[Originally posted on the Judgment of Paris Forum on October 6th, 2004.]
As so often happens in life, the cynics were right, and the idealists were wrong.
(Darn those cynics.)
The newest issue of Figure is out, and sure enough, weight-loss advertising has crept back into the magazine.
It is not as egregious as it used to be, but it's there. And like a worm in an otherwise delectable apple, it mars what otherwise would be a truly appealing product.
But don't let this stop you from running to your nearest Barnes & Noble or Charming Shoppes store and picking up a copy of the new Figure posthaste, because Valerie Lefkowitz and Megan Garcia are featured on the cover and throughout the magazine. And this time, they even appear in the same layouts--both photographed by Roberto Ligresti.
Now, that's something to celebrate.
Visually, Figure retains a level of quality that is superior to Grace and to late Mode, and if it still falls short of original Mode standard, that is no dishonor, because that lofty summit may simply be out of reach. However, even a quick comparison of this "Late Fall" issue to last year's autumn entry reveals just how far Figure has progressed in a year's time.
The best layout in this issue is "Pink or Brown," featuring Valerie and Megan joined by Fluvia (who also appears with these two fan favourites on the magazine's cover). Part of the joy of browsing through every new issue is seeing which of Figure's most popular models will create the magazine's finest new image. Megan won the day last time, with her luscious, "fruit"-themed editorial, but for Late Fall, it is Valerie who steals the show.
This outrageously cute two-page spread is an absolute delight, and is markedly different from anything Valerie or Figure have ever created before.
It is impossible to look at the image without smiling. Valerie explores Hilary Duff territory here, saucily blowing her pink gum into a perfect bubble (colour-coordinated with the paintbrush, of course). But the model's age is wonderfully indeterminate, because one can discern more intelligence in her gaze than any teenager would be able to convey. (Click the scan to view it at a larger size.)
But Megan also makes a marvellous showing in this layout. And if the casual outfit on p. 62 represents Megan's "fun" look, then her p. 57 image presents the model as full-blown goddess. We must applaud the hairstylist for arranging Megan's flowing blonde tresses in such a marvellous way; i.e., in an opulent style worthy of Shannon Marie. (Mr. Ligresti consistently enlists the services of the very best hair people on his shoots.) And even if the apparel in this layout is not especially interesting (apart from Valerie's pretty, sleeveless top), Megan nevertheless does as much as anyone possibly could to make that brown outfit come alive.
The "Pink and Brown" editorial is a show-stopper for another reason as well: it gives the magazine a welcome dose of youthful energy. If one could make any criticism of the last Figure, it would be that the issue inclined a little too far towards . . . mature readers. This was the notable mistake of Grace: forgetting that an entire generation of young girls with curves are eager and waiting for a magazine to call their own. Ergo, until and unless Charming Shoppes launches a youth-oriented sister publication to their current periodical (perhaps titled TeenFigure), Figure would do well to include some content directed towards younger readers. And this lively layout is a perfect example.
Also interesting is the "Cardigan" editorial that gives this issue its warm and cozy cover. Group images of models seldom work as well as solo portraits, but this ensemble shot is charming. Note how Valerie steals the spotlight with her sunlit smile and by choosing a cardigan in one of her trademark berry colours, which suit her fair complexion so well.
A bonus in this issue comes in the form of a high-temperature lingerie layout featuring Ali C. and Jordan Tesfay. Figure has not yet produced a really top-notch lingerie editorial, but this is probably their best to date. Ali has appeared in the magazine before, but this time, the photographer ("Disney") shows us a different side of the model--a more sensual quality, as befits the feminine attire. The blue two-page image is especially striking. We should also credit the makeup artist for giving the models a look that is steamy yet chic, and in no way vulgar.
To the magazine's great credit, its editorial content remains size-neutral. (No more "shame" stories.) And among the issue's interesting articles, we would be remiss not to single out a fascinating piece titled "You Can Go Home Again," which would be worth reading in any magazine. The article chronicles the decisions of three women to abandon the urban life and make a home for themselves in a more rural milieu. Not only is this a fascinating subject in and of itself, but it actually fits in perfectly with the theme of size celebration, which is very much about abandoning artificial, media-championed urban standards in favour of natural ideals and principles.
Without a doubt, there is a lot to like in the new Figure. If the magazine ever eliminates weight-loss advertising altogether, and at least maintains (or perhaps even surpasses) its current level of visual quality, it could be everything for which one could ever hope in a magazine for plus sizes.