Arriving at the most glamorous festival in London last Sunday, I had high expectations. Models, fashion editors, designers and photographers – from Alexa Chung and Victoria Beckham to Mario Testino and Donatella Versace – descended upon the Southbank Centre to give guests an exclusive insight into the fashion industry through panel discussions, mentoring panels and interviews.
Attractions included the Vogue Braid Bar, where expert hairdressers created one type of hair braid – fishtail, French, beach, boho and wraparound; a gift shop selling everything from Vogue sweatshirts to copies of Mario Testino’s latest book, signed by the photographer himself if you queued long enough; free Dior and YSL eye and lip makeovers; and ‘cover shoots’ (unfortunately they came at a price).
I had a ticket for the ‘Too Fat, Too Thin…Will We Ever Be Content?’ panel discussion, chaired by Vogue’s editor-in-chief Fiona Golfer and featuring Daisy Lowe, David Gandy, Patsy Kensit and Christa D’Souza. Rather than focusing on whether models were too skinny, the discussion centred around the way in which we deal with our own body image and insecurities. Despite all being slim, every panelist admitted that their weight had been criticised and scrutinised at some point in their life. The whole thing veered between being problematic and genuinely useful: the first observation I made was that every single panelist had a ‘socially acceptable’ body. The only person who’d ever been ‘fat’ (we’re talking a size 12) was Patsy Kensit, and she’s now a promotor for Weightwatchers. Telling everyone to love their bodies regardless of what everyone else says is pretty hard when every panelist has the conventionally perfect body and when none of them have had to deal with, for example, people staring at their bodies in disgust as they walk down the street. Bemoaning lack of bodily diversity in the media is ironic when the problem also makes its way onto the panel.
Much of the discussion, rather than actually addressing the title question, was focused around ways to reach a target weight: “What’s the secret of getting where we want to be?” asked Golfer. Healthy eating tips were shared. Advocating nutritional education in schools is great, but not in a discussion about whether we’ll ever learn to love ourselves as we are. Kensit even referred to “the correct way to be”, with absolutely no sense of irony. The conflation of health with body weight and the preoccupation with women having to “dress for their shape” – would we tell a man to dress for his shape? – was incredibly frustrating. Despite the muddled message that we should all be proud of our bodies, there was still a lot of fat and thin shaming going on: too-skinny or too-fat women were dismissed as unhealthy, with one member of the audience describing catwalk models as “mutants”. There was a lot of feel-good rhetoric but the panelists didn’t explore the wider underlying issues behind the way we see ourselves, outside of gossip magazines and D’Souza’s argument that “we live in a culture of dissatisfaction and you kind of have to transcend that”. The outlook seems bleak: none of the panelists could see a real way out of this overarching destructive culture of self-hate.
But that doesn’t mean there weren’t positives – amid the confusion, some great things were said:
“Historically men do the doing; we are looked at” – Christa D’Souza, touching on the elephant in the room: the role of patriarchy in women’s low self esteem
“Eating something and feeling awful about it is a form of self-hate” – Daisy Lowe
“Food shouldn’t be the enemy” – Patsy Kensit
“You are [seen as] a lesser person if you can’t discipline yourself in the face of all the stuff” – Christa D’Souza
“We should be proud of our bodies, whatever shape and size” – Daisy Lowe
“We’re all real women” – Fiona Golfer
It was a very nice, uncontroversial, feel-good discussion which ultimately failed to pin down the question itself of whether we will really ever be content – not only with our own bodies but with other people’s too – and whether we will ever stop labelling others as too fat or too thin. In hindsight I was probably expecting too much from the fashion industry. There were definite signs of progressivism, but nothing radical enough to make a real difference. Perhaps I should have gone to ‘Can Fashion Change The World?’ instead.
OTHER MEMORABLE QUOTES FROM THE 2013 VOGUE FESTIVAL
“I like first class, but I don’t like first class people – I prefer the people in coach. I like fine restaurants, but prefer the taste of McDonalds. I like to be perfect, but I don’t like perfection – I think it’s dangerous. There is nothing after perfection. I know, I am a walking contradiction.” – Alber Elbaz
“Keeping integrity is important, you need to maintain quality.” – Tamara Mellon
“I wanted to communicate fashion as an experience, a joy, an emotional thing.” – Susie Bubble
“You can find inspiration in everything. If you can’t, then you’re not looking properly.” – Paul Smith