Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Dee Doocey is right for all the wrong reasons

The body fascists are out in force again.

Dee Doocey has been pressuring the Mayoral administration to remove London Development Agency funding from London Fashion Week. That’s fine in itself: I can see no reason why London’s taxpayers should be subsidising the fashion industry, let alone why Bromley residents should be paying for fashion shows in the West End.

Sadly, Doocey seems to have no concern for taxpayers subsidising special interests. Rather, she is jumping on a social-conservative bandwagon that aims to dictate how models, fashion houses and the organisers of sartorial trade fairs should market their goods.

This is, in fine social-conservative tradition, all about protecting patronised groups from themselves by dictating to third parties whom the supposedly-weak willed might emulate. In this case, thin girls are seen as at risk of emulating thin women. Doocey notes that “1 in 40 women suffer from an eating disorder, [that] the numbers are on the increase [and that] the girls are getting younger”, all of which is undoubtedly a tragedy. That the solution is censorship does not automatically follow, however.
On a very fundamental level, censorship is always the wrong solution to a problem. Neither the models nor their employers are doing any direct harm to girls who choose to emulate them, any more than Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann can be blamed for causing harm to my liver just because I occasionally like to order “Two large gins and two pints of cider (ice in the cider)”.

As I noted the last time this issue came up, “Perhaps (radical suggestion, I know!) people are making their own decisions based on a multiplicity of information and imagery. Should we control all information, vetting it to ensure it promotes only a benign or (in our opinion) positive image?“

Of course not. If we tried to order our society in a manner that prevented anybody from unwittingly influencing others in a negative manner, we would face an insurmountable censorship burden. Should we allow dangerous sports on the television? What about fat people?

In passing, one cannot help wondering whether the fact that we are concerned simultaneously by obesity and anorexia suggests that our society’s problems with eating are to do with something other than the effects of London Fashion Week.

It is also worth noting (again!) that “Size 0 models” are actually Size 4 models, but it sounds so much more dramatic to disingenuously use the American numbering. Firstly, it implies that there are twelve full sizes between a “normal” girl and one of what Doocey calls these “skeletal models”; in fact, there is only four sizes between them (unless you know where one can buy odd-numbered sized clothes). Secondly, there is a subliminal sense that Size 0 must equate to nothing. This is not ever stated, and nobody would suggest this consciously, but subconsciously Size 0 has a particularly ghoulish resonance.

Opposition to the employment of thin models will do little to help girls with eating disorders. They are surrounded by examples of norms of beauty (and behaviour) that only a draconian censor could prohibit. Their problems are psychological and so require treatment rather than censorship. And it is not clear that any government intervention is going to prevent the problem.
But it is an example of the conservative tendency to use government as a vehicle to protect people from themselves and to use the coercive power of the state to shape society (an in this case, women) in their own (unflattering) image.

If Dee Doocey wanted to strike a blow for freedom, she would object to the LDA’s funding of London Fashion Week because it was a misuse of taxpayers’ money. By allowing this subsidy to pass as long as it promotes her view of how women should look, she is striking a blow against it.


Laurence Boyce said...

Great stuff Tom. I remember watching Mayoral questions with my head in my hands when Dee was going on about this.

dreamingspire said...

And in 'Wild China' on TV we are hearing off-topic comment about society there being rigidly controlled and being such a success... Of course you are right about the UK.