The three stages of body love

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Posted by HSG on March 08, 2005 at 06:39:38:

The following is an attempt to identify and categorize general beliefs and practices concerning plus-size beauty.

Any manner of categorization involves oversimplification. However, we trust that readers will find the following groupings useful, especially in determining where individuals or organizations rank on the body-love scale, based on the attitudes that they commonly express.

We do not merely intend these categories to be understood as separate divisions, however, but as progressive stages. In other words, the slow but inevitable ascent from the first to the third stage charts the course by which full-figured femininity should--and will--recover its timeless status as the ideal of womanly beauty.

1. Size Tolerance

We use the term "tolerance" reluctantly, because it has become a terribly overused word in our society, and has attracted unfortunate political connotations. The rather draconian insistence on tolerance in certain spheres has understandably led to an overall backlash against this concept. Skeptics rightly suspect that the casual insistence on "tolerance" is a shrewd stratagem, a way of facilitating a cultural power grab, in accordance with the cliche that "the squeaky wheel gets the grease."

However, "tolerance" does furnish us with a useful and recognizable term for the most basic level of progress that society should make in overcoming its thin-supremacist mindset.

We could as easily use the term "respect" to refer to this stage, because it involves little more than for individuals to adjust their words and actions to comply with the most basic level of human decency.

At this stage, people realize that they must refrain from making offensive jokes and comments about curvaceous women. They then stop using hateful language--and especially, demeaning and inaccurate terms such as "overw----," "f--," "ob---," and other slurs, the sole purpose of which is to inflict pain on others. They abandon every form of discrimination and prejudice that relates to size.

In political discourse, anyone whose behaviour fails to meet this elementary standard is rightly deemed prejudiced, a bigot, a sizeist, and so forth. But even leaving aside emotionally-charged terms such as those, the kind of cretin who will not even exhibit such rudimentary civility is, quite simply, reprehensible.

How one deals with such individuals is a matter of personal conscience.

Asking society to rise to this basic level of civility is not a nod towards political correctness--especially since size discrimination is often perpetrated by the very same individuals who are most vocal in preaching the gospel of social justice. (It is disheartening to see how selective the champions of "tolerance" can be.) Rather, it is a legitimate expectation of fundamental human decency between one human being and another.

Needless to say, this code of behaviour should be followed by individuals who are themselves full-figured as much as by those who are not. Or to put it another way, just because you have been brainwashed by the media into resenting your natural appearance doesn't mean that you have any special privilege to undermine the self-esteem of others.

Aesthetically speaking, this category is not especially progessive. This is the stage at which people claim that "plus-size models are beautiful despite being full-figured." All too often, the proponents of size tolerance apply their political beliefs to the aesthetic realm, and produce campaigns for "real" beauty (which are thinly-veiled campaigns against actual beauty). What makes this approach so tragic is that it is based on a degree of resentment, and on the proponents' secret believe that full-figured women cannot win the aesthetic competition against their thinner rivals--and therefore, that they should eliminate the very concepts of ideals and beauty altogether.

Entire societies have been built on principles such as this, and those were so oppressive in their greyness and sterility that only walls and weapons could keep their citizens from escaping.

2. Size Acceptance

(This phrase is sometimes used to refer to the entire pro-plus movement, but we wish to use it in a more specific sense, to identify the intermediate stage of body love. Others may define the phrase differently.)

Anyone with an immigrant background will find the philosophy that underpins this stage very familiar. This is an assimilationist fantasy--the "Don't-call-me-plus-size" approach. Individuals at this stage of body love still implicitly acknowledge the aesthetic superiority of thinness. However, with enough effort, they believe that full-figured women can be absorbed into that so-called norm.

This is the stage at which one is either not supposed to acknowledge that someone is curvaceous, or--for goodness' sake--not draw any attention to this fact. Therefore, the clothing that is advocated at this level is designed to "cover up flaws," to be "skimming and "slimming," to "hide," "disguise," "minimize," and altogether eliminate any trace of plus features--the principle always being to simulate the appearance of thinness as closely as possible.

This is the stage at which people say, "plus-size models are beautiful . . . and just happen to be full-figured."

"Don't call us plus size," people at this stage ask, because to be reminded that they are full-figured is still seen as a drawback. It impedes their efforts to forget that they are more curvaceous than the media ideal.

The proponents of this approach delight in seeing plus-size clothing tucked in with the straight-size wares--even if it is only in the basements and corners of the stores, or if it is a rare double-digit size on the racks, amidst dozens of single-digit size offerings. It means they have secured a little place for themselves.

They enthuse over token appearances of plus-size models in tiny corner images of magazines, because they envy the thin/in crowd, and wants to be a part of it, no matter how peripheral. They see these marginal representations as the best that they can hope for (secretly still believing that this is their rightful place, and that the waifs are still rightly in the centre).

At this stage, the line between marginalization and inclusion is indistinct.

This stage yields campaigns with plus-size models who are barely and imperceptibly plus, who look as much like straight-size models as possible. The deception is all; the desire is always to convince themselves that plus features can somehow disappear.

Grace, and the latter issues of Mode, operated according to this principle, and this is why they seldom used genuinely curvaceous models. Doing so would dispel the illusion that full-figured women could conform to the "hard" and "flat" media norm.

3. Size Celebration

This, finally, is true body love. The people who have progressed to this level believe that plus-size models are beautiful because they are full figured. They realize that the soft fullness of a curvaceous figure is an essential element in feminine charm--indeed, the greatest of all assets to womanly allure.

Celebrants of size have an absolute and unapologetic preference for the fuller female figure. They view being curvaceous as a distinctive quality, as a more glorious kind of beauty. Timeless beauty. True beauty. The natural ideal of beauty, to which nothing else can compare.

They believe that plus-size models should take centre stage--not for political reasons, but purely on aesthetic grounds. They believe that being full-figured should never be an invisible quality. It should be as visible--and as beautiful--as possible.

With the greatest respect in the world for others whose opinions may differ from their own, they recognize that true beauty does not come in a size six, and that style has everything to do with size--because only a truly curvaceous figure can give a feminine dress its proper shape.

They understand that the artificial modern norm of skinniness is a sham, a deception perpetrated on society by an insidious alliance of fashion designers and media elites, weight-loss profiteers, and politically-motivated social engineers.

Dieting holds no temptation for them whatsoever. They don't even comprehend it as an abstract concept. It seems something strange and regrettable, vaguely akin to medieval practices such as donning hairshirts, or self-flagellation. And the idea of sentencing themselves to torture regimens in gym prisons holds about as much appeal as volunteering to work in a coal mine for no pay.

They appreciate that a full-figured woman is thirty pounds sexier than a waif (or more). They love the progress implied in a size sequence such as "12, 14, 16 . . . " and feel sorry for anyone who is diminishing herself by intervals of "6, 4, 2 . . . "

They would never aspire to resemble celebrities such as Sarah Jessica Parker and Emmy Rossum. Rather, their aspiration is to look like Shannon Marie and Lillian Russell. Moreover, they acknowledge that the appearance of these goddesses improved in direct proportion to the augmentation of their dress sizes.

Significant examples of this approach include the original Mode, the best campaigns from Elena Miro and Fashion Bug--and incidentally, the entire history of Western art.

* * *

It is rather regrettable to see that parts of society, and an even greater segment of the mass media, fail to rise even to the level of the first stage that we have presented here. And by now, we have all seen that the intermediary stage will never do more than achieve a degree of peripheral notice for full-figured women.

Not until there is a significant push for the third stage of body love, for true size celebration, by individuals who delight at the prospect of creating an "alternative media" to supplant the mass media of today, will dominant cultural attitudes about plus-size beauty begin to change.

And it is a change whose time has come.

Barbara Brickner in the current Catherines flyer:

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