Are “ordinary” women now fashionable?

Karl LagerfeldKarl Lagerfeld, the German fashion designer has added his views on whether ordinary women should appear in magazines. He says that fashion is about dreams and illusions, and nobody wants to look at chubby women. Here’s the previous post we wrote last week:

lizzie-miller-for-blogGermany’s most popular women’s magazine Brigitte has announced that from 2010 it’s banning professional models from its pages and replacing them with what it calls “real women.”

“Attractiveness has many faces. Whether they are actresses, musicians, first ladies or women on the streets of big cities – they all affect fashion and beauty styles,” that’s the line from the editor.           glam-cover-for-blog2

Last month, we asked you to comment on the photo above which another fashion magazine Glamour used. Hundreds of you got in contact with us about it.It proved to be one of our best shows to date. Brigitte’s latest decision has kept the conversation going.Many of  you have been emailing the BBC with your views on this, like Rebekah from Ohio

“I am a real woman with an imperfect body including cellulite, bad hair days, and the occasional stress-induced acne breakout. Despite these imperfections, I am beautiful and so are other imperfect women. Finally a magazine is getting it right! “

But is it precisely because these images aren’t real that women buy these magazines?

Louisa von Minkwitz owner of Louisa Model agency in Hamburg, told the Newshour programme that  “women who buy a magazine want to see beautiful women, because they want to see certain dreams, magazines sell dreams.”

This blogger
 feels that models dumped by Brigitte should be grateful they are out of work – “at least they are alive.” Aren’t we exaggerating?

“Don’t blame them because they’re beautiful” says Byrony Gordon– they’re just a product of our own obsession with our bodies.

France  is following the trend too. MPs have announced that all airbrushed photos must come with a warning. And Glamour has announced that next month’s edition will be made up of entirely ordinary women. What’s with fashion’s latest obsession with ordinary ladies? Or is this the start of ordinary women fighting back?

48 Responses to “Are “ordinary” women now fashionable?”

  1. 1 Peter D. Moriarty, US
    October 6, 2009 at 20:24

    Like most men, I prefer more full-figured women and applaud Brigette’s emphasis on these, especially since anorexic models set a bad example for young girls who may be self-conscious about their developing bodies. (Needless to say, I don’t read Brigette myself).

    However the idea of employing “real women” is dubious. Professional models have professional skills, so how about just using larger size professional models? Of course one (sly) aspect of this not mentioned in your piece is that “real women” may cost less to hire? In fact some will work for free, or for a few copies of their spread…

  2. 2 Vivian, Los Angeles, California
    October 6, 2009 at 20:24

    I think it is a great idea. I liked what the woman from the magazine said. “Today’s woman does not need a stand in.” The magazine will really serve my needs if it shows my body type in clothes that suit me.

    I’d be much more highly motivated to buy a magazine that could really serve me by showing me styles that I could actually wear and look good in. At 45 I am not interested in spending my money to look at pictures of overly made-up girls who could be my daughter wearing clothes that I couldn’t a single leg or a breast in.

  3. 3 Shouvik Datta
    October 6, 2009 at 20:25

    Itis a good decision by the German women’s magazine, to only include photos of their readers.

    Young women today too often seem to be judged on how they look, rather than who they are


  4. 4 Meghanne
    October 6, 2009 at 20:26

    In design school, we are taught that models are essentially “hangers,” which, relieved though it may make larger women, does nothing at all for us as consumers. It is true that we want to know what clothing will look like on us, an excellent argument for putting “real women” (i.e., women larger than 2/4) in print ads and on the runway. We are also taught that 6 is the size from which we grade larger and smaller patterns; it should not be a problem, it seems, for designers to then knock off a few more of those middling sizes, even if models never make it to a 12.

  5. 5 Greg, NYC
    October 6, 2009 at 20:27

    It’s funny. My wife watched that Tyra Banks model show relentlessly and of course I occasionally get sucked in to watching as well. Sure there are some attractive women on that show but when the inevitable, plus size model arrives in the competition all of the other contestants seem to not only pale in compairison but they look unhealthy and gaunt. There is something about a women with a little meat on her bones that makes her much more attractive then the skinny, heroine user model types. I quote, ‘bone is for the dog…meat is for the man!’

  6. 6 Jennifer
    October 6, 2009 at 20:28

    Hmmmm….what are “ordinary women”?

    I find that offensive…………Oh, thank you for taking pity on us “ordinary women”. *rolls eyes* Get over yourself.

    On warning re airbrushed photos

    Like people don’t realize that photos are airbrushed! Magazines are just that; magazines!

  7. 7 Josh, New York
    October 6, 2009 at 20:28

    As a photographer, I would be delighted to see a larger range of women entering profession of modeling. My hope is that these women stand up for themselves economically by insisting on being paid full professional rates.

  8. 8 Elizabeth, NYC
    October 6, 2009 at 20:29

    Some of the “model sizes” fit women that aren’t stick thin; I’m petite & curvy (5’4″ 125) & wear 0,2,4 depending on the cut, but I look nothing like a tall thin girl who is wearing the same size (my weight is all in my bum & thighs)! In fact, often designer clothing doesn’t fit my small waist & I have to get my clothes tailored.
    I would like to see women more like myself & my girlfriends modeling clothes. Women come in SO many different shapes, it would be great if the magazines could reflect that even just a little bit — bring back the models that have at least a little meat on their bones!

  9. 9 Cambra
    October 6, 2009 at 20:30

    Regarding the discussion on World Service earlier today — everyone seems to be neglecting what should be an obvious fact: models are real women, too! They are also flesh and blood humans with bodily imperfections. Being thin doesn’t equal being perfect! A size 0 model also gets stress-induced acne breakouts, cellulite, etc. Any woman who appears in a magazine, regardless of size, will be heavily made up, brightly lit, and retouched to within an inch of her life before anything goes to print. It’s easy to rail against the fashion industry for propagating unrealistic images to “real” women, but let’s please not lose sight of the fact that those “ugly sticks” representing all those designer goods are real people, too.

  10. 10 Gwen - Connecticut USA.
    October 6, 2009 at 20:31

    I’m all for getting rid of super-skinny or size “0” models. Not only does it mean that as a woman in my mid-30s I’m not able to live up to it, but it also sets a very bad example to young girls. They grow up with low self-esteem because they think they’re supposed to be skinny and perfect without realizing that the women that they look at in magazines are airbrushed to perfection.

    I recently went shopping to JCrew and had to ask one of the women working there if they had any “normal” sizes – they only had sizes 0-4 on their shelves….what does that say?

  11. 11 Penelope, New York
    October 6, 2009 at 20:31

    While I applaud them not using super skinny, unhealthy models, they said nothing about retouching photographs. Real women (like actresses and other notables) appear in the pages of magazines all the time, but are photo-shopped into a fantasy of a woman. If magazines want to present realistic images, they need to seriously cut back on retouching photographs.

  12. 12 Karen Gray, North Carolina
    October 6, 2009 at 20:32

    It’s about time! Bravo!

  13. 13 Kathleen
    October 6, 2009 at 20:33

    You have to be asleep to believe in dreams. This “real women” focus is a good thing. If that woman who wants skinny people why not go to Darfur and photograph folks who are starving and do something good for the world

  14. 14 Rebekah P.- Cincinnati, Ohio
    October 6, 2009 at 20:33

    I am a real woman with an imperfect body including cellulite, bad hair days, and the occasional stress-induced acne breakout. Despite these imperfections, I am beautiful and so are other imperfect women. Finally a magazine is getting it right! I can never look like the models in the pages of Cosmo or Elle. No matter how hard I work out or how much I starve myself, I will never be that thin, tall, or young and neither will the thousands of other women who turn the pages of these magazines. Show me someone like me. Give me strong, independent, confident women who look like me. I don’t want to see what I can’t ever be. Instead I want to see an everyday woman in fabulous clothes because I can achieve that.

    • 15 Crispo, Uganda
      October 7, 2009 at 12:18

      Good point Rebeka, now finally, a real woman’s perspective on this point. I hate seeing nude women who think looks are everything. Well, may be they are right and am wrong, but i highly doubt that. Bravo to you. I only wish all other women were like you.

  15. 16 Krupa Thakrar
    October 6, 2009 at 20:39

    Good point Jennifer – what is an ‘ordinary’ woman?

  16. 17 patti in cape coral
    October 6, 2009 at 20:56

    It’s not so much that I’m tired of seeing skinny women as models in magazines, I would just like to see a variety, including short, tall, full-figured, thin, old, young, etc. When you look at Hollywood starlets/models, there’s just a sameness to them that gets boring, and frankly disturbing. I also don’t mind women being a size 0, what disturbs me is that there are so many women trying to achieve a size 0 through artificial means such as starvation. I don’t think we should demonize naturally thin women.

    I read an article somewhere that Shakira had originally wanted to be a model, but they would not accept her as one because she was too short (4’9″ I think). Beyonce’s figure goes beyond what is normally acceptable for models. The standards that would shut out two such beautiful women have to be messed up!

  17. October 6, 2009 at 21:03

    I’m the blogger that made the statement “they should be happy they got out alive.”

    I state this from experience as a model in Paris at 16 years old. It was a racket, and we all starved or purged to meet the standards. Plus -this was the early 90’s (Cindy Crawford days) and the required size was 8! Today, what is it – size 0 (which by the way did not even exist).

    This trend is a godsend, my blog is dedicated to being a voice of reason for young women who suffer from eating disorders, many who live the “pro-anorexia” lifestyle that our society touts. I can not even begin to tell you the stories I receive from girls all over the world who feel like they are not good enough because they don’t measure up to today’s “model body.”

    Let’s hope the size trend upward continues!
    aka mamaV

  18. 19 Josiah Soap
    October 6, 2009 at 21:09

    The models are not ordinary women, they have become far too skinny and have no shape. Its the same for guys too as well, most of us are not 6ft 2, with washboard abs, big pecs and a chiseled chin. It would be far better to show a nice looking slimish woman, or an average height slimish guy. However, you can go too far the other way, although it sounds shallow, last thing I want to see is a model with a big fat bum and chunky thighs (or a guy with a belly), I doubt this sort of person would help sell products. Sorry thats just the way of the world but attractive people do go further in life.

  19. 20 Susan in NC
    October 7, 2009 at 00:24

    Slender women are but one body type: the easier one.

    Designing clothes that make slender women look good (especially in photographs) is much easier than designing clothes to do the same for less-slender women. Designers and manufacturers decided to set themselves this easier task many years ago, and they do that one thing very well. Magazine editors have gone along. Together they’ve created a feedback loop, along the way convincing many women that it’s impossible for anyone over a size 2 to look good.

    But it’s only because they’ve focused so relentlessly on solving the easier problem. How about trying the harder job now?

  20. October 7, 2009 at 02:32

    Seems more like budget cut with a positive spin to me.

    And I doubt it will be tough for the talent scouts to find gorgeous people on the streets of Germany anyway.

    Oh yes, make up and lighting does wonders nowadays too.

  21. 22 nora
    October 7, 2009 at 04:24

    We women who have babies, and god forbid a c-section, are buying clothes. We want women who have babies to model clothes. We are not here to say skinny models are not women. They represent one body type and there are others. Buyers have the right to demand truth in advertising. That is it. Market of women with bellies, models with bellies. My daughters generation made bellies popular and I say hire some belly girls to model clothes.

    Why get all political when this is just a market adjustment?

  22. 23 Tom K in Mpls
    October 7, 2009 at 05:15

    What is fashion? Some people try to explain it to me, and never really seem to get it. Does it matter? Does it serve a purpose?

  23. October 7, 2009 at 06:45

    I agree that women come in all shapes and sizes – that most women are not stick insects. Some of the Models are so thin it’s awful, and they also look so young – 14yrs old. I love some of the clothes they wear but know that I’d never be able to get them in my size which is 12 to 14 depending on the quality and cut. Clothes should be modeled on women with flesh on their bones.

  24. 25 VictorK
    October 7, 2009 at 10:17

    Shouldn’t a commercial publication be driven by what its readers want, instead of PC dictates about ‘real women’? And what business is it of government, in a free country, that photographers touch up their pictures (as if that were anything new)?

    This story is a good example of media manipulation and contempt for the public. If ‘ordinary women’ were ‘now fashionable’ wouldn’t we see lots of magazines springing up to capitalise on that fact? Instead we see media (and to a lesser extent political) elites dictating to the public what they should like, invaribaly along predictably correct lines.

  25. 26 Crispo, Uganda
    October 7, 2009 at 12:42

    First, i decry the appearance of that photo, much as am aware that the BBC has exclusive rights to publish it.

    Back to the point, a natural woman is more attractive. I like a woman with all her weakness and strength and above all one whose intellect has been updated, of course through school.

  26. 27 gary
    October 7, 2009 at 13:16

    I don’t think I’ve seen an “ordinary” woman. Come to think of it, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen an ordinary person at all. Every person with whom I interact is perfectly unique. Oh. I guess you folks are referring to the tiny percentage of the female population that makes a living posing for a camera. I don’t think they are ordinary either. And, though I don’t hold much hope of it happening, I believe the world would benefit immensely if people in general stopped focusing on what appears to be and concentrate upon what is. Personally, I find women attractive by the simple measure of being competent, caring, functional female human beings.

  27. 28 steve
    October 7, 2009 at 13:39

    I admit I don’t read women’s magazines, but I do see them in checkout lines at stores, and the articles they seem to have in them listed on the cover and constantly dedicated to the most shallow of things.

  28. 29 jens
    October 7, 2009 at 15:14

    Can anyone tell me when “ordinary” women were NOT fashionable? I am surrounded by exraordinary “ordinary” women everyday, who do great things. The use of the word “ordinary” itself shows how shallow we have become with regards to fashion. Skick figures are held up as the ideal. now men are being carroled up to follow the six-pack biceps clown parade. thank you no.

    everybody is told to be happy, while every magazine is pushing for all of us to have complexes about our self-image.

  29. 30 John in Salem
    October 7, 2009 at 16:20

    Given all they are capable of, I don’t believe there is such a thing as an “ordinary woman”.
    We haven’t been worshiping them for the last 100,000 years because of the way they wear the latest fashions.

  30. October 7, 2009 at 17:23

    As a female, we are told “the metabolism slows down and everything goes south’. So step away from ‘food table A’, which includes fast food, desserts, red meat and bread-why that leaves fruit, water and tree bark-one simply cannot sustain a lifestyle within those diet restrictions-and besides, it’s not fun!

    Fashion moguls have long dictated what a woman can wear by what she consumes. Therefore, styles are are available for “the thin-the few”. In order for fashion moguls to “keep up”, they must move from the calculator stage into the computer stage. The millennium has created a ‘woman’ beyond the “generic female” (ordinary woman) who aspires to be healthy, beautiful and stylish.

  31. 32 scmehta
    October 8, 2009 at 08:29

    Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholders; and in the mag-glam world, you should know how and what is best beheld by the majority of them.

  32. 33 JanB
    October 8, 2009 at 17:19

    Define “ordinary”? Are women with a healthy fat percentage ordinary, or are obese women ordinary because 59% of German women is obese?

    I support regulations that require models to at least have a healthy figure (and yes, some women are just skinny even when they eat healthy, and they should be allowed to be models) but anything beyond that seems like pure emotional compensation for the ever bigger growing “ordinary” German citizen, who refuses to excercise and eat healthy.

    So let’s fire models with eating disorders but don’t make the mistake of going too far by promoting obese women as “ordinary”, because that sends out an equally unhealthy message to young girls.

  33. 34 Chintan in Houston
    October 12, 2009 at 11:58

    They say ordinary women, I think what they mean is amateurs. professional models are too expensive and there are plenty of amateurs who are drop dead gorgeous as well.
    So a magazine might say they are using women off the streets but will not necessarily change the look of a magazine, advertisements or a fashion show.
    It will just be pretty NEW faces.

  34. 35 Nigel
    October 12, 2009 at 12:16

    …….and life will go on! Many unbeautiful women (by classic measures) will continue to be beautiful people and many classically beautiful women will continue to be idiots.

  35. 36 scmehta
    October 12, 2009 at 13:35

    The wholesome and good-featured ordinary women can look much more naturally beautiful than the made-up ones.

  36. 37 Eric in France
    October 12, 2009 at 14:40

    Hello there,

    M. Lagerfeld is a precious cynical fellow. I can recall him saying, at the time of the anorexic model’s ban proposal, that these women were just hook on which he was placing his beloved design. I added that he did not if they were anorexic or not and that they were paid just to display the product. Therefore I can understand that he cannot accept anything else than formless bodies.

    From his standpoint, I can understand that, without the dream of looking-alike, the company he is working for would not be able to sell the prêt-à-porter design that allows his world of haute-couture to survive. So what he is saying is just an economic statement of a business looking precious.

    Cheers the diversity

  37. 38 Jessica in NYC
    October 12, 2009 at 15:38

    Who cares what Karl Lagerfeld said, he’s a egotistic man who wears shades indoors and has created a career of catering to the elite and very wealthy. He could careless what real people think or look, we can’t afford his cloths anyways.

    Hurray for real women! I don’t subscribe to any fashion magazines and they only chance I get to thumb through one is at a doctor’s office once or twice a year. I don’t read them, because there is nothing in them targeting me. I am not a underweight, 6 feet tall or have a bottomless bank account. I will certainly not spend my hard earned money trying afford an over priced hand bag, because it has some silly designers name on it. Thanks for pointing out what glamor is doing next month, I’ll be on the look out for the and will buy my first issue.

  38. 39 John in Salem
    October 12, 2009 at 16:39

    Lagerfeld is right, of course – people don’t want to see overweight women in magazines. But that doesn’t mean they want to see sullen, anorexic models either.
    I’m guessing he just doesn’t know that an average, healthy, happy woman doesn’t need a $5000 evening gown and a pound of makeup to be beautiful.

  39. 40 Jessica, Sierra Leone
    October 12, 2009 at 17:19

    Let’s not forget that fashion magaiznes are there to sell PRODCUTS…and the ‘dreams’ that Karl Lagerfeld talks about are actually just a marketing gimmick. I also find it interesting that many of the key movers behind western fashion in the previous century were men-in particular the shoe designers (the stilletto- clearly not invented by a pregnant woman!) so are we living out men’s fantasies of what should look like and what we should dream?

    I think it also needs to be noted that ideas of beauty vary from context to context and one of the things the mainstream western fashion industry has done is to narrow down what we define as beautiful. So for example in many African contexts a woman with ample thighs has been considered a sign of beauty- partly because it suggests fertility (also problematic). It is only recently that non-white women have been ‘allowed’ to be considered beautiful in fashion, and even there we see people like Naomi Campbell (who has a weave to make her look like a ‘white’ woman), and even Alek Wek who despite her ebony skin and round nose is stick thin……

  40. October 12, 2009 at 17:34

    Sure fashion is all about fantasies and dreams, but women want to see real women as models. The age of the skinny, anorexic model is over, and women with curves are now considered to be not only sexy, but also healthy.

  41. 42 Noel in the islands
    October 12, 2009 at 18:30

    It’s not the models that have a problem.

    Fat, even a small amount, is not healthy and there is no medical debate about that. The laziness, apathy, and lack of pride existing in the ‘fat’ human race is not only a matter of fashion, but moreover is a matter of environmental and economic travesty.

    The planet is running out of food, the hospitals are brimming with ‘fat’ diseases and the fuel necessary to drag the fat people around is unnecessary. A US airline protested some 5 years ago that it costs them US$250 million to drag fat people into the stratosphere. ‘Fat’ is a burden and so in no way can be considered fashionable.

    I’m 53, eat well, surf or swim every day, still weigh the same as when I left school, and have no gut roll. I can only imagine what the 21 year old with the gut roll in Glamour magazine will look like in 32 years.

    The fat people have the problem but the whole world has to suffer.

  42. 43 steve
    October 12, 2009 at 18:39

    Why isn’t the question raised about women’s magazines in general? They are so mindless and shallow. The most inane subjects are discussed. It’s like being in the same aisle with these magazines lowers my IQ due to proximity. How can anyone “read” that rubbish?

  43. 44 jens
    October 12, 2009 at 20:37

    Dear Noel,
    Your quote, “Fat, even a small amount, is not healthy and there is no medical debate about that” is simply refuted by the medical fact that one needs body fat for virtually all functions and survival. If you do not have the minimal amount of fat, you are dead. Ultra skinny woman are not fertile, just as another pointer. You have no fat you organs are periously exposed to damage. you have no fat, your brain will not function. You have no fat your skin would be scales. You have no fat you are blind…..any more details, because I can go on and on, to convince you that fat is every bit as important as as it is necassary. i can supply an equal list as of why cholesterol is important as well.

  44. 45 Dennis Junior
    October 13, 2009 at 02:09

    Karl Lagerfeld: His opinion is not right, but, it is his opinion….

    ~Dennis Junior~

  45. 46 patti in cape coral
    October 13, 2009 at 04:53

    Is that a picture of Karl Lagerfeld? This is the man that is telling us what we want to see? Ugh!

  46. 47 Anjali, Bahrain
    October 13, 2009 at 12:06

    Well-said Jennifer!

    Today’s world is about reality and practicality! How many size-zero middle aged women, do we come across?

    I agree with Heather, that size zero never existed earlier!

    My sister’s set an example of this generation! They are size zero, and want to remain that way till the end! This is just how much, media can affect today’s generation!

    Totally agree to Jens..fat is equally important!

  47. 48 rr
    October 14, 2009 at 16:42

    About time!! Modern media has created women that adhere to unhealthy habits and low self esteem, producing teens and tweens who are anorexic and obese. A sexy woman is a woman who has confidence in herself, one who is comfortable in her own skin. Ban retouching! Ban unhealthy models!!

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