Babs Vermeulen is a lingerie consultant based out of Toronto, and has been a bra fitter since 2006. After spending time at two of Canada’s top boutiques, she now provides her services to women of all ages, sizes and lifestyles as an independent wardrobe consultant, bra fitter and blogger. Passionate about Diversity, Truth and Self Love, Babs offers her readers and clients the experience of learning more about bras, lingerie and their bodies with a focus on Common Sense, Compassion, and Joy!
A bra, swimsuit fitting or any kind of trip to a well-lit change room can be a very stressful place for most women. Confronting one’s body in a large mirror is difficult for the majority, regardless of age, size or physical condition. Many of my clients get extremely frustrated and ask “WHY don’t I look like the models in the magazine ads and catalogs?”
I tell these women that likely, and through no fault of their own, they never will, because what they are seeing isn’t entirely real. As long as Photoshop is being utilized to radically alter bodies, the standard will remain unachievable. A fantastic 37 second long video entitled “The Power Of Photoshop” was recently created by GlobalDemocracy.com in which an attractive, “average” woman’s body is digitally morphed, sliced, stretched and smoothed to become what we typically see in most fashion and lingerie ad campaigns. This video is both informative and shocking, in that it demonstrates the ease with which false images can be created. Some members of the fashion industry have retaliated, suggesting that women should know the difference between fantasy and reality, but during my fittings, I have learned that most women take these images at face value, and are unaware of how commonly used and invasive these techniques can be.
On average, I may see several clients a day, sometimes more, five days a week. That adds up to least 35 women, 35 bodies that I see up close and in the most personal of circumstances. Over 1500 women in a year, and I have been fitting for quite some time now. It is a privilege to be allowed to do so, something that I undertake with the utmost of respect.
For years, I was at war with my body until I was granted, as a bra fitter, the perspective I have now. I dearly wish that you all could experience the same thing. Because if you did, you would understand how beautiful EVERY body is, and witness unbelievable diversity in shape, size, proportion, skin and muscle tone. You would see the many different sizes and shapes of breasts and nipples that exist. You would see what medical conditions, mastectomy scars and reconstruction surgeries look like. You would understand that ALL women’s bodies can have cellulite, puckers, folds, pimples, hair, veins, rolls, lumps, wrinkles, paunches, stretch marks, protruding ribs, inverted breastbones, scars, moles and birthmarks.
In the last two decades, it seems there has been a tangible increase in the value we place on physical appearance. It is a losing game. No matter what, we are inadequate. Women who are perceived as overweight or unattractive are mocked and bullied. Women who are considered slim and attractive are name called and accused of having eating disorders. Ageism also prevails and rarely are women over the age of 35 featured in lingerie ad campaigns. We are a culture obsessed by a rigid and homogenous beauty standard, and this obsession is fueled by images that are often substantially altered by use of Photoshop.
Instead of being used to tweak lighting issues or remove a stray hair, Photoshop is being utilized to create images that are far from a realistic representation of the human body. Necks and limbs are stretched beyond the laws of proportion, skin is smoothed to suggest an alien, plastic perfection, bone structure of the face is altered and often eyes and lips are increased in size. Even worse, as in the case of clothing retailer H and M a few seasons ago, entire bodies are digitally fabricated, with interchangeable models heads simply pasted on top. As far as I am aware, the company has never apologized, rather justifying the practice as being more “cost effective”.
While the clothing may be cheaper, the Everywoman is paying a very, very heavy price. Back in my fitting room, I see tears of frustration, anger and self-hatred. Impressionable women as young as 12 tell me they need a push up bra for their “droopy” breasts, and their Mothers and Sisters are right there beside them, sharing the same feelings of self-loathing and inadequacy. Almost every single client I see, regardless of size complains about “back fat”, “armpit wrinkles” and “sagging”. Truth be told, most of my consultations take at least an hour, not because of the actual bra fitting process…but because I have to spend incredible amounts of time and energy educating women about what is “normal”. These images are so deeply ingrained and expectations so high, that I must repeatedly drive home the statement “you are in pursuit of an ideal that does not exist”. When words are not enough, I often show women my own body just to prove, “See? Look, I have it too! It’s OK!” As a fitter, addressing these issues day in and day out can be emotionally exhausting, but helping other women accept their bodies is my mandate, and my life’s important work.
In the past, I have asked representatives of lingerie companies why they rely so heavily on digitally altered images of models. The most common response is that their marketing research shows that most women indicate a preference toward “fantasy and escapism” when it comes to lingerie, and that certain body types simply “do a better job of featuring the product”. I appreciate artistic, fanciful editorial fashion spreads, but they should not come at the cost of a woman’s self-esteem. One exception to the rule is UK retailer Debenhams, who recently (and wisely) stated, “beauty is not about achieving the unachievable”, while announcing plans to limit their Photoshopping practices to the bare minimum. Hopefully others will follow suit.
Until then, myself and other passionate bra fitters, we soldier on. Debunking, informing, educating and empowering with truth, laughter, tough love and beautiful bits of silk and lace. We teach you to love yourselves, to stop comparing yourselves to others, and most importantly, to images that aren’t based in reality. It’s okay to be a beautiful, “real” woman…with a beautiful, “real” body. Because real bodies DO exist, in every way imaginable, at every stage of life. I know because I see them, and you should, too.