The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Fashion industry, media dictate definition of beauty

Eugenia Mathews, a 23-year-old student at Texas A&M, likes to go shopping when she visits her parents in Dallas. But when she decided to look for a cool new pair of jeans at Neiman Marcus recently, she was disappointed. Eugenia saw that the biggest size in the jeans she wanted was a 12, so she had to put them back. She’s a size 16.

Mathews is 5 feet 2 inches tall and slightly larger than some women. She says that she sometimes feels neglected by the fashion industry because she doesn’t have the “ideal” body type.

“It’s just hard to look as good as other women when you’re my size,” said Mathews. She said she wishes that the industry would offer a wider range of sizes in the fashionable clothes that other women her age are wearing.

Many experts say the beauty and fashion industry in America caters to a narrow group of people. The industry provides the latest styles, sizes and makeup for only those people who fall in the middle of the spectrum. For those women who are lighter, darker, taller, shorter or heavier than the “average” woman, it is sometimes difficult to find fashionable items when shopping.

“It’s all a matter of dollars and cents,” said Camille Kraeplin, a journalism professor at Southern Methodist University. Kraeplin is an expert on women’s issues, including those concerning women and minorities in the mass media.

“If the industry were to really individualize, or create products for the unique individuals, then it would be much more expensive,” said Kraeplin.

Kraeplin believes that the beauty industry in America feeds the stereotype of what a woman should look like in order to sell more clothes. Kraeplin says that the companies want their products to be associated with fashionable people, so they would prefer to have size zero women wearing their clothes because skinny is fashionable in today’s society.

There are some stores that now sell a size double zero, which is even smaller.

Some people say that it’s hard to gauge what the “average” size is today because it constantly fluctuates. Some women may think that they’re a size eight, but they could wear a size six at the Gap or a size 10 at a pricey boutique. Size affects how women view themselves, says Kraeplin.

“Girls are too critical of themselves and their looks because there aren’t enough options out there,” said Kraeplin.

Meagan Brill, a 22-year-old who works as a receptionist at Hotel Zaza in Dallas, has a hard time finding clothes that fit her body. At 5 feet 11 inches tall, Brill says that most of the pants in department stores look like flood pants because she has such long legs. She has a difficult time finding shirts that are long enough because she also has a long torso.

“It’s work to find clothes that don’t make me look like I’m wearing my little sister’s clothes,” said Brill.

Allison Miller, a floor manager in the women’s department at Neiman Marcus, says that she doesn’t know where anybody over size 14 shops because there is such a limited range of sizes. Miller believes that the clothes made for those people who are out of the range are not nearly as attractive as the clothes made for those people in the middle of the spectrum. Miller doesn’t know what can be done about the problem because when Neiman Marcus used to carry special sizes, like larges or petites, the customers didn’t really buy them.

“Everybody says that they want them, but when they were here, the customers weren’t buying them,” said Miller. “We can’t win.”

In 2006, women protested when Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s began eliminating their petite departments. Petite sizes are designed for women who are 5 feet 4 inches or shorter. There are now around 45 million women under that height.

Saks began eliminating the petite sizes to target younger and hipper customers. But the store decided to reinstate its petite department last November.

The cosmetic companies seem to follow these trends, especially with regard to foundations. Foundations, in either powder or liquid form, are developed to match those people with a medium skin tone. It is very difficult to match those people who have very fair skin or very dark skin.

Alfreda Kessellie, a 22-year-old student at the University of Texas-Arlington, has struggled with finding the right foundation to match her dark skin. Kessellie said that it’s definitely been a challenge finding the right color because she is an African American woman, and there aren’t as many choices for those with very dark skin.

“I found one foundation at MAC that’s OK, but I don’t know that I’ll ever find the perfect shade for me,” said Kessellie.

Susan Willis, an Estée Lauder sales associate at Neiman Marcus, agrees that it is extremely difficult to find the “perfect fit” when you’re talking about foundation. Willis said that there are so many options for the majority of women who fall in the range, and the minority just has to make do with what is available.

“There are one or two cosmetic lines that make up the foundation from scratch to match your skin tone, but it’s expensive, and you can’t return it if it isn’t the right color,” said Willis.

According to Kraeplin, the beauty industry is very powerful, and women are affected by the decisions made by the fashion and cosmetic companies. Kraeplin believes that the beauty industry projects images of perfect, digitally enhanced women. She thinks that these images make those who have a different look than the “average” woman feel like they have to change to be glamorous and fashionable.

Women with short legs, long legs, long torsos, fair skin or dark skin can change the way the beauty industry caters to women, said Kraeplin. She believes that the new Dove campaign, which portrays a wide variety of women as being beautiful, could change the stereotype of what the “average” woman looks like. Eventually, the beauty and fashion industry would have to take notice and accommodate more women.

“Having a wider range of faces and looks in the media is a very positive option,” said Kraeplin.

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