Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Race & French Fashion Magazines

by Nicole He

Marie Claire France, November 2009

If the images of women in French fashion magazines from November to December 2009 are any reflection of reality, women of Arab descent do not exist in France. Or, if they do—the message seems to be—they do not belong in the world of high fashion and culture. Since after World War II, France recruited many immigrants from North African and Middle Eastern countries to fill a labor shortage, and the Arab population in the country has only increased since (Malonga). In spite of this, however, there was zero representation of Arab women out of 573 pictured in fashion editorials and advertisements from Marie Claire December 2009, Elle November 2009, Vogue November 2009, and Jalouse December-January 2009-2010. But Arabs were not the only racial group underrepresented in this sample; in fact, the women presented were 94.8% Caucasian. In the four magazines analyzed, there were a total of 543 white women (94.8%), 16 Asian women (2.8%), 13 black women (2.3%), and one Latina woman.

Chart numbers indicate race representations of women in photographs with no Arab representation in any (Marie Claire December 2009, Elle November 2009, Vogue November 2009, and Jalouse December-January 2009-2010)

As Peter Braham wrote, “fashion, as well as being a matter of creation, consumption, and identity, is also a matter of production, distribution, and retailing.” The same thing applies to fashion magazines; like all others, they face commercial pressures to gain profit. Both fashion advertisements and fashion editorials are ultimately tied to their effectiveness in selling a product—fashion advertisements aim to sell specific garments, accessories, or brands, while editorials sell ideologies of fashion, and the magazine itself. Because of the realities of commercialization, if a magazine or advertisement doesn’t adequately appeal to the market, it cannot survive economically. Therefore, magazines and advertisements edit their content to reflect what the reader wants to see—or at least, what they think readers want to see. According to Rosetta Brookes, a “peculiarity of the fashion photograph is that it is positioned on a threshold of a between two worlds: the consumer public and a mythic elite created in the utopia of the photograph as well as in the reality of a social group maintained by the fashion industry.”

Jalouse, Asian women featured but associated with the Geisha aesthetic, December 2009-January 2010

As a result, in order to appeal to the highest number of consumers (and thus make the highest profit possible), magazines and advertisements lean conservative in their selection of what kind of woman to present to the reader. This conservatism isn’t the political kind; rather, it means that fashion magazines feel the need to display women that are not different or disturbing looking—they must be relatable to the reader, but idealized as well. Because France is still a country whose social classes are relatively divided along racial lines, what this usually translates to, in fashion, is whiteness.

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