Forum Archive VI

Messages Posted on the Judgment of Paris Forum


Vol. VI: January–March, 2003.


The Natural Preference

[In response to a comment from a reader who praised the preference that this site expresses for the shapelier female figure.]

It is a pleasure to be able to share an enthusiasm for timeless beauty, the absence of which is so regrettable in our society. And yes, the preference for true beauty—for full-figured feminine beauty—is very much a part of what this site is all about. Historically, such a preference would not have been considered uncommon, let alone aberrant. In fact, it would have been considered the most natural thing in the world.

Consider the following passage from Henry Fielding’s 18th-century novel, Joseph Andrews. This is Fielding’s description of Fanny, the novel’s lead female character, with whom the hero, Joseph, will become helplessly smitten:

Fanny was now in the nineteenth year of her age; she was tall and delicately shaped; but not one of those slender young women, who seem rather intended to hang up in the hall of an anatomist, than for any other purpose. On the contrary, she was so plump, that she seemed bursting through her tight stays, especially in the part which confined her swelling breasts. Nor did her hips want the assistance of a hoop to extend them. The exact shape of her arms, denoted the form of those limbs which she concealed…

This portrait is neither intended to be ironic, nor complimentary in a backhanded fashion. Rather, the author is describing his heroine’s beauty in a way that he knows his reading public will find captivating. Note the favourable contrast of this “plump“ ingénue with the “slender young women” whom the author dismisses. In Fielding’s day—a day long before the modern media imposed its artificial standards—“plump” was a positive term, and “slender” a negative one. Note also that in addition to the reference to the girl’s bust, her generous hips and full arms are also presented as part of her appeal.

After reading such a passage, Fielding’s audience would have completely understood his protagonist’s ardour for this “plump” girl.

Or consider the case of painter Peter Paul Rubens. After his first wife passed away, Rubens came to know the Fourment family, which had two daughters eligible for marriage. Rubens painted at least one portrait of the elder daughter, which shows us that she was quite plain, diminutive, modest, with a rather thin face, and could probably have found work as a typical Hollywood actress today:

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But Rubens passed over this slender girl, and fell passionately in love with the gorgeous and much fuller-figured younger daughter, Hélène:

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Whatever personality Hélène may have had, there can be no doubt that Rubens was wildly infatuated with her, physically. He spent the rest of his life immortalizing her lavish beauty in hundreds of canvasses, depicting her as every female deity in the Greek pantheon. Here is one famous example of Hélène transfigured into the goddess of love:

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This preference on Rubens’s part—for the fuller-figured daughter over the slimmer one—would have struck no one in the painter’s circle as the least bit puzzling. To them, it would have seemed entirely natural and understandable. What’s more, they would have shared his preference. Hélène Fourment was openly called a reincarnation of Helen of Troy in her lifetime—that’s how much her opulent beauty was revered. And in fact, her intoxicating appearance would not have been considered an example of “full-figured beauty,” or of “plus-size beauty,” or of anything other than beauty. Period. A slimmer Hélène would not have been considered the goddess-on-earth that she was.

According to this timeless definition, plus-size models are not just beautiful models “as well as” their starving colleagues in the straight-size world. They are the only truly beautiful models. Other models simply fall short of the timeless standard.

And that’s why it amazes and appals us whenever we hear about bookers who pressure models to lose weight. Saying that a plus-size model is “too big” is similar to the famous case of the Austrian emperor who, upon hearing one of Mozart’s heavenly masterpieces, told the composer that there were “too many notes.” (“Which ones would you have me remove?” was Mozart’s famous reply.)

Just as taking away any notes would have marred the perfection of Mozart’s composition, and reduced it from being a masterpiece for the ages to a bit of common background music, so would losing weight change a plus-size model from a living embodiment of timeless beauty into a run-of-the-mill runway waif. It would not just be a detraction. It would be a desecration.

Sadly, many of the individuals who support size-acceptance seem to do so only because it is “the right thing to do,” or for political motives, or for financial reasons (sound ones). But the proliferation of plus-size beauty doesn’t need any moral “excuse.” It doesn’t need to be justified on the basis of “diversity,” or “equality,” or (god help us) “political correctness.” It is true beauty—natural beauty—and its suppression is one of the more egregious abuses perpetrated by the modern media, while its restoration is one of the most telling signs of man’s cultural rebirth after his century-long modernist “dark age.”

There is so much confusion about “plus” on the part of the people who bring it before the public. Many who run the plus-size end of the business also have careers in the straight-size sector, and to them, plus remains a mystery, a world that they don’t understand, one in which they lack an aesthetic roadmap. Therefore, in dealing with it, they resort to “what they know,” and try to apply straight-size standards—which simply don’t fit.

That is why the historical examples that we offer here are so important. They provide that roadmap. They exhibit plus-size beauty on its own terms, without any limitations, or skepticism, or uncertainty. They present a vision of beauty as mankind understood it before decades of media brainwashing.

Size celebration is not about eliminating ideals. It is about replacing unhealthy, alien standards with those based on natural, human impulse. It is not about putting an end to fantasy. It is about celebrating fantasy in a way that enriches life.

January 19, 2003


“Stick Chicks”

[This essay was posted in response to the following statement titled “Stick Chicks,” from a forum contributor named “Moda”:]

Just wanted to share what I read in a magazine called: Kids Discovery Roaring ’20s (page 7). “It was no longer fashionable for women to be plump and round. The idea was to look like a young girl (or even a boy), rather than a mature woman, who by definition was burdened with responsibilities. One fashion magazine editor wrote:…‘small dimpled hands make us feel quite sick; we like to see the forms of bones and gristle.’” Yuk! Seems the mindset for stick chicks was popular before.

It was precisely during 1920s that the assault on plus-size beauty began. We have always maintained that the full-figured feminine ideal was dominant “in every century prior to the twentieth,” but the precise line of demarcation is World War I. Shortly after that conflict, for the first time in Western history, the very notion of beauty itself came under attack in all of the arts: abstraction began to deface Western painting, dissonance started pulling apart the fabric of Western music, and a social war against femininity was launched—one which is still being waged today.

Moda’s very significant quotation indicates how mere wordcraft (or “spin,” as we might call it today) can persuade an impressionable society not to trust its own instincts. Before such media indoctrination, “small dimpled hands” would have been considered very attractive (and they most certainly are), while “the forms of bone and gristle” would have been considered repulsive, indicating sickness and emaciation. (For a vivid example of such a contrast, you may read the “Beauty and Horror in Vienna” essay in the Forum Archive.)

Look closely at the following masterwork by Titian, entitled Venus with a Mirror. Visitors to this Web site may recognize it as the image with which Lara Johnson’s immortal Venus Pudica image is paired on our “Timeless Beauty” page:

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Observe the following closeup of Venus’s raised hand. It is soft and lovely, with very pretty dimples at the knuckles:

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Does anyone remember the gentlemanly custom of taking a lady’s hand and kissing it tenderly? You may be sure that the male interest in such a seemingly innocent feature of a woman’s body originated because of the discreetly sensual qualities of a “small and dimpled” hand. However, kissing a hand “of bone and gristle” would be nothing more than a stiff formality, and for that reason, it is no wonder that the custom has died out in our time.

Indeed, the fact that today’s actresses and models feel the need to remove every shred of clothing in order to arouse male interest indicates just how feeble the charms of these modern “stick chicks” really are, and to what extremes they have to go in order to attract any interest whatsoever. In other centuries, when the full-figured ideal was in place, women could fan the flames of desire in their admirers merely with dimpled hands, or soft shoulders, or rounded arms…

The modern aesthetic must scream in order to attract attention, but the timeless aesthetic barely even needed to whisper.

January 31, 2003


Full is feminine, says U.S. Weekly

If anyone doubts that our aesthetic restoration is influencing the discourse of the mainstream media, here is evidence to prove that it is.

In the current issue of Us Weekly magazine, you will find an article that at first glance appears to be nothing more than a typical bit of fluff about what readers can learn from celebrities and their “beauty” regimens, but on closer inspection turns out to be quite a subversive piece. In fact, it appears to have been written with precisely the kind of revaluation of modern aesthetic values in mind that we constantly promote at this Web site.

The article singles out several supposed icons of modern female comeliness such as Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Calista Flockhart, and Courtney Cox, but instead of saying what you would expect a magazine of this type to say about their appearance (i.e., that diet and exercise keep these stars looking young—and here is how you, the reader, can mimic their routines), the article declares precisely the opposite—that weight loss is making their faces look old.

Offering testimony from several dermatologists, the article affirms that these shriveled stars are “discovering that securing a svelte shape may give way to drawn, beyond-their-years complexions.” And it gets even better from there. Here are some excerpts:

CAN ULTRA-EXERCISE AGE YOUR FACE?

Stars spend hours—and thousands of dollars—getting super-sleek physiques, but their faces may be paying the price.

WORKOUT WOES: Vigorous daily sweat sessions melt body fat from thighs, but they can also suck that softness from your face. Losing too much fat around the eyes, mouth and cheeks makes your features look more angular and masculine, says New York City dermatologist Bruce Katz. Plus, after age 30, “skin loses elasticity, making it harder to adapt to fat loss and more likely to sag,” says New York City dermatologist Howard Sobel. Dr. Dennis Gross, another NYC dermatologist, thinks regularly running more than 15 miles a week may cause wrinkles from constant impact.

DIET DILEMMAS: “If you don’t eat a balanced diet, it shows. Your skin starts to look ashy and pale,” says Katz, who calls a macrobiotic plan, Paltrow’s and Madonna’s diet du jour, “an extreme diet.” Why? “It’s low-fat and probably lacks vitamins like B12 that keep skin healthy,” says Katz. Bottom line—fat is skin’s friend—it fights dryness, so wrinkles are less pronounced, says Miami dermatologist Leslie Baumann.

WEIGHT-LOSS LIABILITIES: “If you accelerate weight loss, you accelerate skin aging,” says Sobel. “When you shed pounds too fast, skin doesn’t recoil, so you wrinkle and sag. Yo-you dieting ages skin the worst.” (Watch out, Renée!)

And note the astonishing captions which accompany the article’s images:

“When pregnant in 2000, Madonna’s face looked more full and feminine.”

“Fuller and fabulous: Softness in the face makes these stars glow” (placed above images of Jennifer Lopez, Drew Barrymore, Beyonce Knowles, and Kate Winslet).

Did you ever expect to read a statement like “fat is skin’s friend” in the mainstream media? Did you ever hope to see the words “full” and “feminine,” or “softness” and “glow,” linked together in this manner—explicitly indicating that femininity and beauty are contingent on fullness and softness? Did you ever dream that you would find the phrase “angular and masculine” used in a negative way, as traits to be avoided at all costs?

Is the media finally wising up?

The article is not perfect by any means, and it pretends that the same weight-loss campaigns which ravage these stars’ faces give them youthful physiques (although the article’s image of Madonna’s body makes her look well into her 60s), and the celebrity examples are still only barely “soft,” let alone full-figured or plus-sized. However, this is still light-years ahead of typical periodical fare, and a step towards a greater realization of the truth about size and appearance—that weight loss can diminish feminine beauty, just as weight gain can enhance it, despite all modern propaganda to the contrary.

February 6, 2003


A tale of two spokesmodels

The April 2003 issue of Marie Claire magazine features a section called, “Make the Most of Your Shape.” Now, we all know what articles like this are usually like. You get to see several supposedly “curvy” celebrities who have the unmitigated gall to be a size six, or maybe even an eight (*gasp*), and yet somehow allow themselves to be photographed, despite this obvious indignity to themselves and to Hollywood.

For the most part, Marie Claire’s latest offering is no different. The magazine shows Sara Rue (who has either lost considerable weight since her sitcom began, or was photographed in a “slenderizing” way), along with several other actresses who are unfamiliar to the present author. Ho hum.

However, what distinguishes this article is that, for once, two plus-size models are included in the feature—two models who have been enjoying a great deal of publicity of late: Mia Tyler, and Carré Otis.

The Mia Tyler image is quite exciting, actually. It is shot in black and white, and includes a dab of red text, rather like Barbara Brickner’s immortal MODE swimwear photo. It emphasizes all of Mia’s strengths—the wild hair, the cooler-than-thou attitude, and most importantly, her voluptuous figure. She is wearing a stretch-knit dress that clings to her body and lingers over every curve. Even Mia’s text is celebratory, stating in a very direct way that both she, and her boyfriend, love every inch of her full figure.

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We see here the power of using a true plus-size model. This image is a more profound statement about body image than any speech or sermon ever could be.

Ah, but Marie Claire has included another plus-size model in this feature as well, and her image vividly demonstrates the drawbacks of using a faux-plus model to represent size acceptance:

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No doubt, Carré Otis’s life story is a sad tale of self-abuse. No doubt, it is commendable that she is no longer spending her wealth on harmful substances. No doubt, it is laudable that she has freed herself from the symptoms of eating disorders. But doesn’t this image suggest that her appearance completely undermines her effectiveness as a spokesperson for size celebration?

The young girl who looks at this image will not hear Carré Otis’s admonitions not to starve herself. What will impress itself on her mind is Ms. Otis’s small bust, waspish waist, and thin legs. The message that this image will communicate to her is simply, “That’s what I’m supposed to look like.”

After all, Carré Otis is not represented in the Marie Claire feature by the printed text of one of her speeches, nor by an excerpt from her forthcoming book. Rather, she is represented by an image. And it is the power of that image that we must consider.

And what if the person who views that image does know of Carré Otis’s newly-minted identity as a plus-size model? The effect might be even worse on her. “My God,” she may think, “Carré looks like that, and this is after she accepted herself as being plus sized? This is her new, ‘healthy’ size—the size that she has learned to grudgingly accept?”

In the end, the girl arrives at the same conclusion that she would have reached if the model in question were straight sized. She still ends up thinking, “How much do I need to starve to look like Carré Otis?”

When Kate Dillon re-emerged as a plus-size model after overcoming her eating disorder, she did so as a gorgeous size 16. Her message was in harmony with her appearance, and as a result, she did incalculable good for size celebration.

Let us embrace our spokespersons with an eye towards their actual effect on the society that we are attempting to reform.

March 1, 2003


A few words with Catherine Lippincott

Remember—we said a few words.

Catherine Lippincott is surely one of the busiest women in plus-size fashion. As company spokeswoman and director of public relations and special events for Lane Bryant, she has one of the most interesting—but also most demanding—positions in the industry.

Ms. Lippincott graciously took some time out of her schedule to offer us a few statements about the Lane Bryant fashion shows, and it is worth keeping in mind that these shows really are Ms. Lippincott’s brainchild. She recalls the genesis of this year’s “cabaret” theme thus:

In October, I saw a performance downtown called “Rouge,” and knew that if we mixed the talent from this eclectic cabaret review with a runway fashion show element that it would be great.

With regards to the vast difference between LB’s shows and the usual runway fare that is broadcast weekly on fashion television programs, Ms. Lippincott points out that

Lane Bryant’s shows are for consumer awareness only. We don’t sell to buyers at our show. These are press events (stunts, really) so we can break all the traditional runway rules if we wish. We think of it as more of an “event” not a runway show, although the clothes are always a big part of it.

So who knew that runway shows had traditional rules? Whatever those rules are, the fact that Lane Bryant breaks them is undoubtedly a great credit to the company. In typical high-fashion runway shows, you see painfully underweight models grimacing at the spectators while wearing very bizarre clothing (“modern art” in fabric). And despite their freakishness, these shows all end up having a certain monotonous sameness about them. They mimic the effect of modern art itself. One can only “shock” viewers so many times before they become quite bored.

The Lane Bryant event is the only fashion show in existence that really is different, that actually does show the viewers something unique and original. And the less modern these shows are, the more of a subversive effect they have.

Speaking about the inspiration for everyone’s favourite segment of the 2003 show, the “Romanesque” portion, Ms. Lippincott affirms that

The styles of our intimate apparel collection each year are what drive the themes of the shows. We were doing flowy, grecian-esque styles this season, so that led to that segment.

And this, it seems, is key to why this year’s show worked so well. Both the timeless beauty of the models and the “classical” trappings harmonized with the fashions on display. If any element were changed—if the models had been straight-sized, or if the theme had been modern—the incongruity of the elements would have weakened the effect.

Oh, and in response to two other questions that have been uppermost on everyone’s mind, Ms. Lippincott states that Lane Bryant has no plans at present to sell video copies of its shows to its customers. (Drat!) And as for the rumours about Lane magazine, she says:

Lane is still in discussion at this point. [I] don’t know when it will be out.

Which is rather a pity, because another publication featuring plus-size models would be very good to see, and, as an in-house magazine viewable in every Lane Bryant store across the country, it would reach a considerable audience. And no matter how much ink is spilled about these topics, it is images—and images alone—that will transform the public mindset about size and beauty.

March 18, 2003


The latest Vogue ploy—“Shape Shifting”

There’s nothing like picking up an issue of Vogue to make you thank the fates that a magazine like Grace (flawed as it is) does exist. Compared to MODE, Grace is found wanting, but compared to Vogue, it is a godsend.

Beyond all of its weaknesses, the message of Grace is still, “Love your body.” The message of Vogue—and of this year’s “Shape Issue” in particular—is, “Change your body.“

The most telling (and insultingly hypocritical) feature of these issues is always the editor’s preface. This year, Anna Wintour asks, “Why can’t we just accept that people come in different sizes?”—right after making the claim that one in three people is “obese,” and proceeding to say, a paragraph later, that “In my world, everybody seems to be assuming a smaller, more perfect form.

So, the mindset that we are dealing with is that of someone who sees smaller as “more perfect,” and larger as “obese.” That’s a pretty grudging kind of “acceptance,” and this attitude is reflected throughout the magazine.

It comes as no surprise, then, that for the purposes of this issue (the shape issue, mind you—which is purportedly about “accepting” different sizes), Vogue encouraged three individuals “to experiment with the three most popular diets in America.” The result? “Pounds were lost, inhibitions were shed, and stories were born.”

This issue does not encourage the acceptance of different shapes at all. What it does encourage is “shape-shifting.” And guess what manner of shifting Vogue has in mind?

Not only does the issue include diet ads. Its articles are diet ads as well. In fact, the entire issue is designed to prompt its readers to lose weight.

This—the true Vogue message—is explicitly stated in a profoundly insulting piece called “The Body Electric,” the purpose of which is to demonstrate that losing weight is roughly on par with a visitation from god in terms of its cosmic importance. This is size-bashing and thin-supremacist thinking in an undiluted forum.

The grand total of “curvy” pages in this supposedly “accepting” magazine comprise Mia Tyler’s spread, the Emme ad, the Saks ad, and the curvy celebrity page. Seven pages. (The Marina Rinaldi ad cannot count.) Cover to cover, the magazine is 408 pages long, so “curvy” women are represented in less than 2% of this issue.

But wait a minute. Roughly 60% of American women wear a size 12/14 and up. And according to Ms. Wintour herself, 33% are “obese.” So what happened to the other 58% of women who fall into the first category (let alone the other 31% of the second)? Did their shapes suddenly become “unacceptable”?

And remember, this is still only a percentage of one, single issue from Vogue’s annual run of twelve. Perhaps “acceptance” is something that Ms. Wintour considers a good idea for other publications, but not for her own.

You know that you’re dealing with Vogue when it comes as a relief simply to find that the “curvy” editorial is not a parody. Beyond that, readers can decide from themselves what they think of the Mia Tyler spread. The photographer is Steven Meisel, who got into hot water a few years ago for digitally undressing Sophie Dahl for the cover of British Marie Claire when she refused to pose nude for him, so his penchant for digital manipulation is well known. Was it used here? You be the judge:

Speaking of shapes, on the cover of the magazine, Vogue announces that this issue exhibits six body shapes: tall, short, thin, curvy, athletic, pregnant. And, as was the case last year, apart from “curvy,” all of the other shapes are represented by models or celebrities who have one thing in common—their body shapes are simply different variations on thin. Vogue’s editor may not appreciate the fact that people refer to her models this way, but many of them are skeletal. Many of them are anorexic-looking. If “acceptance” was the actual goal of this magazine, then why is “thin” still the common denominator?

Why indeed.

But beyond that predictable practice, Vogue has pulled another rather appalling stunt this year, one which gives a further indication of the magazine’s true agenda.

As stated earlier, the magazine’s cover announces that the issue spotlights six different body shapes. But when you look at the “features” section in the table of contents, you only see five articles about prominent individuals who embody these shapes.

Five? So which one is missing? You have Brooke Shields—pregnant; a ballerina—thin; an ambassador—tall; an actress—short; and Serena Williams—curvy. “Athletic” appears to be missing.

Or rather, it is not. “Serena Williams—curvy”? Let’s leave aside for the moment the fact that Ms. Williams has a rock-hard physique which can only be called “curvy” if you were to use the same adjective to describe the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger. In Anna Wintour’s own preface to the issue, the editor states, point blank, that Serena Williams is “in possession of one of the most athletic physiques in the world.” Those are her own words. And for heaven’s sake, not only does Ms. Williams have an athletic physique, she is an athlete. Obviously, whatever label she is given, Ms. Williams is the de facto representative of the “athletic” shape.

Therefore, since Serena is obviously and explicitly the embodiment of “athletic,” the only shape that actually lacks an article with a prominent representative is…(you guessed it)…curvy.

Are we to believe that there is not a single woman in the public eye who possesses a soft physique (as opposed to thin, athletic, etc. etc.), and is “worthy” of an article in Vogue? Apparently, the magazine doesn’t think so.

Therefore, far from the original prattle about “acceptance,” we now understand the real Vogue approach to shape, which is the complete obliteration of the kind of shape that it deems unacceptable.

March 20, 2003


Vogue: The “Diet Issue”

In a way, this issue is actually worse than a standard edition of Vogue. Usually, Vogue doesn’t pretend to be anything that what it is—as Adam called it, “a $7 book of ads to make beautiful women think there is something wrong with their bodies.” There is a twisted kind of honesty about that.

But it is the shameless, unmitigated hypocrisy of this issue that is most galling. And you don’t have to go far to find it. Anna Wintour cynically announces that “This issue celebrates our physical diversity,” but here are three blurbs that appear on the cover of the magazine, printed in big, bold type:

LOSING IT: TRUE TALES OF ATKINS, ORNISH & WEIGHT WATCHERS

WONDER WORKOUTS: GETTING A LEG UP ON SPRING’S SHORT SKIRTS

and our favourite:

CHANGE YOUR BODY, CHANGE YOUR LIFE

That’s the real message of Vogue’s “Shape Issue”:

Lose. Work out. Change.

This issue is not about “accepting” different sizes, but a blatant attempt by the magazine to reshape the women of the world into the size that is most acceptable to Vogue’s editors and advertisers.

The last cover blurb is the most pernicious of all, because according to many anorexia survivors, it is precisely that kind of thinking (wanting to change one’s life by changing one’s body) which made them develop an eating disorder in the first place. And that is what Vogue is encouraging.

This issue also serves as a cautionary note to anyone in the size-acceptance community who wants to adopt politically-correct phrases like “Why can’t we just accept that people come in different sizes?” and “Celebrating physical diversity” as rallying cries for the movement. They would do well to observe how such notions can be perverted by someone of Ms. Wintour’s mindset. She mouths these phrases in order to forestall criticism of the Vogue aesthetic, even as she marginalizes and suppresses any other.

March 21, 2003


The dangers of selling out

[In response to a post by Julie, who described how she was first encouraged by the Mia Tyler layout, until she realized how pernicious the magazine actually was, and related how much suffering she has endured because of Vogue brainwashing.]

Thank you for sharing the account of your personal struggle, and of the detrimental effects that Vogue had on your psyche. It should help everyone remember that this branch of the aesthetic restoration is not just about abstractions. This is about real life.

The difference between your initial and later reactions to Vogue’s “Diet Issue” underscores a fact that we must always keep in mind—i.e., that beauty is a tremendous power, and, like any great power, it can be wielded for good or ill.

The straight-size fashion industry has long used the power of beautiful images to promote a socially harmful aesthetic. By contrast, what makes plus-size modelling such a cultural boon is that it takes the elements which contribute to the appeal of mainstream fashion imagery (great photography, hair, makeup, etc.) to celebrate a timeless aesthetic that is socially beneficial.

With that in mind, we should be aware that it is not always a victory to give plus-size models greater visibility. One must also consider the context in which those images will be used, and the effect that those images will have, within that context.

The “bottom line” must not be the sole consideration, or the whole plus movement is for naught. The present author was told of a worst-case scenario (one that actually transpired) in which a well-known New York booker had to rebuke a client for offering to hire one of his plus-size girls to be featured in the “before” image of a before-and-after weight-loss diet ad. Fate be praised, the booking never happened.

The case of Vogue’s “Diet Issue” is equally troubling, inasmuch as the fact that there is a plus-size editorial within its pages may encourage many individuals to buy this issue who would not otherwise do so, only to be bombarded by weight-control indoctrination. The images hit the eye first, but the text seeps in later. Media-savvy readers may reject it, but more impressionable readers will absorb it, and the damage will be done.

But if images of plus-size models appear in magazines like MODE or Grace instead, or in plus-size fashion advertising, all of which (ideally) operate according to size-positive precepts, and are free of mixed messages (let alone openly hateful ones), then those images have an effect that is entirely beneficial. That is an example of the power of beauty being used both for social and for cultural good.

March 25, 2003


The Grace “Shape Issue”—a proposal

The hypocritical position of Anna Wintour in the latest issue of Vogue was amazingly well anticipated (and lampooned) in a Saturday Night Live sketch a few years ago, in which a plus-size model squared off in a television debate with an actress playing Cosmopolitan editor Heley Gurley-Brown. In words amazingly similar to Ms. Wintour’s, the sketch showed the Cosmo editor defending her exclusion of full-figured femininity thus:

Helen Gurley-Brown: I just want to say that I don’t know what all the hubbub is. These girls look beautiful. I think we should embrace women of all types—thin women, slender women, tiny women, narrow women, svelte women. There’s room for all of us on God’s green earth.

And that is precisely the kind of “acceptance” that the latest Vogue “Shape Issue” proposes, which accepts every kind of figure except…a shapely figure, and in which the one, single “curvy” representative is subjected to digital distortion.

Therefore, we have a proposal for Grace magazine—although it could also be directed toward Elena Mirò, for its exemplary in-house magazine, Ciao, Magre, or toward Addition-Elle, or Torrid, or Charming Shoppes, or any other entity that has the resolve (and the resources) to match Vogue on its own terms.

The proposal is to create a “Shape Issue” for women with a “soft physique”—i.e., for the 60% of women whose body type Vogue refuses to accept, let alone celebrate. The shapes could follow the Vogue classifications, except that fullness instead of thinness would become the new common denominator. Ergo,

-Tall…and full figured.
-Short…and full figured. (That’s right—”petite plus.”)
-Athletic…and full figured. (Emme often speaks of her proficiency in swimming.)
-Pregnant…and full figured.
-Curvy…and full figured (which is no more redundant than Vogue calling one of its categories “thin”).

And what about, “Thin…and full figured”? The logical approach would be to turn the Vogue practice of computer-controlled weight reduction on its head by taking a celebrity with “such a pretty face,” but with a malnourished figure, and digitally adding weight to her frame to show how much better she would look at a natural size. In fact, that is precisely what maverick British photographer Nick Knight did with Sophie Dahl when he first photographed her in 1997, very much with the intent of using the images to “fire a shot across the bow” of the thin-centric fashion establishment. Disappointed to find that Miss Dahl was only a size 12, he digitally enlarged her figure to make her more visibly plus.

In a way, this notion of a curvy “shape issue” is not without precedent. MODE had a wonderful recurring feature in which appropriate models representing three different body types (descriptively titled “hourglass,” “full waist,” and “petite and full hips”) were shown wearing different fashions that were most becoming for each shape. Our proposal for a “shape issue” for fuller-figured women is merely an expansion of that MODE idea.

It probably won’t happen. But it should. By now, it should be quite clear to everyone that Vogue is not about to begin including plus-size models in its pages, except as tokens in a single annual issue, in which those images are surrounded by destructive messages advocating women to change their bodies. And it will only happen in a magazine whose editor does not equate (and openly declare) that a “smaller“ form is also a “more perfect” form.

March 22, 2003


“The beauty of yesterday, today, and tomorrow”

It really is quite astonishing how plus-size fashion has changed over the past several seasons. Far from being a mere “trend,” the introduction of the peasant blouse was simply the beginning of an industry-wide movement towards adapting timeless feminine styles for the contemporary world.

This link may be of some interest, inasmuch as it describes the direction that the fashion industry will be taking in the immediate future. Observe how often the word “feminine” is used to describe the fashions that the public is welcoming with open arms. Note the enthusiastic use of the words “fluttered,” “ruffled,” “flirty,” “fitted,” “Victorian,” “frilly,” “lace,” “floral,” “flouncy,” and “sexy.” And note the following insight into this development:

After everything we’ve been through in the last year, there is a desire for that which will endure. Call it premature nostalgia, it is belief in the magic we have lived through and we hold dear in our emotional memory.

That which will endure. Something that is not merely a “trend,” but something lasting. Something…timeless.

Amazing as it may seem, the “applied art” of fashion has become one of the best examples of the aesthetic restoration that is taking place all around us. Our culture is finally realizing that it has had enough of the 20th century, enough of its hostility towards the essential nature of humanity, enough of its efforts to reshape women’s bodies and psyches into an androgynous form. Rather, women are discovering what an exciting thing it is to celebrate their essential femininity; indeed, to revel in it. And where better to turn for inspiration that to the past, to the “forever beautiful” styles that were created in the days when women were revered for their figures, and when fashions were designed to accentuate those natural shapes and bountiful curves.

March 25, 2002


A modelling vignette

The last thing that you can expect to find at this Web site is professional modelling advice. However, we have now heard several examples of a particular scenario that might be worth sharing for the benefit of any aspiring models who read this forum. Who knows—you may someday find yourselves in a similar circumstance.

In our scenario, a model arrives for a scheduled interview with a big-time modelling agency. She hopes to be signed by this agency, so naturally, she shows up precisely on time, in an effort to make a good impression. (The very fact that she has an interview, and can therefore bypass the dreaded “open call,” suggests that she has some representation already—perhaps in her local market, or perhaps with a rival agency.) She announces her arrival to the receptionist, and then waits, and waits, and waits…growing increasingly annoyed as time passes. A half-hour goes by. Then an hour. Our model becomes quite frustrated. Her schedule is tight. She may have another important interview lined up, or perhaps a photo shoot. She asks the receptionist what the problem might be, and the receptionist informs her that the booker is swamped, and nothing can be done. The model continues waiting, growing more and more agitated. She has heard of these big-city agencies, and how discourteous they can be, especially to girls who have not yet made a name for themselves. She shares her frustration with another person who enters the reception area, saying, “I bet they wouldn’t treat Kate Dillon this way!” Finally, she gets called in. Sorry (she is told), she just doesn’t have the look that the agency needs at the moment.

Now, here is another variation on the same scenario. A model arrives for a similar interview. She announces her arrival to the receptionist, and waits—and waits—and waits. She maintains a sunny disposition and an air of good humour. She tries to stay relaxed (although it is difficult). She studies the magazine covers on the walls of the reception area. Time passes, and she realizes that she might miss a lunch date with a dear friend. But this is such an opportunity, she reminds herself—a singular chance for her career to flourish (and she believes in what she does, and in the message that she is helping to spread). More than an hour goes by. She makes a mental note to bring her copy of Great Expectations to her next interview. At one point, a dapper-looking gentleman notices her. He makes some conversation, and she responds in kind. He asks her how long she has been waiting, and she tells him—without exasperation or bitterness. He seems impressed by her equanimity. He leaves, and a short time later, she gets called in for her interview. She leaves with a contract…

Any working model will tell you that there are many times when the job becomes decidedly unglamorous. The circumstances of a shoot can be far from enjoyable, personality conflicts can flare up over the most trivial incidents, and there is waiting, waiting, and still more waiting. And although there are many valid reasons why looks should be the determining factor in a model’s success, agents will obviously prefer to represent girls who can put up with any situation, no matter how disconcerting, and keep their composure—no, more than that, their good spirits, and their positive attitude—because that will impress the clients, and reflect well on the agency as a whole.

So, if you are a pretty plus-size model and believe that you can benefit the cause of size celebration, don’t let yourself miss an opportunity to do so because of a display of ill-temper in a frustrating circumstance. You never know when you are being tested, and by whom your actions are being scrutinized.

March 27, 2003



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