Author: Nina Hagen

Fashion Week faux pas: lack of model diversity misleads

New York Fashion Week, which took place Feb. 6-14, annually showcases new collections by the world’s top fashion designers. These looks introduce upcoming fashion trends for the fall. While many people attend Fashion Week purely to see the clothes and discover these trends, one running complaint about the event has been a lack of diversity among Fashion Week models.

Jezebel.com, a feminist website that focuses on a variety of women’s issues, reports that out of a total 4,621 looks seen at Fashion Week, only 985 were worn by models of color black, Asian, Latina or otherwise. This means that 78.69% of the models at New York Fashion Week were white.

These numbers are not that different from those of previous years. In 2013, the percentage of white models was 82.7. This indicates persistent uniformity among fashion models.

While some defend this trend simply as a reflection of the racial makeup of the U.S. itself which is proportionally close to that of the NYFW models, I see this more as a systemic problem that is only one of many associated with diversity in the world of fashion.

Homogeneity shows itself in numerous ways at events like New York Fashion Week. In addition to the models’ lack of racial diversity, there is also a predictable lack of plus-sized – or even normal-sized – models at the event. The fashion world’s persistent belief that only unhealthily thin women can model clothing is both inexplicable and bizarre.

This belief unquestionably stems from the pervasive image in the media of idealized female beauty, one that is in truth neither accurate nor representative of the U.S. or world population as a whole. Is there a connection between this image of idealized beauty and whiteness? Why are white models, for the most part, chosen to represent the pinnacle of female beauty?

Perhaps this lack of diversity stems from the simple reason that the majority of women who want to be models are white. Or perhaps it is mainly white women who succeed in the fashion world. While there are some successful black models – Naomi Campbell and Joan Smalls are two examples – and black actress Lupita Nyong’o has lately been finding a lot of success as the muse of countless fashion designers, it is undeniable that the majority of successful and recognizable models today are white.

These issues send very clear messages that shape the values of today’s young women. When they watch these models walk down the runway, they are implicitly told what society expects them to look like. And if they deviate from that standard, they will not be accepted or thought of as beautiful.

As girls are met with these unattainable images every day, it becomes more and more important that influential institutions like the fashion industry grow aware of the messages they are sending and the potentially negative effects these messages can have on consumers.

Next year at Fashion Week, designers should make a conscious effort to increase diversity among the models they hire. Perhaps their models can all be of different ethnicities and racial backgrounds. After all, giant events like NYFW are catering to an international audience, and their runways should honor that. Further, what would be the harm in introducing a variety of sizes among the models – some 6s, 8s, 10s, 12s and 14s could walk down the runway with the 0s and 00s.

If even one designer introduces these changes, there’s a chance that the rest will follow. Fashion is about taking risks and being creative, so why not apply that mindset to all aspects of the event? Maybe if these changes are made and more perspectives are represented and validated by the models, events like New York Fashion Week will become accessible and inviting to a more diverse crowd.

Nina Hagen ’15 hagen@stolaf.edu is from St. Paul, Minn. She majors in English.

× Featured

Student journalism is a very important platform for opinions

Vote No advocate talks strategies

On Thursday, Feb. 13, St. Olaf welcomed Jamie Ebert to campus to talk about the strategy behind last year’s winning “Vote No” campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in Minnesota. The event was co-sponsored by the Political Awareness Committee PAC and GLOW Gay, Lesbian or Whatever, the LGBT awareness group on campus.

Ebert is the former Field Organizer for Minnesotans United for All Families, an organization working to ensure that all Minnesotans have an equal opportunity to marry whomever they choose. To the people coming into BC 143, she mentioned that both of her brothers attended St. Olaf and that she herself is a “huge St. Olaf fan.” She also called GLOW “the best gay activist group name I have ever heard.”

Before the talk began, Ebert wrote the following list on a whiteboard:

1. Tell a story

2. Connect with your audience

3. Contrast with your opposition

4. Compell [sic] to action

5. Know your messenger

This list turned out to be the majority of the thought process behindthe Vote No campaign. Ebert mainly discussed the use of television advertisements and their relative effectiveness in political campaigns. To be most effective, Ebert said, they should closely follow the points on her list.

Ebert also mentioned the importance of language, both in advertisements and phone calls to potential voters. For example, she explained that because “the average person doesn’t know what [the acronym LGBT] is,” she and other phone bank callers would instead use the term “gay people,” despite that not being completely representative of the group in question. In that case, knowing your audience is most important in creating a connection with them.

Next, Ebert showed the audience three different TV ads. The first two were about Proposition 8, the California constitutional amendment to eliminate same-sex marriage that passed in 2008. The third was about Minnesota’s Vote No campaign.

The first ad was modeled on Apple’s “I’m a Mac” ads and used, as Ebert explained, “hot-button words” like “discrimination” and “equality” to convey the flaws of the proposition. These words are what Ebert describes as “language from the head,” meaning that they are spur-of-the-moment reactions to injustice that necessarily come across as blunt. She said that this kind of language is not the most effective because it is not fully thought-out.

The second advertisement, one that only ran for the two weeks prior to voting day but that the average Californian saw upwards of 47 times, proved to be a devastating blow to California’s Vote No campaign. It showed a young girl learning about same-sex relationships in school and served as a warning to parents that their own children would be negatively affected by such teaching. Ebert said that this ad “hit people in the gut” and increased the margin by which Prop 8 won by hundreds of thousands of votes.

Observing the negativity of both of those ads, Minnesota’s Vote No campaigners hoped to use a more positive approach for their own advertisements. The one Ebert showed also had its audience in mind, but aimed to change their minds rather than reinforce what they already knew. The couple in the ad, a white, suburban, middle-class husband and wife, talked about their experience getting to know a lesbian couple that moved into their neighborhood. Keeping a very positive tone, the couple talked about how friendly the women were and what great neighbors they turned out to be, which ended up shifting the perspective they previously had about gay people.

Ebert said this ad campaign, which featured ads all along the same lines as the one she showed, played a huge role in the success of Vote No. These ads were relatable and personalized what has historically been a very divisive issue. They talked about “what marriage means and our values and what’s in our guts and our heart,” Ebert said.

This focus on “love and commitment and family” rather than the use of scare tactics ultimately proved beneficial to the Vote No campaign.

“The positive message beat out the negative message,” Ebert said. “Love beat out hate.”

hagen@stolaf.edu

Photo Credit: BEKAH ENGSTRAND/MANITOU MESSENGER

× Featured

Student journalism is a very important platform for opinions

Commitment to self-love does not require a ceremony

Some people take the concept of self-love a little more literally than others. Jewelry designer Jeffrey Levin and agency and brand strategist Bonnie Powers hope to encourage self-love and self-respect while increasing what Powers calls “moments of positivity” with their “‘I Married Me’ Self-Wedding in a Box” kit. Their long-term goal is to elevate happiness and health.

These kits are intended to remind us to love ourselves. Levin and Powers claim that the positive mental state resulting from “marrying ourselves” will help to “reshape us over time” and give us a more optimistic outlook on life.

They indicate that performing a marriage ceremony with oneself increases one’s self-esteem and, according to Powers, the ceremony is “about acknowledging that you are a lovable, adorable, amazing person with all these fabulous qualities, [which is sometimes] really hard to stick with.”

The ceremony is one step on the path to “self-actualization and awareness,” and the ring is symbolic of one’s positivity and self-affirmation, qualities that lead to increased feelings of “happiness and joy.”

While Powers and Levin’s message about self-love is admirable, and they make good points about maintaining a positive outlook on life, the “self-wedding” aspect of their endeavor is a little odd. The ceremonial aspect strikes me as a nice concept that is strange in practice.

In a CNN article about their project, Powers describes having the guests at her and Levin’s wedding ceremony make promises to themselves while the couple performed their wedding vows. She also hopes that people who buy their kits either perform the self-marriage ceremony in front of or as part of a group or, if they are “too shy,” by themselves because the ritual “enhances” the experience.

Why, in order to feel the positive effects of self-love, should anyone have to buy a kit that gives them instructions on how to do so? The concept of self-love is finding within yourself the knowledge, power and desire to appreciate yourself for who you are and embrace even your worst qualities as unalterable parts of your personality.

The concept of marrying yourself takes self-love in a completely different direction in that it implies that being an independent person is somehow wrong. Powers and Levin say that loving yourself requires a ceremony that proves it, which at once assumes a lack of self-love in most people and doubts the strength of one’s self-love if they do not perform the ceremony.

Selling their product further takes away from the positive aspects of their message. Powers’ seemingly selfless words are given a selfish tint through her insistence on the invaluable nature of their product. The CNN article becomes an ad for her business endeavor and therefore takes some of the power out of her ideas.

How should we go about achieving these feelings of self-love? Instead of performing a meaningless ceremony that reeks of materialism, think about finding within yourself an appreciation for all of your abilities and be thankful for every positive aspect of your life. As students at a prestigious liberal arts college, we are incredibly fortunate to have so many resources and opportunities, and we are emotionally capable of achieving this positive mental state without the help of a bogus ceremony.

Self-love is attainable with the right attitude and outlook on life. A self-marriage ceremony, while appealing as a concept, is an unnecessary step in achieving this goal.

Nina Hagen ’15 hagen@stolaf.edu is from St. Paul, Minn. She majors in English.

× Featured

Student journalism is a very important platform for opinions

Making a difference during times of disaster

On Friday, Nov. 8, a violent typhoon leveled the city of Tacloban in the Philippines. The death toll in Tacloban alone is estimated to be more than 10,000, and an estimated 480,000 citizens have been displaced after thousands of houses were demolished in the storm.

As the citizens of Tacloban began to negotiate life after the typhoon, other countries began to pitch in. The Huffington Post reports that the U.S. Embassy provided the city with $100,000 for “health, water and sanitation support” while Australia gave an initial $358,900 “in relief supplies.”

According to the New York Times, a U.N. “disaster assessment team” visited the city the day after the typhoon, and team leader Sebastian Rhodes Stampa called the destruction unlike anything he had seen since “the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami,” by which he meant the devastating Indonesian tsunami of 2004.

While the Philippine government continues to fly in military planes providing food, clothing and materials for shelters, and while other countries step up to the plate and help the ailing nation, the debate begins about what steps are most effective in the wake of natural disasters of this magnitude. What is the best way for students to make a difference during times of turmoil?

Is donating money the best option? In doing so, one can ensure that the local government will do with the funds what they feel is best for their people. Having intimate knowledge of the area makes them better equipped to deal with such a crisis and arguably gives them a better understanding of the situation than outside groups could have.

What about donating food or supplies necessary for rebuilding houses and other buildings decimated by the storm? In a time of need, it is most important for a people to have what they need in order to survive. While planning for the future by donating money is important, having extra supplies tomorrow rather than next week could save the lives of a family with no means of survival.

There is also the option of physically going to the city or country in need and helping in person with the rebuilding process. In order to best know what the displaced, injured and distraught people need, one has to witness it first hand and do whatever may be needed to help them get back on their feet. Volunteering with organizations like Habitat for Humanity is quite effective in terms of giving physical support of this nature.

As for what students can do, volunteering with nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity, with church-affiliated groups or with other organizations represents a way to help that is both affordable and effective. While donating money to an organization like the Red Cross or Oxfam International may make a difference, students burdened with expensive tuition and student loans may find this option less feasible.

Volunteering one’s time to help people in need serves as a rewarding alternative that has the ability to make a huge difference in the life of a person displaced by a natural disaster.

After college, joining the Peace Corps is a great option for those who want to help make a difference in the lives of people like the citizens of Tacloban. While some support may be given through organizations focused on the physical process of rebuilding houses, people who have undergone the emotional trauma of living through a catastrophic event like a typhoon or tsunami may require more than just a roof over their heads. Organizations like the Peace Corps focus on working with the people in need and helping them permanently improve their lives rather than simply going in and cleaning up the mess.

Any way you go about it, volunteering in the event of a disaster has positive effects on everyone involved. The victims of the disaster then have the ability to get back on their feet, while the volunteers are rewarded with feelings of satisfaction and pride for their ability to help.

Nina Hagen ’15 hagen@stolaf.edu is from St. Paul, Minn. She majors in English with a women’s and gender studies concentration.

× Featured

Student journalism is a very important platform for opinions

Disturbing prizes for “divas” in Miami race

At the beginning of the month, Miami, Fla. hosted the latest race in the “Divas Half-Marathon and 5K” series. The series claims to empower its female participants by awarding prizes of Botox, laser hair removal and teeth whitening to the first, second and third-place finishers in each age group.

While the prizes themselves are concerning and problematic, it gets worse: participants as young as 18 may be awarded any of these prizes, while those as young as 15 may win anything except Botox.

The series’ website claims that “Divas” is “the most fun and glam women’s half marathon series in the nation,” noting that “this series is all about girl power.” These claims lead me to question why any racer, female or not, should desire that an athletic competition be “glam” at all.

It also concerns me that the Continental Event and Sports Management group can, as the organizers of the event, knowingly make the claim that “girl power” may be gained through the administration of a cosmetic surgery that inherently rejects natural beauty and places great value on the false “beauty” created by unnatural alterations to a woman’s body.

While it is admirable that the series encourages fitness in women, the prizes completely negate any positive effects created by this premise. Teaching young girls that these cosmetic procedures empower women gives them a distorted view of ideal femininity that is only perpetuated by images of unnatural beauty in the media. Because girls as young as eight years old are allowed to compete in the 5K, these distorted images will be presented to girls at a very young and impressionable age.

What’s more, the prizes are the opposite of empowering. Rather, they are quite demeaning because they encourage these women to rid themselves of the flaws that make them human. In awarding these prizes, the organizers also presume an inherent female interest in such unnatural beautification. Assuming that women need such incentives to enter an athletic event discounts and insults women.

In order for the race to actually be empowering to women, the prizes – if there must be any at all – should simply be the medals or trophies the other finishers receive. The cosmetic prizes take legitimacy away from the event and from female athletics as a whole. As a woman, I was very insulted and dismayed when I read passages such as this on the event’s website:

“Remember when you were younger and would stand in front of the mirror playing dress up? Well, just because you’re a grown-up doesn’t mean you can’t be a princess! Throw on a boa and tiara along the course for an instant pick-me-up, and remember to smile for the cameras when you cross the finish line!”

This is offensive to women for countless reasons. First, it encourages adherence to a very specific type of femininity with which not all women identify. Secondly, it demeans women by assuming that they desire to “play dress up” at all, especially in a race like a half marathon that requires a high level of athletic ability, endurance and concentration.

While claims like this are likely intended to be light-hearted, the organizers of this series should make more of an effort to consider the viewpoints of more diverse types of women and not simply assume that the gender as a whole holds one set of values.

Most importantly, they should show women the respect they deserve by refraining from passing sweeping judgments about and encouraging adherence to a demeaning view of the female gender.

Nina Haggen ’15 haggen@stolaf.edu is from St. Paul, Minn. She majors in English.

× Featured

Student journalism is a very important platform for opinions