''Hard and flat''?
[Originally posted on the Judgment of Paris Forum on October 31st, 2004.]
Like so many discussions of modern vs. timeless aesthetics, this topic demands, from all of us, an ability to stand back and evaluate societal "norms" with a detached, objective eye.
Anyone who has examined the promotional angles of the weight-control industry knows that one of its most effective ploys for tricking women into torturing themselves is the promise that they can turn so-called "problem areas" into "hard and flat" surfaces. "Harden your abs," they say, or "Flatten your tummy."
But letís stop and think about those concepts for a moment.
What is so appealing about "hardness" and "flatness" that any woman would wish to spend her life in pursuit of such features?
Hardness and flatness are terms that one customarily associates with inanimate and mechanical objects.
A truly "flat" surface seldom occurs in nature. Usually, it is a quality of a machine-made product, like a sheet of metal or a pane of glass.
Likewise, the term "hard" calls to mind substances that are brittle--objects that break apart and crumble into dust because they cannot bend.
In food preparation, these words are invariably pejorative. "Hard" refers to items that are either undercooked (as in pasta) or burned to a crisp (e.g., meat). And a cola drink that goes "flat" is tasteless, because it lacks its essential "fizz."
And when one uses these terms to describe human personalities, one usually invests them with negative connotations. "Hard-hearted" is how one would describe most Dickensian villains. And to say that someone has a "flat" personality is to imply that they are bland and boring.
So how in the world could any woman consider qualities such as "hardness" and "flatness" beneficial to her physical appearance?
Rather, doesnít it stand to reason that precisely the opposite attributes would be considered attractive?
Which terms actually sound more appealing: "hard and flat," or . . . "soft and curvaceous"?
Consider the onomatopoeia. "Hard" and "flat" are curt utterances, which fall like hammer-strokes in the middle of a phrase. But "soft" is sibilant and breathy, as are most terms that describe aesthetically pleasing qualities (e.g., steamy, sensual, sinful, seductive). And the rise and fall of the beats in the word "curvaceous" (with its unstressed-stressed-unstressed syllables) conveys the undulating sensation of actual, physical curves.
Which phrase sounds sexier to you?
Despite some setbacks, the plus-size fashion industry appears to be finally making some progress in reclaiming feminine aesthetic discourse from the weight-loss profiteers. Letís examine this development in light of two recent campaigns--one from Kiyonna.com, and another from Just My Size.
The latest Kiyonna campaign is a denim promotion featuring Wilhelmina L.A.ís Melissa Masi, photographed by Leslie Delano. The company recently sent out an e-mail circular featuring three gorgeous images of the model, and whatever one thinks of jeans as a fashion choice, one has to commend the stylist for dressing Melissa in a fitted top, which lingers over her seductive curves.
But most daring item in the promo is this larger image, which now also appears on the Kiyonna cover page. Time constraints prevent us from removing the ad copy--except for one highly inappropriate term--but what makes this image so progressive is that the stylist allowed the model to expose a hint of midriff.
And the midriff is the very area which the weight-loss industry specifically targets as a vulnerability in womenís body image. The stomach (or so they claim) should be "hard and flat"--or else it becomes a "problem."
But as we proposed earlier, there is nothing intrinsically appealing about "hard and flat" physical features. Rather, it is the "soft and curvaceous" nature of womanly proportions that makes them attractive. And the only reason why modern society believes the opposite is because the media artificially glamourizes underweight women and suppresses timeless femininity. The public has never been given an alternative vision of womanly beauty.
The revised JustMySize.net site also features several promotional images which represent attempts to reclaim the "soft and curvaceous" midriff as a hallmark of feminine allure. Here is Ashley Graham looking supremely confident and chic,
and here is Tierney with a touch of mischief in her eyes, seemingly daring the viewer not to acknowledge her beauty.
In creating images such as these, the plus-size fashion industry is performing one of its most socially constructive functions, i.e., operating as an "alternative media" to offset the power of the mainstream press and to negate the effects of the mass media's aesthetic brainwashing.
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