacles slide down her throat… and now she’s stabbing a juicy cutlet of meat held between her thighs… and here she is sucking hungrily on a bone (arf) whilst locking eyes with the viewer. It’s all pretty hot stuff, but it’s gross too – there’s something a bit ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’ about it in that we are presented with a woman putting yucky stuff in her mouth for the sexual gratification of the viewer. Although Renn looks like she’s rather enjoying herself, and she talks a lot in Hungry about her love of food, this editorial doesn’t feel quite right as a depiction of a woman finding pleasure in eating. Perhaps if it was dribbling cheesy slices of pizza on her plate, or bushels of apples, rather than raw sea creatures it would be different – but, as it is, that particular message seems a little hard to swallow.

To my mind, this editorial is, at heart, a comment on excess. The copious cocktail rings that are being featured are piled on to Renn’s fingers, she wears chunky bangles, over-sized earrings, weighty necklaces (sometimes two at a time)… and what’s more, she wears them all at once. Of course, this is the norm for jewellery features, but here Richardson ridicules this excess by presenting the woman in his story as an all-round greedy pig, gorging on food in a most unashamed and grotesque fashion. But, obviously, this isn’t just any ‘woman’, this is Crystal Renn… and that’s where the whole thing gets interesting.

As Renn’s agency, Ford, themselves say; “She doesn’t so much acknowledge the elephant in the room as she devours it.” Whilst everyone is getting excited about the ‘plus-size’ revolution, in reality, Crystal Renn is pretty much our only large sized super-model. As such, she is the poster girl for curves, the go-to gal for larger than life shoots… which is all well and good, but it has hardly opened up the modelling landscape to a whole variety of ages, sizes and races like some would have hoped it might. Instead, we have the same base group of waif-like, young, mostly white models… and the token Crystal Renn.

And so, on top of all this, the way in which the plus-sized Renn is being presented here is a worry. The whole thing smacks of the creators gleefully shouting ‘Look! The only model who can eat as much as she likes is eating! For your entertainment!’ I doubt very much that Richardson would have gone down this gluttonous route if he had been working with any other model. It comes across as a bit of a freak show and, sadly, it feels like Renn could be alienating herself (and any other hopeful plus-size models) from main-stream editorials as a result.

That being said, Hungry proved Renn to be a fantastically intelligent, grounded, and driven individual who is very much aware of what she is doing with her career. Her attitude towards modelling is overtly artistic and she is enthusiastic about working with focussed creatives in order to realise their visions to their full potential. With this in mind, you can be sure that Renn must have put a lot of thought into this shoot and concluded that, rather than reducing her into ‘the model who eats’, she would get some great shots, break a few taboos and, ultimately, further her influence. Personally, I think she was right on the ‘great shots’ part – these images are aesthetically fabulous – let’s just hope she’s right about the rest.

See the entire editorial here and, if you fancy seeing a further commentary on eating, excess and consumerism, take a little look at the Ace Norton directed video for ‘Hustler’ by Simian Mobile Disco.

(Images from Ford Models Blog. Credits: Photographer, Terry Richardson; Fashion editor, Carine Roitfeld. Image source, Noir Façade.)

By: Sarah Barnes, 18.10.2010 | Comments (3)
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Britain’s Next Top Model: The Elephant In The Room

So, the new series of Britain’s Next Top Model starts tonight on Living TV and, whilst newly appointed queen-bee Elle Macpherson has been getting all the glory promo-wise,  it’s new judge Julien Macdonald who has been stealing the headlines. Back in June the designer-cum-cutting critic told The Wales on Sunday:

You can’t have a plus-size girl winning – it makes it a joke. It’s not fair on them – you’re setting them up for a fall. They are looked down on, they’re frowned upon. A catwalk model is a size six to eight. If you’re a size 14 in a room full of size eights, you’re in the wrong room.

Apparently, out of the final 25 hopeful finalists that will grace our screens tonight, not one is a ‘plus’ size model – something which really surprised and disappointed me after all the talk of a new appreciation for fuller-figured women in the fashion industry; Take French Elle’s Special Rondes, V Magazine’s Size Issue, Crystal Renn’s amazing autobiography Hungry, and all the great work that the All Walks Beyond The Catwalk organisation is doing… to name but a few!

It makes you wonder what’s up with us here in the UK when America’s Next Top Model has already had a plus size winner, Whitney Thompson (an American size 12/British size 16), back in 2008. It’s sad to say, but it seems BNTM series 6 will be a wasted opportunity to show that larger girls can become top models too.

More to read:

Laurie Penny calls the show a cultural car-crash in The New Statesman

Polly Vernon on how Thin is increasingly ‘In’ for Men too over at The Guardian.

By: Sarah Barnes, 05.07.2010 | Comments (0)
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Want a ‘Good Hair’ day? It’s not as easy as just relaxing…

What makes a good hair day? For some it’s as simple as a quick wash’n'go, but for naturally afro-haired women a ‘good hair’ day can actually be a nightmare to achieve. In an unexpected career move, this is the subject of comedian Chris Rock’s latest documentary – aptly entitled Good Hair.

Inspired by the heartbreaking moment his young daughter came to him asking “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?” Rock set off on a journey to find out just what constituted ‘Good Hair’ for black women. Firstly, it seems that Rock couldn’t get to the root of that question without culturally questioning their idealised hair type; ‘relaxed’, ’straight’, ’smooth’ – seemingly as far away from afro hair and as close to Caucasian as possible.

In a world where wavy-haired white women adorn our screens, flicking their tresses and proclaiming “Because I’m Worth It”,  it’s hardly surprising that afro haired women might aspire to ‘white girl flow‘… even when weaves are expensive, relaxers are chemically dangerous and the whole hair styling process can take hours on end! So what does all this tell us about our society today? If anyone has a passionate, pointed and bitterly humorous take on the subject then, surely, Chris Rock is our guy!

Good Hair won the special jury prize at the 2009 Sundance festival and has just been released over here (it’s UK release was on the 25th June). Mixing the personal, the painful and the absurd, Good Hair looks hilarious, provocative and vital… and I’m really looking forward to seeing it!

More to hear, see and read;

Chris Rock talks to the BBC on why he made Good Hair

Tyra Banks devotes an entire episode of her show to African-American hair styling, inspired by Rock’s documentary

Jamelia’s ‘Whose Hair Is It Anyway?’ for BBC Three

My post on the 1940’s Clark doll experiment and Kiri Davis’ film A Girl Like Me

And more to watch and read, as of 19/07/2010;

Rock’s documentary has received negative reviews from the black and feminist community. Interesting points have been made that it was unbalanced, sexist and judgemental, that it shows black women as ’silly’ and ‘vain’… take a look at these!

The film gets a thumbs down from crownofHisglory

Mrs Raena felt the film missed the point in its focus on male/female relationships, intimacy and men paying for treatments

Krizia of EatSmartAgeSmart gives her reaction to Rock’s documentary before seeing it… and after seeing it.

GoingAllNatural wishes there had been more talk about natural hair in the movie

Rose Afriyie at Feministing gives her review

Good post and good comments over at Racialicious

By: Sarah Barnes, 03.07.2010 | Comments (2)
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A Girl Like Me

Catching up with my favourite blog, Sociological Images, this weekend I was interested to see that CNN have recently had a bash at recreating Dr Kenneth Bancroft Clark and Ms Mamie Phipps Clark’s famous 1940’s doll experiment. The experiment involved presenting children with two dolls, one black and one white in skin colour, and then asking questions that alluded to their unconscious preference. Watch the outcomes of CNN’s modern experiment here… the results are in turns devastating and hopeful.

Anyway, this recent revisiting of the Clark doll experiment is a great excuse to take a look at Kiri Davis’ illuminating film ‘A Girl Like Me’. Davis also recreates the doll experiment, but goes further in her analysis by interviewing her peers about their beauty regimes and self perception. In this way, Davis demonstrates how such seeds of racial favouritism can go on to manifest and strengthen throughout adolescence, entering into adult ideas of feminine beauty.

By: Sarah Barnes, 16.05.2010 | Comments (2)
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eveRy body counts!

Okay, so you lot may not be quite as excited to see this as I was… but, nevertheless, I thought I’d show you the snapshot taken of me at London Fashion Week by the people at All Walks Beyond The Catwalk. I wrote about the campaign, which seeks to diversify the shapes, sizes, ages and races of models in the fashion industry, here soon after I had my picture taken – but the pics have only just been published, which gives me a great excuse to bring up the work of All Walks once more!

Posing the question “Does current fashion imagery reflect individuality?”, the All Walks team set up a make-shift studio in Freemason’s Hall to capture a true collection of stylish individuals. The result is a lovely set of expressive and fun images that delivers a pretty clear answer of, ‘No, this is individuality’ – as well as showing just how many people support the idea of diversifying the modelling industry. See the images here and here.

This blog post is brought to you by the letter ‘R’!

By: Sarah Barnes, 13.04.2010 | Comments (0)
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Growing Old Glamorously

Currently, when I’m not being a feminist*, I fill up my days working at an online fashion magazine. During these fashionable days I trawl through many, many, many fashion blogs (searching for, um, ‘Now-ness’ or something like that)… but not many are quite as thought provoking as one I was pointed to today.

Found via modelling and diversity campaign All Walks Beyond The Catwalk (who had discovered it on The Telegraph), the blog in question is called Advanced Style. A compendium of ‘Straight-Up’ style street portraits by Ari Seth Cohen, the defining difference is that these images are of women and men in the over-60 age bracket.

What I love about this blog is that it presents the older generations in a way that we never usually see them in other media; distinguished, vibrant, intelligent, interesting and vital. Ari generously allots each person with their own independent post, taking his time to talk through their encounter – illuminating us with the name, age and often fascinating back story of the the subject.

That’s pretty refreshing in a blogosphere which is full of snap-and-run photographers (who wouldn’t have loved a little personal background on this controversial street style pic?), but it’s especially refreshing in a media-scape that so very rarely focusses on older people at all.

Okay, so it’s not like it’s on a par with the work that organisations like Help Age International are doing, but it’s certainly a nice little step in the right direction!

*Don’t worry sisters, I never switch off!

By: Sarah Barnes, 08.04.2010 | Comments (2)
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Viva Glam

I’m a girl who loves a bit of lippie. From Barry M’s bright orange to Revlon’s Red Velvet ColorStay (trust me- you won’t find a longer lasting shade of scarlet out there!), I’m all about the pout. Which is why I am so excited about M·A·C’s latest Viva Glam collaboration, with two of my favourite ladies, Lady Gaga and Cyndi Lauper, who have each had their own shade of lipstick created for the cause.

The M·A·C AIDS Fund was established in 1994 to support men, women and children affected by HIV/AIDS globally. Through a series of celebrity collaborations (past names include Dita Von Teese, Pamela Anderson and Missy Elliott) , Viva Glam has raised over $150 Million in 67 countries to date. And that’s exclusively through the sale of Lipstick and Lipglass. Who knew make up could be so empowering?

100% of proceeds from the sales of the Lipsticks (which will set you back at a mere £12.50 each, or £12.00 for the Lipglass) goes to the M·A·C AIDS Fund, and be assured, charity never looked this good.  Whether the sexy bubblegum pink Gaga takes your fancy, or the lush coral red Cyndi is your thing, you can now pucker up for a very good cause. As Lady G put it herself ‘Lipstick is a symbol of womanhood and inner strength’. Mwah!

By: Yasmin Eshref, 30.03.2010 | Comments (0)
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French Elle’s ‘Spécial Rondes’

Following on from V Magazine’s foray into plus-size appreciation, April’s issue of French Elle, released today, is a ’spécial rondes’ or…erm…round special. Yes, that’s right, the plus-size championing charge has made the difficult jump from edgy style mag (who can push these kind of concepts before others, since breaking boundaries is their currency) to mainstream fashion publication. The issue features models Tara Lynn (the cover star, above, who also featured in V mag) and Johanna Dray. It’s quite a first, and a very exciting new development for the representation of women in mainstream women’s press.

A couple of comments have highlighted both sides of the coin on the issue of plus-size specials. First, from InfamousKai on the V ‘Curves Ahead’ shoot;

I just realized something: The way I find these girls incredibly sexy is probably comparable to the way people that I’ve been with have found me sexy. I really thought it was my personality and cute ass smile, but you know what? I can looks as good as these gals, and I HAVE. Thanks to V for showing the world, thanks to Jenna and Jezebel for showing ME just how hot I am.

Can’t argue with that, really! But then, secondly, here’s a comment from Emiloo on the FrenchElle April Issue;

I’m always excited to see plus size girls in magazines (I am one!) but why can’t they just be integrated into regular spreads like, I don’t know, *normal* people? BUST Magazine has been doing this for quite some time and I hardly notice now. Why do the fatties have to be separated into their own “plus size” or “shape” issues? It always seems like the editors want us to notice how inclusive they’re being by giving plus girls their own issue– but it’s not really inclusive at all. This will frustrate me to no end.

It’s a valid and important point and, I guess, one that will only sort itself out in time as plus-size becomes less extra-ordinary and more, well, ordinary. Here’s hoping it’s sooner rather than later!

More on Uplift about diversifying the modelling landscape;

All Walks Beyond The Catwalk at London Fashion Week

Speaking of Diversity in Modelling

V Magazine Gets Big

…and, also, this post I wrote on the Company blog about the subject.

By: Sarah Barnes, 26.03.2010 | Comments (0)
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Hijabi Barbie

Since my post about ASOS’s advert for their range of little-black-dress Barbies got picked up by Sociological Images and Jezebel (thanks Lisa!)  Barbie, and all that she stands for, has been preying on my mind. So, I was happily surprised to see Barbie all dolled-up (groan) in a hijab and gracing the cover of Muslim Lifestyle magazine Emel (‘M-L’… geddit?!).

This issue of Emel takes a look at what it’s like to grow up as a Muslim in a world obsessed with body image. With incidents of anorexia on the rise for Muslim girls, and Iran becoming the nose-job capital of the world, Emel asks; ‘How can we stop Muslim women turning into little more than Hijabi Barbies?’

In her introduction to the series of articles around this global search for body ‘perfection’, Sarah Joseph writes;

Taking on the hijab made sense for a whole host of other reasons. The hijab for me was the antithesis of the beauty fascism that had surrounded me since birth. The hijab represented not just a religious injunction, but a weapon in the war against an industry that demanded women reach unattainable goals of beauty and weight. The hijab was the Muslim equivalent of burning the bra and cutting off the hair.

There are more interesting articles to read; Tahereh Hadian meets the Iranian women ‘paying through the nose’ for cosmetic surgery, Aisha Mirza explores what Barbie means for The Beauty Myth, and Sarah Joseph examines the new dolls looking to take their share of the Muslim market.

All fascinating reading, but these are all just online tasters. To read the full articles you’ll need to buy the latest issue of Emel which can be done here for just £3.50 and free P&P.

By: Sarah Barnes, 21.03.2010 | Comments (0)
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