With the USA following the UK lead in a move towards banning Photoshop in advertising, it's time to reflect on a groundswell of activity that finds us at All Walks Beyond the Catwalk celebrating a shift in energy.
As we continue to lecture up and down the country (we are all unwaged fashion insiders, who want emotionally considerate design and practice to be promoted on degree fashion courses), we are fascinated at the comments we receive from students after the presentation.
Many say things to the tune of "Easily the most inspirational presentation I have ever sat through" and "This lecture restored my faith and trust in the fashion industry."
Others are inspired to think a whole new way, having never questioned a culture that promotes a relentless diet of unachievable beauty.
At this point its crucial to say that fantasy, beauty, magic and the inspirational artistry of top end fashion image-makers who transport us all each time we open a fashion magazine, are a vital part of fashion.
That said, fashion is a service industry and the consumer (fashion or beauty) deserves a more complex and considerate offer from us. Fantasy-check, exciting design or product - check, healthy doses of transparency and enlightened image making to promote body and beauty sustainability - sadly not yet in place.
A recent initiative from Media Smart (developed to support the government Campaign For Body Confidence) is a learning package for teachers to help children understand how the media can and does alter images to make them unrealistic - as well as the impact of these images on self-esteem.
When I tell my university students about the teaching tool, they all express a desire to have had something like it themselves in their early years, such is the longing for a body peace of their own.
But perhaps this is the generation who will produce a more enlightened practitioner. It is they after all -who have negotiated some of the biggest changes in the way our media penetrates our psyche... and-gets-right-in-there-to mess-about-with-it. We work on the premise that today's higher-education attendees are tomorrows CEOs. Some will take a raised consciousness with them into the workplace. This will take time however.
Right now, advertisers can at least acknowledge that 84% of young women surveyed recently, declare airbrushing to change the body shape of a model in adverts as unacceptable. The H&M computer generated mannequins - virtual bodies with real heads of professional female models glued on top - crossed the line and anyone who has to ask why need not apply for a responsible job in the fashion industry.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image is conducting an inquiry into the causes and consequences of body image anxiety as well as investigating some possible solutions to improve body confidence among the general public. The inquiry, where many fashion industry types will be called to give evidence, is set to begin this year.
Also this year, All Walks have also helped to bring documentary maker, Jennifer Siebel Newsom's film Miss Representation, to the House of Commons on 1 Feb for a media screening. With the strap-line "You can't be what you can't see," this American director tackles the invisibility of women in positions of power.
It may seem tenuous, to link together various cultural strands, but damn it, I'm going to. So take a moment to see connections, which, against the backdrop of the Leveson Inquiry, where the behavior of the media has rightfully received criticism, we can look at reporting of women in particular and see how a dearth of role models in most areas apart from fashion is so very limiting.
Why are key sporting women ignored even when they are World Series winners? Why are female achievements marginalised or undermined in favour of homage to celebrity culture that places a premium on good looks? Actor/director Angelina Jolie, known for promoting humanitarian causes as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, receives far more interest in her weight than her work. Young women cannot fail to register and then internalise the cultural importance attached to appearance over anything else.
As we begin 2012, familiar with the desire to make personal improvement, the odd New Year's resolution from the fashion, beauty and advertising industries wouldn't go amiss. It might read something like this...
This year we will not knowingly undermine women young or old by making them feel under-confident about their looks whilst adding to the already bursting back catalogue of images devoted to unachievable beauty ideals. Instead we will harness the originality, creativity, diversity and achievements of women to create feel-good advertising and marketing messaging aimed at honouring our consumers.
Similarly the media could make inroads...
We the media will agree a basic code of positive reporting and representation of women within our reports. We agree not to prioritise the cosmetic veneer of femininity, not to get all giggly and gossipy about her dress size, her looks and her boyfriend at the expense of a balanced assessment of her overall worth. We will promote the whole person not the shell.
Now that would be a start...
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