Tuesday, 15 May 2012

From H&M

Image created by artandwords on polyvore.com

It's been a good few months since I received any correspondence from H&M, so I think I can safely conclude that the conversation is over and reflect on where that leaves me. As chronicled in previous posts, I was disappointed to see a favourite brand of mine criticised in the press for using computer generated bodies in its online marketing. I wrote to H&M in a fairly impulsive and scatter-gun kind of way, taking the discussion straight to the top by sending letters to the company's board. 

My argument was that multinational clothing corporations play a role in shaping the aspirations and body-confidence of their consumers. That role should be exercised with sensitivity and respect, and passing fake, mannequin-like physiques off as reality is one distortion too far for an industry that is already fairly economical with the truth when it comes to what women's bodies actually look like. 

I suggested that, if these computer-generated bodies served a functional purpose (e.g. allowing online shoppers to 'try on' clothes), steps could be taken to protect the more impressionable from the pressure of trying to measure up to artificial body-types. A few ideas from internet comment boards included: making the bodies look like mannequins instead of trying to pass them off as people by superimposing head shots onto them; or putting a disclaimer on the page to educate younger shoppers about the nature of the images.

To the credit of certain individuals, I received a prompt response to my letters. Tina Jaederberg was kind enough to forward my letter to the media relations department, sending an email update to let me know she had done so. Press Officer Charlotta Nemlin then sent a more comprehensive response a few days later. Her email explained the process of creating the virtual model images, stressing that the practice is industry-wide and there was never any intention to promote any particular body type.

Although I appreciate the rationale, my overall feeling is that the company has missed an opportunity to elevate its practices beyond the 'norm'. The negative press coverage at the end of 2011 was a window where H&M could have taken a lead in showing concern for the wider social impact of its images, as identified by its customers. It could have been proactive. Instead it went on the defensive, denying responsibility. 

This is perhaps typical corporate behaviour, but sadly it's not very inspiring - and for me inspiration is what clothes shopping is all about: finding something 'me', something to put my name to and stake a little piece of my identity in. There are still things I like about H&M - their H&M conscious range, for example. But, where before I used to shop without thinking twice, I now find myself questioning the values that are woven into the fabric of each organisation I'm handing money over to and whether I want to be a walking advertisement for those things.

The jury has been out on that one since January. In the interim my indecision has contributed to the fact that I haven't bought any new clothes or shoes in 2012 - from H&M or anywhere else. I'm still working out where to go from here.


  1. These are a really interesting set of posts on corporate responsibility and body image--I do agree that this practice more likely than not promotes an unhealthy body ideal. I wonder (and I thought about this regarding the letter I wrote to ASOS) if it is useful to suggest alternative practices when writing a letter like this--that way the corporate headquarters can see that there are viable options outside of their current spectrum of practices that have solubility within the market.

    As for the note you wrote me regarding brand affiliation: I struggle with the same problem. I have been pretty happy so far shopping at Allsaints (I like their not for sale anti-human trafficking campaign) but that said, even they employ advertising methods that are less than great (there is little-to-no diversity in the model type they use). If I come across anything I will let you know!


    1. I think suggestions are always valid - they won't always be taken up, but it shows that we've thought about the issues on more than a purely reactionary level, and perhaps makes for a bit more of a positive tone too.

      And I completely agree - it's difficult to find one 'holy grail' brand that has good environmental credentials, supports a social justice campaign, values artisan skills - and looks good! I like the look of Allsaints though, thanks for flagging them up.

      Best wishes xxx


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