We usually try to restrict ourselves to posting positive messages at this site. If an ad campaign, or a television show, or a motion picture relating to women of size does not
come up for discussion here--even though it has attracted media notice--it usually means that we are deliberately avoiding the subject, because the only way to post about it would be to criticize it, or to denounce it for doing more harm than good. As the old saying goes, "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say it at all." Negativity can be counter-productive, and it is usually better to focus on the good, than to harp on the bad.
But for once, just once, we would like to offer a few thoughts in the way of constructive criticism. And we stress the word constructive,
because if anything should be obvious by now, it is that nothing is more important to this Web site than the success of the plus-size industry.
So, with that thought in mind, here is a list of what are probably the ten biggest impediments to size celebration today--ten things that are holding back plus-size fashion, and preventing it from being all that it could be; i.e., a force for reforming society's aesthetics, and for fostering an appreciation of the beauty of the fuller female figure.
These ten problems are listed in order of importance, beginning with the most acute.
1. The use of faux-plus models.
This is by far the most significant stumbling block in the industry today, the single factor that is holding back size celebration more than anything else is. Retailers that sell plus-size clothing, but don't use plus-size models, are at best working at cross-purposes to their own interests, and at worst, behaving in an ethically questionable way. They take the money of plus-size women, but do nothing to prompt society to appreciate its customers' appearance. Quite the opposite; their casting practices suggest that they find their customers' size too unattractive to be featured in their ads. This is not even a mixed message--this is a negative message.
We group the use of faux-plus models together with the use of actual straight-size models, in this category. The effect of campaigns with either types of models is virtually identical. Every single promotion that features non-plus models is a wasted opportunity--a wasted opportunity to reform society's views of beauty; a wasted opportunity to help both men and
women discover an appreciation of full-figured femininity; a wasted opportunity to create new customers.
And because of the height requirement in modelling (which is in itself an absurd rule, and one that only makes sense if one prefers a straight-size look), only models who are size 14 or better look genuinely full-figured in advertising campaigns. Therefore, size 14 should be the size cutoff--nothing less, unless the model is significantly shorter than 5'8.
2. The resistance to beauty.
This has always been a problem in the industry. Too often, advertising campaigns book models with a "lifestyle" look, rather than those with an ingenue quality.
We all know that society has internalized the prejudices of the mass media, and that Hollywood deliberately and universally excludes
attractive full-figured actresses from appearing in film or television, and only permits non-photogenic actresses to appear on camera. Only plus-size fashion advertising can create images to counter this myth, and the only
way that it can do this, is if it casts the most beautiful models that it can possibly find.
This is not merely an aesthetic wish, or a desire to see beauty for beauty's sake. Rather, this is a strategic necessity. Every advertising campaign that confirms, rather than debunks, the media myth that full-figured women are unattractive is yet another wasted opportunity.
3. Lack of a size-positive publication.
This shouldn't even be a listing. If Figure
actually delivered a positive message, instead of merely reproducing the mixed messages that the mainstream magazines deliver (and even worse, running diet ads), it could actually be a force for good. Its size policies are generally on the mark. If only the magazine could match this with a pro-curvy philosophy, it would be able to pick up where Mode
left off, and help raise the self-esteem of full-figured women everywhere.
4. Lack of fresh faces.
Some models, such as Barbara Brickner, become even more beautiful as their careers progress. But this is not true of everyone. And because of the dearth of work for plus-size models, it takes an eternity for a model to build up a portfolio of tear sheets. The industry desperately needs new faces (models who are both gorgeous and
genuinely full-figured, for the reasons stated above, in points 1 and 2).
Part of the reason why straight-size models are considered attractive is simply because such models are often very young,
and there is a distinctive freshness of beauty that is unique to youth. For the plus-size industry not to capitalize on the beauty of youth is to put itself at a major aesthetic disadvantage. It is like starting a race a lap behind. Moreover, this practice confirms another Hollywood-generated lie: that "plus" somehow equals "old."
And astonishingly, on the rare occasions when the industry does use younger models, it restricts itself to the faux-plus size--which leads back to the problems specified in point 1.
5. The "sample size" issue.
This excuse is so flimsy that it doesn't even merit denunciation. And yet, it is more often cited as a justification for using smaller models than any other. The excuse runs, "We can't use fuller-figured models because our samples are cut for a faux-plus size."
The solution is beyond obvious: Produce fuller-figured samples
! Torrid does. Penningtons did, for its Summer 2005 campaign. It is like saying, "We can't paint this wall blue, because we always buy red paint." Why not buy blue paint?
There is simply no reason whatsoever to produce samples in such small sizes.
6. Don't ruin the masterpiece
(a.k.a., "If it isn't broken, don't fix it"). Every once in a while, the industry produces a masterpiece; or, at the very least, "gets it right." How disappointing when those instances end up being short-lived, and are sabotaged, for reasons that no one can ever understand.
Case in point: a few years ago, when Fashion Bug launched its Web site, it boasted one of the most attractive portals on the Internet. And for several seasons thereafter, its campaigns were among the most gorgeous in the industry, and quite probably the most beautiful in North America, featuring models who were youthful and genuinely full-figured. The photography was terrific, and even the settings were attractive. What's more, the division was outperforming Charming Shoppes's other two brands. Then, for no reason whatsoever, it changed. The Web site adopted an ugly barn-red colour, the company began selecting less popular models, and, except for a brief success with Valerie Lefkowitz, it went the faux-plus route.
Another case in point: Just My Size. Two years ago, its casting was commendable, and was improving steadily. Then, it too went the faux-plus route--to widespread denunciation. Why the model shrinkage? Did the drop in Mode
's popularity towards the end of its run--not to mention the abysmal Grace
experience--not confirm to everyone's satisfaction how unpopular the faux-plus approach really is?
The same is true of the models themselves. How many former goddesses have achieved widespread career success at a genuinely plus size, and won tremendous public acclaim, only to diminish themselves to faux-plus dimensions? Too many to count. In some cases, careers suffered, in other cases, they didn't, but in every
instance, their ability to inspire public enthusiasm, and to help reform society's view of beauty, was negated.
Don't ruin the masterpiece.
This is a tricky issue. On the one hand, it is very important for the industry to employ the very best photographers, as well as top-notch stylists, make-up artists, etc. A crack photographic team can even take a straight-size model and glamourize her, until the viewer is almost tricked into finding her attractive. And even gorgeous plus-size models appear that much more
beautiful, when they are shot by a great photographer, after being styled and made up by first-rate MUAs and stylists.
On the other hand, in the plus-size industry, far more than in straight-size fashion, it is terribly important for the model to be gorgeous to begin with, and not to rely on the photographic team. Remember--right after shooting a pricey campaign with top-flight professionals, her next ten shoots will probably be for struggling clients who simply don't have the resources to assemble an A-list photographic team. And then, the images will either stand or fall based on the model's inherent looks and talent.
The quality of the model remains the most important element.
8. Lack of publicity.
Again, this is an area that must be approached with caution. Obviously, having underweight celebrities selling plus-size fashions is a colossal affront and an insult. But even using plus-size celebrities is a perilous proposition. Celebrities tend to be extremely undependable, and because their next career moves could involve hawking weight-loss products, or starving themselves into the Hollywood standard, they simply cannot be trusted as spokespersons for size celebration.
Of course, there are always exceptions.
Better to promote the celebrity status of plus-size models themselves. But here, too, one needs to approach the matter with real forethought. First and foremost, the publicity ventures--whatever they are--must not
be based on an anti-plus premise (like pro-starvation shows, or any types of diet promotions). Second, in order to be effective representatives for the industry, and for plus-size women in general, the models who are being promoted need to be both gorgeous and genuinely full-figured--in accordance with the issues raised in points 1 and 2. And third, the models must be philosophically prepared to deflect any anti-plus statements that they encounter in the course of their publicity events. Either through charm, though wit, or through sheer intellect, they must be able to deliver a positive message, even in an unfriendly environment.
9. Not taking advantage of cultural trends.
There is no need to belabour this point, as we have discussed it before. Romantic fashion is inherently curve-friendly, so the industry should embrace any fashion trends that favour such styles, even as it should avoid trends that advocate modernist or shapeless clothing (e.g., ponchos), which are not flattering to the fuller female figure. Likewise, when commercial campaigns take on a more historical bent, the plus industry should capitalize on this, inasmuch as such settings and environments are perfectly suited to the plus aesthetic.
10. Customer support.
Points 1 through 9 list some of the reasons why customer support for the plus-size industry isn't as great as it could be. The industry often ends up frustrating the very individuals whom it seeks to attract. As a final point, however, we must remind the public that when a company finally does produce a campaign that is genuinely size-positive and beautiful--one that can help reform society's views of beauty--then that company deserves the utmost support and accolades. As with all things in life, it is easy to criticize, and easy to point out shortcomings and missed opportunities. It is much harder (but much more worthwhile--hence our usual "compliments only" approach) to identify and applaud instances in which the industry gets it right.
When the magic happens, the companies that have produced it deserve the utmost acclaim.
Torrid beauty Alicia, representing the way of the future: