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Sexual Violence in Fashion Editorials

I have often found myself questioning how fashion magazines sometimes feature women in compromising poses, some which I find more worrying than others. I have found and selected three images, all taken from popular magazines of models being strangled. Violence against women is portrayed clearly in all three photographs, but I wonder if this is a boundary that is too commonly crossed. Is this a disregard for what is an acceptable form of expression within fashion and should this be addressed? How could photographs like this effect ending violence against women? Does it affect the people experiencing it in real life?

I interviewed the Co-Founder of Nour, a domestic violence charity, that battles to end domestic violence. I asked her what she thought of the images that were presented to her, three women, all glamorous, all choked and all fashion.

I see it as quite patronising, we are taking the severity of domestic violence and saying no, that’s fashion. That line in-between is very easily blurred. We will look at it and wont associate it as abuse, we will see it as fashion but violence is violence. -Co-Founder

I also asked Sarah Green, Campaigns Manager at the End Violence Against Women Coalition how she responded to these ‘disturbing images’ and her reaction was of course to consider ‘the possible wider consequences of their ‘work’’. Agreeing with the Co-Founder, Green stated:

Depicting women being choked, with at best ambiguous messages about consent, in publications which are widely available and visible in public spaces (at least one is a front cover, visible to all newsagent perusers), trivialises and perhaps even dangerously glamorises sexual violence against women. -Green

Asking then whether these images could be dangerous to women. Could images like these be detrimental to the prevention of abuse?

I think it is dangerous, for example this could have gone to trial, the girlfriend could have reported domestic violence but her partner could say that he thought she ‘liked it rough’. How do you distinguish who is right and who is wrong? In their own opinion they are both right.. -Co-Founder

In the UK, government figures estimate that there were 85,000 rapes last year and up to half a million sexual assaults. If our culture trivialises these crimes, victims receive a message that what happened to them does not matter, that they may not be believed. –Green

There is the question of whether this could be seen as acceptable forms of sexual arousal, do the expressions on these women’s faces condone the violence that is being inflicted upon them?

It could be sexual arousal; it can be interpreted however the individual wants to interpret it. Sexual arousal is such a personal thing and the definition is very subjective. We cannot just say that this is sexual arousal, like fashion, it has a broad meaning. -Co-Founder

Sarah Green also suggests that these images are ‘intrusive and disturbing’ to what can be considered sexual arousal. Green also questions the need for such a shock factor.

If you were truly radical, if you were art as to commerce, if you were trying to be original and to present a new perspective, this would not be the content of your work. You’d show the consumer and the public something they haven’t seen before, something not the status quo. That would need thought and vision. And it might not pay the rent. -Green

All three photographs present various messages to the reader, like all images in magazines. The argument of ‘who is right and who is wrong?’ (Co-Founder) should not be overlooked when the use of violence, whether it is domestic, sexual or other, will continue to thrive in fashion magazines. The domination of women is used to shock, yet when inequality is ‘the most conventional thing in the world’ (Green) seems to a be rather easy and unnecessary theme to glamorise. I would like you to look closer next time you see violence inflicted on these glamorous women and ask if it is okay to publish this? Do magazines have an obligation, like so many publishers, to protect its audience against misconstrued sexual abuse? Or, is it okay to hide behind the fact that ‘you cannot tell how people will interpret it’ (Co-Founder).

Sarah Green, Campaigns Manager at the End Violence Against Women Coalition: Charity number 7317881


Interview with the co-founder of Nour and Sarah Green, campaigns manager for the End Violence Against Women Coalition for a recent graduate magazine, by Emily Maynard.

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