This news is quite encouraging. We love the possibility of America's Next top Model
becoming a waif-free environment, at least for one season.
But the show also has the potential to do more harm than good, if it isn't executed correctly.
Shelley perceptively identifies the likeliest stumbling block. If this so-called "plus-size season" were merely to restrict itself to faux-plus models, then it would be an appalling spectacle with skinny girls being mislabeled full-figured.
Naturally, the ideal situation would be for all
of the girls to be larger than size 14, so that no matter which girl won, viewers would be guaranteed a legitimately full-figured Top Plus-Size Model.
Even if the sizes were mixed, an all-plus season would increase the chances that at least a few of the girls would be genuinely full-figured (size 16 or better). However, such a size mixture would create potential pitfalls. If the faux-plus girls were favoured over the true plus-size models, or if the more androgynously "toned" models were prefererd over softer girls with more natural physiques, this would send a terribly mixed message to the show's young female viewership.
Thus, an equally important factor in the potential success of this season would be choosing judges with an authentically pro-plus aesthetic. Some individuals associated with the plus-size fashion industry are legitimately pro-curvy. Others, however, are not--and sadly, many of the people who restrict full-figured modelling to faux-plus standards are the industry's power brokers.
In short, the season would need two things to be successful: (a) true plus-size models as contestants, and (b) judges who are pro-plus and would evaluate full-figured beauty on its own terms, and would not
assess candidates on how closely they approach straight-size standards.
Thus, the season would require a substantial change in its evaluative paradigm from the usual ANTM
criteria. Judges would need to prefer round facial features over oval faces, facial fullness over gaunt visages, soft figures over toned bodies, beautiful looks over "edgy" appearances, and timeless femininity over modern androgyny.
Within those parameters, a plus-size season of America's Next Top Model
could be authentically subversive, and would make for thoroughly enjoyable viewing. It would eliminate comparisons between anorexic girls and plus-size models. It would present an idealized vision of the actual populace (which is what fashion should be doing), not an alien, unnatural standard. Its contestants would reflect the body shape of the majority of American girls, merely possessing exceptionally photogenic facial features and proven modelling ability.
Let us illustrate what a good critique from a pro-curvy judge on such a season would be (the kind of judge that the show should accept), versus a bad critique from an inappropriate judge who would impose straight-size standards on the girls (the kind of judge that the show should reject). We will use "Lillian" as the name of a hypothetical contestant:
GOOD JUDGE: Lillian, we love the fullness of your facial features and the untoned, natural softness of your physique. We love how languidly you pose to show off your curves in a sensual yet tasteful manner. Your expressions are full of emotion, very gentle and vulnerable and inviting. The public will respond to you avidly, because you personify the dream of beauty that resides deep in their hearts, their archetypal impressions of angels and goddesses. We adore your long tresses and fair complexion. You are timeless beauty personified. You have the top photo this week.
BAD JUDGE: Lillian, you need to starve so that your facial features look harsh and mannish. You should pose in unnatural and freakish ways to show off angles and hide your curves as much as possible, because your feminine fullness repels me, owing to the fact that I am afraid of womanliness and don't find girls attractive in the first place. Your expressions should be uglier, because I loathe beauty and only like that which makes the majority of the populace sick. (This proves how avant garde I am to my degenerate social circle.) You should chop off your hair so that you look as androgynous as possible. You should adopt a spray tan so that you look orange, thereby obscuring your pure Nordic appearance, which I resent for political reasons.
If the series were to be governed by the aesthetic of the Good Judge, the it would be glorious. If it were to be governed by the aesthetic of the Bad Judge, then it would be an obscenity and, as suggested above, would do more harm than good.
Let us hope that such a season is indeed in the works, and if it is, that it will be guided by a pro-plus aesthetic.
The flawless perfection of Shannon Marie--the most gorgeous plus-size model of all time, and the ideal standard by which any "Top Plus-Size Model" contestant would rightly be judged:
(From Mode magazine.)
- The timeless ideal of beauty personified