THE DARK SIDE OF FASHION
One designer’s outburst against the woman sitting opposite him spoke of more than one kind of fascism.
The noxious tirade of fashion designer John Galliano in a Parisian club in early 2011 came as little surprise to the Jewish community of the Marais district of the capital, for they have often been subject to casual racism. It may be one more, albeit high profile, example of the growing incidence and acceptance of antisemitism globally (see ‘The Light Sleeper’ in this section of the website) but there was another, less noticed, component of his outburst. In accusing a woman of having ‘a dirty Jewish face’ he went on to insult her: ‘Your boots are of the lowest quality, your thighs are of the lowest quality. You are so ugly I don’t want to see you.’ Is this also, perhaps, evidence of latent fascism? And if so, what does it say about the modern fashion industry?
Jesus observed that it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks. We guard our conversation carefully to avoid creating offence but occasionally something slips out of our mouth which speaks volumes about what we really feel. As with Galliano, intoxication is the usual cause. Though the fashion shows of the world seem glamorously inaccessible to most of us, their power to influence public opinion as well as the clothes we wear, should not be underestimated. Nowhere is this more evident than in the attitude to body size.
Beauty is culturally determined and the current fever for size zero bodies is a peculiarity that most cultures in history would find perplexing and which our own in time to come will surely judge severely. It is this zeal for physical perfection which is quasi-fascist and out of which Galliano uttered his condemnation of the poor woman sitting in front of him. If the ideology of your profession demands such standards and you are constantly surrounded by strikingly unblemished waifs, there is a risk that this becomes the prism through which you see the rest of humanity. Thus the exceptional becomes the norm.
Those most susceptible to the priorities of this skewed world are girls and young women who are finding their way in the world, many unsure of their identity and under pressure to obtain the perfect figure, without which these conventions tell them their life chances are ruined. Yet this cohort is too quiet to make itself heard above the strident tones of the fashionistas so many of them are in thrall to. There is hardly a teenage girl alive who is satisfied with her appearance and no amount of encouragement can negate the subliminal drum beat of a culture which unashamedly celebrates and gives priority to those who look the (airbrushed) part.
When Samuel anointed David as putative King of Israel, God famously told Samuel to ignore the visible attributes of David’s brothers, for ‘the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’ (1 Samuel 16: 7). God then proceeded to choose David, who was ‘ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome’ (verse 12). This makes God appear like an interviewing panel which speciously denies it will be swayed by anything other than merit and then proceeds to appoint the prettiest candidate, but he is saved by the relentless priority of scripture: God is searching for character in his people. This is balm to the human race because we can do little about our external appearance beyond superficial changes but a lot about our hearts, which the Holy Spirit can mould in ways that would be the envy of a plastic surgeon.
It is not that looks and fashion do not matter. We are called to love ourselves as much as we love other people and appearance is one component of this. Moreover, the fashion industry is capable of God-given creativity which inspires. The tempting idol of physical perfection must be toppled to enable this urge to flourish and to ensure that teenagers in particular are given the proper duty of care we owe them.
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