I want to attempt to answer that question. I want to answer that "How?" The sad truth is, violence against women in fashion photography is a slippery slope, and it's nothing new.
I don't shoot fashion. I don't ever intend to shoot fashion. I had an amazing professor, though, who taught me a lot about the industry. I know there are photographers out there who DO shoot fashion, who ARE feminists, who see their work as a craft, whose work offers compelling commentary on the state of society, who do more than merely sell a great pair of shoes with images that shock and awe. My professor taught me about semiotics, the signs and symbols that express more than the mere assembly of objects on a page, drapery and cloth on a model. He laughed when I described Kate Moss as a "blow-up doll who had the air sucked out of her head," but he disagreed.
Around this same time, I was taking an "Image of Women in Media" classes. I wrote essays just like this one. I learned to mine fashions images for phallic symbols: anything from fingers to high heels could be interpreted as such. Intense cropping that cuts into the photograph of a female model's could be seen as a virtual amputation.
The following is a passage from the essay I linked to above. The author is describing this Guess ad.
"Women's bodies are arranged in positions where the bondage is invisible. This photograph plays on the passive, receptive woman motif with a twist: sadomasochism. Note how the model's hands grip each ankle, in an awkward and unnatural pose. Her arms appear "attached" to each ankle by invisible bonds. Her legs are spread wide apart and she leans far back. The position looks painful and difficult to maintain for any length of time. Her expression is ambiguous. Is she in a state of ecstasy? How could she be, in that straining pose? There appears to be a mixture of pain and pleasure in her face. The ad is exploiting the misogynist iconography of "woman-in-pain-but-she-loves-it-really".
Is this blogger's analysis of the photo in the Guess ad a stretch? I argue no, but allow me to apply the same kind of analysis to a recent Dolce and Gabana ad that sparked a storm of controversy.
Amanda Gore at fashion.psfk.com writes:
"The image shows a woman being pinned down by a half-naked man, with four other men watching. In typical D&G style the models look moody and agressive, expressions which in this case many have read as signifying a menacing situation, with some going as far to say that the image looks like gang rape."
And yet, one could say that the the ad is sexy, the male models are all gay anyway, the ad achieves its goal of standing out from the clutter.
My sophomoric feminist rants, much like the one I quoted above, were always met with a certain amount of eye-rolling. "It's just an ad!" So why does it matter? The feminist argument is that the prevalence of such images desensitizes viewers to violence against women. It perpetuates the notion that pain and injury are sexy, that brutality is sexy.
It's a slippery slope, and at the bottom? It's ugly.
It looks like this.
It looks like America's Next Top Model.