Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Finding your big break in the back of a
Wal-Mart store near you

[This story has been updated]

You may have been able to go through the whole summer without noticing, but young women across Canada have submitted themselves to a process launched by Vervegirl magazine, in collaboration with Wal-Mart stores and a couple of major beauty sponsors for the chance to be featured as a "new faces model" in the magazine's upcoming holiday issue.

The whole thing is a sponsor's dream, with lots of linkages to Herbal Essences shampoo, Cover Girl makeup and Elite Model Management. The finalists are to gather in October and the winning girl is to become an Elite model, appear in a fashion shoot and have $500 given to a charity in their name.

(Youth Culture Group of Toronto publishes five magazines with corresponding websites: Vervegirl (English and French), Fuel, desperado, and B-Zone. Vervegirl Daily is a free subscription-based e-letter that currently goes to about 14,000 names. The print edition of Vervegirl is being dropped at high schools in the next couple of weeks and a total of six times a year. According to the latest PMB data, it reaches 288,000 teenaged girls.)

Hopefuls have been turning up all summer (and will continue to do so through to the end of September) in Wal-Mart stores to have a professional photographer take their pictures. The pathetic thing about it all is how banal and hopeless most of the young women are both to submit to such a circus and to lend their young faces to such a crass commercial contest in which losing is the probable option. Perhaps there is a momentary buzz that "I may be the one", but most likely, on reflection, they'll later see their faces posted on the Vervegirl site and cringe in embarrassment.

One would never think of Wal-Mart as a fashion outlet, but its national profile and its cheap, sweatshop-produced clothes give it marketing clout. No one will probably blame CoverGirl or Herbal Essences for hitching onto this train; they'll sell more product. And, in a way, that's exactly what Vervegirl is doing, except that it is offering fame when there is likely none to be had. Perhaps the next "new face" of Canadian modelling will be discovered against a tacky backdrop in a back corner of a Saskatchewan Wal-Mart store. But we somehow doubt it.

[UPDATE] Stacey May, who blogs at Shameless magazine, takes me to task for blaming the victims. I don't think that's what I've done, but...

[FURTHER UPDATE] According to a gushing story in the Niagara Falls Review, more than 1,000 young women have participated.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

These children are being exploited! I don't see much of a difference between this type of exploitation and the kind that may occur at an Asian sweatshop, the ones that produce those "oh-so-cheap" Walmart goodies. At least even the sweatshop labourers get paid something.

10:45 am  
Blogger Shameless said...

I don't think you're victim blaming at all... in fact I think you're giving teen girls more credit than most, working under a premise that teen girls make choices and are not blindly led and brainwashed by media and corporations.

I'm just curious to understand what you mean by "banal" and "hopeless." They/the pictures look/are banal? It's hopeless for them to think they'll win? And why will they be embarrassed?

10:47 am  

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