Sweatshop famed discount fashion retailer Forever21 is adding another item on the drop-down menu of “body parts to feel self-conscious about”: knee caps.
The website featuring their skirt purchasing options has over 100 items in which the kneecaps of the model’s are completely airbrushed out, or are cleverly obscured so only a hint of curvature is detectable. These photos atrocity is compounded by the fact that they list the model’s measurements, as a very ineffective and pernicious piece of sizing guidance.
As if our consumer culture doesn’t do a good enough job of providing us with an endless stream of warnings about how our organic bodies are inherently flawed, we now need to turn a curious eye to our knees to see how presentable they may appear.
Sure, this idea of feeling insecure about the appearance of my kneecaps seems a tad comical and over the top, but it’s the larger implication that does the most damage. Not only are you forced to come eye-to-eye the unattainable measurements of the model appearing in the photo and her matchstick lower limbs, but a cursory view of the photo itself still lends itself to another way in which we don’t look like the models in the photos, implication being that we are somehow less than. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking anyone whose bodies healthily resemble this model, I’m just calling attention to the fact that every shot showcases similar stems that are highly unrepresentative of the larger whole of consumers that likely purchase these clothes.
Until I read another article that highlighted this oddity, I never really took much notice of the knees of models in skirt shots, but that seems to be the point. It is these pernicious ways in which we are exposed to altered body parts that we unknowingly internalize and contribute to the unattainable and illusory ideal by which women measure themselves against and unfailingly come up short. It’s another bit by which our bodies are shamed for their natural state.
I would be remiss if I did not also mention how horrifyingly unvaried the choice of models are for these pictures. We all know the fashion industry is notorious for reinforcing a specific standard of beauty, but the lack of lower body representation is especially evident in these screen shots. This further reinforces the idea that only individuals that are facsimiles of these models can wear and look good in these clothes. I don’t know that I see many retailers providing lower body diversity while presenting their products online, which just shines a light into another corner of the ways in which the thin ideal is unknowingly reinforced.
In writing this piece, I look down at my own knee-caps, sheathed in ruddy skin, bearing several discernible scars, battle wounds from youthful adventures. I take a moment of gratitude that they are operational and remember that is how they look. If only we could all feel that way about the totality of our bodies – thankful for all they allow us to do, instead of being constantly exposed to damaging messages about how innately inept we all are. So, Forever 21, I implore you to stop digitally altering your models in this way. Also, your labor practices are abhorrent. (See the clip from the documentary
Made in LA and rethink using your dollars at their fine and fair establishment).
And most importantly: let’s let our knees be knees, please!