H&M heralds the dawn of the “virtual mannequin”
Between print media, TV ads, and virtual promotions, we media watchdogs have seen it all — rib cages, spines, cleavage, you name it. Though the women portrayed in most catalogs are typically white, unhealthily underweight, and sexualized, we could at least find solace in the fact that their bodies were their bodies — a.k.a, not computer-generated stock photos.
Yep, that’s right folks. H&M used a single, completely computer-generated model in order to promote its swimsuit and lingerie lines. Unsurprisingly, the model body is white, with sizable breasts and protruding hipbones. All H&M had to do was switch the heads atop the body and voila! — a “new” model to promote a different item of clothing.
H&M has been criticized for this — and rightfully so. As reported by ABC News, Helle Vaagland, a member of The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, claimed, “This illustrates very well the sky-high aesthetic demands placed on the female body… The demands are so great that H&M, among the poor photo models, cannot find someone with both body and face that can sell their bikinis.”
This is a problem, obviously. Are these bikinis made in such a way that they fit only the thinnest of computer-generated models?
Not to mention the fact that consumers see the female body being objectified in advertising every day. Most female models are reduced to their breasts and hips and little more. But even then, at least we could find a morsel of comfort in the fact that companies used a variety of women and a variety of bodies in their ads.
What kind of message does this send to consumers across the globe? Many female-bodied individuals will see this repetitive, Caucasian, borderline underweight body and feel inadequate because they do not “fit” this standard — a standard which was created and produced by a computer.
H&M retaliated against the criticism about their advertising tactics by comparing the computer-generated bodies to “virtual mannequins.” H&M spokeswoman Nicole Christie said “This technique can be found in use throughout the industry. This is not to be seen as conveying a specific ideal or body type, but merely a technique to show our garments.”
Well, sorry H&M, but I can’t even begin to believe that your “virtual mannequins” don’t convey a specific ideal of body type. In using a single body to promote ALL of your clothing, you are in fact showing preference for, and promoting, a specific ideal. At the very least, you are portraying that this particular body type is best suited for your clothing. A practice which, if you really think about it, does nothing for the business and instead alienates a sizable portion of potential customers. If your agenda was really to promote bodily diversity, you’d be using bodily diversity in your advertising. Period.