Fashion Magazines as Atlases

While I was reading Daston & Galison’s piece about medical atlases and idealized images in science, I started relating what they said to our ideas of what constitutes a “normal” or “ideal” male or female body.  In the same way that the skeleton Albinus constructed was considered to be ideal, the men and women that appear in fashion magazines are similarly  selected for their very particular appearance.  The authors point out that Albinus did not even consider using a female body, and there are other bodies he likely dismissed before truly considering them.  In this same way, the body types that are displayed in fashion magazines all look extremely similar, and the editors of the magazines surely do not even consider using models that are short in stature, plus-size models, or many other body types that are more representative of the majority of the population.  It’s interesting to me that what we consider to be “normal” is often relatively rare, and the bodies we consider normal and compare ourselves to are carefully chosen and often painstakingly posed and photoshopped into the ideal.  Bodies are attributed higher and lower values, and these values are based off of opinion.  Both people like Albinus and magazine editors are constructing images that they believe are the best examples of bodies, and the images they disseminate have a great influence on what their readers think about the ideal.  Albinus does admit that his opinion played a role in his choice of body.  He wrote, “I wanted to shew an example of nature, I chused to take it from the best pattern of nature” (90).  This is likely the way magazine editors think about the models they choose: the models are simply the best option.  Still, magazines and medical atlases both are framing “ideal” bodies as the norm, and erasing all other sorts of bodies from the audience’s imagination.

-Alison Hunt


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