Conditional Unconditionals

A few months ago, a friend sent me this article about Melanie Gaydos – the woman with ectodermal dysplasia turned model. What I was going to say about it in my journal back then, I suppose I ended up saying to my friend instead, but I’ll let you in on the conversation since it was sitting in drafts.

My friend’s comment was how weird it is that the fashion industry – her industry – can make someone’s pain fashionable. My comment was how weird it is that the fashion industry is willing to “make a statement” by insisting that someone with deformities most consider objectively hideous is beautiful and/or worthy of aesthetic highlight, yet it would die before making the average person off the street a model.

That is to say, what I find funny is that they’d put someone who looks like they’re shriveling away from an aggressive flesh-eating disease on the runway before using someone with – say – a muffin top. It’s laughable, really, that this is seen as progressive.

Hey, friends! We know you condemn us for introducing and reinforcing standards of beauty that could best be described as pointless or absurd, but as those sentiments gain traction among the spenders and social awareness continues to trend, we’re breaking those rules!

We’re not just obsessed with appearance as we dictate it! Our industry is creative and inclusive and we’re committed to redefining what it means to be beautiful! To project standards that are less damaging to the esteem of the very populace that continues to feed into us as if we’d be the authority on anything without their susceptibility!

The only rules they’re breaking are the ones no one would object to without feeling like shitty human beings, ergo they get a free pass. What’s meaningful about breaking a rule you’d catch no flack for breaking? They aren’t redefining anything if they’re doing what they already know they can get away with without redefining anything.

Is this thing on?

The industry doesn’t have to change its standards that emphasize thinness and malign being bigger, for example, even with plus sized models who, as far as the industry players I come across are concerned, are just a necessary commercial evil.

Why?

Because no one feels shitty for putting overweight people down. That’s the atmosphere we’re in. Fat shaming, in spite of being openly recognized as fat shaming, is acceptable to those who do it. 

No one thinks twice about saying, “Eww, why would you use her as a model? She has a gut! Sorry, but no one thinks fat is attractive! Skinny people just look better and that’s a fact whether you like it or not! Just being honest!”

How many would say the same about someone suffering from a medical condition with such lack of remorse? Who would be equally “honest” about the “facts” and say that Melanie is ugly? That no one thinks Down syndrome is attractive? That vitiligo doesn’t sell? That people who don’t have medical problems just look better?

Only bullies, right?

The industry knows it can slap these people in a magazine or send them down the runway and get nothing but pats on the back for it while changing absolutely nothing about their prevailing beauty standards.

They didn’t break the rule. They made exceptions to it for the sake of novelties granted a stay for being tragic. The industry improved its reputation without actually improving itself.

Win-win!

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s wonderful that models like those I referenced got an opportunity to do something they were always told they could never do and that others are inspired by it. I’m not so awful that I don’t see how that’s a good thing nor am I implying that they aren’t worthy of modeling independent of (or in light of) their conditions.

It just tickles me that those who fancy themselves less superficial – more evolved – because they can supposedly see beyond such disfigurements to appreciate a talent and beauty that transcends our overblown ideals are the very same people who can’t look past a fucking pimple or a double chin.

Call me jaded, but I’m not moved by yet another tall, skinny, white model who happens to have a disease the industry can capitalize on in the sentiment department. When the agencies and the advertisers and the brands all make a sweeping change to their long established criteria for talent, we can talk about progress.

Until then, feel free to skip me over when they “redefine the industry” again by signing a quadriplegic.

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