Following on from my pre-Christmas post 'H&M Fake Bodies Furore', I decided to write to H&M. The main motivation for doing so was a desire to take some sort of responsibility for the actions of a brand I actively support with my purchases. I recognise that not everyone thinks the use of virtual bodies is something to get upset over, but it concerns me because body image is already so distorted in our current culture; I’m tired of being associated with it and I don’t want it to get worse.
An alternative option might have been a personal boycott of H&M: arguably, actions speak louder than words and as consumers we are at our most effective when we exercise our spending power.
My personal difficulty with boycotting is that there’s a lot I like about H&M – it’s like a friend I’ve known from secondary school and don’t want to lose touch with. Maybe I’m rationalising a lack of moral back-bone, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with feeling that way about a corporation. To my mind, a little old-fashioned customer loyalty is not necessarily bad – I personally want to rediscover the humanity behind our relationships with all of these logos that parade through our daily lives. At the same time, I don’t want to keep blindly signing up to things that don’t sit well with me.
If I’m honest, writing to H&M is a compromise. It allows me to appease my conscience without the uncomfortable sacrifice of changing my shopping habits (I bought a jumper dress from H&M in the January sales and am currently living in it). But maybe it’s also a wise choice too. By writing a letter to powerful individuals within a company, I get to interact with real people instead of being polarised by moral abstracts and impersonal labels like “multi-national corporation” and “consumer”.
This, in part, is my opinion:
The fashion industry faces complex dilemmas in balancing its role as a promoter of both functional products and intangible ideals. Aspiration is a powerful force, and the artistry and creativity invested in manufacturing and advertising is capable of instigating positive sentiments and behaviour.
Sadly it can be argued that the pervasive presentation of an alternate reality through airbrushing and lack of physical diversity leaves many people – perhaps young females especially – disillusioned with their appearance and disconnected from their own worth.
In this climate, the use of yet another technique that distorts body image is ethically questionable, especially given the covert nature of this technique.
The letter also talked briefly about alternatives and asked the recipients* to consider doing things differently. We’ll see who responds, and how.
I’m hopeful for positive change, but – in the absence of action on H&M’s part – the change might have to be me leaving behind a well-loved brand instead.
*the 12 members of H&M’s Sweden-based Board of Directors, the Head of Marketing and Head of CSR - see http://about.hm.com/gb/abouthm/factsabouthm/hmsboardofdirectors__boardofdirectors.nhtml