Fiona McCade: Swimwear shots are way off the mark

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SO MUCH rubbish has been talked about “real” women. Being “real” has almost become a synonym for being spherical and proud; if you’re naturally thin, you rarely qualify as “real”.

I reject the delusion that only females with loads of curves – or, let’s be honest, fat – can claim to be “real”. I believe that since we come in all shapes and sizes, we must all qualify as “real”. So, why is the size and shape of a woman in one particular advert making me so mad?

Primark has just unveiled its new swimwear range for summer 2013 and it has used a beautiful model, of course. Nothing wrong with that.

Like any fashion brand, it always employs gorgeous, skinny models to advertise its wares and I completely understand why. Clothes, especially swimwear, look better on skinny women. It’s the basis of the fashion industry, so under normal circumstances, I would say, on you go, Primark; I have no quarrel with you.

But this year is different. I’m furious because this year’s swimwear model appears to be no more than 13 – and possibly younger. Seriously, when I first saw her, I thought, there’s been some mistake; I must be in the children’s section.

The photographs show her on the beach in a selection of bikinis and swimsuits, but I can’t believe any of them are of adult size. She has that sweet, tube-shape of the very early adolescent. She has no waist, no hips and no boobs. She is lovely, but so is my friend’s 12-year-old daughter and these two look way too much alike for me to rest easy.

I probably don’t need to say “check her out”, because you’re probably on Google already.

The Primark model must be post-pubescent. I’ve tried and failed to find out who she is, but I doubt Primark would knowingly use a minor for an adult fashion range.

So, given that she is – technically – a real woman, and models are supposed to be young and lovely, what’s my problem?

I think it’s because this is Primark, and I feel betrayed.

I’m used to haute-couture designers parading impossible, unattainable standards of beauty before me, but since I don’t buy their clothes, I’m immune to their marketing strategies. I don’t bat an eyelid when yet another emaciated, lollipop-headed late-teen, with a child’s face atop a goddess’s body, is held up as the feminine ideal. I can ignore all that; it has nothing to do with me, or my daily life.

But this is a child’s face atop a child’s body and it’s Primark, my ally – the ordinary, “real” woman’s high street friend – that is trying to sell me this disturbing image.

I don’t know a single, healthy adult who looks like this girl, yet female adults are Primark’s target demographic. It’s like Primark is saying to us: “This is what you looked like ten, 20, 30, 40 years ago. What happened?”

Well, Primark, we grew up. We grew boobs and hips, and some of us have waists in between them. We became real women.

For us, a cup size is not something you choose at Starbucks. When you show us swimsuits which are supposedly for us, but which are modelled by someone who not only has nothing in common with us, she also looks like she still needs arm-bands when she goes in the water, then you do nothing less than insult us.

Thankfully, there is hope for real women everywhere. To advertise its 2013 summer collection, Debenhams has chosen to feature models from across the spectrum of femininity. There are all shapes and sizes, plus and petite. There are amputees, Paralympians, women of colour, and women of age. We’re all there, and it’s wonderfully refreshing.

What’s most interesting from a marketing point of view is that the idiosyncrasies – the reality – of the models actually enhance the clothes and invite you to examine them more closely. Looking at these images, you find yourself thinking: “Right, I see how that dress could look on me.” Conversely, all I can remember about the Primark adverts is the girl, and how far removed from my reality she is.

So, Primark, take a leaf out of Debenhams book. Don’t repel your customers; reflect them. If you want to embrace ordinary women, you have to get real.