Photo: V Magazine
You’ve heard it everywhere — the fashion industry is embracing full figures! ABCNews.com proclaims, “Fashion Industry May Finally Accept Every Body in the New Decade.” Glamour enthuses, “These Bodies Are Beautiful at Every Size.” GlobalFashionReport.com purports, “Curvy is the New Black!” We’ve even seen a new curve-enhancing product hit the market— the Booty Pop— which aims to create some lovely lady lumps for the rump-less. With all this focus on women’s bodies, I had to wonder, are such great strides towards acceptance of all shapes and sizes really being made? In the following week, I’ll be exploring three perplexing pieces of this proportion puzzle:
- Today: What is currently happening in the media regarding womens’ bodies, and what does it mean?
- Wednesday: An interview with ModCloth’s additional size model, Mandy Fierens, for her take on the so-called “trend.”
- Friday: What has ModCloth’s experience been with this particular topic?
Now, let’s talk about if size really matters…
First and foremost, let me establish one thing: I don’t like the term “plus size.” It insinuates that there is a “size” without the “plus,” which places “plus size” outside the norm. However, I’m going to use it throughout this piece for two reasons: one is simply lack of a better term, and two is that it seems to be the standard language in the fashion industry. Ultimately, I’d like to open up the first part of this discussion with you — is there a better term, and if so, what is it?
Photo: V Magazine
Now that we’ve established the terminology for the topic at hand, let’s move on to an examination of the media’s current fascination with this topic. Instead of trying to dissect who first embraced plus size models and when (for it’s nothing new— Vogue has been publishing an annual salute to all sizes for years), let’s examine the most recent and most talked about examples, starting with V‘s “The Size Issue.”
This particular publication has received a lot of press, undoubtedly thanks in part to the fact that Karl Lagerfeld — the man who once stated, “No one wants to see curvy women.” — was one of this issue’s photographers. While he has said little about his experience, we have the images and copy to decipher.
Photo: V Magazine
Allow me to begin with the first spread, in which they proudly and hot pink-ly proclaim, “V Love U Just the Way U R,” accompanied by a shot of a very Marilyn-esque model, and a “straight size” model. The photos themselves are glamorous and gorgeous. However, V also chose to list the models’ measurements. I am confused by this. On one hand, perhaps a girl will read those measurements and identify herself as similar in size to a professional model, and feel more empowered and beautiful. On the other hand, why do we even need to know how many inches their busts, waists, or hips consist of? My first inclination is to call up V for a l’il chat. I imagine our conversation would go something like this:
Me: “Hey, V! It’s me, Natalie. We need to talk about our relationship. I was wondering… If you love me just the way I am, why does it take a ‘special’ issue to let me know? Why can’t you love me all the time, in every issue?”
V: “Umm… TALL, THIN, SHORT, CURVY. PUNK, PREP, DOM, DEB. WHOEVER YOU ARE, AND WHOEVER YOU WANT TO BE, WE’RE WITH YOU ALL THE WAY!”
Me: “Yeah, I know you say that in ‘The Size Issue,’ but that still doesn’t answer my question. Listen, V, talk is cheap – I need to see this in every issue, or it’s over between us! O-V-E-R.”
[V hangs up in a panic. Our relationship ends. I throw all V's stuff outside. V calls a month later, wanting to reconcile. I decline. I've moved on to a new magazine.]
Sigh. It’s emotionally exhausting listening to V throw all these beautiful, bold, loving, accepting words around, knowing that deep down, I don’t trust them any more than that ex-boyfriend with the wandering eye. Why? Well, in addition to the fact that this is a “special issue,” therefore segregating the plus size women, it also has to do with how they’ve chosen to picture these particular models.
Photo: V Magazine
On to V‘s “One Size Fits All” spread. Jaquelyn Jablonski, a “straight size” model, is featured on one page in a designer ensemble, while Crystal Renn, a “plus size” model, is featured on the facing page in the exact same outfit. The copy reads, “IF IT’S BRIGHT ENOUGH, TIGHT ENOUGH, OR EYE-POPPINGLY PRINTED ENOUGH, ODDS ARE IT’LL WORK ON ANY FIGURE.” So, right off the bat, we have “odds are,” injecting a tiny dose of doubt. It’s a pin-prick on your fingertip, a shard of glass in the bottom of your foot, a bee sting in the crook of your arm, but it’s enough to get the job done.
Now that the copy has instilled a strong urge to second-guess yourself, we move on to the images themselves. The layout is like a visual invitation to compare and contrast these womens’ bodies. One cannot help but examine the images with a tiny voice nagging within their inner ear, “Well, what exactly makes her a plus size model?” And, if I’m really being honest, I also cannot help but mentally insert myself into the mix, questioning where my own body falls on this spectrum.
But, wait a second… Is there a spectrum? In a recent New York Times article, Crystal Renn, arguably the most well-known plus size model in the world, has admitted that she’s seen images of herself in which weight had been added to make her appear to be a size 20 (when she’s actually a 10 or 12 — not even “plus size” in real life). Jennie Runk, another size 12, admitted to Glamour that she has worn padding for photo shoots before. Plus size models’ photographs are often retouched, only instead of the Photoshopping we’re used to hearing about (in which pounds are magically shed), pounds are added to their frames. What example is this setting?
I can only come to one conclusion — there is no size spectrum in fashion. Only the dichotomy of thin/fat can exist. This concept was best summed up by Jenna Maroney from 30 Rock, when she said “If I can’t be Monique fat, I have to be Teri Hatcher thin.”
Does Jenna come closest to the heart of the issue? Are bodies still being compartmentalized because fashion refuses to fit in every body? What do you think about the recent changes in the modeling and fashion world?