Your Source for Feminist Discourse

Are open letters always effective?

Recently model Arisce Wanzer published and open letter to Kendall Jenner that that made waves in the fashion world. Jenner, who is Kim Kardashian’s younger sister was recently chosen to be Estee Lauder’s newest spokesperson. The young model has also modeled for Marc Jacobs, Giles Deacon, Chanel, and Givenchy- an impressive list no matter who your older sister is.

Arisce Wanzer and Kendall Jenner

Wanzer and Jenner

Recently there seems to be a trend of women using “open letter” as a euphemism for slut shaming and demoralizing other women. For example the open letter to Instagram moms, Sinead O’Connor’s open letter to Miley Cyrus, and Arisce Wanzer’s open letter to Kendall Jenner posted below:

Dear Kendall,

Take a moment and remove yourself from your current situation, if you can, to a life that isn’t riddled with excess and only hearing the word “yes” to your wants and requests. Now, imagine you’re from a small town and/or Third-World country where your only way to get out of your current social class, achieve your dreams, get a green card or just gain better work conditions is to become a high-fashion model. You have to leave for six months to a year sometimes, signing contracts you can barely understand, let alone oblige to, almost without choice. You’re away from your family, your friends and everything you know. You live in a one-bedroom apartment with six other girls in the same situation in this Big Apple, New York City.

Did I mention you’re only 17 when all of this goes down? That means you have to go to tutoring and/or English lessons in between learning how to “walk” at the agency, attending castings every other day, going on test shoots to get you experience, trying to learn your new neighborhood, going to the gym and hoping to maybe make some money all at once. Oh, and your apartment and test shoots aren’t free, by the way. They are added to your account with the agency, as are your casting outfits and cellphone. These are going to leave you in some serious debt if nobody books you for anything; some girls owe upward of $30,000 after a year of trying to book gigs, so take that into perspective as well, Miss Jenner.

So now let’s pretend you actually lived through all of that, and it’s finally Fashion Week. Exciting, right? This could be your big break! You could send your family in Belarus or Woodbridge, Va., the money they need for your little brothers to have new clothes and/or books for school and/or even afford a plane ticket home for the holidays! Imagine standing in line after line of girls with your exact height and body measurements all day, each one hoping for a coveted spot on the New York Fashion Week runway.

Casting after casting, and you just can’t seem to get your place. But suddenly after a week full of the word “No,” killing yourself at the gym, exhausting yourself in classes, cutting your diet in half, not talking with your family and sleeping in a room with six equally exhausted girls, you get the call. Your agent texts you with an 8 a.m. fitting at Marc Jacobs. Oh my god, you’re going to walk for Marc Jacobs! This is a dream come true, someone finally said yes, and the prestige is beyond what you could have imagined! So you pack your model bag, a bottled water, your walking shoes and agency-approved casting outfit. This could be your big break, assuming they don’t cut your look last minute, a common practice done to no-name girls, so fingers crossed!

The fitting was perfect, your garment is amazing, and Marc was SO nice! And cute, too! One last fitting after that one, and it’s show time; you’re finally going to debut everything you’ve worked so hard for. You get to prove to your family that you left everything behind for a great cause, and you can finally pay back all of your agency debt, not to mention the money your parents lent you to make ends meet.

It’s the morning of the show, and you’re up and ready, grab some fresh fruit to nibble on, pack your bag, and you’re out the door. The subway is packed with lots of models, agents, buyers and fashion people in general, all exhausted, but ready to work. You’ve been bumped/tripped by both a hairstylist’s travel kit and a makeup guys’ enormous Caboodles-like suitcase, all before 10 a.m. You walk into Lincoln Center, and it’s like magic … you can’t believe you’re here! You’ve finally made it!

Backstage is a commotion circus of clothes, hair, makeup, yelling, Fashion TV interviews … it’s an Instagram overload! All the big names are there, your personal heroes including Hanne Gaby Odiele, Karlie Kloss, Joan Smalls, Jamie Bochert, Anna Wintour, Marc Jacobs himself — the list goes on! You’ve really hit the big leagues!

But wait, isn’t that a reality TV star over there in hair and makeup? Yea, that’s definitely a Kardashian or something. What is she doing here? Did she take the subway? Was she at the casting? What agency is she with? I didn’t see her last season … Does she need MORE fame? MORE money? A green card perhaps? Doesn’t she get enough cash from that show that all of ignorant America glamorizes? Didn’t her sister have sex with someone on camera and profit from the video sales to get their family its new line of limelight? This girl didn’t do and doesn’t owe half of what you did (remember, you’re NOT “KJ” in this scenario) to get here today, that much is certain. Her mommy surely called a top agency, got her in the door and the design houses just chose to milk her fame like the cash cow that it is. One by one like dominos from Vogue to Givenchy, fashion is selling out to the ignorant masses for money. What happened to the art, the cerebral part of fashion? Did it really all die with Alexander McQueen?

Well, there goes the neighborhood, I guess. Gone is the prestige you once felt as a “chosen one” by Marc, Anna or Ricardo — this cheapens your entire experience. You thought you were special, that your hard work had finally paid off. You didn’t realize that these coveted spots were for sale. The cost? The soul and dignity of a fashion house. The clothes will still sell, and the players will still play, but the image will be forever tarnished by these real life Veruca Salts buying their way in with sleazy fame rights.

You’re on to walk in five, so you’re smoking to calm your nerves. You need to ash your cigarette, and there’s Kendall Jenner’s drink. You already feel a bit better.

Until next time, Ariscestocrats!

Arisce

Arisce makes some excellent points about unpacking and acknowledging privilege in her letter but the way she slut shames Kendall’s sister for having a sex tape and belittles her achievements without knowing her as a person bothers me. It also seems like Arisce needs to brush up on her fashion history. She calls Anna Wintour “a personal hero” in her letter, yet Wintour rose to fame in much the same way Jenner has. In The September Issue Wintour herself recounts how her father, who was the editor of The Evening Standard got her a job at an influential fashion house when she was just 15. Wintour also stated that as a teenage she often dated much older and influential men who were able to get her jobs that she didn’t necessarily earn. Today Wintour is an icon, but why does Wanzer view her as a “hero” yet calls Jenner’s fame sleezy?

Why wasn’t this letter addressed to Cara Delevingne— an arguably more successful model than Jenner who got her start just because she was a socialite? Honestly, I think that Wanzer missed an opportunity with her letter. Much like Estee Lauder, Marc Jacobs, Chanel, and the numerous other fashion giants who book Jenner because of talent and the increased publicity she can bring their brand, I think Wanzer chose to address the letter to Kendall for the same reason– exposure.

Cara Delevingne

Delevingne

The letter has certainly gotten the media’s attention, but what if Wanzer had focused more of privilege. Or the “whitewashing” of the fashion industry? Or any other talking point besides specifically calling out Jenner? I think its fine to use Jenner as an example of privilege– but its not really Jenner’s fault and she is certainly legitimately talented.

Kendall Jenner

Jenner

I think its time for all women to stop the girl-on-girl hate. There is a way to express your feelings and make your point without shaming. Although I disagree with Wanzer’s approach to her open letter, I’m glad I found it. While doing research for this post I looked through Wanzer’s work and she really is a phenomenal model.

Arisce Wanzer

Wanzer

If we want to see more people like Wanzer represented, we need to make our voices heard. Engage with brands that you admire or think need more diversity. Support the brands that are dedicated to showcasing diversity in ethnicity, body, and background. There are better ways to change the fashion industry than writing a mean spirited letter to an 18 year old girl and its time that we start making that change.

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