||12th December 2012 10:49
Today, December 12th, marks the 14th anniversary of the Judgment of Paris.
We find it regrettable that we haven't been able to devote as much time to the site as we did in years past. However, the cause of size celebration remains a noble one, and we still endeavour to share images of timeless, full-figured beauty as we find them.
To mark the day, we have decided to share a brief write-up that we penned for a friend who intended to publish a coffee-table book devoted to images of plus-size models coupled with pro-curvy textual material.
The topic of the following essay is that all-too-familiar adage applied to curvy women, "Such a pretty face."
Usually taken as a negative, one can also see within that formulation the seeds of aesthetic subversion.* * *
A well-known online profile of plus-size model Shannon Marie opens with an anecdote that many full-figured women can appreciate:* * *
"You have such a pretty face. If only..." This dreaded statement once haunted model Shannon Marie. But now, gorgeously curvy and happy about it, she’s laughing all the way to the photo shoot.Curvy women everywhere recognize why the "pretty face" comment is a "dreaded" one. When someone tells a plus-size girl that she has "such a pretty face," they usually mean it as a backhanded compliment at best and a subtle put-down at worst. The phrase laces apparent praise with a qualification, implying that while the curvaceous woman's face may be beautiful, her figure is not.
In another online profile, when plus-size model Kelsey Olson was asked what she considered to be her favorite feature, she replied, "I feel like I’m very expressive with this," indicating her face, and went on to say, "From when I was younger, being self-conscious about other parts of my body, I really focussed on my face."
Plus-size models--whose careers require them to be photogenic--frequently find themselves on the receiving end of the "such a pretty face" comment. And when a girl hears it often enough, she begins to internalize it and to accept it as the hard truth.
Without a doubt, the statement can have a malicious intent. When a thin woman feels threatened by a curvy girl whom she recognizes as being pretty--perhaps prettier than herself--the comment betrays the thinner woman's sour-grapes mentality, her impulse to undercut a type of beauty that she knows she lacks. It is also a sly way of asserting power over the beautiful full-figured woman, cattily signalling a flaw in order to bring the curvaceous goddess down a peg.
The statement even intimates a moral judgment. The beauty of a face is, after all, a natural quality, something that a woman is born with, like a high IQ or perfect pitch. But to possess the kind of narrow figure that the media sanctions, women need to starve or physically torture themselves, which suggests a capacity for self-denial that suits modern society's post-puritanical values. Thus, the "pretty face" comment essentially tells the curvy girl, "You just got lucky," as if there were also a different kind of beauty that full-figured women do not possess, a kind of beauty that is implicitly morally superior because it can only be achieved through self-denial and laborious effort.
Nevertheless, the "pretty face" comment is more than a mere put-down. It actually represents a scientifically confirmed aesthetic advantage that full-figured women possess over their underweight counterparts. In 2005, in a widely publicized study, researchers at the University of St. Andrews empirically determined that people find women more attractive whose faces are more feminine. These distinctively feminine qualities include greater fullness in the cheek area, an attribute that develops either from increased feminine hormones, or, of course, from a fleshier physique. Therefore, when someone tells a woman that she has "such a pretty face," they are unknowingly confirming that full-figured girls do indeed have a greater tendency towards facial beauty than thinner women.
With that in mind, the "such a pretty face" reaction has positive social implications. It signals a certain schizophrenia about modern female aesthetics, a duality between what people are supposed to find beautiful and what they actually do consider beautiful.
When a man says that a full-figured woman has "such a pretty face," it may simply indicate that his attraction is limited to her facial features, not to her figure. But it could also reflect his conflicted reaction to her appearance. Men are brought up in a media environment that exclusively classifies underweight women as beautiful. They are brainwashed into believing that the only "normal" type of attraction is to skinny women, and that anything else must, by implication, be abnormal. This leaves them in a predicament if their tastes conflict with media-approved norms. They may not wish to deviate from popular opinion. They may fear social scorn if they acknowledge a preference that exceeds mainstream parameters. Thus, in telling a curvy woman that she has "such a pretty face," a man may be offering her the only compliment that he feels he can safely express, limiting his praise to a physical feature that is outside the media's weight mandate. Or to put it another way, what the man may actually be thinking is not, "You have such a pretty face, but I would find you more attractive if you were thinner," but rather, "You have such a pretty face, and such a gorgeous figure as well, but I'm afraid to say so, for fear of stepping outside societal conventions."
Therefore, although full-figured women understandably find the "such a pretty face" comment to be supremely annoying, it may represent the first stage of pro-curvy progress, a crack in the hegemony of the media's thin-centric standard of beauty.
For this reason, it is imperative for full-figured women to be represented in fashion and the media by models or actresses who do have gorgeous facial features in addition to their generous figures—girls who will elicit the "such a pretty face" response from even the most size-bigoted members of the viewing public. The "pretty face" reaction subtly undermines the media's large-and-unattractive-versus-skinny-and-pretty dichotomy, enabling the public to think outside this binary box—in which plus-size women are classified as being uniformly undesirable—and paving the way for bona fide curve admiration.
"You have such a pretty face" immediately takes plus-size women out of the "altogether unattractive" category and into a "conditionally attractive" category—which is still offensive, still inadequate, but is one step closer to an unqualified acknowledgment of curvaceous beauty. It creates a conflict in viewers between their essential attraction to full-figured women and their media programming. And should viewers experience this conflict frequently enough, they are likelier to reject "thin equals beautiful" propaganda altogether, because they have experienced a contrary reaction on multiple occasions.
Plus-size models with pretty facial features disable thin-centric media strictures. The "pretty face" response that their beauty elicits represents a necessary first step toward shattering the anti-plus paradigm. A reaction that begins as "You are attractive despite being full-figured" easily develops, over time, into a response such as, "You are attractive, and just happen to be full-figured," ultimately leading to the truly celebratory observation, "You are attractive because you are full-figured." A pretty face is the trigger for such a shift, and therefore, if there is any hope of creating a size-positive environment, it is plus-size models, with their subversively lovely faces (as well as their gorgeous figures) who will get us there.
The softly rounded facial features of Shannon Marie:
- Shannon Marie