H&M is in hot water this morning. As the company formally admits to putting real models’ heads on computer-generated bodies to sell swimwear, critics are lashing out at this marketing tactic of the company. Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet discovered the fact that H&M’s e-commerce site features these cyborg images of women, who are part real and part engineered, and the story has since gone internationally viral. Media outlets around the globe have lambasted H&M for creating unrealistic images of women to sell them clothing at the expense of their self-esteem.
While the popular retailer has explained that using the same body for different models is intended to allow shoppers to focus on the clothes, members of the press aren’t buying this justification. Jezebel.com, an American women’s site, laments that this trend points to a time when, “in the future, even models’ faces won’t be considered perfect enough for online fast fashion.”
UK paper The Daily Mail reports that, “With tiny waists, perfect bums and endless legs, many would agree that models’ bodies often look too flawless to be real. But in the case of H&M, it seems they actually are.”
Even in H&M’s native area of Scandinavia, the peddler of cheap chic has met with little sympathy. Helle Vaagland, spokesman for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, asserted that: “This illustrates very well the sky-high aesthetic demands placed on the female body. The demands are so great that H&M, among the poor photo models, cannot find someone with both body and face that can sell their bikinis.”
What intense reactions to the revelation that the models’ bodies used on H&M’s e-commerce site aren’t real — but they are justified. The underlying message of such a move is that to sell skimpy clothing a woman’s body must be absolutely perfect — and that no such female body exists. This is a mentality that African-American women often confront. The feeling that no matter how hard you try, your appearance will never measure up to a beauty ideal is common among us, because Western beauty standards subtly suggest the exclusion of our race.
When H&M picks one body type and promotes it as perfect, the company is re-inscribing the similar idea that beauty is narrowly defined and for most women impossible to attain. What a marketing message! Fashion brands like H&M should better understand the psychology of the women they serve, rather than make excuses for creating images that promote already harmful beauty standards.