Razer: Erin Heatherton and the pains of a lingerie model

Before he retired, my dad was a site manager. As such, he often came home covered in dust. Mum would sometimes say, “I hope that’s not asbestos,” but was more generally untroubled that his trade produced such grime. She washed his clothes. He paid the bills. Happily, none of us ever went on to develop asbestosis.

Particular jobs present particular problems. A builder contends with filth and the threat of death. A retail assistant contends with the public and chronic back pain. A male chef is quite likely to have his reproductive equipment over-cooked by hotplates, a factory worker faces physical danger on the line and a knowledge worker confronts the possibility of becoming stupid from the overuse of all that stupid knowledge.

We know these risks going in. If we are sensible, we join a labour organisation to protect us. A union can act to safeguard against these risks.

An Instagram post (pictured above), not so much.

While there can be no meaningful objection made to an individual worker’s complaint, there can be to the unreasonable elevation of that complaint. And the complaint of lingerie model Erin Heatherton is currently resounding worldwide.

Heatherton has told her social media followers and Time that it hurts to be a model. She was engaged by the lingerie company Victoria’s Secret and found that such work involved being unnaturally thin.

This surprise is just as disingenuous as that of the construction worker who can’t believe that he is covered in dust at the end of the working day, WTF, to employ the parlance of the young lingerie consumer.

I mean, seriously. That a model should find herself thinking that she should skip occasional meals is about as shocking to me as my dad remembering that he needed to buy some King Gees. Have you seen a builder? Have you seen a Victoria’s Secret Angel? We all know there are certain physical precautions these workers need to take.

This is not, by any means, to say that it is reasonable to expect models to be thin. But it is to say that it is unreasonable to expect reason from the fashion industry—and the scholar of industrial relations will note that at this point, my comparison of construction with the catwalk has lost all its value.

Which it had to eventually because the erection of a building is very different work from upholding aspiration. Which is what Heatherton was employed to do and, really, I think that the fact she was called an “Angel” should have tipped her off to some degree that her work was to promulgate impossible fantasy.

In California and in France, there are now legal restrictions on the body mass index for models. In a purely industrial sense, this is not a terrible idea. People do work as models and that these people should suffer extreme physical hardship, as so many workers do, is unfair. But, the rationale for such restriction, which also has many advocates in Australia, does not derive entirely, if at all, from the defence of workers’ rights—if it did, there never would have been an expensive and deeply ideological union smashing exercise like the Trade Union Royal Commission.

It derives from the belief that models are inspirational and aspirational workers.

While we can feel for Heatherton purely in an industrial sense—it must be actually terrible to never know the pleasure of a pancake—what we cannot forgive is the wilfully apolitical nature of the support she has been given.

Which is to say, if we want to protect workers from harm, we do not have the option of overlooking the destruction of those organisations whose purpose it has always been to protect workers from harm. And, to be less pinko and more logical about it, we don’t get to have our Angel cake, and eat it, too.

Which is to say, we either accept that the work of a model, which is to showcase an idealised version of a beauty we can never attain, is okay, or we don’t.

Perhaps it is down to the fact that I have terrible eyesight and so remain fairly convinced that I am gorgeous that I have never been overly intimidated by the marketed beauty of others. Or, perhaps it is down to the very basic realisation that advertising exists to make me want things I don’t really need.

Whatever the case, the reception of Heatherton’s cri de cœur as Empowering For All Women sounds like more bunkum to me.

I encourage you to smash the catwalk and refuse the impossible margins of marketable beauty. I encourage you to engage with the matter of labour rights. I encourage you also to think, perhaps, that a picture of an unfeasibly gorgeous woman in bikini bottoms and a crop top that reads “Empowered by Failure” on Instagram is as useful to your revolutionary program as a pair of Spanx. Possibly less so, as I suspect my own foundation garment of being actually bullet proof.

Main image courtesy: Instagram

20 responses to “Razer: Erin Heatherton and the pains of a lingerie model

  1. The point is very clear and does not need Helen or Erins’ exegesis. You either have the body that is required to sell underpants or you do not. If you legislate body mass, and that inhibits sales, women in other legal sovereignties will do it. Erin is right. If she doesn’t have the body, she should quit and do something else. A miner without arms in a similar situation. He might try opera. Women do not buy underpants that they see on fat women. That is what fashion means apparently. Miners without arms can not run mine. It has nothing to do with worker’s rights. Or the union. Either the money comes from the women who buy underwear or the ore comes out of the ground. This fundamental principle is what all labour is based on. Commie or other wise.

    The fact that anyone can imagine that labour has some other purpose is untenable. If labour is required and is available, then labour can occur. At that point a union can determine safety, and put on pressure for higher wages. Even then, there is no moral criteria. Management is not responsible for Erin’s eating habits, or the suitability of an armless miner. If they can not do the job it is not up to the boss to imagine that they are viable. The union represents those who can work. It is a syndicate of common providers of labour to counter the power of capital to set wages. The union has powers to set wages as does capital. They compete. The union has no moral ascendency. To assume it does is ridiculous. Unions are as craven and duplicitous as any corporation. Both require observation and regulation by disinterested parties, as far as such can be found. To say that a Royal Commission is simply divisive is facile. Of course conservatives want to spank the unions. The unions have given them the oppurtunity to do so by being naughty. The unions are in many contexts, destructive. And the are ever ready to grab the moral high ground from capital. Every time I hear that, I am reminded why I don’t trust them. They use invalid moral leverage.

    The union model is hopelessly outmoded. For many industries, like nursing for example, it doesn’t really work. For others, it is obtuse and grasping. Capital has learned its prejudices, weaknesses and niave proclivities and has worked its way beyond them . Innovation is strength of capital. Not of labour. The unions have not learned capital. Nor do they seem to realise there is a problem. In fact the left in general is philosophically inert and not engaged. Thats why successful players on the left tend to look very much like conservatives. Thats where the game is. There are massive areas of the capitalist structure that go completely unexamined and without prescription on the left. It should amaze no one that they struggle these days.

    I know you disagree viscerally. But I think it probably difficult to say I don’t have a point.

    1. Nicely written John, however it seems to me that you see ‘the game’ as a spectator and not a player. Billions of people provide their labour for more than profit. Many turn up to play and don’t, in fact, care much if the ore comes out of the ground or not. Many of us drone away in large corps, adding almost zero value. If you’ve ever worked with people, you’ve learned by now that we’re mostly not worth employing. You assume that we all do something that matters, we mostly don’t. Work is mostly a social fabric activity without point. It is a ‘game’, indeed. Middle class social security with friends. Look at countries where people don’t ‘work’, Syria? Large parts of the middle east? Disaster.

  2. I don’t like this one so much. I think people often conflate models with the mute, static, impossible objects of beauty which they are turned into by the advertising industry. People then transfer these negative (albeit justified) feelings for the beauty object/consumerism onto the model. It seems like you’ve done this here,which has left you with little sympathy towards the model. Unfair. Models are exploited just like ppl in many other professions, and it’s never OK. What’s needed is more empathy and solidarity rather than telling models they should simply accept every injustice that exists in the industry because ‘that’s just the way it is and they knew that going in’.

    1. 1. At which point did I ascribe any of the negative qualities you mention to models?
      2. At which point did I say that workers of all kinds should just “like it or lump it”? Was it when I was urging for organised safety standards in all sectors, including that of modelling?
      3. By whose decree am I required to show excessive “sympathy”? It is not that I showed a lack of it. To any worker. It is that I said that elevating sympathy for a particular worker when this is in diminishing supply for other workers is a great hypocrisy. I said nothing negative whatsoever about this woman or her profession. And, personally, I would not, as I happen to like models.
      4. Are you, perhaps, bringing a teeny bit of bias to your reading, which was not really a reading but a list of your suspicions about Women Who Are Jealous That They’re Not Models?
      I cannot say how sick I am of the poor reading that drives so many to respond, essentially, “you’re just jealous” to anything that is not fawning and written by a woman about another woman.
      Oddly, I believe myself to be capable of criticising the culture without bringing my petty jealousies into it. Not that I have any for models, whom I adore.
      Read and comprehend again. D-.

  3. I’m ok with the elevation of the complaint – perhaps one waif like person on the cusp on bulimia nervosa will read it and go and eat a burger and manage to keep it down, thereby staving off the disease.
    Not only is it unreasonable to expect reason from the fashion industry, its pretty unreasonable to expect it from any quarters these days.
    Ok, dunno what I’m waffling about now, looking forward to your next article.

    1. Those suffering bulimia don’t need encouragement to eat. But, if we’re talking anorexia nervosa, they do.
      However, a great deal of contemporary study suggests that this horrid illness is biological in origin. And that certainly, sufferers need urgent medical intervention. Pictures of women don’t cause or cure anorexia.

  4. I am often at odds with you Helen, but I think you are 100% on this. I am biased, being a union worksite rep, but the “Oh I have stay thin to be a lingerie model?”. Apparently one must be an idiot as well.

  5. You are gorgeous, and I don’t even have the excuse of being partially blind to think that I am also much,much more gorgeous than the spindly models. Meh. I suppose it’s something to be worked up about, but this is a bit empty after you’ve taken out all the references to feminism and bravery.

    Who but you, could say “put your shit back on” so ruthlessly elegantly, but Helen?

    I think I’m pregnant and I just made a joke to the man – I will call her Helen, after Razer and Garner. That she would grow up to be as – well, i hesitate to use the word ‘brave’ – as these chicks, could do worse. He was a bit meh.

  6. Haha Helen you just destroyed this girls plead for attention. She just needed a little love ;) (or a few thousand likes) Also you got some fresh social media marketing graduate fired. Please be my best friend!!!

    1. I do hope it is not the case that anyone should suffer unemployment due to my actions.
      I’m not sure what you mean, but choose to receive this as a compliment, in any case.

  7. This is a crap article and I can’t believe I even got 5 paragraphs in before deciding that it was not at all worth my time.

    1. We can only suppose, Bree, that you are gifted of such great critical aptitude that you can assess the quality of an argument without actually reading it. Warm thanks for your considered contribution to debate.

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