(Originally posted on The Judgment of Paris Forum, June 20, 2004.)
Some of you may remember a Just My Size television commercial from two or three years ago, which featured a number of plus-size models in "lifestyle" situations. It was part of the company's "I am" campaign, and showed clips of the models making statements such as "I am your sister," "Your best friend," "Your lover,"
and so forth.
The idea of this TV spot was presumably to demonstrate that full-figured women are all around us. But the final "declaration" in this commercial struck us as rather puzzling. It showed three of the models staring directly into the camera, and declaring (with considerable urgency):
"I am not invisble."
The models' emphasis on every single word in that utterance indicated that the statement was meant to be an act of defiance. But why (we wondered) was it so important to stress that these women were "not invisible"? Did this imply that many JMS customers (and plus-size women in general) felt "invisible," in their daily lives?
Part of the reason why this seemed like such a puzzling assertion was because, in our own experience, plus-size goddesses invariably rivet the attention of everyone around them. How could they not? As stylist Samantha Weston told us in a 2003 interview:
SW: [W]hen I'm in a room with the girls, I see how men look at these girls. I don't care if they're with sticklet models who look like toothpicks, their heads swivel like pez dispensers to look at these girls walking through the room.
HSG: To look at the plus-size models.
SW: To look at the plus girls.
Nevertheless, Just My Size obviously believed that many of its customers did feel "invisible." And if JMS was right, then what (we wondered) could be making so many full-figured women feel this way?
We never found a plausible answer to that question--until now. Until Figure It Out gave us a full dose of vintage, pre-Emme, pre-Mode fashion restrictions--all of them predicated on curve-o-phobia, and on body-shame.
Think about the nature of the prohibitions contained in the book:
"Cover." "Downplay." "Skim over." "Hide."
This manner of fashion advice centres on the idea of keeping the plus-size female figure out of sight. Disguising it. Camouflaging it. Making it invisible.
And there was the answer, clear as day. No wonder so many full-figured women used to feel "invisible," when their fashion "advisors" were filling their minds with the toxic idea that their curves were so unattractive, that they needed to be concealed at all costs.
How could a woman not feel "invisible," when the objective of her daily dressing strategy was, as far as possible, to make her physical being vanish?
If someone dresses to remain invisible, then they will soon begin to feel invisible.* * *
We have traditionally blamed the mainstream media (i.e., the thin-worshipping denizens of Hollywood and Madison Avenue) for propagating size prejudice in North America. But obviously, they are only part of the problem. If the prohibitions in Figure It Out reflect the nature of the advice that full-figured women used to receive from the plus-size fashion industry, then the problem was "internal" as much as external.
After all, it is possible (if not easy) for full-figured women to shrug off insulting remarks from a waif-loving magazine. But if a plus-size style guide makes similar comments, then those are bound to have an effect on individuals who suffer from low self-esteem in the first place.
Thank goodness the industry is finally evolving beyond this kind of thinking. If Figure It Out serves any purpose (besides the entirely positive effects that its size-positive images may have), it will be to show the public to kind of negativity that used to be received wisdom about plus-size fashion, and to indicate just how far the industry has come since then.* * *
The best way to deal with any manner of size-negative fashion advice is always to invert the rules, and do the opposite. Ergo, here is some size-positive fashion advice, Mode style:
Reveal your shape.
Flaunt your figure.
Show off your assets.
Uncover your beauty.
Emphasize your body.
Embrace your femininity.
Don't be invisible. Get noticed.
After all--what do plus-size women have that the minus-sizes do not?
Curves, of course.
Make the most of them.* * *
Cathy Bole, size 18, modelling for Fashion Bug (reminding everyone that size celebration can be fun):