Paper 1 Analysis

Behind the Scenes

Unseen Text: Obsessions

Text Type: Magazine article – online article

Guiding Question: How do formal features like the heading, images and embedded interviews create effects in this article?

Gender stereotypes are a popular component of many Lang and Lit courses and is an issue that sometimes surfaces in Paper 1 unseen texts as well. This CNN article contains many of the stereotypes about women that you may have encountered in your classroom study: idealised appearance; sexualisation; trivialisation; the male gaze. The article begins with a challenging pun and the analysis below rests on an understanding of the double meaning of the word ‘skinny.’ If you didn’t know the connotations of this word, don’t worry; as ever this is just one possible way to analyse this text. Alternative approaches, different analysis points and well-argued evaluations are all equally valid.

Sample Response:

This text is an article profiling an annual fashion show organised by Victoria’s Secret, a well-known clothing brand targeted at women. The show is televised and this article was published on the CNN website, indicating they are trying to reach as wide an audience as possible of people who are interested in fashion and might tune in to watch the show. The article attempts to hook the reader by promising to reveal secret information about how catwalk models prepare for this event. The headline, ‘Obsession: The skinny on Victoria’s Secret fashion show’ contains a pun on the word ‘skinny’, referring to how thin the models are. But, in the context of detective fiction, ‘skinny’ can mean ‘inside information,’ implying the reader is going to find out some secrets about the show. However, after reading the whole text, the reader may be disappointed. Apart from a brief mention of extreme dieting, the text is not that informative and doesn’t really shine a light on the pressure put on models to maintain a perfect figure: instead, the text focuses on building excitement and anticipation about the upcoming show. 

Firstly, the image presents a picture of a model dressed in a fabulous diamond studded bra and wearing angel’s wings. The model is conventionally beautiful: she is white, young, thin, with perfect skin and long hair. The photo sexualises her in a stereotypical way by focusing on her cleavage, which is in the centre of the image. The wings are symbolic, making her look as if she is an angel, an unearthly and fantastical creature. It is common in the media for women to be held to unattainable standards of beauty, and this is a clear example of placing models on a pedestal because of their ‘perfect’ looks.

The article’s copy develops the idea of physical perfection established by the image. Descriptions always focus on outward appearance, saying the models are ‘gorgeous’ and describing them as ‘dazzling’ and ‘sexy’. Words such as ‘toned’ and ‘graceful’ suggest a physical ideal and ‘flawless’ means they are perfect. Later in the article the models are renamed ‘Angels’ with a capital A as if they have transformed into this ideal of physical beauty.

As well as having perfect bodies, the models are decorated with clothes and make-up that accentuate their appearance. They wear ‘sky-high heels with elaborate underwear’ and the bra in the picture is ‘encrusted with more than 3,400 hand-placed gems.’ The whole tableaux is described as a ‘spectacle’ or a ‘showcase’, and the reader is left in no doubt that they will witness something special. Light imagery such as ‘glitter’  is frequently employed to ‘dazzle’ the reader. The text creates the expectation of a ‘feast for the eyes’ and promises ‘escapism… to a place where everything is sparkly.’ At the end of the article, the writer gets a bit carried away and uses a hyperbole to promise us that ‘we’re even closer to seeing a real-life heaven on Earth.’  Once again, women are being held up by the mass media as impossible ideals of physical beauty for the viewer to gaze upon and be dazzled by.

The text employs some conventional persuasive features to help build anticipation for this show. Paragraph 5 features a rhetorical question: ‘who would want to see this spectacle?’  Statistics are pressed into service to assure us of the fame and popularity of the show: ‘nine million viewers’ and ‘more than 90 countries.’  These numbers create a bandwagon effect which makes the reader feel, ‘if everyone is watching, I don’t want to miss out.’ Near the end of the text, the writer uses direct address to speak to the readers: ‘Ladies… whip out your little pink bag, pump up your hair, and put on your best garments. Men, pop the popcorn, call your friends and get ready to gather around the TV.’  The writer employs a triple sentence structure (‘pop… call… gather’ and ‘whip out… pump up … put on…’) which puts emphasis on the command words in these two sentences. Unfortunately, though, the writers have resorted to stereotypes about male and female viewers, where ladies are concerned with accessories and their clothing and men are depicted as social creatures.

Where the text is less successful is in keeping its promise to reveal the inside secrets of the event. There is a transition in paragraph 16, where we are told that ‘these angels aren’t naturally blessed with the bodies they have.’  Readers might expect this to begin an expose of the way the fashion industry forces women to follow impossible diets and dangerous exercise plans, but the text reports in a neutral tone how ‘models follow a strict diet’ and that one model has been ‘working with a personal trainer every day.’  Worse, the text suggests how the show is ‘motivational,’ inspiring other women to ‘hit the gym and finally start their diets’ and seems unaware that this kind of media pressure is a real issue in society and impacts the ways women view their own bodies.

The embedded interviews throughout the text are also a total let-down. Most are industry commentators, like Esquire Magazine’s Matt Sullivan, Glamour Magazine’s contributing style editor Tracey Lomrantz, or fashion blogger Mark St. James. They are in a position to dig for more information, but instead just deliver more stereotyped cliches about ‘powerful femininity and, of course, sex appeal.’  They are authority figures and, as such, what they say has the power to influence the reader.

The article does include comments from an insider – a model Lima – and the information she reveals should be quite shocking. She admits that, in the days before the show, she drinks ‘no liquids at all, so you dry out. Sometimes you can lose up to eight pounds.’  The imagery of her food – ‘protein shakes made with powdered eggs’ – sounds disgusting and she is reported to have said she ‘doesn’t consume a speck of anything – not even water.’ Her interview alludes to important issues of weight loss and eating disorders that plague the fashion industry, but the text does not follow up on these topics. 

Instead, the writer returns to the idea of a ‘spectacle’,  reiterates the ‘stunningly beautiful’  images of women you’ll see on the screen and reminds us that ‘with an event this big, people pay attention’ (the bandwagon effect again). In conclusion, despite its own claims that this is an informational text, the article does little more than advertise the Victoria Secret Fashion Show.

Categories:Paper 1 Analysis

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