Sisterhood Blog

Suicide and Fashion Just Don't Mix

By Renee Ghert-Zand

  • Print
  • Share Share

Suicide should never be in fashion, and it should also never be in a fashion spread.

Wikimedia Commons
Gravesite of Sylvia Plath

In case you missed it last week, the online media community was abuzz about a fashion photo spread called “Last Words” in Vice’s 2013 Fiction Issue. The editors decided that in the issue—devoted entirely to female writers, photographers, illustrators and other contributors—there should be a fashion feature showing famous women writers in the process of killing themselves.

Following an onslaught of outrage from the public, Vice decided to pull the piece—but not before Jezebel ran the photos of models posing as Virginia Woolf (about to drown herself), historian Iris Chang (gun to her mouth), Dorothy Parker (slitting her wrists; she attempted suicide more than once, but did not die from it), Charlotte Perkins Gilman (with a chloroform-soaked hanky over her mouth), Taiwanese novelist Sanmao (noose around her neck), Beat poet Elise Cowen (splat on the pavement), and of course, Sylvia Plath (kneeling in front of an open oven door).

Response pieces in Jezebel, Slate and other publications point out that while Vice listed each writer’s name, dates of birth and death, and cause of death, it made no mention of the women’s works. However, a lot of copy was devoted to the fashion merchandise worn during the “suicides.” The height of the tastelessness was a fashion credit for the tights used for the model Sanmao’s noose. “Just in case you want to go buy the same ones, I guess?” Jezebel supposed.

In general, we need to see less violence against women portrayed in the media, and in particular, we certainly don’t need to see violence women do to themselves—especially when it stems from mental instability and emotional anguish. That’s not to say that suicide should be swept under the rug. On the contrary, with suicide on the rise in the overall population (more people die this way than in car crashes) and among members of the military, suicide prevention needs to be high on the public agenda.

But there is a huge difference between approaching suicide concerns as a public health issue and hijacking them for commercial purposes. There is no reason why young people (those toward whom the fashion spread was presumably aimed) should not discuss these writers’ suicides. However, the question all of us should be asking is “Why did they do it?” not “What were they wearing?”

No matter how you dress it up, suicide is something ugly we have to look at—with our hearts and minds, and not with an eye to sartorial style.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: sylvia plath, vice

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "Selma. Nearly 50 years ago it was violent Selma, impossibly racist Selma, site of Bloody Sunday, when peaceful civil rights marchers made their first attempt to cross the Pettus Street Bridge on the way to the state capitol in Montgomery, Alabama." http://jd.fo/r50mf With the 50th anniversary approaching next spring, a new coalition is bringing together blacks, Jews and others for progressive change.
  • Kosovo's centuries-old Jewish community is down to a few dozen. In a nation where the population is 90% Muslim, they are proud their past — and wonder why Israel won't recognize their state. http://jd.fo/h4wK0
  • Israelis are taking up the #IceBucketChallenge — with hummus.
  • In WWI, Jews fought for Britain. So why were they treated as outsiders?
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.