Emma Teitel: Critics of uber-thin model in Victoria Beckham ad are stuck in the '90s
Being extremely thin, while not entirely out of fashion, isn’t exactly in either, writes Emma Teitel.
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When I was a kid in the ’90s and the Spice Girls were all the rage, every school had its own makeshift Spice squad. And every popular, conventionally attractive girl (and many who were neither) wanted to be Posh, a.k.a. the waifish Victoria Beckham.
However, if you were a tomboy and/or a nascent lesbian, the choice wasn’t yours. You were automatically assigned the role of Sporty Spice, a.k.a. Mel C, whether you looked good in a high ponytail or not. (I didn’t). A similar discriminatory practice applied to the Black and brown girls I knew who wanted to play white, blond, Baby Spice, or red-headed Ginger, but who were forever relegated to the role of Scary Spice, A.k.a. Mel B., who is Black. There is a PhD thesis somewhere in the grade school politics of Spice Girl tribute groups, but I’ll leave that to the academics.
Today I want to address the social politics surrounding only one Spice — the aforementioned Posh, whose star did not fade with her band’s popularity at the turn of the millennium. On the contrary 43-year-old Victoria Beckham, is at the present moment, a tabloid fixture and a fashion tycoon. But she’s also currently at the centre of a body image controversy because of a new ad she launched for her 2018 eyewear collection.
The ad in question, launched this month, promotes a pair of oversized retro spectacles, but it’s not the spectacles people are ticked off about. It’s the woman wearing them — Lithuanian model Giedre Dukauskaite. The thing is, Dukauskaite is extremely thin. Thinner than ultrathin Beckham, even. So thin, I’d wager that two Dukauskaites, maybe even three, could fit inside one Beckham.
The model’s stick-figure frame upset many on social media, including the perpetually offended British host Piers Morgan, who penned a column in the Daily Mail this week excoriating Beckham for glorifying such a shockingly skinny figure. He writes:
“Victoria Beckham loves to talk about ‘empowering women’ but there’s nothing empowering about making them think this is the type of body they should covet. In fact it is far more likely to have the complete reverse effect of crushing young women’s confidence and driving them to emergency diets.”
Amanda Foreman, the Wall Street Journal columnist was no less alarmed by and alarmist about the ad. “A model who looks like a teenager with severe anorexia is the face for the #VBEyewear 2018 summer collection,” she tweeted. “This is the reason why every study on social media and advertising calls the threat to young girls’ mental health ‘dire.’ Toxic imagery works — in the worst way.”
These comments make me wonder if the outraged adults quoted above have actually ever met any of the teenage girls they are so concerned about. Because it appears Piers et al are stuck in the ’90s of my youth — when Posh Spice ruled the roost. They appear to be under the impression that every little girl wants to be Victoria Beckham. Or Kate Moss. Or Paris Hilton. Or Giedre Dukauskaite.
Uber-thin, while not entirely out of fashion, isn’t exactly in either. Today’s tastemakers are not by and large starving. The Kardashian clan, Cardi B, India Love, Amber Rose, Kate Upton, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, even the Jenner sisters — none of these women call forth the expression: “Girl could really use a sandwich.” The uproar about Beckham’s ad is an uproar about an outdated ideal, when waif trumped curvy. It’s also indicative of an older pundit class (ahem, Morgan) that is woefully out of touch with a popular culture it loves to decry.
Of course unrealistic beauty standards still persist in Western culture, but they’re different than they were in the pin-thin ’90s. These standards are perhaps just as exacting but they value attributes beyond thinness. Toned abs and a big firm behind, thick eyebrows and big lips. A woman who is at once curvy and fit, soft and firm. This is the ideal standard of beauty presented in Kardashian Instagram posts and hip-hop videos — and even to a certain extent, on an evolving fashion runway. Giedre Dukauskaite’s look is alarming, yes, but it’s also, like Beckham herself, passé.
In other words, contrary to the hysterics of Piers Morgan, the kids are all right. They aren’t playing Posh on the playground anymore. Pressure to look a certain way still sucks of course, but better young women aim for a big butt than an emaciated one. In my experience, the former is a lot easier to come by.
Emma Teitel is a national affairs columnist.