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How real is Vogue’s ‘real issue’?

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The November issue of British Vogue

The November Issue is a “model-free zone.”

This month’s issue of British Vogue features no models for the first time in its 100-year history. Titled “The Real Issue” the fashion magazine features academics and entrepreneurs instead of models. Whilst many have praised this move as a step towards more diversity and positive beauty standards, is dividing women based on their occupation really that progressive?

Is calling models not “real” is insulting and derogatory? All women are real women. Some women model and others run businesses. Some even do both. Women are multifaceted and should be defined by so much more than just their career, their looks and their weight.

If Vogue really want to be able to relate to their entire audience, they should feature women from all different backgrounds and careers alongside each other instead of excluding one group entirely and labelling them as fake. It could be argued that this issue is affirmative action for the sort of women whose voices Vogue has silenced in the past. Instead of only displaying models as the norm, the ideal and the aspirational, women who have found success in career paths that are less dependent on their looks are being focused on. Vogue are supposedly showing good role models for young women. Maybe there was a time when models were not the best role models- the supermodels of the ‘80s were self-involved drama queens and in the ‘90s heroin chic was the new aesthetic. Now, however, we have the likes of Karlie Kloss and Ajak Deng, pursuing their interests outside of modelling and helping causes that they are genuinely passionate about.

Vogue is first and foremost a fashion magazine and models are a very important part of that, but it is increasingly being marketed as a women’s magazine with celebrity interviews and real-life stories gracing the cover. It is right that Vogue should constantly be evolving and pioneering industry change, but dividing women is not the way forward. It feeds into the narrative that women are allowed to despise other women just for being more attractive. It tells us that there are clear differences between women who make money from their looks and women who make money in other ways.

Not only is the idea that there is such thing as an unreal woman offensive, it also undermines the work that models do to get into Vogue. Modelling requires a lot of hard work and, as a high fashion magazine, Vogue should respect and support that. The issue with beauty standards in the fashion industry is not the fault of the models themselves. They have to conform to these standards in order to make money and fit in the sample size clothes that are sent down the runway and the consequential pictures to fashion magazines.

Vogue relies on models advertising clothes. They make money from that. To turn their back on models at this time seems harsh. The radical change from featuring models in every issue to creating an issue that is a completely “model-free zone” makes you question the authenticity of the point Vogue is trying to make. Do the editors at British Vogue genuinely believe in improving representation in the industry or are they simply jumping on the bandwagon of a popular movement that is pushing for fashion to change its beauty standards?

This is not the first time that Vogue has tried to represent a more diverse range of women. However, it has been done even less tastefully in the past. Earlier this year Brazilian Vogue’s Paralympics campaign featured able-bodied models with disabilities photoshopped in. Unsurprisingly, and rightly, this was met with a huge amount of backlash.

It is Photoshop that makes models look not “real”, and that is something that the magazine is control of. The latest issue may include “real” women, but how real are they when they are still edited? Vogue is scapegoating models, when models only exist because of industry standards, set by brands and perpetuated by fashion magazines.

Vogue’s “real issue” is a step in the right direction and it highlights the changes that need to be made in the fashion industry. However, it is unlikely to make any real difference. The issue doesn’t even discuss representation of women of different ethnicity. You can’t help but feel that Vogue are pay lip service to an issue that needs to be discussed more.

Words by Sophie Wilson

Images by Ellena Rowlin

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