(Originally posted on The Judgment of Paris Forum, March 13th, 2004, in respose to a post from Shey, who called for the creation of a magazine that would have a visual basis in art history.)
Shey, something exactly like what you describe needs to be done. Let us hope that your ideas do not fall on deaf ears.
In answer to the recurrent question, "What would the perfect plus-size magazine look like?", one could offer a simple answer and say, "It would look as much like the original Mode as possible." Anyone wishing to create a popular, successful, and artistically-accomplished publication for full-figured women could simply reference back issues of Mode from Summer 1997 through early 2000, and copy that format as closely as possible--taking particular care to adhere to A.G. Britton's uncompromising "More is more" attitude (i.e., expressing an unabashed preference for the fuller female figure).
But if the original Mode formula could be improved in any way, it would be by drawing on the inexhaustible resource of Western artistic history, with its rapturous depictions of full-figured feminine beauty.
In a story titled "Pleasures of Rubens' flesh," published today (March 13) in The Times of London, Richard Cork observes that
Even when he tackled sumptuous full-length portraits of wealthy aristocrats, Rubens gave them an arresting vivacity (not for nothing is a fuller-figured, sexy woman known today as Rubens-esque).
Think about that phrase: "a fuller-figured, sexy woman." Art aficionados have never considered the terms "fuller-figured" and "sexy" to be mutually exclusive in describing a woman's appearance. Quite the contrary--one idea naturally follows from the other. In the artistic heritage of the West--which is a millennia-long celebration of the natural human ideal of beauty--women who are "fuller figured" are "sexy," and vice versa. These two ideas fit together quite comfortably; indeed, inevitably. Only in the 20th century were these notions artificially severed--at exactly the same time that art itself was divorced from its guiding principle of beauty, thereby losing its relevance to the majority of humanity.
And why shouldn't art warrant the same attention as any other topic in a popular magazine? Art-based discussions would attract a more sophisticated reader to a publication, the kind of reader who (rightly) considers periodicals such as Glamour and Marie Claire to be somewhat ridiculous and jejune.
But the most intriguing justification for including artistic content of this nature in a magazine is that it would attract younger readers as well. At the time of this writing, the most popular movie in North America is a subtitled chronicle of events that transpired two thousand years ago; and at this year's Academy Awards, the film that won more accolades than any other was a romance set in a heightened-reality version of Europe in the Dark Ages, and based closely on the works of a professor of Old English literature.
Aesthetic restoration, anyone?
A significant portion of today's youth is looking past the shopworn modernism of their parents' generation, and seeking to reclaim their cultural inheritance. A publication such as Shey describes could tap into that movement, and capitalize on it. If the magazine linked past, present, and future, and brought the timeless ideal of feminine beauty to life, it could fulfill this aesthetic yearning, and achieve the kind of "unlikely" runaway commercial success that has blessed one historically-rooted cultural phenomenon after another.
It could be an artistic triumph, a commercial smash, and a social boon, all in one.
Mode beauty + timeless beauty = the elusive ideal.
Lord Leighton, Psamanthe (c.1879-80):
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