H&M has launched a new bathing suit campaign featuring a size-16 full-figure model. People are already applauding its appeal to a wider demographic, especially since it’s widely acknowledged that the average woman is much larger than the size-zero models typically used in bathing suit adverts. And looking at H&M’s bodacious bathing beauty, my initial gut instinct is to cheer along with them: “Hell yeah, she looks great! See, bigger ladies are beautiful too!” But upon further inspection, these photos use the same visual trickery that’s used in all the skinny model fashion spreads: angles, lighting, air-brushing, contouring, and clever poses. She’s not a representation of the average-sized woman; she’s a hyper-realized version of us “normal” women. And were you to compare and contrast, she’d still make you feel frumpy and insecure about your body.
At first you may not pay much attention to her cleverly-positioned hat, or the angle that her hand-on-hip pose strikes, but it’s apparent to me that the vision behind this photo shoot is to mask her actual size. The hat covers up her thighs (which are probably of considerable size — they might even touch). The angle of her hand on hip exaggerates her hip-to-waist ratio, giving her super hourglass curves, as opposed to the less ideal proportions that characterize the typical bigger body (or for that matter, the typical any-sized body). And all evidence of folds, stretch marks, and cellulite have been photoshopped away. What’s left is the image of a super woman with shapely thighs, goddess-worthy hips, and fire-engine-red lips. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but something tells me the average size-16 woman can’t identify with this.
I’m used to women’s fashion magazines telling me I’m fat. If it’s not in their articles about “how to lose weight fast so that a man will love you and won’t die alone,” it’s in the advertisements next to those articles featuring hyper-skinny models. But if H&M wants to avoid making their customers feel similar feelings, they shouldn’t be using the same visual tricks and foolery to market a new line. I know that looking at this model, I’m feeling frumpy and insecure by comparison. And I’m not a size 16. I’m a size six.
Check out the trickery used to make H&M’s size-16 look less like you an me: