The recent 'Love Your Curves' campaign by Zara has sparked controversy online, all due to 'skinny' models being praised by the campaign for their 'curves.' Many social commentators on Twitter have pointed out that these curves do not exist on these models, with some seeing the poster as ironic and amusing; whilst others (both women and men alike) have felt outraged by Zara promoting 'unrealistic' body images. It is easy to see why the particular image, captured by a Twitter user, has caused such disagreement, especially in light of other campaigns that celebrate women with curves and try to promote positive self-esteem (i.e. the Dove Self-Esteem Project, etc).
From commentaries on 'Love Your Curves' we can see narratives emerging around negative self-esteem, the promotion of eating disorders and the argument against 'skinny' being the 'normal' thing for you to be to fit in, get a man, and to be pretty. We can see how the image and accompanying text can be interpreted as hypocritical, even damaging to young women. However, it is important to remember that a lot of young women are savvy and critically aware of consumer culture, as well as why they are targeted in certain ways by companies. Young women also can bypass or ignore the campaign. They can choose to read the image in a multitude of ways, or even counter the 'message' by shouting back! Who, then, is harmed by this campaign? More importantly, what does the uproar tell us about the social and cultural systems that surround the bodies of (young) women?
If we step back from these initial reactions, there is a more pressing concern which we need to confront. Women are more than just the sum total of their bodies, but public commentary (from both men and women) brings us back to one central issue. The issue is that women's bodies are always scrutinised and seen as public property, no matter what shape or size. The freedom to 'comment' on all women's bodies, can be seen as problematic as it takes away rights and women's choices about the ways in which they want to express themselves.
The models were not duped or forced to be depicted as skinny, nor are young women mindless consumers. We can and should express concern for things we see in the media or consumer culture, but if we look at how women's bodies are always up for public scrutiny, then what does that say about culture, about patriarchy, about privilege? How would we feel if this scrutiny was aimed at us as an individual, and what if it was about our body, our sense of self, or our identity? Another question that emerges is: can we connect the availability to comment on the weight or body shape of women, to cat-calling in the street and slut-shaming too? This does not mean we have to stop discussing what we see as problematic; it's about looking critically at the wider ideological systems and institutions (hey, let's not forget about language!) that promote a singular way to be, to act or be visible in the world.
In relation to the campaign the most important question we have to ask is: is the outrage aimed towards Zara, or are people body-shaming the young women in the campaign poster? We cannot forget that the young models freely chose to be in the campaign and have the right not to be body-shamed, no matter their size or shape. It can be an issue when a campaign uses super-thin models as the 'ideal' standard of beauty and we can be worried about their health. These worries can sometimes be projected and assumed, without asking invasive questions to models themselves. Some young women are skinny. We must, however, not simplify issues around 'weight' as there are a range of social, cultural and individual contexts that can affect the ways in which people relate to their bodies.
Let's also talk about absences and lack of diversity in the image too. If we are critically picking apart what is not there, then why stick to just weight and shape? There has been no outcry about the image being too cis-gendered, white and heteronormative. What about the lack of visibility of women of colour with curves, transgender models with curves, women with disabilities and curves, lesbians and bisexual women with curves. The list is endless, but what this list depicts is that all women are valid in their own right. On the other hand, being seen as valid is hard for any woman to achieve when their bodies are policed and seen as public property. In any case, the free advertising Zara has gained from the publicity will surely line their pockets nicely: this is another interesting effect of social media and people's interactivity on it.