The Washington Post has an anniversary piece for the profile of Syrian First Lady Asma al-Assad that appeared in Vogue magazine last year, just before the vicious bloodshed in Syria began.
“Asma al-Assad is glamorous, young, and very chic — the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies,” writer Joan Juliet Buck began her profile of Syria’s first lady in Vogue last year. Amid descriptions of Assad’s “energetic grace” and Christian Louboutin shoes, Buck wrote: “The 35-year-old first lady’s central mission is to change the mind-set of six million Syrians under eighteen, encourage them to engage in what she calls ‘active citizenship.’ ”
Well, perhaps. But just as Buck’s profile appeared, Assad’s husband, Bashar al-Assad, began a bloody crackdown on his opponents. Since then, about 9,000 Syrians have been slaughtered by security forces loyal to Assad, Syria’s hereditary president.
The article points to the below NPR interview with the profile’s author, Joan Juliet Buck. I particularly want to point to the question that begins around the 1:10 mark.
When asked what the intention of the piece was, Buck says:
I think that Vogue is always on the lookout for good-looking First Ladies — because they’re a combination of power and beauty and elegance, that’s what Vogue is about — and here was this woman who had never given an interview, who was extremely thin and very well-dressed and therefore qualified to be in Vogue; and Vogue had been trying to get her for quite a long time.
Uh huh. So that’s what it takes to get into Vogue — “extremely skinny and very well-dressed”. No other questions asked about this beautiful and elegant leader of one of the most despised regimes on the planet. No consideration whatsoever for the reasons why she may have been so aloof from international attention.
That exposes the extreme vacuity at the heart of the fashion world, where those involved are incredibly out-of-touch with the world that you and I live in.
As Jacqueline Alemany wrote recently, the high-fashion magazines have seen dramatic drops in circulation as other options have presented themselves and people with an interest in fashion have rejected the “pretension and delusional reality” that Vogue et al are trying to sell.
The issue is not with targeting of the affluent, it’s the pretension and delusional reality that they project in order to target them that is sometimes so off-putting to so many readers, especially to some of the subscribers they have lost to online blogs. It is these blogs that have capitalized on the notions of accessibility, inclusivity, and affordability in an economic time period that encourages this. Racial and cultural inclusivity is also abysmal in many of these magazines from the models and actresses featured on the covers to the people covered in articles.
Not to beat a dead horse, but it is articles similar to the one written by Dara Lynn Weiss in Vogue’s “Shape” issue entitled, “Weight Watchers.” In reporting her struggles to slim down her ‘obese’ 7-year-old daughter, Weiss comes across as hateful, self-absorbed, impatient, and shallow as she recounts incidents in respects to policing her daughters dieting plan. Weiss made us resent her all the more by describing specific outbursts over Starbucks and a salad nicoise. Vogue seemed to miss the obesity mark by placing a spotlight on a mother projecting her own body image insecurities on to her daughter rather than covering other powerful and exemplary obesity initiatives that are occurring throughout the country. Considering the strategic Wintour-Obama relationship that has blossomed, it is all the more surprising that a more tasteful and less tone-deaf article regarding childhood obesity was not included in this issue or in any fashion magazine body issues in the United States considering what an enormous problem childhood obesity is.
One final point on the NPR interview: it is very interesting how Buck describes the Assads not as bloodthirsty tyrants, but as people living in their own world and pretending that nothing is happening — dehumanising their victims as “software” as they are being slaughtered.
The irony of the situation with regard to the fashion industry is definitely obvious, but I can’t help but feel that we are all guilty of this to some extent in Western society. In a lot of instances, we know that things we do cause huge suffering to people we don’t know, yet we ignore this the way Bashar and Asma ignore the people their security forces are torturing and shelling.