Forum Archive V

Messages Posted on the Judgment of Paris Forum


Vol. V: October–December, 2002.


“What are they trying to sell?”

[In response to a message posted by Stacey E., featuring an image of a cadaverous Eva Herzegova, which elicited shock and revulsion from many forum readers.]

The reactions that this image has received here are a testament to the power of visual icons, for good or ill. The more that the viewers of such an image are involved in the fashion/media industries, the less horror they will see in it, because they are surrounded by similar embodiments of death (not even warmed over) all the time. They accept such an image, because their views of normality have been substantially warped, in a process to which the recent Cosmopolitan story about ”shrinking celebrities” alludes.

But individuals who try to remain outside the media’s grip, or who read Grace rather than steeping themselves in mainstream fashion magazines, and have therefore recovered a more natural perception of body image—such individuals will see that photo for the nightmare that it actually is.

That is one of the purposes of this Web site—to aid in the process of aesthetic convalescence. Each image of plus-size beauty that is on display here helps to peel away another layer of the aesthetic cocoon in which our Modernist media encases society.

But beyond that, if there is another value to this Web project, it is that it provides the answer to that all-important question which Stacey E. posed, i.e., “What are they trying to sell?”

It’s not what you think.

At the most basic, most fundamental level, they (i.e., the fashion establishment, and more generally, the media élite) are not trying to sell fashion. Neither are they trying to sell makeup, hair products, or even weight-control techniques—despite the billions of dollars that the diet industry makes as a consequence of their twisted standards.

They are trying to sell ideology.

The idea that a visual like this can “raise spirits and boost sales after the post-9/11/01 slump” is patent fallacy, as we all know. In fact, it is counter-productive. Consider the following excerpt from a recent article about the fashion industry (emphasis mine):

Since the economy started slipping in late 2000, coupled with last year’s terrorist attacks, “people are really spending less on apparel and accessories,” said Sarah Thompson of the National Retail Federation.

In fact, the sections that are doing well in these uncertain times are women’s plus-size and children’s clothing, or “people buying because they've gotten bigger,” said Marshal Cohen of the market research agency NPD Group. That’s a fashion trend that’s even reflected in the modeling industry.

The Wilhelmina Models’ competition that drew 25,000 applicants was “full-figure women of any age,” which was commissioned for Mode Magazine, which specializes in the plus-size market.

And while modeling agencies continue to hold competitions and scout for the next new beautiful face with universal appeal, there are more competitions sponsored by a particular media outlet or designer with a specific audience in mind.

“We conduct more targeted searches,” Wilhelmina’s Coughlan said, adding that there was more demand for wearable clothing. That would immediately decrease the demand for the near-surreal bodies of supermodels.

The complete original article is viewable at:

http://www.upi.com/view.cfm?StoryID=20020918-062547-5843r

So “boosting sales” is obviously not the goal, since the plus-size market is booming even as the rest of the fashion industry is in decline. But despite this fact, full-figure fashion still fails to register on the cultural map to top-end designers. Why?

The answer eludes even many professionals who are involved in the commercial side of fashion, because they continue to approach the question from their own perspective—i.e., as a business matter. In the Curve documentary, we see models, actresses and even retailers asking why the plus-size market is not being served—even though targeting it would appear to be the most sensible thing in the world, from a business perspective.

But that business approach will never yield the real answer. To the people “at the top”—the élite, the establishment—fashion is not a business. It is not. Not first and foremost, anyway.

So what is it, then?

It is an art form.

And therefore, the only way to understand the motivations of the fashion world is to put it into the context of modern art. And that arts-based perspective is what we are trying to provide at this Web site. Because the answer to that central question, “Why does the media resist plus-size beauty?” can only be found by simultaneously answering the question of why Beauty itself has been suppressed in Western culture for the last hundred years.

In a penetrating but also distressing essay reproduced at the Art Renewal Centre, (distressing because it itemizes, in graphic detail, precisely what passes for “High Art” in the modern art establishment,) Karl Zinsmeister quotes the great sculptor Frederick Hart on the motivations behind the assault on Beauty that is the mantra of modern art, and that we see mirrored in the mainstream fashion world:

“The current philosophy and practice of art thrives on deliberate contempt for the public,” agrees Frederick Hart. “An offended public is a critical necessity for the attainment of credentials…This is shriveling art, making it less and less meaningful,” he warns. “Once, under the banner of beauty and order, art was a rich and meaningful embellishment of life, embracing—not desecrating—its ideals, its aspirations, and its values. Not so today.”

If the public is offended by high fashion, the “artists” who run the industry say, “Good!” If the populace is shocked by images of inhuman models, the fashion world says, “Terrific. Let’s shock them some more!”

That is their mindset, their modus operandi. Whatever they are “for,” ideologically, they know what they are against.—i.e., the very idea of Beauty itself.

Like the painters, poets, musicians, and other artists who have been sanctioned by the art establishment since the early part of the 20th century, and have inflicted a century of ugliness on the public despite every hue and outcry, so does the fashion intelligentsia cling to its particular vision. It is a lost cause to attempt to reason with them, or persuade them with statistics and figures. They don’t care. Not about women, not about economics, and certainly not about the detrimental effects that their art has on society.

Their first priority is their corrupt aesthetic vision and the ideology that it promotes, and everything else is secondary. And the more people they outrage with their creations, with their images, the more successful they consider themselves to be.

October 5, 2002


We we are; where we need to be…

A recent article in the New York Times about Sara Rue’s new sitcom, Less Than Perfect, gives us a good indication of the progress that size celebration has made in the mainstream media, the pitfalls that need to be avoided, and the challenges that remain to be overcome. The article is excerpted below, in italics, with our observations provided in Roman type.

Prime Time Gets Real With a Plump Heroine

When a friend warns Claudia, a plump office assistant, that her cutthroat newsroom colleagues would feed her “to the wolves,” Claudia retorts: “Do you think that will make me thinner? Because I’ll try anything—except diet and exercise.”

It is the kind of line that Mary Richard’s weight-obsessed sidekick Rhoda Morgenstern would have delivered on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” 30 years ago. But on a new ABC sitcom, “Less Than Perfect,” it is the heroine who looks more like Anna Nicole Smith than Ally McBeal—breaking what is perhaps one of television’s last taboos.

The sudden embrace of the Rubenesque seems to span all across popular culture, from the Broadway hit “Hairspray” to the box-office success of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”…The 24-year-old star of “Less Than Perfect” is pretty, perky and plump. “I was so thrilled not to be the best friend,” said Sara Rue, who played a portly high-school loser in “Popular,” a WB sitcom. “I’ve been the best friend in everything.”

Without a doubt, these are the two most notable advances that Less Than Perfect makes. It is a revelation to see a young, reasonably attractive actress of Sara Rue’s body type on television, rather than the two extremes that we have witnessed up to now (size 2 or size 32). Also, it certainly is a victory to see a plus-size actress take centre-stage, rather than being relegated to the sidelines—the way plus-size models tend to be placed in the background in magazines or catalogues that claim to be “for women of all sizes.”

“Less Than Perfect” marks the first time that a network cast as a nubile lead a relatively unknown actress because she was zaftig, and not despite it. If the show develops a large audience—and its premiere last Tuesday did better than advertisers and critics expected—it could mark the kind of television milestone usually associated with Bill Cosby, Eric McCormack or Oprah Winfrey.

“Because and not despite.” It is quite encouraging to hear that a prime-time show cast an actress precisely because she is full figured. Nevertheless, how much of a triumph this actually is depends entirely on the show’s purpose in seeking a plus-size actress, as we discover when we learn the motivations of the show’s creator:

“Uncool, less-than-beautiful heroines exist on television, but they are always played by beautiful actresses, and that never made any sense to me,” explained Terri Minsky, the creator and executive producer of “Less Than Perfect.”

She was a writer for “Sex and the City,” and created a gawky adolescent character for the Disney Channel sitcom “Lizzie McGuire” only to watch the network cast a gorgeous actress, Hilary Duff, for the role.

And this is where the trouble begins. Why must this heroine be “uncool”? Why is she pointedly termed “less than beautiful”?

What we would have hoped for, rather, is that the most important guideline for creating a plus-size heroine should be that the character be chic, and stylish, and the very embodiment of feminine loveliness. Minsky’s mindset still perpetuates the “thin is beautiful, and full figured is not” myth that Hollywood has been suffocating us with for so long. And that myth must be eradicated, or else there can be no true victory.

Ms. Minsky said that for her show, “a size 12 actress was nonnegotiable.” She added, “Women have been really well represented on TV, except physically.” Hollywood learned that there could be a big payoff this summer when a $5 million romantic comedy, “Greek Wedding,“ written by the actress Nia Vardalos, who plays the heroine, hips and all, became one of the most profitable independent films ever made, grossing more than $138 million in the United States. (Hollywood’s prior version of the beauty-is-only-skin-deep message involved putting Gwyneth Paltrow in a fat suit in last year’s “Shallow Hal.”)

Even the haughtiest fashion magazines pay ritual lip service to the allure of “real-sized” women, though such articles in Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar usually sound as strained as Herbert von Karajan would introducing a Bavarian oompah band.

Bravo to the article’s writer, Alessandra Stanley, for picking up on the condescending tone of Vogue’s “Shape Issue,” or of Harper’s laughable Zellweger piece. The musical comparison is useful as well. To advance that simile another step, what we do need is a writer who, in speaking of the allure of full-figured women, would sound as ardent as Herbert von Karajan would introducing a performance of the Beethoven Ninth.

Other magazines have sprung up to fill the gap. In the September issue of “More,” a monthly magazine that targets women over 40, the actress Jamie Lee Curtis, who was known in Hollywood in the 1980’s as “the Body,” poses in her underwear without makeup, flattering light or air-brushing. Ms. Curtis is by no means fat, but her body sags and ripples in a way that most Hollywood actresses would rather die than reveal.

Now, consider this observation carefully. Why would Stanley associate the increased visibility of full-figured women in the media with a “reality” feature on Jamie Lee Curtis in a magazine that has older women as its target audience, rather than using the more significant example of Grace, which celebrates plus-size beauty?

By making such an association, Stanley insinuates that in order to redeem full-figured women, the importance of beauty itself must be diminished in favour of homely reality. This is a profoundly insulting implication, and what’s more, it is patently false. Grace (to its great credit) could not be used in support of such a premise. In fact, it would contradict it, because its glossy images demonstrate that women can be gorgeous (how did the author put it?) because they are full-figured, not despite this fact.

Even that seems to be changing…Ridley Scott’s film company, Scott Free Productions, has optioned “In Her Shoes,” a comic novel by Jennifer Weiner with a full-figured heroine that was published last week. Susannah Grant, who wrote “Erin Brockovich,” has signed to write the screenplay.

This is no help at all, and not just because of the poor choice of screenwriter. Here is a brief précis, from Publisher’s Weekly, of Weiner’s In Her Shoes novel:

“Twenty-eight-year-old Maggie Fuller relies on her looks and size zero body to flirt her way through life while working dozens of dead-end jobs and dreaming of stardom. At the other end of the spectrum is her older, larger sister, Rose, who relies on her intelligence and is an accomplished attorney at a large Philadelphia firm.”

How sad that in Weiner’s book, the full-figured character has to “rely” on her intelligence and accomplishments—as if to compensate for being “larger”—whereas the younger sister can resort the supposed appeal of a size-zero body to get what she needs. What kind of progress is this?

Now, let’s try to imagine a novel that would tell a story similar to that of In Her Shoes, but with a revaluation of its aesthetic values. The précis would then read something like this:

“Twenty-eight-year-old Maggie Fuller relies on her looks and her curvaceous, goddesslike, size-18 body to flirt her way through life while working dozens of dead-end jobs and dreaming of stardom. At the other end of the spectrum is her older, emaciated sister, Rose, who relies on her intelligence and is an accomplished attorney at a large Philadelphia firm.”

And don’t think for a moment that such a valuation is far-fetched. In countless 19th-century novels, that is the standard way in which authors play on a fuller/thinner contrast in their characters’ figures. The plus-size characters tend to be younger, flirtatious, and quite irresistible, while the older characters tend to be older, more sensible “plain Janes,” who have to rely on their intelligence—their personality—to attract any notice at all.

When the lion’s share of beauty is given to the full-figured character in a new product of our culture, then we will know that the aesthetic restoration is an accomplished fact—equal in scope to the cultural upending that enshrined the androgynous ideal early in the 20th century.

“It’s part of the post-Sept. 11 reality in these times,” said Donny Deutsch, chief executive of the Deutsch Advertising agency in New York. “People don’t want idealized, ridiculous notions of what we should be. We want to feel better about ourselves.”

Romance novels are allowing full-size readers to feel better about themselves, featuring Juno-esque damsels in distress. “Ultimately everyone wants to be loved unconditionally,” said Isabel Swift, a vice president of Harlequin Enterprises.

Even mobsters on “The Sopranos” are paying their respects. This week, Tony Soprano’s captain, Ralph Cifaretto, is almost whacked for mocking the obesity of Ginny Sack, the adored wife of the mobster Johnny Sack. Sack calls off the hit but delivers a poignant soliloquy on society’s cruelty to fat people…

Increasingly network sitcoms are written by women for women. But until very recently, there were few full-figured women with prominent television roles. Like Kirstie Alley when she started on “Cheers” in 1987, Delta Burke was svelte when “Designing Women” had its premiere in 1986. Her weight gain was eventually worked into the plot as a psychological problem.

Yes, and how frustrating was that? Suzanne Sugarbaker was one of the most genuinely if unintentionally subversive characters on television, because even after Delta Burke gained a well-publicized forty pounds during her honeymoon, the Designing Women scripts were still being written for a thin Suzanne. Viewers of the show were thus treated to the unheard-of phenomenon of watching a visibly full-figured character present herself as a confident, upper-class man-killer who ”relied on her looks to get by.” It may well be that the very concept of MODE magazine was made possible by keeping the example of Suzanne Sugarbaker in mind as an “ideal audience.”

The article ends on a bit of a sour note:

Ms. Rue said she resented being described as plus-size or full-figured. “I consider myself normal,” she said. “I get annoyed at the business when a size 0 actress is cast as the ‘every gal‘ gal. It’s just not true.”

Some critics have winced at the show’s food and weight jokes, but Susan Lyne, the president of ABC Entertainment, said the network never had any doubts about showcasing a larger woman. Such boldness could be prompted by the network’s desperate need to overcome a long-term ratings slump.

“Going into a crowded field, we thought it would be a plus to have a heroine who looked more like America,” Ms. Lyne said. She noted that the hardest part was finding an actress larger than a size 4. “Casting was tough,” Ms. Lyne said. “We auditioned a lot of people who were too close to the typical TV ideal.”

Did everyone catch the non sequitur? How does “showcasing a larger woman” follow from Stanley’s comment about the show’s unbearable “food and weight jokes”? In many ways, the show seems to be stuck in its own contradictions. But it is undeniably a step forward, if only to get viewers used to seeing a plus-size female figure again.

Full-figured actresses are currently at the same stage of acceptance that plus-size models were, ten years ago. Someday, hopefully someday soon, we will see actresses who are as attractive as Shannon Marie or Barbara Brickner in leading roles in film or on television, and they will be cast as sensual heroines, or seductive femmes fatales—and not just in comedies, where the impulse to resort to the cheap laugh appears to be irresistible, but in dramatic roles as well. And their beauty will be an acknowledged power.

October 12, 2003


Kate Dillon for Christmans

It’s a pleasure to see that after many seasons of sticking to a rather diminutive ensemble of models (occasionally enhanced by the work of Keicia and Wyinnetka), The Avenue is once again using Kate Dillon for its Holiday lineup.

The following image is cropped from the company’s on-line catalogue. Corsets are an acquired taste, but at least this image gives a sense of what made Kate Dillon’s appearance on Good Morning America so remarkable. This may be a gift from The Avenue to make amends for its recent lingerie catalogue.

The company also includes two “new” categories of apparel—“Social Occasions” and “Night on the Town.” Perhaps the better way to look upon this development is to applaud The Avenue for realizing that its customers do participate in “social occasions,” and are fully capable of enjoying a “night on the town,” rather than wondering what took them so long to realize this fact.

* * *

[Several readers responded to the above post, expressing their amusement at the title, and their regret that they could not, in fact, ask Kris Kringle for the gift of Kate Dillon. This elicited the following reply:]

So you enjoyed that title? The effect was quite intentional. As one reader put it:

“Yikes, what a subject line to get me going. Kate Dillon for Christmas? Sounds good to me. Does this mean I can ask someone to order her for me from the Neiman Marcus catalogue or something?”

But the title has a double entendre. Perhaps the fellows will think, “Can I have Kate Dillon for Christmas?” but female readers might take it another way—“Can I possibly be Kate Dillon for Christmas?” In other words, “Can I dress more sensually, show off my curves rather than hiding them, and attract the kind of admiration that Kate Dillon does?”

In many ways, the evolution of the plus-size industry over the last few years, from restricting itself to “disposable fashion” and form-disguising career wear, to offering chic, alluring, body-conscious attire in every style and for every occasion, mirrors the personal flowering that any individual plus-size woman might have, from feeling ashamed of her figure and hiding it, to gaining confidence and learning to make the most of her femininity.

It remains our belief—a belief to which countless visitors to this site have testified—that images of plus-size models help aid full-figured women in achieving that kind of personal liberation. “If Kate can dress that way,” they may realize, “then so can I.” And that’s a very nice gift indeed.

Thank you, Miss Dillon.

Oct 14/16, 2002


Mia Tyler, MXM, magazines, and money

One theory that visitors to this forum very often advance as an answer to the question, “Why does the media resist plus-size beauty?” is that money is the cause—i.e., that the weight-control industry has a vested interest in making women feel inadequate with the way they look, because this will compel them to spend money hand over fist in a never-ending struggle to change themselves into something that they are not.

While there is probably some truth to this notion, perhaps demonizing the concept of “money” is a bit simplistic. After all, money has no intrinsic moral value. It is simply a tool. And like any tool, it can be used for good or ill.

We are well aware of the “ill” uses of money, but let’s examine a case of money being used for “good,” i.e., to advance the cause of size celebration.

Let’s say that you’re a plus-size clothing retailer with outlets all over the country—be that country Canada, the U.S., or any other nation. You have a vast customer base, because the majority of women wear clothing in the sizes that you carry. Your styles are getting sharper, and your patrons love them. Business is booming.

Flushed with this success, your company considers itself ready to put out an “edgy” new clothing line targeting a younger demographic. You want everyone to know just how hip and trendy these new fashions are. You want this new line to make a name for itself. You want young women to feel stylish when they wear them, like they part of the cultural scene. So what do you do?

You try to score an editorial feature in a fashion magazine.

And that’s when you hit “the wall.” The trouble is, regardless of how well plus fashions are doing in the retail sector, the mainstream fashion press still pretends that plus-size women don’t exist; or, if they exist, they don’t buy clothes; or, if they buy clothes, they purchase them by the acre. The chances of a mainstream fashion magazine featuring your hip new clothing line in a major editorial seem quite remote.

So what’s your revolutionary company to do?

Well, you might publish your own in-house magazine, as some companies have done. But perhaps you’re feeling a bit combative. Perhaps you have a little moxy. Perhaps you think that your styles are good enough to go toe-to-toe with the hottest straight-size fashions, and even show them up.

So that’s when you take your cash reserves, bump up your advertising budget, and buy your way into a magazine.

And it just so happens that that’s exactly what Penningtons has done here in Canada, with its MXM line.

The November 2002 issue of Flare magazine includes, for the second time this year, an amazing four-page fold-out ad/layout featuring the company’s official “face,” Mia Tyler, modelling MXM apparel. But this is no ordinary ad. It is shot like a true editorial layout and printed on heavy, high-quality paper stock. The colours are rich and vibrant. And the thickness of the fold-out means that the issue naturally falls open to the MXM spread. Without a doubt, this ad is the most attention-getting feature in the magazine. And it is targeted at the full-figured reader.

So there’s one rather obvious but noteworthy example of “money” being put to a good use. The MXM spread sounds a defiant note by its very presence in this magazine, announcing to all the world that “Yes, there are plus-size fashions in this magazine. Get used to it.”

Perhaps “money” is not merely the root of all evil, but the root of all change, as well.

November 26, 2002


“There’s something wrong with the eye of the beholder”

Pertaining to a recent discussion on this forum, an article from today’s issue of the Independent, London, states that the Emme doll is already a bona fide success. Better yet, a cheaper mass-market version is in the works. And best of all, more plus-size dolls are coming soon:

So impressed has her creator, Robert Tonner, been with Emme’s success that he is planning other dolls based on what Americans call “plus-size” models, including, possibly, a Sophie Dahl doll. He will also produce a low-cost toy “play” version next Spring.

But pay close attention to the following statement in the article, which is apparently the slug line for a new ad campaign by Kellogg’s, referring to the media’s androgynous standard of womanhood:

“If this is beauty, there’s something wrong with the eye of the beholder.”

That is a brilliant statement, as good as anything that we have written on this forum, because it penetrates right to the heart of the matter. Finally, someone puts paid to the “eye of the beholder” excuse that is used to justify the anorex-chic look. In our society, the eyes of the beholders—of the public—only see the world through a warped lens. We do not see the world naturally, but deformed by the filter of the mass media.

But when we examine what the human eye saw as beautiful in every century prior to the twentieth, before the media distorted the beholder’s gaze, before it twisted our perspective, then the artifice is stripped away, and we see again with perfect vision.

Slowly, but surely, beauty will restore the eyesight of the beholder.

December 1, 2002



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