Model students

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Recently, online clothing store Betabrand added a new requirement to its hiring criteria for models-—a PhD. Betabrand’s spring line will exclusively feature women who either have or are in the process of earning a PhD.

Debate has arisen over whether this move is either perpetuating the idea that brains are beautiful, or simply adding another elusive credential to becoming a model. Does this change in advertisement represent a change in public opinion, or is it simply a clever marketing strategy? Could a PhD not also be considered a mainstream standard of high intelligence?

Betabrand is not only projecting unrealistic beauty standards but also standards of intellect and education that aren’t readily available to everyone. The company’s campaign still limits prospective models to size 4–6 women. This practice negates Betabrand’s new academic criteria, because the company continues to perpetuate the mistaken notion that women are valuable primarily for their beauty (here defined greatly by dress size) even if they are intelligent academics.

Betabrand is clearly relying on the public’s preconceived ideas of beauty and intelligence to their advantage. However, companies’ options for getting their products to the consumer market are limited. Either you do something so different that people pay attention, or you follow the standard rules of marketing. BetaBrand has somehow managed to do both.

They play with the public’s notions of beauty, using stereotypes consumers have seen excessively to then present a different idea. However, diversifying what traits are considered sexy should be a higher priority for mainstream media, instead of advocating singular conceptions of beauty and intellect. People are attracted to all sorts of different physical and mental attributes.

In an October 2012 TED Talk, professional model and Columbia University graduate Cameron Russell spoke about the idea of constructed imagery; just as illustrators shape and contextualize a line on a page, so too do photographers, makeup artists, and hair stylists when constructing a magazine cover. These people put a lot of time into something for the purposes of selling an idea of happiness and lifestyle.

These tactics aren’t new; what Betabrand attempts to do is not all that different from anything that has come before. Simply requiring a specific form of certification of intelligence doesn’t demonstrate any transcended ideology or open mindedness, but perpetuates the same narrow definitions of beauty and lifestyle that the fashion and modeling industries are infamous for.

Working within a legacy of socially constructed beauty is no longer enough—one must also now adhere to an even higher standard. This uber standard reinforces the social legacy open only to those who’ve won the genetic lottery, as Russell calls it. Ultimately, Betabrand’s move is a stunt that serves a company with seemingly little conviction over how or why to address real concerns about diversity and values  in fashion and media

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