In a disappointing display of irony, organizers of Eleganza, an annual student-run fashion show, have ostensibly digitally altered models’ bodies. Pointing to physical evidence, students have accused Eleganza of making women appear thinner and men more muscular in the show’s promotional photos.
Eleganza executive producers have contended that the photos were altered in keeping with industry standards, but some raised concerns that evidence in the photos suggested that the shape of models’ bodies in the images had been modified. Indeed, it is disturbing that any organization on Harvard’s campus, particularly one that purports to promote diversity, may have edited the bodies of their fellow students. Eleganza would do well to remember that its mission—to honor diversity and “celebrate different cultures, backgrounds, and forms of expression”—is wholly incompatible with the morally dubious practice of digitally altering human bodies for advertisements.
The digital manipulation of male and female bodies is a damaging practice. It is no secret that unhealthy and unrealistic depictions of bodies in the media play a large role in exacerbating the development of eating disorders, not to mention the persistently poor body image suffered by a significant proportion of teens and young adults. The producers of Eleganza are Harvard students—not executives at fashion magazines or advertising agencies—and are no doubt well acquainted with the prevalence of body image issues among young people; they should not be in the business of perpetuating them.
In this same vein, it is disheartening that members of Eleganza have defended digital body manipulation by citing the show’s conformity with fashion industry standards. The fashion industry is rife with unhealthy and unrealistic depictions of human bodies. Bodies represented in the media are at times outside the realm of human possibility: Even the bodies of prominent celebrities who exert unfathomable amounts of energy exercising and dieting are routinely altered in professional photographs. Neither Eleganza nor any other student organization should consider the fashion industry’s prejudicial policies as an appropriate benchmark.
As a philanthropic event that aims to celebrate diversity and that donates all of its profits to the Center for Teen Empowerment—an organization that inspires teens to confront “difficult social problems”—Eleganza only does itself a disservice by conforming to the fashion industry’s most problematic practices. We urge Eleganza’s producers to avoid digitally altering models’ bodies not only for the benefit of the show’s participants and viewers, but also to bring the organization’s policies in line with its underlying philosophy.