One Step Forward, Too Many Back

TRIGGER WARNING: Images of trafficked/kidnapped women experiencing emotional turmoil (second part of the post)

  1. I. The Good: Jacob, the Canadian clothing company, decides to stop retouching their fashion photography

Jacob, a Canadian based fashion retailer, announced this month that it will no longer be digitally altering the bodies of its fashion models in all of their promotional material for the upcoming fall season. To see a popular retailer (in Canada, at least) decide to implement such a controversial change is rather heartening. Admittedly, the company’s choice was made easier thanks to the recent moves towards some body acceptance being made by the magazine industry, as well as increasing demands for realism of body sizes from consumers. Regardless of their motivations, if Jacob adheres to its promises, this is a positive change in the fashion community as long as the company does not turn to using ever thinner models to achieve what Photoshop once did for them.

Is this move to less photo manipulation perfect? Certainly not. The company is still going retouch colours and skin textures, including the erasure of scars and tattoos. The idea that such common and/or natural traits are seen as making a photo imperfect rather than simply reflecting real individuals wearing the company’s clothing is rather disconcerting. Furthermore, the clothing company itself certainly does not support a particularly wide range of body sizes. The last time I stepped into the store, I could not fit anything other than tee-shirts and I am only a size fourteen. On the other hand, there are times when I take what I can get and I look forward to seeing Jacob’s fall campaign to see how well they have implemented their promises.

  1. II. The Terrible Beyond Comprehension: Suitcase Stickers and “Joking” about Abducted Women (Trigger warning begins here)

My high from seeing some potential change in the fashion industry was quickly halted when I ran across a news story detailing the sale of “suitcase stickers” meant to help differentiate luggage at airports. These stickers were meant to be applied to a piece of luggage and gave the illusion that it had been ripped open, showcasing illicit goods within the bag. For example, one sticker featured sex toys while others were covered in images of bags of cocaine or stacks of money. There was one design, however, that made me sick to my stomach. This one featured a woman in a flight attendant uniform stuffed into the bag, bound and crying. It was meant to invoke the “funny” idea that the owner of said luggage had abducted this woman during the flight. I’m not sure what sort of twisted, messed-up, cruel and inhuman individual would find this funny (other than the creators at the company thecheeky), but I sincerely wish that they would take a long flight off of my planet.

Abducting women and stuffing their bodies into luggage is not a topic which should be joked about. I am shocked and appalled that this even needs to be explained. Violating the idea of bodily integrity for a quick laugh is reprehensible. A woman is a human being, not simply a toy which can be thrown in a bag and used for shock value. In a world where trafficking of people is such a vast and uncontrolled problem and women’s bodies are seen as commodities, this suitcase sticker certainly isn’t challenging the status quo; in fact, it is embracing it as a joke, something that shouldn’t even be taken seriously. Humour should never be used to encourage and cement the marginalisation of groups of people in our society. Freedom of speech should not be used as a societal tool of oppression. And yet, this suitcase sticker is here and commentators have decried any negative response as a violation of fundamental rights and freedoms.

To all those who believe that these stickers are a civilised use of freedom of expression and to the company which has produced these vile products, I would like to say a few things to you. My body is more important than your short-term ability to giggle at the misfortune of others. My body is more important than your ability to feel better about your difficulties in the airport. My body is more important than your ability to spew hateful bullshit in both image and verbal form. Furthermore, all of the bodies of people who suffer from the burdens of kyriarchy are more important than the repression of some people’s ability to assert their privilege harmfully. In short, to anyone who thinks this suitcase sticker is “funny”, shut up, back off and think about how much power you have to have in order to be able to think that this is humourous. Ask yourself, what exactly makes this image funny? Why is the abuse of a woman inherently funny? Why is the abuse of any marginalised body funny?

In slightly better news, the Canadian Ministry of Transportation issued a statement which declared these suitcase stickers to be inexcusable, unsafe and potentially against the law. According to James Kusie, a representative of John Baird, the Transport Minister, “Joking about potentially trafficking illegal substances, or worse, is not funny, and the government will use the full force of the law to ensure Canadians who travel by air are safe,” (CBC.ca). While I doubt that my government was overly concerned with the message these suitcase stickers were promoting about the rights and value of women, this was certainly a somewhat positive response and thecheeky has officially stopped selling their product in Canada (although they announced that they hoped the Canadian government would reconsider and pointed to Britain as an example of a much more “humourous” nation).

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