Monday, April 21, 2008

Girrrrllls On Film: The Curse Of Fashion On Reality TV

I am a big Project Runway fan and I have been writing reviews of the episodes, past contestants post-show collections and so on. I am also friends with some past contestants.

I constantly get asked by my friends, family, schoolmates and teachers why I do not try out for the show and why I have not done so. The reasons are multiple.

Project Runway is a contest-show that is 20-30% about design, 40% about fast sewing and construction skills and 30% about being a "personnality" and making for good TV and creating TV-worthy drama.

I have a HUGE personnality. My life and background and life story are quite fascinating. But I do not care to play a larger than life charicaturesque version of myself for several months to entretain the masses. Deep inside of me, there is still an intellectual nerdy girl that needs frequent breaks and that needs to be blah and quiet ( I call them my "quiet bunny" periods) and just normal. Those become more frequent when I am busy, and focused and concentrating. A big clue: I am a scientist too. I am capable of intense focus and I am very serious about my work as a scientist. writer and designer. When I am working, I am working. I am not doing stand-up. Playing a more "dramatic" Santino Rice/Jay McCarroll/ Christian Siriano-esque version of Milla, AND producing and creating to do myself justice would be completely EXHAUSTING. On top of not much fun. I love making people laugh and laughing with them on occassion. But I am not about to have people laugh AT me not WITH me and have my effort, personnality and life reduced to my mannerism and catch phrases. I am SO much more than that. I don't just want to be the fat flamboyant nerd girl on Project Runway.

Another thing that bugs me has to do with that. The utter disrespect with which the show treats people of size and how they assume that we are miserable and unworthy until we embark in significant weight loss efforts. NOT. That and how NONE of the designers on the show has been capable of designing a beautiful, modern, flattering garment for anyone over a size 4. If you can't, you are not a fashion or clothing designer. End of story. What you are is a closed-minded conceptual artist that uses fabric as a medium. I can design for a size 0 and a size 32. Really, it's not much different. Zac Posen has done it. Michael Kors has done it. Isaac Mizrahi has done it. Malan Breton has done it. Bradley Bayou has too and so have Ralph Lauren and Carmen Marc Valvo.If you can't, you suck. There.

I am healthy and happy and confident and vibrant ( most of the time and depending on income and how much money is in my checking account and how current I am on my bills and how nice my family is to me) as I am and I am not planning on putting any effort on weight loss. I don't believe in the concept and I think it is akin to trying to force a gay person to become straight or a black person to become white. Forcing weight loss and thinness on people and extolling one body type and size over another, is prejudiced and pernicious. Period. So until Project Runway allows designers to use plus-size models on an equal measure as thin models and they stop taking money from weight loss industry sponsors such as Weight Watchers and Slim Fast and having challenges extolling the virtues of weight loss which to me is an eating disorder trigger, I cannot in good conscience participate in the show. And don't even try to factor in " health" because I know more about health and human physiology than most practicing doctors, so there. I am actually the one telling them how to treat patients and what to prescribe on a regular basis. Taking money from the weight loss industry is no better in my opinion than taking money from homophobic organizations or from the KKK . I don't even care if it can be done or not or what work or does not work. It is my choice to remain fat, healthy and happy and NOT attempt weight loss because I feel that is what is best for me and my mental and physical health. And I have poured EXHAUSTIVELY over ALL and every bit of scientific evidence.

Now, I am a designer. I am only a very novice and learning dressmaker and tailor. I have designed clothing all my life. In HS for all my dances and my dance costumes, in college I designed all of the costumes for the shows I choreographed and directed, and I have done that pretty consistently forever. But I am just learning how to construct clothing and how to sew. I CAN sew and I CAN cut but that is about the extent of it. I still need to learn how to pattern-make and drape. So, in order to participate in the show, I would have to do so with my design partner who is the strong construction person in the team,while I am the design strenght. By the time I get fast enough and strong enough to turn out beautifully constructed garments in 24 hours or less by myself, it would be 2 or so years. By then, the show will be cancelled since they are moving to Lifetime and their fate is up in the air. Going by what happened to Buffy The Vampire Slayer ( my favourite TV show of all time) when it moved networks, it's not looking good for Project Runway.

Another point is that being on TV is really not that important or interesting a concept for me. Neither is being a celebrity or not or being famous or not. I just want to be a great designer and be happy at what I do and have my work recognized and making people happy and that is evidenced by reviews in the press and retail sales, not TV appearances or media coverage. I grew up on TV. I have been on TV shows before. Really, it is not that big a deal.

The other thing is as a designer I am not sure if Project Runway is a positive or a negative. American Idol can be a giant BOOM in a singer's career as has been the case with Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson or Daughtry.

But Project Runway has not had the same effect on the careers of the designers participating or even winning the show. Yes, they get PR and press coverage and some show at LA or NY Fashion Week. But has anyone developped a line that translates into a sell-out, wait-listed garment or accesory yet? Or major retail sales? Is anyone who has been on PR carried at Saks or Neiman's? Has anyone other than Tim Gunn gotten a job as A DESIGNER or Creative Director with a major label? The answer is NO. And the 100k prize is NOTHING as a designer. That would barely cover the fabric and PR and renting a space to develop a collection. No Fendi baguettes or Seven jeans or Lanvin t-shirts or Paddington bags out of Project Runway as of yet.

So really my focus is in becoming a serious, commercially and critically successful designer. A plus/bridge designer at that. Not a media sensation or a reality TV "celebrity". I want to be Vivienne Westwood or Alexander McQueen or Alber Elbaz. Not someone that is on TV for a season and then is forgotten about.

So my plan is to focus on designing and becoming a better designer and acquiring the best skills and going to a great school, getting a good job, striking up a deal and backing with a clothing conglomerate and being happy and creatively and financially successful. Being on TV and getting press is really like majorly not on the top of my list. Been there, done that, gotten the "American Apparel" quality catch phrase t-shirt and have already donated it to Goodwill.

I want to be sold a Saks and Harvey Nicks and Holt Renfrew. Not covered on TMZ or Perez


tehkou said...

I would really like to see a plus-size version of Project Runway. And a menswear version, while we're at it. Watching the big designers fail so often and so painfully when thrown anything outside of their comfort zone just gets tiresome.

I confess, there's a part of me that hopes that the shift from Bravo to Lifetime might make the show a little less "gay-centric" and a little more "woman-centric" (not a lot, just a little) and thus make the show a bit less about the abstract design and a little more about what all sorts of women want to and can wear.

I know this is the opposite of how most fans of the show feel, given the overall reaction to Tim Gunn's spinoff (which struck me as much more woman-friendly than gay-friendly) on PRGay. I can't help being decidedly un-fabulous!

Milla said...

You are not un-fabulous!
You are fabulous in a different kind of way, and anyone who cannot see that, does not understand the meaning of fabulosity :-)
I came UP with the concept of a plus-size Project Runway, I wrote it up. I even suggested the perfect casting. I called attention to the idea from people involved on the show, people in the plus-size and size acceptance communities, people who know people who make the show. So far no takers.
Now... I would be HORRIBLY, HORRIBLY offended and disgusted and would even take legal action against someone if they took my idea and added a weight loss element or constraint. I would go POSTAL.
That is one of the things that WORRIES me most about Lifetime. They are famous for being in bed with the weight loss industry.
Lots of diet program commercials...
I think the problem with the innability of most designers to create cool clothes for non-super thin women is not exclusive to Project Runway but it's an industry wide issue.
Even designers who are fat themselves like Alber Elbaz or the Mullavy sisters at Rodarte (who like most conformist, weak sheep went out and lost a bunch of weight and will probaly regain it like Andre Leon Talley did and just harm themselves and their health)cannot design for larger people and only produce clothes in minuscule sizes.
And I think the problem starts at Fashion Design schools.
Like for example MINE.
The sketching teacher only allows us to draw thin croquis and figures or she penalizes us with lower grades.
They only have 1 dress form in a size 16 and one in a size 18 for the draping classes. And yet, there are MANY of us who ARE plus size and who WANT to design for plus. And the offensive sizist comments are a dime a dozen. On a daily basis.
I don't think it's an issue with the show being gay versus gyno-centric, I think it's a problem with culture-wide prejudice against non-thin people and privileging the thin.
If anyone, gay men should understand this better than ANYONE else since its EXACTLY the same issue they have been facing with straight folk.
Good and even high design does NOT equal THINNESS. Neither does fashion or couture. Part of being a good fashion designer or architect or car designer is that you can design a product that not only is aesthetically outstanding but that satisfies the needs of you clients and the market and fulfills its function.
If you can only meet the needs of an imaginary client (skinny doll croquis or emaciated model) or the client needs to incurr into significant suffering and discomfort and starvation and even risk to their health to be able to use your creation, as I said before, as a designer, YOU SUCK. Just imagine if architects started designing tiny little homes with low roofs that would only work for people 5'4 and under. Well, that is EXACLTY what the fashion industry does with the tiny clothing. And it's idiotic.
And that is not about being gay or straight or female freindly but about being a good designer and a wise business person.
The show, as I said, is only a little about design, and it's lots about marketing, entretainment, product placement and ratings.
As long as the fashion industry and the world in general continue to believe that ostracizing and bullying non-thin people into weight loss is ok and we let them get away with it and continue to hear the "key marketing objective" of the weight loss industry via fashion, things are not going to change.
Why make nice clothes for us, if they are "temporary" clothes meant to only do until we loose weight? THAT is what they think. But that is WRONG!!!!
There are MANY, MANY of us who don't want to,will not and will not even entretain the thought of even listening to the "core marketing objective" of "loose weight or wear polyester muummuu and die miserable and alone. Quickly!".
That is what the fashion industry thinks plus size fashion is. Clothes meant to only do until we loose enough weight to fit into what they feel that we should be.
They are on crack.

tehkou said...

I find it ridiculous that an institution that's supposed to educate is instead focusing on narrowing people's perceptions. It would be like an art school telling a student "No, don't use ink or pastel or watercolor or charcoal -- only oil is art." (Actually, scratch that, it happens...)

Even setting aside the division between fashion as art or fashion as clothes, shouldn't people realize that you can do things -- create art -- on a full-figured person that you can't do on a thin person? Why can't people just see it as another medium of creation, another sort of canvas, with its own strengths and weaknesses? Sigh.

Me, I just draw comics, but it's rife there as well. So many artists don't even know how to draw a woman that doesn't have a 15-inch waist and double-D breasts -- and yet they're some of the most revered artists in the industry. To me it's just a pathetic lack of talent and versatility if you can't draw a range of body and facial types to suit the character. But they keep up the refrain of "our fans like it" while every year their revenues go further down the toilet.

I didn't actually know that Lifetime was in bed with the weight loss companies... that's really disappointing. I always sort of assumed "television for women" would be better about actually celebrating women, but I guess it's another case where the version in my head was better than the reality...

Milla said...

Tell me about it...!
I mean what would they ahve said to Rubens or Botero or Boticelli for goodness sake!
I mean THERE is a market!!!
And even from a business perspective, isn't the bottom line about making money?
If 75% of the population is over a size 8 and I have actually done the stats and calculation on this 98% of the female population is over a size 6, why are they only making clothes for 2% of the market?
Isn't that like they say in Britain completely DAFT????
I don't know how these stores and companies survive... The stores stock 50 sizes XS, 20 M , 2 L and 2 XL. The L and XL sell right away and the rest of it end up languishing on the clearance racks ad perpetuam until they are shipped over at TJ MAXX and ultimately end their life at Goodwill when they will not be sold either because no one can fit them. Seriously... they need a reality check.
About the drawing... I think it's partially the fault of "9 Heads".
I think all people drawing human figures be they fashion designers, illustrators or comic book artists or costume designers end up up using "9 Heads" or another book along those lines and they accustom people to thinking in "Barbie" bodies instead of a variety of bodies. I am lucky because I drew figures before I took sketching so I know what to do to change my figures to make them plus but stil "fashion" able and stylized.

That whole "my fans like it" sounds very similar to "but the plus department is doing well ( I always ask : " As well as your contemporary or juniors department? Because by sheer numbers there should be 10 times the sales") or "that is how is has always been", or some reason or another to justify prejudice, like the whole dumb ass "health" argument. Like promoting eating disorders is any "healthier".
Bradley Bayou's and Donatella Versace's daughters both developped eating disorders and they are not getting the message through their thick skulls?

Yep, Lifetime does LOTS of bussiness with the weight loss industry. Just watch it for a while and see how many commercials for WW, Jenny, Lapband, LA WL, Nutrisystm, etc... pop up... It's all a question of watching and observing. For example, watch the "Today" show. Count of many "fitness" and weight loss stories they feature on the show.
Then count how amny commercials from companies profiting from weight loss hysteria pop up during the commercial breaks....
I cannot even watch the show and Hoda what's her face has now become an eating disorder trigger too.
Yep, often we perceive things as being much nicer than they are... I was that way about Starbucks. Until I worked for them...LOL

tehkou said...

Actually, modern comic reference guides tend to look something more like this... (Note: try not to smash in your monitor when you get to the "bigger is not always better" part... ugh.)

As for the fashion industry, I always figured designers can justify it because they assume that those 2% who fit those clothes are also the 2% who have 90% of the wealth in the world... the 2% who are willing to spend it on "serious fashion" because they have the free time and inclination to spend on diet and fitness trends that will get them to that size.

It's the same way in comics and other "geek" fields... everything caters to those who have the disposable income and the passion to buy not just the comics but all the tie-in goods, but in catering to them they alienate kids and casual buyers, who then stop buying, which gives the companies even more license to cater more strongly to that one core group...

It makes for a pretty vicious cycle, and it sounds like it happens in fashion especially.

To be honest I usually end up watching TV late at night, and those are swarming with fitness and diet commercials no matter what channel you watch, so I never really made the connection. But I agree, it is very suspect that the same shows that spread misinformation about the correlation between weight and health are getting advertising from these companies. I don't even think it's intentional sometimes, just a lot of lazy and sensationalistic reporting and misappropriation of terms, starting with believing their own advertising.

Milla said...

Shoot... well thank you for the link to the comic book guidelines. It's actually a good point of reference for figure drawing.
It is TWISTED that as far as female proportion, the "fashion figure" that they are teaching us in actually MORE unreal and distorted than the one used by comic book artists. The guidelines are using 8 heads for proportion in females. We are using 10!!!!! With legs about 5 heads long!!!
Designers cannot justify only designing for that 2% because that would only account for the Haute Couture clientele and if they expected to live on that, the would STARVE to death.
No one keeps a design house afloat from Haute Couture.
That more than anything is PR and a wash as far as income.
They make most of their money from licencing ( as in perfume,sunglasses, watches, ect..), diffusion lines, ready to wear and accesories.
And if that "selling only to that 2%" worked, those sizes S and XS would not be found consistently at TJ MAXX and Bluefly at best and mostly at the Goodwill and on the back on Salvadorean factory workers...
Yes, eventually Goodwill ends up sending what they don't sell to 3rd world coutries.
Sometimes they sell it in bulk and they end up at flea markets around the globe too.
I have actually followed the downstream swim of a garment and managed to snag some pretty sweet bargains like one of my evening gowns ( Sunny Choi, an expensive Canadian designer) which started its life a Salon Z at Saks for 3 thousand dollars and I managed to get on eBay for 39 bucks after it was marked down to 29.99 at TJ MAXX and snatched by some entrepreneurial seller.
So no, they are just shooting themselves in the foot as far as moolah, because of their stupid beliefs and prejudice.
I did not know comics were so rife with it too, but it's mostly a "male-centric" kind of medium and they must think that most teen and pre-teen guys and fans like only porn star/Barbie Doll illustrations. Well they partially do because that is what they are brainwashed to think...
One of my ex-bf's was a comic book artist in the UK. His name is John Howard, so I have heard a little about that business...
About the diet/fitness avertising and the program's content, it is TOTALLY intentional. One of the reasons the sponsors buy time during that time slot is because the content supports their core marketing message.
Believe me.. these folks leave NOTHING to chance.. I have been in PR, marketing, and pharmaceutical advertising for almost 20 years now...Since D2C ( direct to consummer) is more insidious than B2B or what I do which is D2P ( directed to physicians or healthcare professionals) they drive the message EVERY which way and with little or no intervention from regulatory bodies. That means the FCC does not care and like the FDA is probably getting money from them.
I can CHANNEL the marketing execs in MY SLEEP and finish their sentences for them. Seriously, by now, I don't even have the energy to try to convince them to look up the meaning of the word ethics and it always comes back to bite them in the butt. Bad drugs have bad side effects and those are often down-played which generates law suits and dismal PR which leads to lost revenue, loss of public faith and lost jobs. But they don't hear me though...They prefer short term high profits than sustained profitability through the life cycle of the product and consummer loyalty. It is the same way with fashion. But when you let Kellogg Business School (idiots) graduates run the world that is what you get.