Fashion magazines don’t tend to be the first place to look for body image empowerment. That’s why, when Germany’s leading fashion magazine takes an itty-bitty, teeny-weeny baby step in that direction, it’s worth noting.
Andreas Lebert, Brigitte’s editor in chief, says that beginning in 2010, the magazine will no longer use “professional” models and is instead looking for women with “normal figures. He explains, “For years we’ve had to use Photoshop to fatten the girls up. Especially their thighs, and decolletage. But this is disturbing and perverse and what has it got to do with our real reader?" If you can get past the head-snapping idea of fattening models up with Photoshop, read this again: What exactly does it have to do with the real reader?
Models: They’re just like us! What’s next? Dwell magazine focusing on “normal” homes?
Naturally, the move has been met with some criticism, ranging from accusations that Lebert is just trying to do things on the cheap to Louisa von Minckwitz, owner of Louisa Models in Munich and Hamburg, arguing, “The fact is that women want to see clothes on beautiful, aesthetically pleasing people.” Lebert really seems to be following a trend, at least in Europe. British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman made headlines when she spoke out against the “size-zero” culture this summer. Madrid banned models at its fashion week in 2006 for being too thin.
But before we get too excited about “real” women getting their day in the fashion glossies, let’s look at some of the “normal” models Lebert is reportedly considering: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former tennis star Steffi Graf and Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s family minister, who is a mother of seven. While Lebert does get bonus points for the fact that none of them are under 40, note that all are blond, white and used to being photographed -- Graf has in fact done modeling. While they may have normal figures, if we take “normal” to mean representative of a norm, none of them are the least bit normal in any other way. It’s more novelty casting than a celebration of real women. And frankly Graf’s physique, while healthy, is not “normal,” strictly speaking.
Even Lebert’s “normal” normal women sound like they have to be pretty extraordinary. “We're looking for women who have their own identity, whether it be the 18-year-old A-level student, the company chairwoman, the musician, or the footballer,” he said. Now, Lebert didn’t promise “normal women with normal lives.” Fair enough. But is he willing to extend that idea, ultimately, to normal complexions? Normal hair? Normal teeth?
Finally, keep in mind that this is in the works for 2010. It hasn’t happened, and if and when it does, any dive in sales would likely send Brigitte’s editors right back into those size-zero arms.
Baby steps, folks.