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H&M Whittles Down Acceptable Body Types To Exactly One

H&M Whittles Down Acceptable Body Types To Exactly One


Written by Ned Resnikoff

I hope that years from now we’ll look back and laugh at the time when female clothing models were all expected to conform to a very narrow and specific range of body types. If so, we’ve got our punchline. This week, H&M has pushed this trend to the point of absurdity: Instead of accepting minor variances in body type, the Swedish fashion outlet has decided on a single, specific, computer-generated body. From New York Magazine:

The models fronting H&M’s new holiday lingerie campaign are unreal, literally. Jezebel translated an article from Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet in which H&M press officer Hcan Andersson confirms that their new lingerie-clad bodies are “completely virtual.” For H&M’s website or catalogues, much of the store’s clothing is now shot on mannequins, which are then humanized via photo-editing software — which explains the eerily uniform pose now increasingly commonplace online.

H&M also shot real models for the campaign, but only to superimpose their heads on the standard body form. Aptly, H&M calls them “facial models,” who are apparently aware of their abridged role in the finished catalogue shots. The form, which is also the base used at online styling studio, is then edited some more to sync with differing skin tones, and even for the addition of subtle detail, like a spattering of freckles.

An H&M spokesperson insists that they only settled on a single “default” body because they wanted a standard base on which to display the clothing. But that doesn’t make the effect any less unsettling. Check out the images in the Jezebel write-up. How weird is it that they Photoshopped skin tone in order to approximate racial diversity, but insisted on the same stick-limbed body for each model? Regardless of whether or not these images are supposed to show the “perfect body,” as H&M denies, the company still chose it as the default. Do they think their median customer exercises for four hours a day and subsists on a diet of kale and Perrier?

The face-swapping is what truly brings us into the uncanny valley, though. It’s emblematic of a very strange trope in fashion and advertising, in which women are treated as little more than composites of various body parts that can either be isolated and displayed on their own or (as we see here) reassembled into new and alien Frankenmodels. Mere humans need not apply.

Take Action: Sign the petition below to tell H&M to use real women in their ads.

This post was originally published by Ms. Magazine.


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10:31AM PDT on Jul 27, 2013

If there is a perfect body, it is natural and healthy. All other characteristics are superfluous and subject to preference.

6:32AM PDT on Jul 22, 2013

The media has, for a very long time now, only promoted one acceptable body type. If you ask most men, they prefer women with a little weight! It all comes down to personal preference.

2:00AM PST on Jan 4, 2012

So we don't all have to starve ourselves now?
Or should I see this as sexist because we are all different and the market is failing to realize that?

10:13PM PST on Dec 28, 2011

OK, one more time. Sarah M., despite the overriding assumption to the contrary, there ARE people, believe it or not, who eat whatever they want, and are thin. My sister, to reiterate, is almost 58, and happens to be one of those people, and has been, her entire life. You are dead wrong, if you suppose that the only way to be as thin as those models, is to have an eating disorder. Not everyone who is naturally thin, is bulimic or anorexic. I may as well use the argument that, because one has given birth, one becomes fat. (I think it's an excuse women use to stay that way). My sister gained 18 pounds during her pregnancy, gave birth to a son of 12 lbs., who is now 6'5" tall. I'm not exagerrating. If models could only maintain that level of thinness through eating disorders, they wouldn't have the strength to stand, much less walk up and down a runway all day long during Fashion Week. Get used to it people; the fashion industry will continue to ALWAYS use thin models, because they wear clothes better, period. No amount of lobbying or petiion signing will ever change that.

11:23PM PST on Dec 27, 2011

Sarah M.~I guess I'm one of the idiots leaving a comment here. My comment is that the fashion world is crazy, sexist, and patriarchial.

9:49AM PST on Dec 25, 2011

I found it interesting to read all of the comments posted. so many different perspectives. This, like so many issues, is complex. I find it ironic that this goes on while rates of obesity rise around the world. And clothing sizes have been altered to accommodate this. I wear a size 4, but at one time would have worn an 8, at my current weight.

On the one hand I am offended by the anorexic-looking models with huge breasts that are portrayed by Victoria's Secret. One the other hand, I am concerned about the weight norms moving up to a generally unhealthy level.

I am 51 years old and am more fit than I was as a 20 year old. I have over time found eating and exercising habits that have enabled me to enjoy my current physical condition. I see that people make choices all of the time about what to eat and whether or not to be physically active and frequently choose the less healthy options even when they have enough information to do otherwise. On the other hand, I recognize that genetics plays a significant role in the levels of health and fitness we can attain. I feel blessed to have the resources (in motivation/metabolism/natural strength/interest in nutrition/healthy immune system) to live the way I live.
Wouldn't it be great to find some sort of balance, where children's developing attitudes about health and body image/identity would be considered, along with industry's obvious concern for what sells.

1:17AM PST on Dec 25, 2011

Maybe they are womannequins wearing those bikinis.

12:38PM PST on Dec 24, 2011

It is senseless to try and argue a point to people that have had their perception so skewed by the media that they no longer have any idea what real is. I have read comments made by men that think that a natural breast looks gross, that think any woman who isn't a size 2 is fat, that believe that if you aren't a size 2 that you are just to lazy to exercise and (honestly not joking here) think that a pregnant woman is the most disgusting thing they have ever seen. I would never have believed that the media could have such an impact on the built in genetic encoding of a species if I hadn't read these comments myself. Anyone who claims that media doesn't have much influence on the beliefs of young people is full of crap.

10:29PM PST on Dec 23, 2011

Those airbrushed fashion ads are useless except to men- and even then in private.

8:09PM PST on Dec 18, 2011

Clearly there are a bunch of idiots leaving comments here, who really don't understand the point of the article or what is offensive about it, and offensive about the fashion industry in general with the idealization of skeletal models. No woman is naturally that thin and they do not eat or exercise in a healthy manner, severe eating disorders and/or exercise addiction are the "norm" in the fashion industry, and women who attempt to lead healthy lives rarely make in in the industry. Health and body issues aside, the industry is appallingly sexist--the models are treated as mere objects to display merchandise and nothing more. This is all the result of a patriarchal society.

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