Here is an interesting bit of information that is germane to this discussion.
The following passage is from Lillian Russell: A Biography of "America's Beauty"
(1999), by Armond Fields. The "movement" to which the author refers is the growth of advertising directed at middle-class women, in the latter part of the 1800s:
This popular movement was epitomized by the magazine Ladies' Home Journal. It was founded in 1883 as a feminine - not feminist - periodical catering to middle-class identity and consumerism. It featured articles and editorials on family [meals], domestic comfort, personal hygiene and the use of leisure time. It presented all of these issues in an up-to-date and sophisticated manner. The ideals of feminine beauty were defined, and the image of the contemporary woman was described and elevated. She was voluptuous, with a full, round face and long hair, usually blonde, either pulled back or braided. Not surprisingly, Lillian Russell was featured as the personification of this ideal. (58, emphases added)
Can you believe it?
We often discuss what a perfect magazine would look like, both in terms of imagery and content--a magazine that would deliver a positive message of size celebration, rather than the kind of ruinous mixed-messages that pervade women's magazines today.
But lo and behold, when the first of these women's magazines originated, it did deliver just such a message. It still functioned as a consumerist publication, but it idealized timeless femininity rather than emaciated androgyny.
In other words, the so-called "dream world" that we so often conceptualize, in which plus-size beauty is celebrated as the aspirational ideal in magazines, and in the media as a whole, is no mere fantasy. It actually existed.
And if it existed once, it can exist again.
It would be simplicity itself to resurrect it. All that anyone would need to do is to take the paragraph quoted above, and to use it as the editorial basis of a magazine that is published today. The magazine would still be aspirational--but the ideal to which its readers would aspire (as outlined above) would be beautiful rather than ugly, elevating rather than demeaning, and healthy rather than harmful.
Lillian Russell did not vanish with the turn of the last century. She may be barred from Planet Hollywood, but she is very much present on Planet Earth. As the embodiment of women who wear a dress size 14 or better, she is everywhere in North America today--everywhere, except in the media. She is the legitimate ideal for the millions of women who are bombarded by images and messages in the modern world that run contrary to their natural inclinations.
It is time that the media acknowledged her aesthetic progeny.
Lillian Russell in 1892. Note how the wardrobe is specifically designed to frame the soft fullness of her arms--which in her own time, were considered her most attractive features: