W: Death Does Not Become Her

Good news, fashionistas! Death doesn't mean forsaking your love of cutting-edge fashion. W_Sept09_KateMoss Just take a look at W's September issue, which features scads of stylish women who just happen to be posed as if they've died or are dying a painful, violent death. Apparently, Gucci and the Grim Reaper need not be mutually exclusive.

From Steven Klein's "Academy," here's the classic just-barely-hanging-on-to-life pose. If this were a movie, she'd have reached up and grabbed the fence with her last breath. Lara Stone really rocks that deathly pallor, doesn't she?

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From "Woodstock," photographed by Juergen Teller, actress Jennifer Jason Leigh sprawls on a pool deck in a manner suggesting a struggle:

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Then we have the snakebite victim:

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The woman who is awfully happy about her children lying slain next to her:

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A vehicular manslaughter:

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From "Sunday in the Park," shot by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, two limp women in lingerie:

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And the all-important disposal of the evidence (an unsettling postscript to this photo of happier times in the canoe):

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"Paper Bag Princess," photographed by Craig McDean, takes literally the maxim about fashion to die for:

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Is slumping against a wall, limbs askew, supposed to be chic?

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Evidently!

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And let's not forget Lanvin's charmless death-by-cats ad, shot by Steven Meisel.

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Perhaps these portrayals aren't meant to invoke death, but the women in these photos appear weak, helpless, and stripped of their agency. What's the intended message? "Hey, ladies, the last outfit you'll ever wear should be special!"

It's no coincidence that these pictorials were shot by male photographers. Whether these images are the result of lazy art direction, latent sexism, or some other motive, I can't say. But men don't live every day shadowed by the specter of random violence. Women are taught to walk in groups, carry our keys poking through our fingers as a makeshift weapon, and scream "Fire!" instead of "Help!" because no one pays attention to the latter. When you've been indoctrinated that your personal safety is constantly in jeopardy, photographs implying danger are not arty or deep. They're the embodiment of your worst fears.

Maybe that's why photographers find such tableaux so appealing. But dead women in designer clothes isn't a fashion statement, and normalizing violence against women in the pages of a women's magazine doesn't make for edgy editorial. It just makes us fashion victims.

Related: W Redefines "Fashion Victim" in Furry Photo Spread

9 thoughts on “W: Death Does Not Become Her

  1. Amen, woman! I just finished reading “Can’t Buy My Love” by Jean Kilbourne. It opened my eyes even more to the ways in which advertising affects every one of us. You are spot on the mark with your sharp criticism of these photo shoots and the way they glamorize or numb us to violence against women. The book also exposes the ways in which advertising exploits addictive tendencies in order to sell a product, and how advertising in general promotes connections and relationships to products rather than people. Have a problem? Have a drink/cigarette/ice cream cone/change your shampoo. The message constantly given to us is that products are reliable and people aren’t. It’s really chilling. But it’s very heartening to see excellent critiques such as yours (nothing gets past you!). It makes me have hope that we’re not all sheep, we’re not all fools, and we’re not all buying the crap. Rock on, lady!

  2. I’m afraid this isn’t the most insightful comment I might make, but the thought that is top of mind after looking at the pictures is that there’s certainly nothing limp about those awful breast implants in the “Sunday in the Park” shot. Ugh!

    Yet another excellent post!

  3. To me, what these photos actually scream is ‘thoughtless’, rather than specifically sexist/misogynist; it looks as though in the photographers’ efforts to creates something ‘different’ or ‘edgy’, or ‘new’, everything else went to the wall, including giving a thought to the subtext that appears in the images, even if it is not intentional (which I would not be entirely willing to believe).

  4. now, now. Lay off Jennifer Jason Leigh. How else is she supposed to find her career if she’s not crawling on the ground looking for it? I’m sure she’s already looked everywhere logical.

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