(The following are merely general ruminations, as well as suggestions for future endeavours, and are not written in reference to--or as a criticism of--any hitherto-published calendar projects, past or present.)
Let us say that an individual or group wished to do their part for size celebration, and endeavoured to publish a calendar featuring images of plus-size models.
What form (might they decide) should such a calendar take?
The first question that the calendar's creators might ask themselves is, "Who is our target audience?"
This question is easily answered. Unless the calendar is meant to be nothing more than a "vanity" project, made by plus-size models and sold to other plus-size models (the way that modern poets self-publish little chapbooks of their own work, merely for the interest of other poets, and for virtually no one else), the principal audience for the publication is likely to be . . . men.
Apart from a few activists and well-wishers (along with the featured models' friends and relations), women will not generally buy such a calendar in great numbers.
For one thing, there is a lingering neo-Puritanical suspicion of such projects among those who are beholden to divisive modern "gender politics."
For another, since such a calendar will feature twelve images that will all be shot at more or less the same time, its strict fashion value will be limited. True, the calendar might offer interesting styling tips, and could even possess some genuine fashion interest if it showcases apparel that is timeless rather than trendy, but most women will sooner turn to a monthly magazine (any issue of which will be cheaper than a calendar) for up-to-date fashion ideas, than to a one-time calender publication.
Therefore, since men will inevitably comprise the calendar's target audience, let us ask ourselves--which calendars, featuring images of women, are currently the most famous and most popular? It stands to reason that analyzing what makes similar, successful endeavours "tick" could help our would-be calendar creators get their own project on the right track.
So once again, let's ask ourselves--which calendars, featuring images of women, are currently the most famous and popular?
The Sports Illustrated swimsuit calendars, of course.
These calendars are more than just highly-anticipated annual publications. They have become cultural institutions. Their sales are astronomical. They are publishing events of such magnitude that they have even spawned "making of" television specials, featuring behind-the-scenes glimpses of their photo shoots.
Since these calendars are so perennially popular, Sports Illustrated must clearly be doing something right. Something about the design and composition of the S.I. calendars is obviously on target.
And what might that be?
The first response to this question is likely, "Well, they shoot 'sexy' models."
It sounds plausible enough. Obvious, really. However, this too-simple answer is actually rather misleading.
The fact of the matter is that the models whom Sports Illustrated employs are terribly, terribly thin. They do not have full, shapely figures or (except for artificial manipulation) particularly voluptuous physiques.
On the other hand, they cannot be sweepingly be dismissed as ugly, in the manner of typical runway waifs, because they do have other, non-figure-related attributes (such as long hair, youthful charm, and occasionally, pretty faces), that are feminine and attractive.
Nevertheless, although the latter features are agreeable traits, they are not in and of themselves likely to impel men to buy calendars in staggering numbers. Therefore, the men who purchase these calendars are obviously responding to something else, besides the girls on display.
If one examines the S.I. publications, and looks past the models to consider the images in their totality, one sees that the models are never simply photographed in bare studios. Nor are they shot in gritty, downtown, urban environments, with "edgy" looks; nor in the visual tedium of suburban dwellings.
Rather, Sports Illustrated spends a fortune flying these girls (accompanied by world-class photographic teams) to exotic locales, such as Hawaii, Tahiti, Barbados, and Bermuda.
As a profit-driven company, S.I. would never incur such expense, if it didn't consider these locations absolutely crucial to the success of their calendars.
At least two publications have already been produced that provide textbook examples of what an ideal plus-size-model calendar should look like.
Second, during its heyday, Elena Miro produced an actual Barbara Brickner Calendar for the year 2001. Shot on the French Riviera (a setting equal in charm to any tropical paradise), the calendar featured twelve masterpieces of timeless beauty, twelve of the most gorgeous images of this loveliest of all plus-size models.
The locations matched the idyllic tranquility of the settings in any S.I. calendar, and they also presented Barbara in all her full-figured glory, unapologetically celebrating her luscious curves (even to the point of listing her precise measurements).
With these images, Elena Miro demonstrated how a calendar project could simultaneously attract both markets: those who adore images of plus-size beauty, as well as those who long for the escapist fantasy of a Sports Illustrated calendar.
If any individual or groups wish to produce a calendar that is both commercially successful and aesthetically accomplished, as well as a boon to size celebration, the aforementioned projects provide exemplary templates to follow, as surely as the early Mode itself provides the ideal pattern for future plus-size magazines to emulate.
I think part of the challenge is the fact that the plus-size industry as a whole is still finding its legs. The undersized elements of the media (Vogue/Elle for women, Sports Illustrated for men) have been examining the market for years, and have a real awareness of it; they know exactly what works. In the plus-size industry, some creators might still be tied to their own visions, rather than in tune with public wishes (as we see when plus-size magazines used faux-plus models instead of the genuinely full-figured girls that the public has always asked for).
On that note, I also think it would benefit a potential plus-size calendar if it stuck to true plus-size models. There's no point in selecting faux-plus girls, or shooting the models not to look plus. This won't attract fans of the skinny models, and will simply turn off individuals who are genuinely interested in the curvier look. I know of at least two Web projects featuring plus-size models that might be considered as targeting a male viewership, and it's significant that their models tend to be the size of the contestants on the Tyra Banks shows: about a size 18 and up.
By the way, I can't help but mention the astonishing fact that Barbara Brickner is even more gorgeous today than she was when she shot that unforgettable calendar. Here's a brand-new image of Barbara from Nordstrom:
She looks so shapely, so beautiful, and makes that top look incredibly appealing for a curvy figure. I really like the dash of decolletage. And the fact that it has an empire waist, and that the overlay has a slit, means that it will be very comfortable on a generous waist.
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