Vol. IX: October–December, 2003.
La dolce vita
[In response to a post about a newly-published satirical book titled, The Big Girl’s Guide to Life, by B. Lynn]
Ms. Lynn’s humour does sound a trifle forced. Nevertheless, laughter and ridicule might help more women realize the absurdity of the norms that society attempts to impose upon them.
There is, after all, something inherently ludicrous about the idea that women should be expected to willingly starve and torture themselves, for no other reason than to conform to a peculiar modern vogue for looking like a walking skeleton.
But on a more serious note, the use of the term “bullies” as applied to “diet gurus and couture designers to well-meaning friends” is extremely apt and insightful. It suggests how such individuals use skewed body-image standards to assert an imaginary superiority over others. We have all seen instances in which supposedly “loving” friends or family members badger perfectly normal young girls about their supposed “weight problems.” This bullying (and it is nothing less) can rise to levels of astonishing cruelty, and we may well ask ourselves, “How can any person justify behaving in such a way?”
The answer is in to be found in that pregnant phrase, “well-meaning friends.” Such individuals are not well-meaning at all—but they think they are, and that enables them to behave in a truly abominable fashion.
This is one of the more sinister aspects of “weight control,” an aspect which Real Woman Have Curves touches on, but does not explore in detail. One of the prime motivations behind weight-related bullying is the “will to power,” that dark human desire to assert one’s superiority over another. We recognize this quite well when we see schoolyard children—traditional “bullies”—verbally abusing fuller-figured young girls. But the same impulse which fuels that kind of schoolyard oppression also motivates the weight-control badgering that happens later in life. The only difference is that, as people grow older, they seldom act on this bullying impulse for its own sake. By that time, most sane individuals have developed some kind of conscience, which inhibits them from behaving in such an openly belligerent way.
But such conscience-based inhibitions can be negated by the introduction of a seemingly righteous motive. This cloaks the unacceptable bullying impulse in the mantle of “good intentions”—particularly to the bully herself. The bully (be she a mother, a sister, a friend, a journalist, or anyone else) convinces herself that she “means well,” and now feels free to harass at will, because she thinks that what she is doing is not bullying, but “helping.” “This is for your own good,” she thinks—when the truth is that it is simply for the bully’s own good—to gratify her own ego, and to make her feel superior. And the media (and society in general) provides the bully with all the justification she needs for behaving this way, by casting any failure to adhere to the Hollywood standard as a social transgression.
Consider this analogy. To us, the “witch hysteria” of the Middle Ages appears to be an incomprehensible episode in history. We wonder how human beings could ever have been so cruel to their neighbours and friends. But we forget that from the perspective of someone living at that time, the actions of the witch persecutors did not appear to be cruel, but reasonable and righteous. The communities that persecuted witches were no more or less sadistic than we are today. They thought that what they were doing was for the good of society. They believed that persecution was just and necessary in order to stem the “witch epidemic.”
Hmmm. “Epidemic.” Does that word sound familiar? Are we not seeing a hallucinated “epidemic” in our own time? Do we not see “experts” today who consider it “self evident” that to be underweight is a desirable norm, and any deviation from that norm must be “corrected” by any means necessary, just as the “experts” of the Middle Ages considered their own strictures to be based on “self evident” principles?
Ms. Lynn’s basic formulation—“I need to start enjoying life”—sounds simple, but it may indeed be a full-figured woman’s best defense against the power that others wish to assert over her. It signifies that she is secure enough to live her life as she wishes—free from the oppression of society, free of “peer pressure,” free to determine her own destiny.
Particularly in its early years, MODE emphasized “pleasure” (“The Pleasure Zone”), and cultivated a feeling of la dolce vita, which it encouraged its readers to incorporate into their own lives. This was more than an epicurean impulse. It was the most radical and subversive message the magazine could possibly deliver, because it negated the myth that weight-control zealots attempt to propagate; i.e., that life is a “burden” for anyone who wears a double-digit dress size. Rather, the magazine showed that life could be better as a “MODE girl”—happier and more enjoyable—and it said to the thin-supremacist media, and to society in general, “Keep your brainwashing to yourself.”
October 12, 2003
Body love in the mainstream press
“Go to the newsstand and pick up a copy of the November issue of Jane magazine. Trust me—you’ll know why as soon as you see it.”
That was the rather cryptic message that we received just the other day from a regular contributor to this forum. It was mysterious enough to send us to the newsstand posthaste, in order to see what she meant.
The significant element in the issue was immediately visible in the form of a blazing red caption that ran across the top of the magazine’s cover:
THE SMOKIN’ “BODY FLAW” THAT WILL GET YOU GREAT SEX, p.64
“What was this?” we wondered. Could we really be seeing the phrase “body flaw” enclosed in qualifying quotation marks? Magazines like Jane usually invoke such phrases without any qualification, and apply them to any one of a hundred physical “problems” that supposedly “flawed” readers need to “correct,” in order to conform to the androgynous standard. And ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the solution to these problems involves (what else?) weight loss.
Therefore, for Jane to signal a rejection of the notion of “flawed” figures by way of those quotation marks, and to couple the approbative word “smokin’” with the phrase “body flaw,” and to indicate that such a “flaw” could actually kindle an admirer’s desire…it all hinted at a radical turn in mainstream thought.
Intrigued, we quickly turned to page 64, where we found the following blurb:
I love my spare tire.
No, that is not a Judgment of Paris “rewrite” or “revision” of a half-hearted attempt at body love. That is exactly what the piece says. For once, we did not need to indicate how the piece would have sounded if it had been subjected to a revaluation of aesthetic values. Jane magazine performed this turn in thinking all on its own.
Mind you, the girl in the image which accompanies this piece is not especially plus-sized, and the terminology lacks polish. But Jane knows its readers’ sensibilities better than we do, so why nitpick?
The point is that this is that rarest of phenomena—a full-fledged, bona fide example of size celebration appearing in a mainstream media source. To refer to a full waist as a “supposed body flaw” is extremely significant, because it demonstrates how the whole notion of a body “flaw” can be called into question. And not only that, to say that this “flaw” can be “precisely what makes a chick so damn sexy” is 100% size positive. It is in accord with our most cherished mantra—that plus-size models are not beautiful despite being full-figured, nor are they beautiful and just happen to be full-figured. They are beautiful because they are full figured. For Jane to advocate “really showing off” this flaw-that-is-no-flaw-but-an-asset puts the magazine right at the leading edge of the movement.
To keep things in perspective, we should point out that it is just one piece in an otherwise typical fashion/lifestyle periodical filled with wall-to-wall waifs. But the fact that it appeared in the magazine at all—and the fact that it was plugged via the top cut-line in the magazine—and the fact that the writer (Stephanie Trong, the magazine’s deputy editor) was able to conceive of the idea at all—indicates that step by step, inch by inch, size celebration is penetrating the mass consciousness.
Now, just imagine how glorious it will be when we see a magazine in which every article exemplifies size celebration in a sure-footed, affirmative way, and backs it up with images that exhibit body love in living colour.
October 12, 2003
Study finds: Plus-size models improve body image
It remains a puzzle as to why any full-figured models would wish to renounce their plus-size identity, since it is precisely that designation which differentiates the socially beneficial effects of their work form the socially harmful effects of the work of their straight-size rivals. And if there was ever any doubt, the following news item should settle the matter once and for all, and silence defeatists and skeptics alike.
As reported by the Washington Post, a new study provides empirical evidence that images of androgynous “high fashion” models do, in fact, damage women's self-esteem, while images of plus-size models improve it:
THAT’S A PLUS It’s widely accepted that media images of super-thin models can hurt some women’s self-images, perhaps triggering eating disorders. But a recent study reported at a meeting of the Eating Disorder Research Society shows that a corollary may also be true.
October 14, 2003
Megan Garcia—Living Goddess
With one, unforgettable image in its November issue, Glamour magazine has made a spectacular contribution to size celebration. And Megan Garcia has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt (if there was any remaining question about this matter at all) that true plus-size models are more beautiful—far, far more beautiful—than any androgynous waifs.
The real wonder of Ms. Garcia’s editorial image in the November Glamour is not just that the magazine finally used a size-18 model. (Mark that, by the way—a model, not merely a reader picked at random who would be at an aesthetic disadvantage with the professional straight-size models in the rest of the magazine.) That in itself would have been a bold step. No, the real wonder is that the image itself is so utterly, unforgettably gorgeous, and is in every sense a powerful expression of true size celebration.
Just look at this extraordinary photo, and consider the many excellent and revolutionary choices that Glamour made in creating it. Instead of turning the model three-quarters sideways in a misguided attempt to minimize her curves, the magazine shot her straight-on, and allowed her to show off the sinuous, sensational s-curve that her figure naturally exhibits. Instead of cloaking her in a “slenderizing” shade, Glamour dressed Ms. Garcia in a bold, attention-getting colour. Instead of drowning her voluptuous figure in yards of fabric, the magazine followed its own excellent advice and tailored the dress to her wondrous curves.
And as for the dress itself—oh, how it lets Megan outshine all of the models whom Glamour shows wearing variations of the same style, but in single-digit sizes. Besides flattering her shape (and by “flatter” we mean “flaunt”—for the two terms are synonymous in plus-size fashion), this slinky dress shows both off her curvaceous arms (the beauty of which always elevates the true full-figured model above any underweight stick modelf), and her oh-so-sexy legs.
And with all of this splendour staring readers right in the face, we love the fact—love it, absolutely and without reservation—that Glamour printed Ms. Garcia’s dress size—size 18—right there beside the image. The number stands there, proudly, like a mark of distinction—which it assuredly is. It reminds us of MODE in its very best, most progressive days, when the magazine unapologetically showcased its 12, 14, 16… size classification right there on its cover, in big, bold type, for everyone to see.
Indeed, keeping that number sequence in mind, one might even conclude that with this terrific image, Glamour has taken the original MODE method one step further, using a model who is every bit as beautiful as MODE’s very best, shooting her in the most attractive manner possible, and showing off the results to Glamour’s two-million-plus readers. Who knows how many of those readers will have their waif-worshipping aesthetic sensibilities converted when they view such irrefutable evidence to the contrary?
We have long cherished a fond hope at this Web site to include a size-18 model on our survey page, and from the moment that we first saw Megan’s Fashion Bug campaign last fall, we hoped that it would be her. But our concern at the time was that certain backwards-looking forces in the industry would prevent her from achieving further success (a fate which befell more than one fuller-figured model in the past).
But the industry has changed much over the past few years, and it continues to change—for the better. With editorial layouts in Figure and Glamour, Megan deserves limitless praise for her work, and we are honoured to include her on the survey. We wish her further success in reforming the world, one image at a time.
October 16, 2003
Why diet ads are bad for business
Before we give the topic of diet ads a rest, we should make an effort to examine this issue in another way—a way that is markedly different from our previous approach.
By merely denouncing the use of diet promotions and weight-control stories in a magazine for full-figured women on ethical grounds, we leave ourselves vulnerable to the criticism that our approach is too idealistic, and insufficiently practical, since business interests (i.e., the “bottom line”) must always rule the day.
Even if we believe that profit and principle can go hand in hand, we must acknowledge that others may operate according to different motives.
Nevertheless, when we do check our consciences at the proverbial door, and view this matter from a strictly commercial standpoint, we soon realize that diet ads are not just immoral. They are also very bad for business.
How so? Consider this: statistics show that although roughly 60% of North American women are full-figured, their fashion expenditures make up a disproportionately small percentage of apparel sales. Quite simply, plus-size women spend less on clothing than do thin women.
Why is there such a sharp imbalance in fashion expenditures? Many possibilities come to mind, such as the nature of mainstream fashion itself, which favours the “line” over the “curve,” as well as the dearth of stylish and exciting apparel choices in larger sizes. However, the most significant reason for the unwillingness of many full-figured women to invest in their wardrobe is, and always has been, negative body image.
The sad reality is that all too often, when a woman reaches a double-digit dress size, she views this as a “temporary” situation, and fully expects that once her latest fad diet or torture regimen kicks in, she will whittle herself back down into the unnaturally small silhouette that she has been taught to prefer.
Whether she actually does end up slenderizing herself or not is beside the point. It is this body-loathing outlook itself which cripples plus-size fashion revenue. Because of the negative attitudes that many women have internalized towards the fuller female figure, they still look upon plus-size apparel as “disposable fashion,” and spend as little money on it as possible—sometimes even going so far as to use this denial as an “extra incentive” to keep starving. It is a sad state of affairs, and it keeps plus-size retail profits much lower than they could be—or should be.
Thus, the best thing that a plus-size clothing merchant can possibly do to increase sales is to revalue these aesthetic values, to make its customers feel wonderful about themselves just the way they are.
As long as customers (potential or actual) are driven by the desire to change their bodies, they will never be willing to make a significant investment in how they look right now. But if they have their thinking turned around, if they get to the point where they can say, “I don’t want to change. I’m fine the way I am. In fact, I look great—and I want to let everybody around me see that!”—if they acquire this kind of self-confidence, then they will commit themselves to making the most of their appearance.
To maximize profits, a plus-size fashion retailer should encourage its customers to realize that they are “worth it”—to borrow a line from a popular hair-colour advertisement. To pump up sales, that retailer should let its customers know that their size-18 curves are gorgeous, and worth decking out in fabulous fashions. To boost its revenues, that retailer should help its customers realize that they do not need to feel guilty about their voluptuous shapes, but accept them—no, more than that, fall in love with them. People are always willing to spend freely on something they love.
After all, this is why thin women splurge on the latest trends. “Stick chicks” have been taught to believe that their flimsy figures are “hot,” so they readily devote their paycheques to adorning themselves in the latest styles. And when the day comes that plus-size women develop a similar kind of body love, then they too will invest their disposable incomes into making themselves look as good as possible.
That’s the other side of the Marketing 101 coin: Size celebration is not just a social boon. It is also very good for business.
Thus, a magazine which exists primarily to promote the wares of a plus-size clothing retailer directly undermines that retailer’s profits if it runs diet ads, or publishes weight-shame articles. By doing so, the magazine reinforces the very same negative attitudes which keep plus-size fashion sales in the doldrums. Such attitudes keep full-figured women believing that they can and must reshape themselves into a socially-prescribed size, and, as a result, they purchase nothing more than a few cheap outfits in order to “get by,” while sinking the rest of their disposable incomes into torture sessions at the gym, or into their next diet fix from their latest weight-loss pusher.
Needless to say, a magazine can make a quick buck off of a diet ad—but the plus-size fashion merchant that enabled the periodical to exist in the first place will lose out, as a result.
Instead of shame and self-consciousness, a magazine for curvaceous women should endow its readers with satisfaction and delight. It should teach them to “wear their body [and their clothing] with pride.” It should help them realize that they are not inferior to their underweight rivals, but (secretly) superior, as goddesses inhabiting a prosaic world.
Diet ads and weight-control stories in a plus-size fashion magazine do nothing but reinforce negative body image, which leads to a “disposable fashion” attitude towards plus-size apparel, which in turn keeps retail revenues low.
By contrast, positive reinforcement in the form of “size celebration” leads to healthy body image on the part of customers, which raises revenues by increasing the willingness of those customers to invest in their wardrobe.
Before people rush to defend a decision on the basis of “business interests,” they would do well to remember what business they’re in.
November 4, 2003
The Joy of Styling
Ever since we posted an interview with freelance stylist Samantha Weston, several of this site’s readers have taken an interest in the art of styling, to the point of even considering pursuing it as a career choice. One of these ambitious young women recently sent us a link to an ExtraTV discussion of the style of Catherine Zeta-Jones.
We suspect that our contributor sent us this piece mostly because of its reference to the actress as a “timeless beauty,” and because of its favourable description of her curves. And although those curves may have diminished considerably since her pregnancy, Ms. Zeta-Jones still sets an example that plus-size women might consider following when choosing their own wardrobe, or that stylists might adhere to, when pulling clothes for models’ tests.
Here is the text of the ExtraTV write-up:
Obviously, many women will not be able to afford the designer duds that the Hollywood crowd enjoy. However, several elements in Rubenstein’s description are well worth noting.
First, the “sensual” quality of the actress’s wardrobe is undoubtedly well suited to the plus aesthetic. The reference to the star’s ”almost operetta” style reminds us that although fashion has become dreadfully basic in our time, it may be those opulent wardrobe elements that hearken back to another time which best suit fuller female figures. The peasant/gypsy/romantic styles that came into fashion a few season ago provide us with just one example of how “historic” design elements can be updated for the modern world.
Let’s examine a few images of Wilhelmina model Casey (a small size 14), who falls into the same general Catherine-Zeta-Jones category of dark-haired looks. When we were first introduced to this model in Grace, she sported a basic, boring white suit which hardly played to her strengths. But note how dressing her in more feminine styles increases her appeal considerably.
Although we do not favour the use of corsets (since we believe that curvaceous figures require no ”shapewear” to be shapely), contemporary corsets are much more yielding than the old Victorian whalebone cages. This is an example of how a historic style—indeed an “operetta” style—can be updated successfully for a modern audience:
Note Rubenstein’s observation that Ms. Zeta-Jones avoids basic t-shirt-and-jeans ensembles. Such outfits may be comfortable, but there are always other options. It is certainly possible to “dress down” while retaining a feminine touch. In this test, the model matches a peasant blouse with blue jeans, and right away, the effect is so much richer and more becoming (although no less simple and comfortable) than a tee/jeans pairing would have been:
Now, what about all of Rubenstein’s references to Ms. Zeta-Jones’s love of black? Isn't black the “safe” colour, the colour that is always used to disguise curves? Not necessarily—depending on the pieces. Consider the terrific outfit in this image, which is undoubtedly the work of D. Bizzaro, who often works with brilliant stylists:
The top is fitted to the body, the skirt (which really makes the ensemble) is delicate and feminine, and short enough to reveal a little leg. Black can definitely be curve-accentuating rather than curve-disguising.
Isn’t it amazing how the mere presence of a Catherine Zeta-Jones in the media world—someone who is not actually plus sized, but who at least possesses goddess-like qualities, and is more curvaceous and feminine than most Hollywood ingenues—can introduce new ideas, and a whole new vocabulary, into the discourse of style, and make it at least somewhat more favourable to the natural female figure? Celebrity fashion writers forever gush over “lines,” “thinness,” “simplicity,” and so forth, but in this case, the style of Catherine Zeta-Jones prompted at least one media critic to speak a very different language. Just imagine what would happen if we had more celebrities who exhibited the traits of timeless feminine beauty. The ripple effect could spread across the culture and help generate real change in society’s perceptions about full-figured women.
Let us hope to see such a change in the not-too-distant future.
November 10, 2003
The Rebirth of Venus
[In response to a post from Julie, in which she suggested that the revival of the Classical ideal of feminine beauty, as seen in the Elena Mirò art exhibit, could revitalize both the world of fashion, and of contemporary art.]
Your idea is breathtaking in its scope, Julie, and presents a vista that few of us have dared to imagine.
Today, two powerful, life-giving forces are at work in our culture. On the one hand, there is “size celebration”—the societal reawakening of the timeless preference for the natural female figure. On the other hand, there is “realism revisited”—the return to representational imagery in the visual arts.
Both forces have many elements in common, including a rejection of the alien ideology of modernism and postmodernism, and a rediscovery of the wonder of true beauty. So far, these two forces have been circling each other, never quite melding. But were they to meet, they would create a united cultural front that would be much greater than the sum of its parts.
Timeless femininity would bequeath to contemporary artists who are painting in the realist tradition their manifest source of inspiration—for it was the admiration of the female figure which set into motion the course of Western art. And an adherence to classical technique would give living artists the discipline and skill required to represent feminine beauty in all of its rightful splendour.
Three Graces, 2nd century B.C.
We will yet see these two great revitalizing powers come together, and the results will be glorious to behold. How exciting to think that the Elena Mirò “Morbidamente Donna” exhibit offers the perfect opportunity for this union to commence.
Barbara Brickner, the goddess as muse, modelling for Elena Miro's "Forever Beautiful" campaign, Fall 2003:
November 16, 2003
The End of GraceThe apparent demise of Grace is sad news, but not so sad that it prompts us to write a tearful obituary, as we did on behalf of MODE. It is an end to a magazine that was never comfortable with itself, never happy as a publication for plus-size women. Just a week ago, many Grace readers were still writing about how much they missed MODE, and how disappointed they were with Grace. Will people still be talking about Grace two years from now? Highly doubtful.
More than anything else, Grace leaves behind a host of unanswered questions as to why it clung so stubbornly to its unsatisfying vision, and refused to listen to any of the constructive feedback that so many of its readers were offering.
Why did Grace consistently use models who were on the smallest end of the plus spectrum? Why did the magazine not listen to the increasingly angry complaints that MODE readers began voicing, when MODE began slimming down its models during its last years of operation?
Why did Grace, from its inception, target an older demographic? This confined the magazine to a generally dull, frumpy style, which left many twentysomethings (and especially teens) cold, and compared poorly to MODE’s dynamic, vibrant, youthful spirit. The fact that Grace never attracted Torrid advertising speaks volumes about the magazine’s missed opportunities.
Why did Grace often choose its “star” models so poorly? Barbara Brickner only appeared once in the editorial pages of Grace, and Kate Dillon scarcely more often. A significant part of the draw of MODE was the opportunity that it gave its readers to see their beloved plus-size supermodels on a regular basis, to admire and be inspired by their latest, boldest experiments in exhibiting plus-size beauty. But Grace never took advantage of this built-in fan interest.
Why did Grace fail to capitalize on the exciting new talent that has emerged in the industry over the past two years? Models such as Valerie Lefkowitz, Melissa M., Kati Kochanski, Yanderis, and so many others have won considerable public acclaim, and would have been ideal “ MODE girls,” if their careers had flourished in 1997. Grace had no shortage of potential or actual young stars from whose beauty and talent it could have benefitted, but these models hardly appeared in the magazine at all—or if they did, only in ads.
Why was Grace so committed to featuring dull plus-size fashion? The entire peasant/gypsy/romantic movement exploded just as Grace began gathering momentum, and this may well have been the most exciting development in feminine fashion of the last half-century, particularly since these styles were ideally suited to the fuller female figure. But Grace let is all pass by, instead giving its readers an unending parade of career wear and fashion basics.
And then there was the “Mod” layout…(shudder).
Now, consider all of the exciting things that took place in full-figured fashion over the past few years, but did not appear in Grace. Remember the exciting image of size-18 model Megan Garcia in that figure-hugging, sleeveless red dress? Why was that in Glamour magazine, instead of in Grace? Remember all of the exciting test images that we have been fortunate enough to view at this forum—particularly those of Valerie Lefkowitz, or those photographed by D. Bizzaro, such as Barbara Brickner’s influential nocturnal series? Why did work of such calibre never appear in Grace? Remember the three incredible lingerie shoots that we discussed here recently (Valerie’s, Jordan’s, and Barbara’s), which were by turns playful, or sensual, or classical? Why was there never a lingerie layout in Grace of comparable beauty?
Ultimately, Grace may be remembered as a magazine that one could judge by its cover. The cover images were usually headshots; or, if they were full-lengths, the models were draped in heavy coats, or in baggy sweaters. Not quite the size celebration for which so many readers were hoping. What a world removed these covers were from Barbara Brickner’s décolletage-rich MODE cover—or Natalie Laughlin’s, or Kate Dillon’s…
And yet, despite all of these errors in judgment, the passing of Grace remains a great tragedy. Why? Because now, the minions of the thin-supremacist fashion establishment can cluck and say, “See? Plus-size magazines don’t work. We were right all along.”
But they are not right; not at all—and that is the crying shame of it all. There was a magazine which, before its decline and eventual demise, gave readers untold satisfaction, demonstrated uninhibited body love on a monthly basis, and changed culture as we know it—and still continues to influence the public, even today. And the name of that magazine was MODE.
We will yet see a magazine emerge that recaptures the original MODE spirit—and even surpasses it.
It is inevitable.
November 20, 2003
The need for quality
[In response to a message from Maureen, who noted that plus-size readers deserve a magazine that is technically comparable to publications such as Vogue and Elle.]
This is such an important point that it requires repeating. The time has come for us to speak frankly. We must overcome our personal sensitivity to criticism, and be honest with ourselves—now, or never. The last thing that the industry needs at this point is a third-rate, low-budget magazine with poor photography and dismal styling to come along and be an embarrassment to full-figured women everywhere. The reason is obvious—if such a magazine were placed alongside Vogue or Elle on a magazine rack, the unambiguous message would be that straight-size women are entitled to top-notch quality, and full-figured women will settle for rubbish—and deserve nothing better.
The next plus-size publication that comes along must at least be the equal of the original MODE in terms of both its professional quality and its size-positive message, or else it is all for naught. Another unsuccessful venture is absolutely not worth doing, and would surely be more of a detriment than a benefit. We need no more failures.
After years of lobbying, the industry is finally getting the message that the public will not tolerate faux-plus models, but desires to see genuinely full-figured girls whose curves are not hidden, disguised, or digitally distorted. If the creators of the next plus-size publication keep that in mind as their First Principle; and next, if they insist on a level of technical craftsmanship that is comparable to that of the top mass-market fashion glossies; and finally, if they establish an unambiguously enthusiastic tone of size celebration in their magazine, it will succeed—and succeed wildly.
Masterful photography, fascinating settings, exquisite hair and makeup, sophisticated styling—the next plus-size publication must be able to match the thin-supremacist fashion glossies in each of these areas. It must be able to generate a fantasy that is the equal of any fantasy created by Conde Nast; however, that fantasy must be based on entirely different ideals of beauty—timeless ideals, rather than modern ideals.
It can be done. It has been done—and not just by MODE (although MODE did it more often, and more consistently, than any other entity to date). That is the stratospheric level at which the next plus-size publication must begin its mission—and from there, reach heights still greater than anything we have seen before.
The incomparable Shannon Marie in MODE, 1998. Even MODE’s cosmetics editorials reached the level of Art, in their superlative beauty:
November 21, 2003
Location, location, location…
We made an interesting discovery during a recent visit to the Web site of Excel Models (www.excel-models.com), the agency which represents British goddesses such as Lorna Roberts. At the foot of the site’s main page, among a row of buttons with standard designations such as “Contact,” “About Us,” and so forth, we found a rather cryptic button marked, “Locations.”
Our curiosity piqued, we clicked on this button, and wound up at a separate area of the Excel site devoted to promoting…(what else?)…locations—locations for photo and/or film shoots.
Talk about diversifying your board.
Currently, this brand-new Excel division represents only one “talent”—an Art Deco home that looks rather cold and Spartan:
And because it occurred to us that this Art Deco setting is hardly the ideal environment for a plus-size model photo shoot, we once again pondered a familiar question: What sort of locations do provide ideal backdrops for full-figured feminine beauty?
It goes without saying that if a plus-size model is sufficiently gorgeous, she can shoot against nothing more than a monochrome background, and viewers will still rave about the image—and rightly so. The beauty of the model always comes first in size celebration, and everything else is secondary. It also goes without saying that plus-size models can shoot anywhere they like, even in the grittiest, grimiest urban surroundings.
However, just as ageless feminine apparel suits the attractions of the full female figure better than do straight-edged modern designs, so do certain locations harmonize with the charms of curvaceous model better than others. Classical surroundings gave Ljubenka’s recent JCPenney “sleepwear” images a touch of class. An exotic Cuban locale enriched Jordan’s Spring 2003 Addition-Elle campaign. And a Cote d’Azur setting took Barbara Brickner’s Elena Mirò shoot to another level.
Therefore, if someone were interested in launching a new plus-size fashion magazine—or if a company were interested in creating a truly memorable campaign—they would surely wish to make their images gorgeous in every way, and would put just as much thought into settings as they would into every aspect of their photography. So perhaps it is not so unlikely for a plus-size modelling agency to be “representing” locations after all—just as that agency might represent stylists, photographers, or other talent, along with its models.
With that in mind, a reader of this forum drew our attention the following Web site, as an example of a fashion campaign with a truly splendid interior setting:
Gothic windows, candles, flowers—all of the opulent trappings of this setting would provide an ideal frame for eternal feminine beauty. In one of the site’s images, we even see a time-homoured motif from Western art—the model gazing at her own reflection in a large mirror. The setting provides an element of fantasy, but a beautiful fantasy, one that seems to have been expressly designed with plus-size models in mind. Indeed, the only element that mars the loveliness of these images is the jarringly angular look of the girls wearing the gowns. Try to imagine any one of our favourite goddesses in these environments, and the splendour of the images becomes complete.
Ah, but the skeptic might say, “Sure, a wedding dress looks right in that kind of location—but what if we’re shooting fashion basics?” To which one might respond, “Just how basic must it be?” Our recent “Joy of Styling” discussion indicated how a full-figured goddess can opt for clothing that is simple, yet incorporates creative elements as well. One can easily imagine seeing romantic or peasant garb in the setting shown above—to say nothing of the more unique Torrid designs. And anyone who receives the Lands’ End catalogues will know that the company often shoots its simple cottons in rather opulent locations indeed, and the images harmonize very well.
Timeless beauty gives contemporary life the vital spark that it requires to overcome the mundane.
Let us hope that our next plus-size magazine takes the original MODE formula and delves even deeper into the realm of beauty.
November 26, 2003
“Guess what’s back in style—Your body”
[In response to a series of styling-related comments by Viv, and with acknowledgments to MODE for the title of the post.]
What Viv says is so true. Plus-size fashion can be elegant and stylish—and exciting, too.
This is yet another example of how plus-size beauty demands a total rethink of every shred of the received wisdom that permeates mainstream fashion. Why is it that (with rare exceptions) the fashion industry keeps reviving the styles of the past few decades? Time and again, the Conde Nast glossies trumpet the return of ’60s styles, or ’40s, or ’70s—nothing but an endless recycling of 20th-century thought. It is a closed loop, and with one notable exception (the peasant/gypsy/romantic movement that hit fashion with the force of a stray comet last year, and was so desperately resisted by the fashion elites), the fashion industry never, ever looks back to the styles that preceded the 1920s, i.e., to the fashions that predated the imposition of the anorex-chic aesthetic.
The reason for this is readily apparent. Straight lines and flat surfaces suit androgynous physiques quite well, and silently oppress curvaceous women. But folkloric styles, fashions that grew organically over time—not as a result of a the deviant vision of a few fashion designers, but naturally, as a result of generation after generation of women wearing clothing that looked pretty, and set off their charms to best advantage—such fashions adorn opulent figures beautifully, and leave thinner frames looking…hollow.
That is why the historical aspect of plus-size styling is particularly significant. Full-figured apparel that is inspired by the look of women's clothing from the time before Modernism reshaped all of the arts (fashion included) is the exact opposite of “old fashioned.“ In fact, those timeless pieces are the most exciting and revolutionary garments that full-figured women can choose for themselves, because they accentuate the very same feminine curves that the modern media tries so desperately to hide from public view.
Here is another example of terrific full-fashion styling (on Kelsey, from Wilhelmina, with Caravaggio-like Bizzaro photography). This shot is devoted to Shey, Renata, Melanie, and any other girl who has ever been told not to show off her “womanly tummy.” Love your body—and show others just how much you love it, too. Your attitude could help change the world.
November 27, 2003
“The Flower of Beauty”
While Grace magazine may have been a disappointment in various ways, anyone who intends to create a new plus-size publication should mine every available source for inspiration, so that our next standard-bearer will incorporate the best of all that has gone before, and build upon that foundation. And even Grace leaves behind it some very good ideas.
It is easy to forget the degree of enthusiasm with which we anticipated the arrival of the first Grace, and if there was a single feature of that first issue which truly made an impression, it was the “Love Your Body” page, which showcased a gorgeously full-figured Natalie Laughlin in a sepia-toned image, accompanied by the text of Byron’s lyric, “She Walks in Beauty.” It was a truly artistic statement (and just the sort of concept, incidentally, that would make a fabulous entry in the Elena Miro “Shapely Woman” contest—hint, hint).
Alas, Grace never repeated this triumph, and in time, the “Love Your Body” feature disappeared from the magazine altogether. But the original idea was a sound one. A plus-size publication would benefit greatly from including “artistic” content, and juxtaposing poetry with visual art in the manner of the inaugural Grace would be an inspired approach.
After all, passion and longing never go out of style, and always find a receptive audience—for these emotions ever live in the human heart.
The Flower of Beauty
November 27, 2003
Reflection of the soul
[In response to a post from Graham, who lamented the fact that most viewers fail to comprehend the profound significance of beauty and aesthetic content.]
The situation is much reminiscent of something that E.T.A. Hoffmann wrote, in an essay titled “Beethoven’s Instrumental Music (1813). Hoffmann (a composer himself) was astonished to find that some of his contemporaries could not understand the deeper meaning of Beethoven’s compositions, and slighted them as “merely beautiful.” In this excerpt, Hoffmann reminds us that the dismissive platitude which maintains that beauty “is in the eye of the beholder” is a myopic assertion, because not every beholder views the world with equal penetration. As Hoffmann writes:
How does the matter stand if it is your feeble observation alone that the deep inner continuity of Beethoven’s every composition eludes? If it is your fault alone that you do not understand the master’s language as the initiated understand it, that the portals of the innermost sanctuary remain closed to you?
Beauty, like art itself, is a reflecting pool into which one sees as deeply, or as shallowly, as one is able—or as one chooses.
November 27, 2003
There is no “weight problem”—only a media problem
[In response to a post about the disjunct between the attitude of the press, and that of the general public.]
It is so very true that fashion magazines as we know them today are a bad influence, and we now have several studies before us which confirm this.
Melanie’s comment that entertainment reporters “live in their own world” is quite insightful, because that is precisely what many reporters do—live in a world of their own making. The world that is created by the ideological foot soldiers of the modern media is a thin-supremacist world which bears little relation to the world in which we actually live, but more importantly, bears little relation to the imaginative worlds that humanity created for itself, in any era prior to our own—the imaginative worlds that grew organically, based on essential human impulses, and of which we see a record in the history of Western art.
But now that it is in place, the “media world” that surrounds us is self-perpetuating, because the small cadre of like-minded individuals who glorify the anorexic aesthetic see in this dehumanizing media world something that is recognizable to them, and so they aspire to become a part of it. And once they attain positions of some standing, they take drastic measures to preserve its status quo. (Belittling celebrities who might challenge their aesthetic hegemony, as in the case of Liv Tyler, is just one example.) Who knows how many potential reporters (or designers, or directors, or writers) there are who favour the fuller female figure, but who never become cultural contributors, because they (correctly) view the media culture all around them as something that is alien, and hostile to their vision, and therefore see little chance of ever becoming participants in it.
This is a fine example of how issues of size are a microcosm, or a case study, from which we can extrapolate many conclusions about the structures that govern our world of thought, and why it is so difficult to change them.
The fondest dream (still only partly realized) remains the possibility for plus-size imagery to constitute an “alternative media” that can mount an aesthetic challenge to the dominant media that holds so many minds in thrall. And this reveals the rationale behind our desire to turn to the Classical past as a guide (just as the artists of the European Renaissance did, when they sought an alternative to the human mortification of the Dark Ages). Not only do Classical figures provide us with aesthetic inspiration, but the classical ethos of which those figures are an expression offers us an example of a world-view that is very different from our own, very different from the one that is perpetuated by fashion magazines (and the media in general).
This Classical ethos glorified humanity and elevated it, rather than shaming it or debasing it. And a great and truly subversive plus-size magazine would be an fine delivery device for such a noble message.
November 30, 2003
[In response to a reader who commented that her boyfriend, a fan of Liv Tyler, determined that if she had a sister who was a plus-size model, that sister would be “even more beautiful” than her famous sibling.]
Thank you for your comment. The preference for the fuller female figure is an inclination that many people “secretly” share—men and women alike—but few dare to articulate it. That’s how much the mass media sets the tone for what is “normal” in society. Even though the majority of people find themselves intuitively at odds with the media standard, they seldom express their disagreement (except, possibly, in like-minded company—if they can find any), for fear of being deemed abnormal.
This is the mechanism by which modern society has recast what is natural as unnatural, and vice versa—and not just in the sphere of feminine aesthetics. The fable of the “Emperor’s New Clothes” was never more timely than it is today.
Speaking of The Two Towers, when we recently viewed the extended version of this film on DVD, we thought of another way in which it fits in with the themes of this Web site. Tolkien aficionados may recall that in the months before The Fellowship of the Ring debuted, a controversy erupted in Web circles regarding Liv Tyler’s character, the Elf princess Arwen. According to rumour, the Rings films were going to pervert this character and turn her into a feminist warrior, of the sort that Hollywood churns out regular basis.
In the interviews that accompany the Two Towers DVD, the director and scriptwriters candidly admit that this rumour was entirely true. In an heartfelt segment, Liv Tyler recalls her own reaction to the public outcry at the intended modernization of Tolkien’s values:
People don’t think that we ever look at this stuff. And I once made the mistake of going and reading some of this stuff. And I cried so hard afterwards, ’cause they were calling me, like, “Liv Tyler, Xena Warrior.”
In fact, it was not a mistake for Ms. Tyler to experience this reaction at all. The actress’s concern over this public outcry impelled the scriptwriters to abandon their ill-conceived plans to “update” Tolkien to conform to modern sensibilities. Further on in the DVD, screenwriter Philippa Boyens (who is a vision of full-figured feminine beauty in her own right, and would have made an ideal subject for a profile/fashion layout in Mode, if that magazine were still in print) discusses how the creative team revisited the book, seeking alternative solutions to their plot dilemmas, and ultimately decided to emphasize Arwen’s powerful and archetypally feminine qualities instead.
Later in her DVD interview, Liv Tyler enthuses about her character’s change in direction, noting that she felt “liberated and happy” with the revision. “What we came to realize,” Ms. Tyler adds, “was that you didn’t need to put a sword in her hands to make her strong.”
In our own day and age, we have come to associate female “strength” with masculine signifiers. But writers in other eras, from Sophocles to Ibsen, knew full well that femininity was a powerful force in its own right. And perhaps as the aesthetic restoration takes hold, writers will turn away from the dehumanizing, neutralized view of humanity propounded by our modern world, and instead find their source of inspiration in the components of our essential human nature—as artists have since time immemorial.December 5, 2003
“The lush life”
[In response to comments from Julie and Jenni regarding Elena Mirò’s “Shapely Woman” art campaign—specifically, that it represents the realization of plus-size modelling’s greatest possibilities.]
Jenni is absolutely right. This campaign is exactly what modelling can (and should) be all about. In fact, it perfectly blends the three separate but related purposes of plus-size modelling: the artistic (producing images of timeless beauty), the commercial (selling clothes), and the social (alleviating image-generated eating disorders and boosting body confidence). At its best, the plus-size fashion industry can achieve all three goals simultaneously.
Julie makes an excellent point when she observes that the public will sooner respond to a message that is uplifting rather than one that is degrading. And in saying so, she touches on one of the fundamental differences between much of the art that is produced today, and the art that was produced in every century prior to the twentieth. When artists of other eras confronted the misery of the world, they created works of beauty to alleviate that misery and inspire the human spirit. But during the twentieth century, artists began merely reflecting (and often augmenting) the afflictions of the world. However, a campaign such as this, which infuses commercial culture with the ideals of pre-modern artistic culture, may help lead “high art” out of the morass into which it has fallen.
Beyond this, the commercial needs of the “patron” (Elena Mirò, in this case) will be well served by such an approach. People will respond to this positive campaign, just as they responded to MODE’s original “joie de vivre,” that joy-of-living quality of which Kay recently reminded us, which distinguished MODE from every other women’s magazine just as much as its full-figured models did.
And as a testament to the social benefits of an appeal based on art and beauty, we refer to an article from the August 2000 issue of Glamour magazine. Titled “Learn to Love Your Body,” it is actually rather a good piece, hampered by fewer mixed messages than stories of this nature usually contain, and includes suggestions like “Pack your mind with the Positive” (“One of the key ways to do a double take on your body image is to pack your mind with so much good, there’s no room for bad”) and “Get fan-fare” (“Surround yourself with friends and/or a man who’s ‘encouraging of your physical gifts’”). But our favourite bit of advice is the following:
Honor big babes of the past
Less judgmental—or better yet, even more judgmental, but judging in favour of those time-honoured feminine curves.
December 7, 2003
The Child of Nature
[In response to a post from Allen, who applied the old parable of “The emperor has no clothes” to our topic, and came up with, “Look, mom—the empress has no curves!”]
Funny—but it is the iceberg’s tip of a fine idea.
Do we all know the trope of the “Child of Nature”—the literary convention of taking an individual who has been brought up in a remote locale, cut off from (and therefore untainted by) the contemporary world, and then introducing him into modern society, so that he can act as an objective commentator on that society, pointing out all of its absurdities and failings from a fresh perspective?
We see incarnations of this literary persona throughout Western literary history, particularly in the 18th century, in the writings of Addison, in Robert Bage’s Hermsprong, in Beattie’s The Minstrel; and later, in Wordsworth’s Prelude, and most famously, in Brave New World.
If anyone were writing a book or screenplay intending to underscore the artificiality of modern notions of feminine beauty, they could well avail themselves of the “Child of Nature” trope. Their story could present an individual arriving in contemporary America from his “natural” home (distanced from the modern world by space or by time), and staring in utter disbelief at the images of underweight femininity that our society passes off as “ideal.”
Like Allen’s ingenuous child, this outlander could ask his guide, in naive bewilderment, “Why do your women have no curves?”
December 7, 2003
“More Is More”
Of all the effects that the plus-size fashion industry has had on society, one effect that may be somewhat regrettable is that it has encouraged many women to dream of participating in said industry in only one way—i.e., by becoming a model.
We revere plus-size modelling because of its power to restore society’s appreciation of full-figured beauty; however, putting herself in front of the camera may not always be the best way for every woman who wishes to challenge the thin-supremacist media establishment to do so.
Perhaps this focus on entering the industry via the modelling route is due to the many “model searches” that plus-oriented publications and retailers have sponsored. We have nothing against model searches per se, but what a shame that the industry has not solicited any other manner of creative input from the general public—at least, not until recently.
This is yet another reason why Elena Mirò’s “Shapely Woman” art campaign is so exciting. It encourages a different kind of public involvement. Someone who is not photogenic, but who possesses real talent with a brush, can now contribute to the aesthetic restoration in a way that is better suited to his or her unique gifts.
Along the same lines, we once suggested that what Grace really needed was not a “model search,” but an “editor search,” so that its readers could give voice to size celebration in a way that the magazine itself apparently could not. And when the next plus-oriented publication debuts, rather than holding yet another modelling event, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the magazine were to organize a “writer search” instead—a literary competition to see which of its readers could produce the most celebratory, size-positive compositions? The grand prize could be the opportunity for the winners to be “guest editors” for one of the magazine’s issues.
Just imagine how phenomenal the submissions for such a contest could be: story after essay after article after poem, all expressing an unapologetic and unabashed preference for full-figured feminine beauty; all exhibiting joie de vivre; all breathing the atmosphere of “la dolce vita” all revaluing the aesthetic values of modern society.
Some of you may be wondering just how beneficial any philosophical or literary gifts could actually be in furthering the cause, especially compared with imagery, or with fashion design. By way of an answer, consider the following MODE editorial, which was penned by A.G. Britton (who was the magazine’s editor-in-chief during its very best years). Anyone who reads this manifesto immediately realizes what the original MODE was all about, and how it differs from every publication that has succeeded it:
MORE IS MORE
Amazing, isn’t it? Every major component of size celebration is present in this article: the turn in thinking, the unashamedly sensual descriptions of the models, the self-conscious reference to developing a “new language about women’s bodies,” the comparison of modern American society with a distant culture (distanced by place rather than by time, in this case). No wonder the original MODE so deftly and unerringly steered its course, with such a sure hand at its helm.
Now, here is a scan of the MODE page which originally featured A.G. Britton’s editorial. Note the image that the magazine used to illustrate Ms. Britton’s piece—that immortal photograph of Shannon Marie, in all of her “succulent” glory. The editor’s thoughts and the model’s beauty are in complete harmony, each supporting the other.
So, for any young woman who is finding that supply exceeds demand when it comes to plus-size modelling, bear in mind that even if the face that you see staring back at you in the mirror does not quite exhibit the Classical beauty of Shannon Marie’s, perhaps your words do possess the iconoclastic power of A.G. Britton’s. And those subversive words—and the ideas behind them—may be just as instrumental as even the most gorgeous of images, in bringing about our culture’s aesthetic restoration.
December 10, 2003
As of tonight, this Web site marks its fifth anniversary. Five years is a rather substantial block of time, so to mark the occasion, it may be worth doing a little reminiscing. Since first-time visitors often ask how this site got started, this is as good an opportunity as any to provide the answer to this frequently-asked question.
Prosaically enough, it all started with Reitmans…
One fine day in September, 1998, yours truly received a Reitmans “Business Class Savings” flyer in the mail, and for some reason, I took a good, hard look at it, instead of throwing it out with the rest of my junk mail.
The cover showed a rail-thin model garbed in a pinstripe business suit, sporting a short, boyish haircut, her cheeks sunken, her face drawn and thin, a self-deprecating smirk on her face, and altogether looking stiff and uncomfortable:
And as I looked at that image, which exhibited not a single trace of femininity, I thought to myself, “Well—it’s over. The androgynization of women is now an accomplished fact.”
Then, I began perusing the rest of the flyer. I noted with dismay how gaunt and emaciated the rest of the models in the flyer appeared as well. Another image of the cover model made me shake my head in disbelief:
It clearly represented an attempt to eradicate any indication whatsoever of the model’s gender. No bust, no waist, no hips—nothing but a vertical cylinder. Nothing that could give or receive pleasure. It resembled an automaton more than a human being.
And this, it occurred to me, was the true intention of the image, and of the flyer as a whole—to foster the notion of the “gender-neutral” individual, perfectly tailored for service in the homogenized modern world.
Then, I thought about how these images related to the social theories that had dominated the political landscape of Eastern Europe for so many years—discredited theories that were finding new viability in North American universities, and were being force-fed to an entire generation of impressionable young students.
These images, I realized, were the visual realization of those utilitarian theories. The “business class“ models in the Reitmans flyer were drones, meant to function efficiently in an egalitarian dystopia, in a society emptied of beauty and meaning, and divested of essential identity.
But then, I flipped to the back of this Reitmans flyer, and despair turned to hope.
There, on the final page, modelling Reitmans’s Encore line for plus sizes, was the living antithesis of the utilitarian world, an embodiment of timeless beauty nestled within this document of modernity like an oasis in the midst of a desert:
Here was a model dressed in the same, androgynous fashion as the starving models in the flyer, wearing a “battleship armour” suit, and standing in a masculine pose, with her hands clasped behind her back. However—and herein lay the power of the plus-size model—she was still gorgeous, still a goddess, still absolutely, undeniably, extraordinarily feminine, despite every effort that had been made to suppress these qualities.
The fullness of her curves could not be hidden—not even by her uniform of modernity. The roundness of her face could not be concealed, not even by the combed-down hair. And even that hair seemed to resist being brushed out straight, and was still curling upwards at the tips, as if trying to appear more decorative. Her skin glowed, and her cheeks had a slight flush, whereas the skin of the starving models in the flyer resembled furrowed wax.
“They cannot do it,” I thought to myself, looking at that Encore image. ”Try as they might, they cannot turn this woman—this plus-size model—into an androgynous entity. They cannot rob her of her essence. The goddess is still viewable though the disguise.”
No wonder the modern world resists full-figured feminine beauty so fanatically, I realized. No wonder it suppresses this timeless look by every means at its disposal. No wonder it belittles it, disguises it, disfigures it, or hides it from public view. Its very existence confounds modernity itself.
And if timeless beauty retained so much power, even trapped inside a modern frame, I was humbled to think of how potent it could be if it was exhibited to best advantage, with its femininity emphasized and accentuated.
Even in 1998, I realized that this:
could someday lead to this:
And three months later, when I resolved to create a Web site during my Christmas furlough, this notion of an aesthetic restoration determined my choice of subject matter.
But that’s another story…
December 12, 2003
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