Perhaps the subtlest (and therefore most insidious) way in which our thin-supremacist culture polices itself and keeps the anorexic standard in place is through a nasty little rhetorical pose that one might call, "The Myth of the Happy Medium."
What makes this trope so insidious is that, like the Web phenomenon known as "concern trolling," it disguises a truly pernicious intention in the cloak of reasonability.
Everyone has seen variations of this insulting fallacy used to attack plus-size models. The statements usually run along the lines of:
Why do we need plus-size models? Why do we have to go to extremes? Why can't we find a happy medium?
Riiiight. Of course, this supposed call for a "happy medium" is nothing of the sort. Rather, it is oppression masked as accommodation, and it is just as maliciously anti-plus as overt thin-supremacism.
There is no practical difference between someone who blatantly attacks full-figured women and someone who superciliously disparages them as representing an "extreme" rather than a "happy medium." Both types of individuals--those who flagrantly insist on a size-0 standard, and those who speak duplicitously of a "happy medium"--work towards the same curve-hating end: the outright suppression of plus-size beauty and the erasure of the full-figured body from cultural view.
It doesn't matter whether the person decrying true plus-size models does so in the name of an anorexic ideal or claims to be searching for a "happy medium." The endgame of both stratagems is to banish the womanly form from public visibility, as it if were something shameful.
The only difference between the two stances is that one (pro-anorexia) is openly
bigoted, while the other couches the same bigotry in cunning wordcraft. If anything, the "happy medium" gambit is worse,
because, by cloaking its oppressiveness in a smarmy air of concern, it is not as easily written off, not as easily recognized for what it truly is (anti-plus bigotry), as outright thin supremacism.
Furthermore, what makes the "happy medium" tactic so underhanded is the use of the word "extreme" to marginalize and suppress plus-size beauty. "Extreme" is an especially devious term because it has no fixed definition, no stable meaning. Anything
can be dubbed "extreme," depending on from which point one measures a so-called extremity.
Needless to say, the people who resort to the "happy medium" ploy don't have any genuine extremism in mind when they misconstrue plus-size beauty as "extreme." They don't mean, "Why do there have to be 100-pound models and 600-pound models? Why can't there be a happy medium?"
No, they plant the goalpost of extremity squarely in the middle of the field, shrinking the range of supposedly "happy" options until one is left with a tiny range that is no "medium" at all, but is itself
a minuscule extreme.
In other words, their supposedly "happy medium" is actually a midpoint between "anorexic-looking" and merely "malnourished-looking," between "dangerously underweight" and "severely underweight." Their "medium" is no "medium" at all, but a median between two positions that are both on the same emaciated end of the spectrum.
It is the pliability of the word "extreme" that makes it such a pernicious term. By shifting the boundary of "extremism" to wherever one wishes, one can rebrand any
position as "extreme," even if said position is actually the most sensible, normal, natural point.
First, the "happy medium" faction labels models size 28--a hale, robust, comfortable body size--as "extreme." Then they rebrand the size-18 models as "extreme." Then the size-14s. Then even the faux-plus models.
Incomprehensibly, some fashion apologists have even dubbed the '80s supermodel size (which was already an underweight standard, and one that triggered eating disorders) an outlying, too-large "extreme" that should be rejected in favour of a "happy medium" in size 4 (!).
Thus, in no time at all, the "happy medium" stance ends up pursuing the same goal as outright pro-anorexia propaganda: the de-legitimization of every body type other than fashion-waif emaciation.
(Don't think so? America's Next Top Model
is notorious for taking skinny size-8/10 models and falsely passing them off as "plus size," and yet on ANTM
message boards, the worshippers of fashion's androgynous standard use the "Why can't there be a happy medium?" line to attack even these
slim girls as supposedly "extreme.")
Consider, then, how evil the "happy medium" rhetorical tactic actually is. Its advocates don't want anything like a sensible, robust, womanly median at all, a scenario in which a size 18/20 is embraced as a comfortable, natural middle ground, a universally agreeable body type, while a size 28 represents a curvier but still perfectly reasonable plus-size point.
No, those who parrot the "happy medium" line circumscribe the "extreme" border to ever-smaller boundaries, until what they call a "medium" is itself an underweight extreme.
Thus, whenever we confront the "happy medium" argument and the labelling of any curvy size as "extreme," we should reject the statement and denounce it for the veiled bigotry that it is. If one doesn't want a size 14 marginalized as "extreme," then one cannot permit a size 18 to be marginalized as "extreme." And if one doesn't want a size 18 marginalized as "extreme," then one cannot permit a size 22 to be marginalized as "extreme." And so forth.
Because even if a woman finds her own body type safely encompassed within the boundaries of the supposed "happy medium" du jour,
she should be aware that just as the "extreme" argument can delegitimize a figure larger than her own, it can just as easily delegitimize her own curvy body type, or any body type at all--and inevitably, it will.
The only just and positive approach is to celebrate all
sizes of plus, every figure above a size 14, including all sizes within the 20 range, and to reject every offensive effort to libel certain degrees of curvaceousness and erase them from cultural view.
Sumptuous goddess Katherine Roll, an ideal size 18, modelling the Queen Grace collection at Full Figured Fashion Week 2011:
[Image licensed from Mr. Richard Lew. No further reproduction of this photograph is permitted without the express consent of the photographer.]
- Katherine Roll video channel