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Why We're All Fashion Victims

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In the ever-escalating fetishization of the female form, I was left scratching my head once again when I opened the latest issue of Newsweek to find a quick take on Paris Fashion Week. The story focused on the untimely collapse of a few high-rent benches at the Balenciaga show. News, right?

But what sent me hollering for the fashion police were two of the three images in the photo spread: a silky pastel Rochas number that could best be described as underpants with a jacket and a full-pager of a Balenciaga outfit that combined a colorful broad shouldered shirt with, um, jogging shorts. You know, the kind that went out of fashion with side-ponytails.

In both cases, the preternaturally long-legged models had that don't-eff-with-me look on their faces as, I assume, they power-strutted the runway. And yet, color me baffled: Who of us could wear this stuff, even if we wanted to? And why, with all the designs from all the spring collections out there, did Newsweek choose to highlight these?

Is this supposed to be the vision of the empowered woman?

Now most of us are jaded enough to know that most of what we see on the catwalk is rarely what we'll see on the sidewalk -- or even on the sales rack. But you have to wonder what these images tell us about ourselves nonetheless.

It's an old, oft-repeated story: the focus on cadaverous models on the runways and in fashion magazines has been shown to contribute to bad body image among women and young girls. And whether we cop to it or not, we've let media images define us since we were old enough to flip the pages of Seventeen magazine. But there's more to the story than that. What we can't help wondering is what these high fashion images say about women's place in the world. Clearly, you'd have a hard time accessorizing bun-hugging shorts with a laptop -- or even a cocktail, for that matter -- much less be taken seriously.

We women today have been raised with sky-high expectations, with the message we could have it all: killer career, happy family, sexy body and granite in the kitchen. And while we know that having it all, at least all at the same time, can be a dangerous pipe dream that leaves us second-guessing ourselves and feeling that we don't measure up -- still we aspire. Which is why we find the disconnect between who we want to be and the media's notion of how we're supposed to look so darn confusing.

And so we wonder. Are these images a subtle way to keep us in the land or either/or? To keep us in our place? Or is it all a big fat joke?

On us.