(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.* * *
But they are.
Wise calendar-makers that the Sports Illustrated producers are, they realize that a calendar is a unique type of publication.
Unlike the once-, maybe twice-seen images in disposable monthly magazines, a calendar image hangs on a wall for thirty consecutive days. The customer who purchases a calendar will not merely glance at each of its images on a single occasion, but will see it all day, every day--for four long weeks.
Therefore, to succeed, each calendar image must be capable of generating a sustained feeling of delight and pleasure in the viewer.
How do the S.I. calendars achieve this aesthetic effect?
They do not merely stick a skinny model in front of a camera in any random location, and tell her to disrobe and expose her ribs. Rather, they place her in an environment in which the viewer himself would wish to be. Each calendar image becomes a self-contained fantasy, a window to a better world, a means of escape for the viewer, a place where he would rather find himself than in the oppressive work (or school) environment where such a calendar is usually displayed.
Each model in a Sports Illustrated calendar is therefore a component of a generally pleasurable setting; a fragment of that escapist locale; an embodiment of its mood and ambience.
The models invariably possess long hair, pretty faces, and their expressions are not aggressive or belligerent (or comical). Rather, the models' expressions vary from gentle to sensual to alluring. The demeanour of the models is akin to the gentle breeze that the viewer senses wafting through the palm fronds in the picture, forgetting for a moment the dry, recycled air of his neon-lit office.
True, the S.I. models are thin, because that is the standard that the modern media has imposed. But in every other aspect, the models are feminine, just as the landscapes in which they are generally photographed evoke the aesthetic of the Beautiful, not the ugly aesthetic of modernity.
This beautiful, escapist element in a calendar is so important that--surprising as this may seem--even customers who adore plus-size beauty, and intensely dislike today's anorex-chic image of women, might sooner purchase a Sports Illustrated swimsuit publication than a calendar featuring plus-size models, if the former gives him a feeling of fantasy, of a waking dream, while the plus-size calendar merely resembles an urban fashion editorial with unremarkable models, or is shot in a bare studio, or is just a stylized period piece, and doesn't engage him personally.
Therefore, for a plus-size-model calendar to succeed (as it should), for such a project to achieve its fullest potential, it should draw on the self-evident selling points of popular calendars like the Sports Illustrated swimsuit publication, and situate plus-size models in similarly agreeable contexts, just as Mode magazine took the best elements of mainstream fashion magazines and adapted them for the plus aesthetic, achieving stellar results.
At least two publications have already been produced that provide textbook examples of what an ideal plus-size-model calendar should look like.
First, there are Barbara Brickner's famous swimwear editorials in Mode magazine. Shot in Bermuda by Mode's greatest photographer, the renowned Michel Arnaud, these images captured all of the warm, tranquil, escapist beauty of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit calendars in terms of setting, but they celebrated the Classical perfection of Mrs. Brickner's womanly figure, rather than modern androgyny. Ten times more gorgeous than any S.I. waif, Barbara earned a well-deserved reputation as the greatest swimwear model of all time, thanks to these images--a title that has yet to be seriously contested.
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. * * *
It was a perfect publication, and if it had been offered for purchse, rather than provided as a free Elena Miro in-store promotion, it would have equalled any S.I. calendar in sales.
It would also have changed the world
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.
"January," from Elena Miro's Barbara Brickner calendar:
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