Dressed to Kill - the fetishization of violence in the fashion world

Dressed to kill.

Drop dead gorgeous.

Fashion victim.

It’s interesting isn’t it?  Just how often fashion fetishizes violence?

Phrases like the ones above are just a few examples of mainstream fashion terminology that get tossed around casually.

And it’s disconcerting when we consider the lengths women (and men) go to in order to feel “beautiful” – in order to feel drop dead gorgeous.

We wear sky-high heels that leave are feet achy and bruised (or, if you’re clumsy like me, leave you with sprained ankles or worse).  We mash our breasts into wiry contraptions that push and smush them up into “desirable” shapes.  We squeeze into shape wear to hide our so-called imperfections.  Years ago women wore corsets to achieve smaller waists, often undergoing extreme discomfort and actual internal injury for the sake of beauty.  Of course, I don’t really believe that – in 90% of circumstances – fashion can literally kill.  Sure, I’ve busted my ass in high heels, and yeah, I’ve worn some dresses that were so tight I couldn’t breath quite right, but it’s unlikely that a fashion decision will have long lasting, physical effects (except tanning - that can, and will, kill).


Putting oneself through pain in order to look good is a dangerous message.  Do we really want our daughters/nieces/friends to endure physical discomfort for the sake of fitting in with society’s notions of beauty?  Do we really want to equate pain with pretty?

Also interesting – and often unsettling - is the fashion industry’s obsession with portraying violence –particularly against women.  There have been countless ads over the years that display some incredibly upsetting images.  Just before writing this, I did a search online and the pictures I found – pictures featured in big name publications – made my stomach flip-flop.  There’s a series of images titled “Fashion Victim” (see two images from the series here and here) – that shows beautiful women who have been visciously battered.  A woman – her gorgeous hair coifed to perfection - looks at the camera through a purple, swollen eye.  Another, her makeup flawless, stares at the viewer with a gruesomely slit throat.

My friend and I came across a photo series not that long ago where models depicted the horrible ways in which famous female authors committed suicide. It was a fashion spread, but I couldn’t tell you what the clothes looked like.

Here’s the kicker – I love controversial photos; I love the juxtaposition of beauty and disarray.  I like feeling uncomfortable and confused and challenged when it comes to art.  And I understand that magazines, photographers, and artists want to deliver shock value.  I’m a writer/photographer and I’m always trying to come up with new, shocking, often-times disturbing ideas for projects.  I have a rather dark aesthetic, and I’m drawn to – and repulsed by – things that fit it.

In my opinion, it depends on the context.  I truly believe that fetishizing violence through fashion is problematic.  Women already go to such great lengths – ridiculous, dangerous, uncomfortable lengths – to look a certain way.  Filling magazines with images of women that appear to be beaten is damaging to female empowerment.  These images aren’t being used to confront or question the world of fashion or violence against women; they’re being used to sell makeup and expensive jewelry.

When imagery is used to make a statement – as an outcry against violence or as a statement on how screwed up the fashion industry is – I believe there is definite merit.  In college I actually did an entire photo series called “Glamour Kills,” and it explored how deadly fashion can be.  The emphasis was not on selling a high-end bag or expensive dress – I was trying to make a statement about the scary fact that fashion and violence are so often intertwined.

There are far too many women enduring beatings, rape, and agony every single day in real life.  I don't want to see it on the pages of my magazines, fetishized by fancy clothes or popular lipstick.  Don’t use violence to sell me a goddamned pair of shoes, because I will not buy them. 

Unsettling and controversial imagery can be used for so much good - and it can make incredible art.  But employing this sort of photography/art/etc. to sell women (the very subject matter of these violent images) clothing isn't shocking, eye-opening, or intriguing - it's destructive.

What do y'all think?  Do these kinds of images have a place in fashion magazines?