BODY DOUBLE TROUBLE
by Elsa Brisinger
Nearly two years ago one of the most bizarre job requests I have ever received came in.
I wish I could reveal all names involved, but out of respect (and fear of getting sued) I won’t. I will, however, tell you that the key individual in this story is one of our time’s most beloved Hollywood actors and anyone with a somewhat good sense of humor will know that she is also extremely funny. Funny and smart and kick-ass enough for me to accept this job oﬀer, if only to collect the experience.
Basically, the Star in question (I cannot resist but to call her that) was booked to shoot a cosmetics campaign for a high-end French brand (again, I’m not sure if I’m allowed to reveal which one). With negotiations and logistics covered, the Star comes in, ﬁts the dress, is styled and prepped, poses for the camera, leaves the studio. All good and billboards next!. . . or so you would think.
Now, as I have previously mentioned, the fashion industry is not exactly known for its accepting attitude towards diverse body ﬁgures. In other words, even in the case of a celebrity like the Star, who’s been hand-picked and pam-pered into doing a job like this (and consequently to lend her personal brand to another brand’s image), there is no guarantee that the client will not want to edit some external features in post-production. In this case speciﬁcally, the face was approved, but the body was not.
What to do? Bring in a body double, of course.
If previously I was unaware of the amount of Stars who have full-time em-ployed body doubles, I am now somewhat an expert on the topic. For whereas this part of celebrity may seem natural for actors who often appear in - say -action ﬁlms or other productions in which risky stunts are common, the fact that the fashion industry would employ the same means to achieve a particular appearance was - to me - a surprise. After all, the way I’m used to things op-erating is that if a model does not have the right size or ‘look’, she won’t book the job. Or, alternatively, if her face/name is well-known enough to book the high-end job in question, it is often because her body is too.
Back to the story. I am contacted with a certain job oﬀer from the brand in question because it has been established (how?!) that my body type is very similar to the Star’s, only a bit smaller. This speciﬁc feature (surprise!) is precisely what is considered key; indeed, it is probably why the Star’s own body wasn’t deemed “billboard-ﬁt” in the ﬁrst place, whatever that means. In other words, I am asked to come in for an identical shoot to the one with the Star so that my pictures can later have her face photoshopped into them.
Just another day at work! . . . ? Like I said, my admiration for this Star was enough to spark my curiosity and accept the job oﬀer; it certainly was an experience. But there were, and are, undeniably a few problematic aspects of this case.
For one, although it might not be conceptually correct to call the oﬀer itself problematic, there are indeed problematic elements to be found in the reasoning that led up to its being made in the ﬁrst place. An oﬀer is an oﬀer, so to speak, and the requested part has an option to turn it down. But the fact that this way of reasoning - about commerciality, celebrity, size, proﬁt and how each feature connects to one another - is so widespread and accepted, I think is deeply troublesome.
Second, the fact that I cannot drop any names in this piece is in itself another absurd feature of the case. See, I don’t know if the Star was even informed of her face being photoshopped onto a slimmer body for the ﬁnal campaign picture. My guess is that she has no clue. She certainly doesn’t know that her ‘body double’ is currently writing about this episode of madness.
Third, it is striking how ‘ﬁtting into the (very slim!) mold’ trumps a brand’s care for consistency. What I mean is that this Star is in fact known and praised for her body positivity; in an industry where the opposite - i.e. unhealthy or unrealistic standards - more often than not plague most actors and actresses, this is rare. Not to mention much needed. So for a brand to go through the eﬀort to conﬁrm this particular individual as face of their campaign, seems to me pointless if that is not done in virtue of them wanting to be associated with the values she stands for. There’s a good chunk of hypocrisy and shadiness at work, I think, when a brand employs a Star to piggyback on her fame, and yet changes some features - features, I should say, that have been key in her gaining such fame in the ﬁrst place - so that she ‘ﬁts the mold’.
Still, the experience of doing a job like this was - I believe - an overall constructive one. If only in virtue of the questions it left me pondering long after. There are troublesome undercurrents of the fashion world’s marketing strategies that can only be ﬂagged once experienced; by writing about them I like to think I can do my part in furthering this discussion.
Read more by Elsa Brisinger in our next issue.