The following is a selection of news stories dealing with the dual topics of the lunacy of weight control and of our skewed contemporary aesthetics. Regrettably, I cannot endore the entire content of these articles, since each writer, to a greater or lesser degree, still reveals himself to be the victim of one type of aesthetic brainwashing almost in the same sentence that he manages to see through another type. Nevertheless, the general thrust of each of these messages is positive, or at least thought provoking, so I do consider them worth some attention. The eyeglasses symbol indicates stories that are particularly noteworthy.
Articles published after 1999 are located on the current News Plus page.
Anna Nicole Smith, the buxom Guess? jeans girl is, at 5 ft. 11 in. and 155 lbs., living proof that you don't have to be small to be big.
“Thin models look so unhealthy,” she has declared. “Who wants to hug a skeleton?”
“The image of Anna Nicole Smith has liberated a lot of people,” says eating-disorder counselor Suzanne Henrick. “One anorectic brought her picture in to me and said she was finally getting the point. It was a breakthrough.”
The stately Smith, 25, demands Godiva chocolates at every shoot. She claims to eat just about anything she can get her hands on and hates to exercise. “You sweat and get all nasty,” she says.
A high school dropout from Mexia, Texas, Smith ballooned from a pre-pregnancy 125 lbs. to 211 after the birth of her son, Daniel, now 7. Soon divorced, she dropped the extra pounds while supporting herself and Daniel as a $60-a-week cashier at a local Wal-Mart and making a jar of peanut butter last two weeks. “It was a starvation diet,” she says.
After rejections from countless modeling agencies, she sent nude shots of herself to Playboy and was selected as the March 1992 cover girl. Her Junoesque appeal led straight to a three-year contract with Guess?
“I always wanted to get back to be smaller than I was,” she says. “But I just couldn't. Now I feel very good about it, and I wouldn't change my figure for anything.”
When American supermodel Emme Aronson first sent her portfolio to a large number of modelling agencies in the late 1980s, the overwhelming response was: “You're not our type.”
What they meant was that she was too big. “I knew they wanted me to lose about 40 pounds (18 kg),” says Aronson, “but I refused to do it. That would have been like taking off my right leg.”
Instead, she went on to become to the top model in the plus-size division for the renowned Ford Agency in New York, featuring in advertising campaigns for big names such as Givenchy, Bloomingdale's and Macy's .
Two years ago she was chosen as one of the world's 50 most beautiful people by the U.S. magazine, People.
Aronson, who is 180 cm tall (5ft 11in) and weighs 84 kg—about 34 kilograms heavier than the waif supermodel Kate Moss—is concerned that society values the attainment of unrealistic beauty.
She argues the media should reflect the “miracle of difference,” pointing out that women range from having very small bones to very large frames. They also come in three main body types: angular, muscly and naturally rounded.
“Everyone says fashion is fantasy. You can't really take it seriously. I don't want those models who are in the media to be taken away. What I would like is to see is an array of beautiful models of all different sizes to represent what our society is.”
The size 16 model spends part of her time lecturing to groups, including high school students, with the message that self-esteem should not depend on size. “If we can look within ourselves, instead of trying to change the outside, we can change these problems of eating disorders and poor body image. But it takes a lot of work and a lot of commitment to being healthier and happier in the world you live in today, not tomorrow.”
Aronson is encouraged by the fact that larger women are becoming more demanding consumers.
“They are saying, ‘If you want us to buy your clothes, you are going to have to make them to fit us…not a tent with a hole in it, but clothes of beautiful material.'”
Women who put on weight over Christmas should not feel guilty: they have probably made themselves healthier, a two-year study has found.
An analysis by an insurance company has found that women who were between 20 and 50 per cent overweight cost less in health care than their thinner counterparts. The good news for the larger woman—of the likes of Roseanne, Dawn French and Jo Brand—is that the results have led the company to revise its premiums.
Colonia Insurance, one of the largest in Germany, has admitted that it had been charging overweight women more for health care policies. British companies said the results would be studied. The Association of British Insurers said companies were continually looking at medical research and these findings may lead to a review of health and life insurance policies here.
Full medicals are often required before a policy is agreed and along with age, life-style—including smoking and drinking—and weight-related illnesses are taken into account. Mary Evans Young, founder of the Diet Breakers anti-slimming group, urged the insurance companies to follow suit. “We should be getting some benefits,” she said, “but most women will remain happy to put their health at risk in order to be slimmer.”
The Colonia study looked at a group of women in Cologne [Köln] to evaluate whether an individual's risks were covered accurately. To its surprise it found the overweight women, aged between 20 and 40, spent less on therapy and drugs.
Insurance companies sometimes load premiums against overweight people. But for women in the 20 to 40 age group, the main health expenses are complications arising during pregnancy, maternity medical costs, disease related to the reproductive organs and mental disturbances. These are far more than doctors' fees and medication for high blood pressure or for skeletal and muscular-related illness which are the main complaints of the overweight.
Colonia did admit that once a woman is over the age of 40 the costs for blood pressure and skeletal and muscular-related illnesses are higher, but still not significantly so in relation to other typical costs for females.
The survey was carried out by Colonia staff and an external risk researcher with the aim of setting an exact surcharge policy. Prior to this, the insurance company took its information from reports by the company's doctors and reinsurance statistics. Dr Joachim von Reith, Colonia's product manager, said the results from the survey were a more accurate way of forecasting.
The company actually found that some of its premiums were too low but others, such as those for larger women, were too high. However, for men wanting to assuage their guilt over the Christmas over-indulgence, the news is not so good. Colonia found overweight men the most expensive group for payments by health and life insurance companies—and this could be reflected in future premiums.
The British Nutrition Foundation said that being slightly overweight was acknowledged to be healthier than being underweight. But, pouring cold water on the festive feasting, the nutrition foundation said the 50 per cent figure was considerably overweight.
Laura Ellia, a nutrition scientist, said: “I would have thought that if you are that overweight between the ages of 20 and 40 it will cause other health problems later. Traditionally, insurance companies have found overweight people to be more expensive in insurance terms. I am surprised that they have found such a difference in medical costs. I would be reluctant to say that being overweight is good for you.”
Sophie Dahl has long legs, wild hair and a famous family. It should surprise nobody, therefore, that she is being tipped as the newest pretender to the supermodel crown. But she has one attribute that her similarly lanky, tousled and well-connected chums Honor Fraser and Iris Palmer lack: a figure. Sophie is an unabashed size 14 and sports a 38DD bosom.
It is a revolutionary departure for an industry that regards xylophone ribs as sexy that she has not been laughed out of the door. Still more surprising is the fact that Storm, the agency that signed her up, has made no demands that she go on a lettuce-leaf and water diet. What is going on?
There are two explanations. The first is that since the watch company Omega threatened to withdraw its advertising from Vogue in protest at the gauntness of the models, a sense of realism has weakened the superwaif's bony grip on our perception of beauty. The second is that telling Sophie to diet doesn't work. The last time a modelling agency was unwise enough to try, she went home in a rage and consoled herself with chocolate cake.
Sophie strides into the Storm offices off the King's Road, a 6ft Juno on 3in heels, biting the heads off defenceless jelly babies. In her grandfather Roald's book, The BFG, she was immortalised as the Big Friendly Giant's sweet little bespectacled sidekick, but these days she's more of a BFG herself.
“I still can't believe I'm here,” she says, murdering another Jellytot. “I really thought I was destined for a life chained to a typewriter. I'm not knocking being a secretary, but it isn't a career you can get excited about, is it?”
Her preference for partying over homework, she explains, led to her leaving college two months into her A-level course. This academic laxity, however, was to lead indirectly to her new career.
“Mummy and I were having a huge argument on a street corner about my prospects. I was screaming, ‘I'm not a failure, I will have a proper job, you'll see!'” Fortunately, the row took place outside the house of Isabella Blow, fashion's eccentric doyenne and a noted talent spotter. “I was sitting on a doorstep crying, when a taxi drew up and a hat got out,” says Sophie. “I saw these little legs and a tiny bottom in lace trousers, and I thought, ‘God, she looks cool'.”
The feeling was mutual. Half an hour later, Blow informed Sophie's mother, the writer Tessa Dahl, that her daughter had a new career. “Issy thought Ellen von Unwerth [the photographer] would love me, so she took me along with her to shoot a Spice Girls album cover, pretending I was one of her stylists. About halfway through the shoot, Ellen came up to me and said, ‘Hmm, who are you? I like you!' and took two rolls of pictures.”
Others, however, were less susceptible to Sophie's charms. When she turned up with Von Unwerth on a prestigious assignment for Italian Vogue, the stylist was horrified.
“She was such a bitch,” says Sophie. “All the other girls were really thin, but they happily accepted my size. But the stylist was furious. She said, in front of everyone, that I was enormous and she couldn't do anything with me. I felt so humiliated, I went and cried in the loo.” In the end, Sophie was photographed wearing a carving knife, an ostrich feather fan and a furious expression.
“I was furious,” she says. “It was the stylist's fault; she'd been sent my measurements weeks before. It was her job to get clothes to fit me, not mine to fit her clothes.”
That was months ago. Now, Sophie finds that posing alongside size-eight models holds no fears. “Actually, I love it, because I can eat lunch and they can't.” She won't exercise, goes out for greasy-spoon breakfasts (though she doesn't order fried bread any more) and can't say no to rice pudding.
She doesn't know how much she weighs; in fact, she hasn't stepped on to a pair of scales since she almost succumbed to an eating disorder when she was 14.
“My mother and I had been living in an ashram in America,” she says, casually, “and I longed to be a swami when I grew up. Then it all turned nasty and we had to run away in the middle of the night. I'd loved the ashram, and I was furious with her for taking me away. So I stopped eating as a way of gaining control over some part of my life.”
In the end, the boredom of calorie counting proved her salvation, and she began eating normally again. “Dieting is a horrible way to live,” she says. “I feel so sorry for some of these models who have to diet to stay all bones and hips. It's not humanly possible that they're naturally that shape, and I don't think it's at all sexy. In fact, it's sick.”
Sophie believes the fashion world is ready for a change. “We've had the waif for the past five years; it's time for a different look.” But it is premature to trumpet the return of realism to that looking-glass world. Although models are supposed to be selling clothes to normal women, they are still required to be built as much like coat-hangers as possible. Real women were never meant to wear clothes, it would seem: a bosom stops a dress hanging properly, while hips spoil the line. This explains why, despite the rapturous reception photographers have accorded the voluptuous Sophie, they all seem to prefer her with her clothes off.
Her first assignment, with Nick Knight for the fashion bible Visionaire, left her clad in just her contact lenses. “Mum thought I was going to be posing for a porn mag,” she says. “During her modelling days, she'd experienced too many photographers saying the picture wouldn't work if she didn't wet her T-shirt. She told me not to do it, and then all the family started calling. I said, ‘I'm 19—and if it's a mistake, it's a mistake, but it's important for me.'
“The shoot was absolutely terrifying. I was standing naked in the changing room, with the stylist powdering my bottom and covering my legs with foundation. It was surreal. But I really loved the pictures in the end. I looked like a Fifties pin-up. I didn't recognise myself.”
She went on to be photographed for Vanity Fair in big knickers and stiletto heels. How fine is the line separating such photographs from those in a men's magazine? She looks appalled. “There is a Page Three mentality in this country,” she says, “and having a shape is equated with sex. But I'd never do glamour shots—I couldn't.”
Sophie believes Roald Dahl would have been proud of her career: “He always wanted me to do what made me happy.” Her ambition, however, is to follow in his footsteps. “I'd like to buy a little villa in Italy and write all day, with lots of sweet babies running around and a divine husband,” she says, dreamily. “But that means I've just got to make a lot of money modelling.”
Here's a surprising state of affairs: the editor of a fashion magazine who can't find anything to wear.
But such is the predicament of being on the far side of size 12, says Veronique Vienne, the editor of Mode, a glossy new monthly for plus-size women.
“Most stores will carry all styles up to size 10,” she said. “There'll be a couple of 12s. But if I'm not first in the store to snatch up that one size 14 immediately, I leave empty-handed.”
With Mode, which will make its debut on Tuesday, Ms. Vienne has a mission: to demand equal fashion for full-figured women. “Our subject matter is looking fabulous no matter what size you are,” she said. “We are not about dieting or losing weight.”
Indeed, there will be no calorie-counting features in Mode, the first fashion magazine aimed at women who, as its promotional material states, “have breasts and hips and maybe 20 or 25 extra pounds.”
Mode is tapping into the very-90s acceptance of America's increasing girth. An estimated 65 million American women, or 40 percent, wear plus sizes, or 14 to 24. Over the last three years, sales of women's large-size clothing have outpaced the overall women's market—up 6.1 percent last year over 1995, with general women's apparel up only 5.1 percent, according to the NPD Group, a market research company. In 1996, $21.3 billion was spent on women's plus sizes.
It used to be that big clothes were designed as big fashion statements—in bold patterns and prints, with bows and other extraneous details that seemed to exaggerate rather than streamline a woman's silhouette.
But today, in answer to the growing market, many fashion designers who used to stop at size 12 are expanding into the upper reaches. Emanuel Ungaro, Mary McFadden, Givenchy and Gianni Versace have started offering designs in plus sizes. Even Lane Bryant, the oldest name in large-size clothing, is showing a more sophisticated look.
Nonetheless, demand for stylish plus-size clothes, especially formal and cutting-edge fashions, still exceeds supply.
“It's fairly easy to find career clothes in that size range, and getting easier to find weekend clothes,” said Cindy Weber Cleary, the fashion director of Glamour, which along with Marie Claire were the first magazines to introduce full-figured fashion news several years ago. “But plus-size women want the same range of options. They want to be able to find sexy downtown black leather in their size.”
In response, Mode will be heavy on how-tos and where-to-finds. The premiere issue also features valentines to Bette Midler, Kathy Bates, Cecilia Bartoli, and Fredi Walker of Rent—women who have never let a few extra pounds hold back their careers.
In these pages, no waifs are welcome, though even with Rubens-esque figures, none of the models are exactly obese: most are size 14.
Mode's creators think they have discovered one of the last demographic niches without its own magazine. Published by Harris Publications, best known for magazines like Dog Aficionado and Guitar World, Mode is the brainchild of two seasoned executives: Julie Lewit-Nirenberg, the founding publisher of New York Woman and Mirabella, and Nancy Nadler LeWinter, a former publisher of Esquire and the founding publisher of the American edition of Marie Claire.
Mode's first issue, at 160 pages, has a relatively large initial print run of 550,000 copies. Its 70 pages of advertisements include companies like Revlon, Virginia Slims, Lane Bryant and Saks Fifth Avenue, whose Salon Z for women sizes 14 to 22 is advertising in a fashion magazine for the first time since it opened in 1992.
As neither Ms. Lewit-Nirenberg nor Ms. LeWinter is full figured, they insisted for credibility's sake that the staff consist of women who can relate to the struggles of finding fashion to fit a queenly physique. When reminded of this job requirement, Ms. Vienne at first demurred, then admitted to being a 14.
“It's not even so much a question of size,” she said. “Mode is designed for women who have curves. Some women have curves on the bottom and not on top, or vice versa. Curves are distributed in all different places.”
Ms. Cleary sounded a note of mild skepticism over how many women would want to publicly identify themselves as plus-size readers. Glamour has received “mixed messages on how ‘real' our readers want us to be,” she said, adding, “We've only shown 14s, which is straddling the divide between plus size and not.”
Even the industry giant Lane Bryant, which manufactures clothes in sizes up to 28, tends to show women no larger than size 16 in its advertisements, said Chris Hansen, vice president of marketing for the more than 850 Lane Bryant stores nationwide. “We all want to see pictures that are prettier than we are,” she explained.
Ms. Vienne, who as art director at Self and Parenting magazines was used to hiring size 4s and 6s, said she was taken aback when the first plus-size models came to Mode's offices for interviews. “Geez, I thought to myself, they're enormous!” Then, she said, “my eyes began to be re-educated—the models now began to seem more graceful.
“And then it occurred to me,” she continued. “The reason they were so amazingly beautiful was that they'd taken charge of their size, and what they looked like.”
Picture the scene: you are standing outside Mothercare in Liverpool on a Saturday afternoon, and it is raining. You are 20 years old, your streaked blonde hair is wet, and you are hung over. A stranger comes up to you. He says he is a talent scout for Nick Knight, a renowned fashion photographer, and is searching for a new model. He thinks you are she. He mentions Vogue. Your friends start giggling, you think it's a joke. It is, in fact, a fashion moment. Why? Because your name is Sara Morrison and you are not pipe-cleaner thin, but a fleshy, some say fat, size 16.
Months later, your thick ankles and cellulite-dimpled thighs are sprawled across six pages in Vogue and you are part of a new fashion breed: the superweight. “I still can't believe the story myself,” says Morrison. “Me, in Vogue! I thought the talent scout was having a laugh, because Vogue is a thin girls' magazine. I screamed the street down. It was like, wow, someone actually wants to see my thighs!”
There is not a sharp edge on Sara Morrison. The camera lingers curiously on the creases around the swell of her stomach, the dimpled knees, the plumpness of the hand. She is an aberration in a world of anorexia, bulimia and of dark circles around the eyes of those indulging in the now infamous heroin chic. “I don't diet,” says Morrison. “I have no idea how much I weigh. I suppose I would describe myself as fattish, but I don't really think about it that much. I have got better things to worry about. Of course, I love food,” she snaps. “But I like my beer even more.” Loud guffaw.
Six months down the line, Morrison has signed up with outsize model agency Excel, she has appeared on the cover of Suede's Saturday Night single, posed in front of a mirror, sulkily applying lipstick, sat on chat-show sofas, modelled for Dawn French's clothing label French & Teague, and been flown to Paris and Milan to model for, among others, Valentino. It seems the often quoted—and then frequently ignored by the fashion world—statistic that 47 per cent of British women are a size 16 or over, is beginning to sink in, albeit slowly.
Young photographers are fond of asking, “Did you know that Marilyn Monroe was a size 16?” Sophie Dahl, Morrison's size 14 superweight forerunner, was once greeted at a studio door by a photographer who exclaimed: “Omigod, it's Diana Dors!” His fashion editor then had a hissy fit, shrieking, “She's enormous, what the hell am I supposed to do with her?” We can only applaud fashion's inventiveness in the face of cellulite and a 38DD cleavage—Dahl was eventually photographed naked, clutching an ostrich feather and a carving-knife.
Yet Morrison has little pretensions about her and all the other women who share her voluptuous figure making a lasting impression on the fashion world. “I like to think that my being in Vogue and taking up modelling will have an influence, but deep down you know it's a one-minute wonder,” she says. And then she adds, chuckling, “But it' s not as if I haven't told them all I'll get out of bed for a lot less than £10,000, any day of the week.”
For a mere mortal man, and a skinny one to boot, there is something scary about the prospect of meeting Emme. She is America's top “plus size” model. Translating the euphemism, this means she is America's top big-girl model—a state-side version of the English amazon, Sophie Dahl.
Emme has hung, billboard-sized, in Times Square, models in all the top American glossies, and appears in the New York Times almost daily in advertisements for Macy's store—yet you will not have seen her on the catwalk during this year's New York fashion week.
Emme Melissa Miller is 5ft 11in and weighs 190lb (13.5 stone)—I am half an inch taller and weigh a pathetic 155lb (11st 1lb)—and measures in at 43-33-44. She is also blonde, blue-eyed, smooth, pale-bronzey skinned and, at 33, blatantly free of stress lines and wrinkles.
She is, in other words, the ultimate All-American Girl, a Nordic Amazon, a Goddess of the Prairie. She has even been an athlete. Indeed, her prowess as a rower was such that she was invited to try-out for the Olympic sculls while at college. It is quite proper for a humble man to tremble before such a woman.
But the inevitable irony in an America whose female maxim remains “never too rich or too thin,” is that Emme has struggled for most of her life against the torment of a “negative body image.” She admits to being slightly surprised still that any man would countenance any kind of intimacy with her, as she feels she is too big, too fat. In fact, she is so amazed at finding herself confident, successful and happy, that she has written a book about it, True Beauty, which is soaring up the American “self-help” bestseller list.
Her round, blue eyes get bigger in nervous wonder as I broach my goddess theory. Never has she conceived of such a thing. A goddess? She, like many other big women, is more used to torturing herself with the idea that she is a pig.
“But come to think of it,” she giggles, “my husband is always asked how he can handle Emme. Not just physically, but emotionally, too. Guys do seem to wonder how a man can deal with a big, powerful woman.” She adds that her husband of seven years, Phillip Aronson—a successful advertising man—does sometimes fret over whether his “pecs” are up to scratch.
It would be possible to construct a whole Freudian theory about modern man and his apparent need for smaller, thinner women—such as the Kate Moss types so beloved on the catwalks. This obsession with skinniness could have something to do with women having the vote, careers and a modicum of “empowerment.” After all, in the pre-emancipation American pioneer days, an Emme of such sturdy Welsh/German stock would have been prized for her strength and potential to survive and breed through howling Mid-Western winters.
What is certainly the case, according to Emme, is that the torment of American women with “real, female bodies” goes hand-in-hand with the rise of popular magazines and their advertisements in the Twenties, and television culture. “The flappers used to bind their breasts for a boyish look,” she says, “and ever since, girls have grown up aspiring to unobtainable ideals.”
Class is also a contributing factor, at least as far as fashion is concerned. The elite are thin—and “fashion markets to the small percentage with the money”—while the masses out there in McDonald's country are large.
It makes no difference that the majority of women, in Britain as well as America, are much closer to Emme's size than any woman on the catwalks or in Vogue. Sixty per cent of American women are between a British size 14 and 20, and 49 per cent of them—a formidable crowd of 35 million women—are a size 16 or bigger.
This creates good business opportunities for Emme and other “plus size” models, who feature in advertisements for stores and clothing manufacturers selling to the mass market.
But it is only just beginning to dawn on these women that they are the norm, and that the attempt to torture themselves into a different body shape is pointless. “It is very exciting to feel part of a wave, of a revolution,” Emme says, “to see a diversification of bodies, with different role models.” The $33-billion-a-year dieting industry ranks with the fashion despots in her villain's gallery.
Her book suggests that large women can improve their “self esteem” by taking up “postive attitudes” towards their size. It also offers “practical tips” on how to overcome eating disorders, recover from adolescent traumas of self-acceptance and make sure that those full-size bodies are toned through exercise.
But the book is at its best when Emme writes about her own life and struggles. Her father was 6ft 7in tall, so Emme was born to be big, but her parents divorced when she was an infant. Her mother who “liked big guys” remarried. Emme's stepfather was a man of 6ft 6in and more than 21 stone—and it is he who figures large in her story. Always worried about his own weight, he obsessionally measured out the portions at family dinners and told her that she would catch a decent man only if she stayed below 120lb (8.5 stone). Emme was heavier than that at puberty and remembers feeling “terrible shame” when she outweighed her mother on the bathroom scales.
When she was 12, her stepfather made her strip to her undies and marked her “problem areas” with a pen. She scrubbed and scrubbed to wash off the ink before going to the local swimming pool, but the laughter of the other kids told her that her “problem areas” were still vividly highlighted.
Such traumas meant that, for years, Emme would date only big men, “so I could feel petite for a while.” Even then, she still worried about squashing them, and felt inhibited.
The first time she felt satisfied with her body was when she walked into a plus-size modelling agency in New York and was promptly told: “Don't change a thing.”
“I had,” she says, “been waiting all my life to hear those words.”
Last summer a rumour went around that Vogue was planning a special issue featuring fat models. They would be “deliciously” voluptuous, with double chins and buttocks like barges, it was reported. The fashion industry braced itself. It never happened.
Almost a year on, Vogue—the fashion victim's bible with a strictly size 10 (or under) tradition—has finally bitten the bullet. In what is being described as an historic first, the June issue features a size-16 model provocatively dressed in Dolce & Gabbana black lace, in a six-page spread.
Under the headline Modern Curves, the photographs of 21-year-old Sara Morrison linger on her gently swelling stomach, rounded bottom and Beryl Cook-style legs; hardly obese, but not the sort of images associated with Conde Nast's flagship magazine, which last year came under fire from one of its advertisers, watchmaker Omega, for using anorexic-looking models.
The shoot—tucked away in the second half of the magazine on page 126, immediately after a feature on itsy-bitsy bikinis worn by impossibly slender women—follows the success of “bigger model” Sophie Dahl, who was photographed nude in i-D magazine.
But hopeful speculation that the feature marked a new realism in the fashion industry was swiftly crushed by Vogue's editor, Alexandra Shulman. “I wanted the pictures to be a kind of celebration of flesh, but we're not about to use girls that are size 16. This is a one-off.”
The shoot was the idea of photographer Nick Knight, who discovered Ms. Morrison, a textiles student, last year with the help of a talent scout. After the Omega row, Vogue backed off.
Knight, who was yesterday photographing the more conventional fashion figures of Linda Evangelista and Yasmin Le Bon for Christian Dior, said if the way women were portrayed in magazines was to change, designers had to embrace the bigger look.
“When I was doing the shoot I felt we were breaking some taboos. It's a very positive image. She's supposed to look powerful. I didn't want to make her look freakish.
“I'm not really saying this is the new shape and the old shape is out. What I want to say is that women are very beautiful in all their shapes.”
Belfast-born Ms. Morrison, meanwhile, was keeping her optimism in check. “There may be a bit of excitement for a week about it, then they go back to liking thin people.
“I like my body now. But back when I was getting the bus home from school, boys used to shout at me ‘you lump,' I think it affected me. There are still times when I don't like being fat. I pretend to go on a diet for a day, but basically I'm happy the way I am.
“If someone like Vogue is doing this, it should influence other magazines. I think it's been quite backward in the past. After all, 47 per cent of women are between size 14 and 16. I read that all the time and it makes me feel better.”
Shelley Bovey, author of Being Fat is Not a Sin, dismissed Vogue's feature as “a bit of tokenism.”
Sara Morrison languishes on the pages of this month's U.K. Vogue magazine like a porcelain oasis in a sea of skeletons. Dolce&Gabbana black lace pulls pleasantly over the swells of her belly and thighs, her fingers are plump like a child's and her mouth has a natural fullness that no number of collagen implants can ever truly appreciate.
She has flesh, this woman, she has substance.
Like the stick figures in bikinis in the pages surrounding her, the image of Sara Morrison has been manufactured. Armies of stylists have spent hours painting her face and arranging her hair. All traces of imperfection on her papery skin have been airbrushed into ether. Thanks to this process, Sara Morrison does not look like any woman you would see in the street. She does, however, look at home on the pages of Vogue and is a testament to the fact that a size-16 model can be glamorised and eroticised just as easily as a size 10.
Why then, is she such a rarity?
The arguments in favour of using larger fashion models have received a thorough airing ever since Christy Quilliam flaunted her ribs through that intriguingly cut swimsuit at last year's Australian Fashion Week. And, on the surface, the arguments seem overwhelming.
On a purely commercial level, women have more money to spend on clothes and are getting larger, with 60 to 65 per cent of Australian women taking a size 14 or above.
Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are also increasing. According to a new NSW parliamentary committee, girls begin starving themselves from as young as eight, one in six female tertiary students is bulimic and up to 60 per cent of women are dieting.
The committee, formed after last August's summit on eating disorders, will target the “plague of eating disorders among young women” and is expected to put pressure on the advertising industry, women's magazines, and fashion designers. But, a year after the Quilliam outcry, there have only been isolated instances of positive change.
Sarah [sic] Dahl—model, Sunday Times columnist, granddaughter of writer Roald Dahl and size-14 party girl—has been heralded as “the new catwalk phenomenon” and was recently photographed nude in i-D magazine displaying more curves than a slinky spring. According to Elle magazine, many of her designer outfits in a shoot by Karl Lagerfeld for German Vogue had to be undone at the back or held together with pins. Recent shots of actress Drew Barrymore sexily exaggerated rather than eliminated her lumps and bumps, the Body Shop has adopted a Rubenesque version of Barbie called Ruby as its mascot, and large models like size-16 Emme Aronson (voted by America's People magazine as one of the world's most beautiful people) are gradually gaining higher profiles.
On the magazine front, Conde Nast, the publisher of Vogue, has launched a glossy magazine for larger women called Encore, while Australia's New Woman magazine which featured Aronson as last month's cover, consistently campaigns against lookism.
But despite these developments, the media remains dominated by images of scrawny sheilas and much of the fashion industry seems resistant to change.
The magazine world's most frequent defence is that designers provide samples only in the relatively freakish size 10. Apparently, in this multi-million-dollar industry, the extra fabric needed to produce a size 12, 14, or 16 would cost too much.
There is also the ultra-sensitive issue of so many fashion designers being gay men with little interest in catering for female curves.
“I think it's more relevant in Europe, where you have got Armani and designers like that,” says Mia Freedman, editor of Cosmopolitan. “They don't like curves; they see everything in terms of lines. Whether it's misogyny or a gay thing or purely aesthetics, I don't know. I guess it depends whether you think clothes look better on wire coathangers or the big padded ones that your grandmother has”
Glossy magazine editors say they are sick of copping the blame when film, television, and advertising are equally obsessed with stereotyped images of female beauty.
When was the last time you saw a size-16 woman on Baywatch or even reading the news? they ask, pointing to the recent hoo-ha over Nicky Buckley's decision to appear pregnant on Sale of the Century as proof that the public—the very people who are allegedly being damaged by unrealistic images of women—have mixed feelings about getting what they say they want.
In the June issue of Cleo, editor Gina Johnson points out that in a survey of 5,000 readers, 86 per cent of respondents said they thought models were too thin. Yet most respondents went on to say that they would rather be a model than a nuclear physicist and would rather have Elle Macpherson's body than be fluent in a foreign language.
Freedman says that in October 1996, a size-10 model with relatively large breasts was used in a swimsuit spread in Cosmopolitan. As a result, 30 per cent of respondents in a reader survey complained that the model was overweight.
Freedman says the magazine now includes many more “real” women (“real” being the expression magazine people used to describe people who don't earn a living from their appearance) but will not use models larger than size 10. While Sara Morrison looked “gorgeous” in Vogue, Freedman regards it as tokenism on the part of the British magazine.
“I don't think they would necessarily sell clothes,” she says. “I certainly don't want to pay $5 for a copy of a magazine to look at people I could go out and see on the street.”
Maggie Alderson, the editor of the Herald's Good Living section and a former editor of British Elle and Mode [NB: Not the American plus-size fashion mag] agrees that the whole point of beauty is rarity. “In societies where food is scarce, plumpness is considered beautiful, whereas in societies where there is overconsumption, slimness is considered attractive,” she says. “I don't buy car magazines to see pictures of beaten-up old cars like mine so I don't want to see run-of-the-mill, ordinary bodies in fashion magazines.”
The editor of Vogue Australia, Marion Hume, also maintains that such magazines are about dreams and escapism. “Having an unfashionable physique, it would be pitiful if I tried to squeeze myself into the latest Prada,” she said in a recent interview with the Herald. “[But] fashion is fantasy—the more you analyse it, the less sense it makes.”
Hume would not comment on whether models such as Morrison are likely to be used here, but it is unlikely, given remarks made by U.K. Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman. “I wanted the pictures to be a kind of celebration of flesh, but we're not about to use girls that are size 16,” she said of the Morrison shoot. “This is a one-off.”
On the sticky issue of responsibility, it should also be noted that the media—which charts the weight gains and losses of celebrities with intense and hostile voyeurism—is also guilty of backlash when confronted with change.
The Sun-Herald's Susan Owens dismissed Sophie Dahl at London Fashion Week as looking “like a size-14 milkmaid,” while The Guardian made an extraordinary attack on Conde Nast's Encore…
No, the fashion industry is not the only one to blame, and yes, it does make some legitimate points in its defence. Still, there remain some rather confusing anomalies.
Isn't the idea of designing clothes that look best on coat-hangers akin to Basil Fawlty's belief that his hotel would run more smoothly without guests? And while it's all well and good to claim fashion is actually an elite art form or a spectator sport, the route by which it reaches the masses is via glossy magazines which package fashion in a functional and indeed instructional format.
Arguing that “clothes simply look better on thin girls,” meanwhile, flies in the face of the fact that ideal of beauty change. According to Deakin University's Body Image and Better Health Program, models in the 1990s are 14 per cent thinner than models in the 1960s. Clothes certainly look all right on the relatively pudgy Marilyn Monroe.
Then there's the bizarre fact that many designer brands simply won't manufacture to fit the bulk of the population. What other commercial enterprise would so blatantly and arrogantly ignore market demand?
“The retail fashion industry is in a huge slump while the majority of Australian women are continuously pissed off because they can't find anything that fits,” says Cyndi Tebbel, the editor of New Woman. “It's crazy.”
It certainly is a mother of a chicken-and-egg dilemma. And until the various links in the fashion food chain show more willingness to break rank, it seems likely to stay that way.
He says he is a prude, but Nick Knight has been photographing a lot of nudes recently. He shot the model Sophie Dahl for i-D magazine in all her curvaceous glory—except that her curves were not glorious enough. When she arrived at the studio, Ms. Dahl had been on a diet. “I curved her up on the Paint Box and made her tummy bigger, her breasts bigger, her bottom bigger,” he says. That's why the images in i-D' s New Beauty issue in March looked a little unreal, as though this was a body that had been gently eased from a jelly mould. Not only does the camera lie, but the computer paint box can triple your cup size with one single swoop of the mouse. As Knight admits, photography is not a good medium to record reality: “If you want reality, look out of the window.”
Fashion photographers traditionally spend hours in the darkroom—re-touching, streamlining, shaving off a slight hip bulge here, a dimple in the bum there. Nick Knight, however, has perfected the art of enhancement. He also has the great gift of anticipating trends. The shoot with Dahl made her an instant celebrity. Then he was credited with another fashion coup.
Readers of Vogue, usually dedicated at this time of year to skinny girls on tropical beaches wearing nothing but a few straps of elastic, were treated to the sight of a creamy-white, size-l6 girl photographed in the same few straps by Knight. These images were not enhanced. Sara Morrison, the Liverpool textiles student, appears as she is, with Knight's camera lingering lovingly on the swell of the calf, the crease at the back of the knee, the plumpness of the hand. These are not pictures documenting cellulite, bulging ankles or stretch marks; they are about Botticelli curves, a glowing roundness.
Sara Morrison is about as representative of the common woman's shape as Kate Moss or Jodie Kidd, which is why it took Knight and his assistant, Travis, several newspaper ads and two years to find her. Before the Vogue shoot, publication of which was held up after the Omega watch anorexia scandal (“a lot of hot air,” scoffs Knight) for fear that they would be accused of sensation-seeking, Knight tried Sara out for the cover of Suede's Saturday Night single.
“I wanted to show a different image of woman,” says Knight, whose own lanky body is clad when I meet him in navy pinstripe trousers and waistcoat. “My wife, Charlotte, is Sara's shape. You fall in love with someone because of the person within, not because of their shape. It isn't about perfection. I felt like I was doing something that needed doing. If those pictures can make people feel happy with the way they are, then that's great.”
Knight was inspired to this by Tamara [de] Lempicka's paintings of typically big, powerful women. “I thought the pictures with Sara worked. They didn't make her look freakish. I hope they made her look powerful and intelligent. This is an image of woman that isn't current right now. I told Travis I wanted a woman who is curvy in a healthy way. I didn't want her to look like she'd eaten too much and gravity had taken its toll. I wanted her to look healthy.”
As a result, the voluptuous look is suddenly all the rage. Young photographers who once liked their models pin-thin are talking about this “great idea” they have had of finding a model with curves and flesh. The fat girl has become the latest fad. Morrison has signed up with outsize model agency, Excel, which has been inundated with bookings for chat shows and catwalks, not to mention the advertising campaign for Dawn French's clothing label, French & Teague. But, as Knight points out, it is only the beginning of something, a new role-model to sit at the opposite end of the spectrum to Jodie Kidd, with all that space in-between to fill.
…Knight has been exploring explosions since he photographed Alexander McQueen's head, apparently being ripped apart, for the Florence Biennale last year. The idea came from the film Scanners. Knight and McQueen have been collaborating ever since. They produced the image on the invite for McQueen's last show, and they are working on Bjork's latest album cover. McQueen also art-directed the Sophie Dahl magazine story, which was originally for the Biennale. “The idea was to manipulate the body and make it more sensuous than it actually is,” he says…
As I sat on my size 16 bottom yesterday, leafing through a stack of magazines and tucking into a large fried breakfast, I felt an unexpected rise of emotion. And, for the first time in my life, this feeling had nothing to do with guilt about my size.
It had suddenly dawned on me that I might in fact be rather beautiful. This realisation was so strange and so total that I put on my sunglasses and sat in the café, weeping for all the years I had thought my shape was wrong; my thighs too dimply, my breasts too heavy, my backside too large, my arms too fat.
Evidence of the new dawn was scattered with sybaritic abandon all over the formica table. One glossy magazine after another—Vanity Fair, Elle, Esquire, i-D, Vogue, GQ—had published pictures of big, gorgeous women. Was it something in the air? A reaction against yet another hateful survey decrying fat women as the new underclass: statistically less employable, poorer, more miserable and lonely than their thinner peers?
Some of the pictures, such as Vogue's shoot of a creamy-skinned, voluptuous beauty, were not even illustrating a story about big women. No, this particular woman was just modelling clothes for a fashion feature.
Equally cheering was the model Sophie Dahl—all eyes, curves and fleshy abandon—who has now been featured everywhere from Electronic Telegraph to GQ. Even though you can't see her skeleton through her skin and her legs are thicker at the top than they are at her ankles, she still looks truly lovely. Suddenly, all those years of disgust and hatred of my own body did a flip-over in my head.
We have, of course, seen big models before—particularly in women's weekly magazines, where they are used in the context of Size-16 Model of the Year competitions or articles about “swimming suits to flatter the fuller figure.” I worked on one of those magazines for seven years, and always found such pieces cynical and patronising. They focused on flattering, hiding and changing, and were done “to stay in touch with the ordinary reader.” There was no way the stick-like editors ever identified with the fat freaks in the pictures—and there was always a diet feature over the page.
For 15 years, I was deluded by television, women's magazines and the diet industry into thinking that not only was I the wrong shape, but I actually had some sort of control over my size. That if I ate 2oz wholegrain cereal with quarter of a pint of milk for breakfast, a 4oz tub of plain cottage cheese and two crispbreads for lunch, or indeed skipped these two meals for a delicious, filling milkshake and a proper meal in the evening (of, say, an inch square of boiled fish, two new potatoes and a couple of French beans), then after, say, a year I'd look like an “ordinary woman.”
Once, I starved myself for three days, then felt so ill that I threw up. I went on the Micro diet, the Cambridge diet—where your intake is limited to three “tasty” milkshakes a day (have you ever tried a lamb flavoured milkshake?)—I did the F-plan, the Beverley Hills, the Scarsdale.
I even did amphetamines from a dodgy clinic in Bermondsey for a year (often finding myself doing the ironing at 4am or leaning into the kitchen cupboard, making sure all my soup tin labels were facing outwards). I went so far that I wished I was bulimic—I tried making myself sick a couple of times, but it took so long and my throat was so sore afterwards that I couldn't bring myself to do it again.
I remember watching a documentary about anorexia and feeling secretly jealous. I wished I had their control over what I ate; I was envious of women who were literally dying to be thin. That, I fear, is normal these days. Most women in this country, fat or thin, are on diets, and many of those diets started when they were 10. Does anyone actually know a woman who is happy with her body? I've never met one.
Recently, I heard television presenter Vanessa Feltz talking on BBC2's The Chair. “Even though my mother knew she had cancer and she was dying,” she said, “she still delighted in the weight loss caused by the disease.” How much more can someone hate their body?
Our grandmothers didn't hate themselves in this way; they knew they would put on weight as they grew older. It was perfectly natural. But they weren't told they were fat and ugly every time they opened their eyes.
We have, of course, had our rebels—a few years ago, features and books entitled Diets Don't Work and You Count, Calories Don't started to hit the shelves. “Accept yourself the way you are,” they said. “Only two per cent of dieters who have lost weight keep it off.”
So, feeling exhausted, I gave up dieting. My poor, starved brain finally realised that no new regimen was going to make any difference, so I told myself: “You can't change, so accept it.” It felt great at the time.
But all that really happened was that I changed the enemy. I went from trying to change myself to trying to fight the bad feelings I had about myself, telling myself that I wasn't wrong; it was people's perceptions that were wrong. Yet I still eyed every curve with distaste, continued to cover my body, felt out of place in public and made love with the lights off. In the end, it was just as futile a struggle as the dieting.
But now I feel that there is a slim chance I might be able to give up the fight. It's a precarious chance, balancing on a razor's edge. If “they”—in fashion, advertising and photography—change their minds and say, “Nah, we were only joking; this new ‘big women thing' was just a short-lived fashion fad,” we shall carry on starving, vomiting and hating ourselves for the rest of our lives. And so will our children; the brainwashing goes too deep.
No matter how individual we think we are, images in the media do matter. So, please God, don't let this “big women thing” be a fad. Let's see more large, lovely, bouncy women on television, in the movies and on the covers of magazines. And, yes, let's have a feast of sexy, fleshy bosoms selling enormous push-up-and-out-even-further bras on every billboard in the country.
Fashion model. For most people, that term conjures the image of a tall, gorgeous, imperially slim young woman with roughly the dimensions of Kate Moss, whose waif-like figure sparked a firestorm about models and eating disorders not long ago. When it comes to fame and lucrative contracts, it seems the fashion world rewards only Moss and her impossibly slender colleagues. Right?
Wrong. Believe it or not, the recent triumphs of a few plus-size models—models size 12 and over—suggest that there's a revolution afoot. And this revolution could redefine what it means to be a beautiful woman. Take, for instance, Sarah [sic]Morrison, 21, discovered in Liverpool, England, and championed by the cutting-edge British photographer Nick Knight, who featured her in a fashion portfolio he shot for the June's issue of British Vogue. Sarah has model-perfect blond hair and blue eyes, but her dress size is a 16. Then there's Sophie Dahl, 20, a model with Storm Model Management in London (incidentally, the agency that also represents Kate Moss). Dahl has done runway shows for the Paris design house of Nina Ricci, as well as for London designers Lainey Keogh and Stephen Fuller, and she's been photographed for publications as various as British Elle, Spanish Marie Claire and German Vogue.
At 5-foot-11, Dahl has blond hair, alabaster skin and blue-green eyes. (She also happens to be a granddaughter of the actress Patricia Neal and the author Roald Dahl.) But unlike the size-6 Kate Moss, full-figured Dahl wears a size 14. "We represent people across the board here,” says Gavin Boardman, a booker at Storm. “We try not to be so single-minded about modeling and beauty.” Dahl and Morrison are bonafide supermodels in the plus-size category; Morrison, who signed with the London agency Excel, is set to appear in advertisements for Valentino's new Charisma range of plus-size fashions, and she recently landed a part in Richard Attenborough's next film.
On these shores, meanwhile, the plus-size category is teeming with models who are doing very well. These models, it should be noted, are not obese—they're simply big (as Marilyn Monroe was at the height of her fame, when she wore a size 16). “And when they walk into a room, they look like models,” says Patty Sicular, who heads up the Twelve Plus division of Ford Models. “They're beautiful girls, they're in shape, they exercise, they eat correctly, they dress beautifully. They're not fat, they're just larger.”
Some, like Ford model Christine Alt of New Hyde Park, began their careers as so-called straight-size models, then eventually stopped struggling to conform to the thin-is-in stereotype. “Whenever I do a personal appearance at K mart or Wal-Mart now, people come up to me and say things like, 'I love you because you let me know it's okay to be me,'”Alt says. “Most people weren't meant to be a size six; I know my body is meant to be a fourteen-sixteen. I actually feel sexier and more womanly now that I have more curves than I did when I was a size four.”
Peggy Dillard, a plus-size model with Karin's Models, also began her career as a straight-size model who made the cover of American Vogue in the early '80s. “I was a size eight-ten,” Dillard says. “I was always on the larger side of high-fashion models, because I was considered more of a 'body' than the typical runway model, and my weight was fluctuating. So one day I just sat down and did some demographics research, and when I saw the numbers on large sizes, that was a real eye-opener.”
The demographics are eye-opening, indeed. According to research conducted by Just My Size, the plus-size clothing manufacturer based in Winston-Salem, N.C., 50 million American women wear size 14 or above.
Other American success stories: Kate Dillon, a model with the Wilhelmina agency who also gladly made the transition from straight-size to plus-size; and Emme, the Ford model named one of People magazine's 50 most beautiful people in 1994, whose inspirational book, True Beauty (Putnam) will be released in paperback this March.
They may be supermodels in their field, but even the most successful plus-size model's day rate doesn't stack up favorably against what the average straight-size model earns. According to her booker, Emme's day rate is $5,000. If that sounds like a lot, consider that when author Michael Gross was researching Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women (Warner Books), his expose of the modeling industry, Naomi Campbell and her ilk were making as much as $25,000 a day.
“We still don't make as much as straight-size models,” points out Christine Alt, the sister of model and Les Copains spokeswoman Carol Alt. “Carol had multimillion-dollar contracts, and nobody pays plus-size models that kind of money. Hopefully in the next ten years that will change.”
Still, the rising profile of plus-size models is one of many indicators pointing to the growing power of women size 12 and over in the fashion marketplace. “Plus sizes are a very big business, and they will continue to be one of the fastest-growing areas into the millennium,” says retail consultant Alan Millstein, “because the bottom line is the plus-size customer will pay any price for fashion. She doesn't want to go back to double-knit pull-on pants and tunic tops.”
It may be too much to hope that American Vogue will follow its British edition, casting a plus-size model in a fashion shoot. But another Conde Nast Publication has already given its plus-size readers something to celebrate. Glamour's “Fashion That Fits” column, which made its debut in the magazine about a year ago to rave reviews, has since expanded from one page to three to accommodate reader demand. “It's not just plus sizes,” explains Cindy Weber Cleary, who oversees the column as Glamour's fashion director.
“We cover anything related to body and fashion. It's about finding clothes that flatter your body, whether you're full-figured or small-busted and petite.” Cleary says she's seen evidence that other magazines are covering the subject, including Seventeen, which features an advice column called “Ask Emme.”
In the publishing arena, perhaps the most heartening homage to plus-size women was the launch this past spring of Mode, a magazine catering specifically to them. “We're the first upscale fashion and beauty magazine in America for full-figured women,” explains the magazine's co-publication director Nancy Nadler LeWinter. “We deliver to full-figured women all the fashion information available to their thinner counterparts,” LeWinter adds. “And the response has been great.”
Mode's circulation stands at about 350,000, LeWinter says—an impressive figure for a start-up…[Editor-in-Chief A.G. Britton says] “We believe being sexy and stylish is the biggest political statement a woman can make. The way your body looks is the last bastion of discrimination and bigotry in the world.”
Britton says it took awhile for top photographers and makeup artists to accept the magazine. “When I came on board here, nobody would work with me at first,” she says. “They didn't want to work for what they saw as a 'fat women's magazine.' I even had one makeup artist meet the model and walk off the shoot.” Now, Britton says, “We have people calling us, and they're very supportive.” Mode works regularly with photographers such as Michel Arnaud and the hair guru Garren.
Then again, there have always been photographers who appreciate working with plus-size models. “I think the girls' attitudes are generally much better,” says Troy Word, who photographed Sophie Dahl for the cover of Spanish Marie Claire. “And my experience has been that they're a lot more fun to work with. Generally, I find plus-size girls are more comfortable with themselves than most models. For the most part, they understand who they are, what their body looks like, and they're quite at ease with it. They have fewer hang-ups than more traditional-looking models would; there's less panic if they gain an extra pound.”
Sidebar: THE PETITE-PLUS MARKET
by Barbara Schuler
As the fashion industry works to keep up with customers' needs, one company has gone after a virtually untapped market—the plus-size petite.
Japanese designer Tamotsu recently announced he will do a special collection for women 5-foot-4 and under who wear size 14 and over, starting with his resort line; the clothing in sizes 1P, 2P and 3P will be available about Dec. 1.
“Nobody is servicing the shorter large-size customer,” sales manager Ellen Mullman told Women's Wear Daily, the trade newspaper. According to the designer, this “virtually neglected” customer has great difficulty buying clothes because “the proportions of shoulder to waist and waist to hip in average large sizes are out of balance for the petite body size.”
Rosie O'Donnell. Kirstie Alley. Oprah Winfrey. Cybill Shepherd.
All these women are big in TV Land, and we're not just talking about ratings. Known not only for their star power, they're now being held up as living proof that success doesn't begin at size four and end at size eight.
Which is not to say, in an industry ruled largely by fantasy, that size 14 has become the ideal. But life is good for these Big Girls.
“I think it has a ways to go, but the reality is that probably until Cybill, full-figured women were relegated to downscale roles, or they were buddies,” said Nancy Nadler LeWinter, one of the co-founders and publishers of Mode.
A slick, New York-based, bi-monthly fashion magazine that hit the streets last March, Mode's target audience is women size 12 and beyond. Their message is an affirming “You go, girl!” for full-figured women.
“With ‘I Love Lucy,' Ethel was the buddy,” LeWinter recalled. “With Mary Richards, Rhoda was the buddy. Then when Rhoda got thin and got her own show, Brenda (her ample sister) was the buddy. Before Cybill you didn't have really curvy, sexy ladies getting the guy.”
LeWinter cited Kirstie Alley as another actress with the Mode image.
Another person we love is Kirstie Alley. But even though she is changing the perception, the truth is the press still talks about Kirstie. It's ‘Oh my God…she wears sleeveless dresses with those arms?' Well, yes, she does, and why not?”
LeWinter, who places Alley “in the 14 range,” agreed that the curvy actress is sexy and appealing in a Real Woman kind of way.
“One of the things we have learned in the process of doing the magazine is what a 14 is,” she explained. “And it's not—gasp—14! It's 14, an average-size woman.
“I think women like Cybill and Kirstie and Rosie have said, ‘Hey! I have breasts and and I have hips. Yeah, this is me and I'm proud of it.'”
Julie Lewit-Nirenberg, LeWinter's partner at Mode, agreed, noting that for these women it was talent that tipped the scales in their favor.
“For these women it has nothing to do with size,” said Lewit-Nirenberg. “It has to do with their individual talent, which is just over the top.
“But it is interesting that it doesn't matter what size they are. I think Oprah was as successful as a full-figured woman as she is now. She's just Oprah.”
Even though she's engaged in a very public struggle with her weight over the years, Winfrey has still had the benefit of a different cultural aesthetic.
As an African-American woman from a culture which is much less weight-conscious and fat-phobic—and where having a few healthy curves is not only accepted but viewed as an asset—she was as popular at 237 pounds as she is now.
“Sister, Sister” leading lady Jackée, and three of the four divas on “Living Single”—Queen Latifah, Kim Coles and Kim Fields—are further proof of a different standard. In the midst of the mainstream misconception, all of these women are living it up—and loving it up—on the small screen.
Both LeWinter and Lewit-Nirenberg find it ironic, almost comical, that the skinny “ideal” persists at a time when the average American woman is between 5 feet 4 and 5 feet 5 inches tall, weighs 147 pounds and wears a size 14.
In fact, according to plus-size apparel manufacturer Just My Size, 8½ million American women wear a size 16 or larger. Television rarely depicts that.
Could it be that scriptwriters keep a handy-dandy copy of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' dietary guidelines for Americans in the top drawer? According to that table, the aforementioned average woman is “moderately overweight.”
Obviously, most Hollywood insiders believe audiences don't want to see the American norm, and make no bones about it.
E. Duke Vincent, vice president of Spelling Television (Melrose Place, Beverly Hills, 90210) was recently quoted in People magazine saying, “It's a world of fantasy. I do not believe that you or anyone else would watch, unless it were a comedy, a show about a full-bodied Cindy Crawford as a model.”
And so, TV continues to serve up, for the most part, a steady diet of women as waifs. Big-breasted waifs, mind you, but waifs nonetheless.
Just My Size spokesperson Christine Alt is among those who feel it's high time we got more hips, tushes and thighs to match those bouncing TV bosoms.
Alt has lived at both ends of the spectrum. At one point in her career as a runway model—following in the footsteps of her sister, Carol—she was 5 foot 10, size four and anorexic.
Now a more “physically and psychologically healthy” size 14 to 16, she applauds high-profile women who are proud to be considered plus sizes.
“I think we have a long way to go, but we are moving and we're better than we were 10 years ago,” Alt said.
“I think that psychologically we haven't gone much further—there is still a stigma attached to size and weight in regards to women—but we are able to obtain more.
“Ten years ago, I don't think Rosie O'Donnell would have had a show. But the fact that people of size can have their own talk shows says it's changing—slowly.
“I think the important thing is that now you have successful women who are saying, ‘You know what? I'm fine the way I am and if you don't like it, it's your problem, it's not on me,'” Alt said.
Le Winter and Lewit-Nirenberg agree that full-figured stars share the same outlook, and that's what enables them to become icons.
“It's 100 percent attitude,” LeWinter said, “One hundred percent of enjoying who you are, no matter what size you are.
That's why in one issue we had Bette Midler, who has always enjoyed strutting whatever she has—she's had more or less of it at different periods of time in her life.”
Will there come an era when a size-20 leading lady plays the vamp who steals men, toys with them, then tosses them aside in prime time?
Maybe I'm the Pollyanna of the group, but I think so,” LeWinter said. “I think it will happen because women are getting tired of being told who or what they have to be and how they've got to fit norms that aren't normal.
“Now they can get beautiful fashions to complement their size and they can be as glamorous as anybody else. The more of those types of things there are available, the more empowered you are to say, ‘Accept me as I am.'”
“Thats what it's all about,” echoed Lewit-Nirenberg. “Knowing there is no single definition of what's sexy, no single definition of style.”
Sara Morrison is the 21-year-old model who appeared in British Vogue earlier this year wearing a sexy little black dress. Nothing startling about that—except the dress was a size 16.
With her porcelain skin and opulent curves—reminiscent of a Beryl Cook painting—Sara has done much to break the mould of the Nineties mannequin. Thankfully, the bony models who epitomised “heroin chic” can no longer claim to be at the cutting edge of fashion. Large models, such as Sara and Sophie Dahl, are unlikely ever to be as widely used as their size-10 counterparts, but they have already proved that they are more than a flash-in-the-pan.
Their workload shows no sign of abating, and fan letters are pouring in. Even so, the choice of clothes for big women remains lamentably small, considering that 40 per cent of British women take a size 16 or over. A history of ugly “outsize” designs has not helped; frumpy box shapes, fussy styles, insipid colours and loud prints were enough to make most shoppers despair of ever finding a flattering outfit. Indeed, until recently, it was a challenge to find any directional clothes that did not stop short of a size 14. But now several high street stores—Richards, Etam, Marks & Spencer and Hennes, among others—are running selected high fashion styles up to a size 20. Some designers, including Maria Grachvogel and Anna Scholz, are also offering ranges in larger sizes.
We caught up with Sara during a break in filming for the new Elizabeth I movie at Shepperton Studios, in which she has a minor role, and asked her to select a wardrobe appropriate for the Christmas season.
Her brief was: something smart for a carol concert, something cosy for lunch on Christmas Day, a warm sweater and casual trousers for a brisk walk afterwards and special party dresses for New Year's Eve. Although she found several suitable outfits, she concluded that the fashion industry still has a long way to go.
As she sifted through a rail groaning under the weight of seasonal outfits, she sighed heavily. “These are typical outsize clothes—just look at the amount of patterns and the fussy designs. Most of the jackets are shapeless tents with high-cut necks, and some of these colours have never, ever been in fashion.” Then her eye alighted on a simple long, black wool dress by designer Anna Scholz.
“Now, this is amazing,” said Sara, who has put her fashion and printed textile course on hold for a year to pursue her modelling career. “This would be perfect for any occasion; it's stylish and slimming. I normally wear anything so long as it's black.”
She has no desire to go on a diet in search of her hip bones and rib-cage. “I've always been this size and always felt happy about it,” she said. “That's not to say I haven't looked at a skinny girl in a teensy dress and thought…Wow. I read a lot of fashion magazines and wish they'd use more models my size. I know I'd look silly in some catwalk clothes, such as micro minis, but there is always something that will suit me. My favourites include a tight pencil skirt with a nipped-in waist and a satin cheongsam dress I bought from a Chinese shop in Liverpool.”
Sara's agent, Allison Bramwell—a size 16—believes attitudes are slowly changing. “But people are still frightened of the word fat. I see my models as being normal-sized rather than outsize; it's the skinny girls who are different.”
SIZEWISE: If there was any doubt that the waif look is dead, this month's Seventeen magazine proves it. The issue has a six-page layout on fashions that fit teens size 14 and up.
Marie Moss, fashion director, says the feature was done in response to reader requests for realistic clothes.
“We were feeling sort of frustrated because we were getting letters and calls from girls wearing size 14 and 16 who said they couldn't find anything cool to wear,” Moss said. “They wanted the same camisoles and flared boot-leg pants other teen-agers were wearing.
“In the (wholesale) market, there was a buzz about plus sizes, particularly for teen-agers, and we wanted to show it in a story with plus-size models.”
Bongo sportswear is among the manufacturers offering jeans in sizes 16, 18 and 20, and other sportswear designers are following. Other resources include Necessary Objects, Free People, Benetton and b.i.y.a.y.c.d.a. (Believe in Yourself and You Can Do Anything). Even the intimate-apparel market is starting to come around, with lines such as Rene Rofe offering camisoles and other looks in larger sizes, Moss said.
The special-occasion market is also expanding. “Last year for prom we started seeing more sizes, and not just oversize ugly dresses with lots of beading, but slinky, Oscar-worthy dresses,” Moss said.
Not surprisingly, Seventeen had a hard time coming up with teenage plus-size models and had to audition a few on its own. “Most of the modeling agencies won't see these girls. We went to high schools and stopped people on the street. For one, it was her first job ever,” Moss said.
Will Seventeen keep it up? Moss answers with a qualified “yes.” The magazine usually photographs fashion layouts from samples, which traditionally come in sizes 6 or 8, but will keep a watch on the plus- size market, she said.
Moss expects that many more resources will be offering sizes 2 to 20 a year from now and hopes they'll be sold in juniors departments so that “girls can use the same dressing rooms and don't have to go to their mother's section of the store.”
For years, catwalk shows have featured uncommonly slim models. Fashion has seen the lanky and lithe supermodels; the waif look; and even the emaciated, desperate look of the controversial heroin chic. Models, it would seem, have to be skinny to be successful.
But this is changing: a growing number of fashion and cosmetic-house manufacturers are turning their backs on thin, boyish models in favour of curvaceously feminine full-figure gals.
The Swedish clothes retailer Hennes & Mauritz has moved in this direction, swapping posters featuring lanky top model Georgina Grenville for the buxom Sophie Dahl.
“We have to think of our female customers,” said H&M press spokeswoman Kristina Stenvinkel. Most women could no longer identify with slim-hipped supermodels with washboard stomachs.
The negative effect the conventional feminine ideal and aspiring to it can have on sensitive women has been a hotly debated topic in Sweden, Stenvinkel pointed out.
The debate was fuelled by revelations that Sweden's Crown Princess Victoria suffers from an eating disorder.
H&M wants to go against the convention of thin models by featuring radiant models who happen to weigh more than your average supermodel and thus look more like the company's customers, Stenvinkel explained.
Johannes Roehr, of the Düsseldorf-based advertising agency BBDO, believes this strategy will work for Hennes & Mauritz.
“Young women would have to be veritable ‘superwomen' if they wanted to meet all of society's expectations.”
Women are not only expected to be successful at work, says Roehr. They are also expected to be perfectly turned out while at the same time not neglecting their maternal duties.
That is the result of a study the agency carried out with psychologists.
Today's women, says Roehr, are overwhelmed by all these expectations.
“And advertising has failed to give women role models that might show a way out of that straightjacket of ideals.”
The British cosmetics chain The Body Shop has also joined the movement away from the perceived need for women to have perfect figures.
The firm has launched a campaign drawing attention to “body and consciousness.” The Body Shop has installed a life-size female figure called Ruby—a plump, curvaceous woman—in its 72 shops as a part of this campaign.
Brochures distributed in Body Shop stores feature a photo of Ruby on the cover, accompanied by the following slogan: “There are eight supermodels in the world—and three billion women who don't look like them.”
The brochure contrasts the idealised woman from fashion plates with real women and calls for women to develop a new ideal based on confidence and self-respect.
Doctors have long warned against the negative ramifications of Western ideals of feminine beauty.
An estimated two to four percent of women in Germany between the ages of 18 and 35 suffer from bulimia, said Professor Helmut Remschmidt from the University Clinic at Marburg.
In addition, an average of one girl in 150 or 200 suffers from anorexia, the professor said.
Surveys reveal that 62 percent of girls between the ages of 13 and 19 were not satisfied with their weight, with their numbers rising as they got older.
“Eating disorders generally can be traced to causes related to the individual, but socio-cultural facts most certainly play an important role,” said Remschmidt.
Advertising is increasingly turning to less-than-thin beauties.
German fashion designer Wolfgang Joop, who has openly criticised the industry for using what he called scrawny and ugly models, chose the heavier Alek Wek of Sudan to sell his jeans line.
Department stores are also reacting.
Various manufacturers are now offering collections called “Big is beautiful” or “XL-Collection” tailored to women less trim than your average catwalk girl.
“We will expand these areas in order to meet the needs of our clients,” said Thorsten Rolfes of C&A, one of Europe's largest providers of women's ready-to-wear.
American fashion designer Calvin Klein, always quick to spot a trend, has created a fragrance for this new woman.
It is called Contradiction, and is meant to underscore all facets of femininity.
All this publicity for real women has apparently already led German men to see women a bit differently.
According to a study commissioned by the German women's magazine Freundin, men no longer consider big breasts, long legs and a mane of long hair to be the most important female attributes.
Instead, men queried cited naturalness (78 percent), a sense of humour (59 percent), charisma (54 percent) and a confident manner as positive feminine attributes.—Sapa-DPA in Hamburg, Germany.
Mode is a fashion magazine that won't list fashion do's and don'ts, only do's and dares. It won't run stories on dieting, and it will challenge the idea that strong appetites are unfeminine.
“We've thrown such a curveball into fashion,” says Michele Weston, the fashion and style editor of Mode, a year-old magazine for women who wear size 12 and up.
Last March, Mode debuted as a quarterly fashion magazine devoted to “style beyond size.” Its shows women with ample thighs, rounded bellies and curvy bottoms wearing up-to-the-minute fashion in sophisticated photo layouts. Weston and her team of photographers offer unapologetic, upbeat and sexy images of women of all sizes, and of all races and ages.
Within the fashion and publishing industries, such a formula has long been considered risky. But after 10 well-received issues, Weston says Mode has proved that the 65 million full-figured women in the United States appreciate fashion as much as their smaller counterparts do.
“Style is not a size. Style is style,” says Weston, who was in Dallas recently to present a Mode style show and seminar at Saks Fifth Avenue. She showed women how to build wardrobes, how not to fear matte jersey and how to dress to emphasize their body's best features, not necessarily to feature fashion's best trends.
In its short lifespan, Mode has been showered with accolades from readers and the publishing industry, but it has also drawn some criticism recently for having models look “too thin.”
Other plus-size magazines have come before Mode, just as plus-size clothes have long been available in stores. But Mode arrived just as plus-size clothing went upscale. Stores now carry larger-size versions of Anne Klein II, Dana Buchman, Tamotsu and Eileen Fisher, and lines such as Marina Rinaldi, a plus-size label from Max Mara.
Mode's statistics are impressive. The magazine's circulation shot up 50 percent in a year, from 250,000 to 375,000. Mode quickly went from quarterly publication to monthly—a year ahead of schedule. Grateful readers have sent nearly 1,000 letters a month to the magazine, says Nancy Nadler LeWinter, co-publication director. And the magazine has on average 70 pages of ads per issue from retailers such as Lord & Taylor and Nordstrom, and fashion and beauty companies such as Maybelline, Revlon and Givenchy.
The publishers have licensed the Mode name to Vogue patterns. They're developing a fashion book series and a children's book, and a television project is in the not-too-distant future.
In August, Mode Girl will arrive on newsstands. The magazine will be “the first multiethnic, multicultural, multisize” teen magazine, says Nadler LeWinter. Next year, Mode Girl will continue as a quarterly.
A survey in the winter issue of Mode asked readers to describe their beauty purchases and send in receipts because “as ridiculous as it sounds, there are still fashion and beauty companies who don't believe full-figured women care about their appearance,” she says. The magazine expected about 500 replies. It got more than 4,000.
The stacks of mail are welcome validation, but Adweek and Advertising Age added an industry stamp of approval by naming Mode the best launch of 1997.
Such confirmation helps move the world toward what Nadler LeWinter calls “size democracy.” Throughout their first year, she and her partner, Julie Lewit-Nirenberg, had to overcome a number of stereotypes about their full-figured readers.
“There was a presumption that she was demographically different. That presumption has lessened dramatically,” says Nadler LeWinter. Now advertisers understand that full-figured women are “exactly the same as their thinner counterparts. But in the beginning, no one wanted to realize that this is the majority of American women.”
“I think there has been an enormous attitude shift,” says Nadler LeWinter. She says traditional fashion magazines motivate readers with an image that is unreachable. “I think that is not accurate anymore. I think women are far more motivated by achievable fantasy, not unrealistic fantasy.”
Weston also has seen increased acceptance of full-figured women. She says the number of plus-size clothing companies has increased from 200 to 2,000 in 10 years. And when she tells designers, “If you make it, they will come and buy,” nowadays they tend to believe her. One manufacturer added a clingy, bias-cut dress on her recommendation. She also has seen a jump in the number of plus-size model divisions at agencies.
“What we see on the runway are girls' bodies. What we see in real life are women's bodies,” says Weston, who measures models and “road tests” garments to make sure the models fit into clothes that are comfortable to wear.”
A few weeks ago, the first darts were aimed at Mode. A New York Times article suggested that in Mode's recent issues, the models had shrunk to almost-skinny.
Nadler LeWinter insists, though, that the magazine doesn't use non-plus-size models or clothes or shoot with special “thinning” camera angles.
“We would never do that. It's not who we are,” she says, acknowledging, though, that one picture a few issues back featured a model who "shot too thin.”
“That shoot, we learned something. A couple of readers wrote us, too,” she says. The March and April issues again feature models in a range of sizes, ages and races.
Weston says the criticism wasn't unexpected because few people could believe full-figured women could look so good.
“We are retraining the eye. We haven't seen size 12 and up look the way Mode models look,” she says. “With amazing hair and makeup, great clothes, photographers and accessories, the whole package comes together. And visually, it works.”
She isn't letting the critics dampen her spirits, however. Weston says the time has arrived when more than one model “ideal” can exist.
“We've broken from a size 4 to a size 14. We've moved miles!”
NEW YORK (AP)—There's nothing abbreviated about Emme Aronson except her name.
Professionally, she's known simply as Emme (pronounced Emmy).
And she wants to show that big is beautiful.
She stands 5 feet 11 inches tall, weighs 185 pounds and wears a size 16 dress. She no longer diets, and steps on the scale only when she visits the doctor.
As a top moneymaker in the plus-size division (size 14 and larger) at Ford Models, she commands at least $5,000 a day for her big-time beauty. She's also host of E! Entertainment's Fashion Emergency, where celebrity hair and makeup stylists and designers like Nicole Miller, Cynthia Rowley and Tommy Hilfiger perform makeovers before millions of viewers.
“I know I have curves happening, and I've tried everything to become this ideal. But my body won't go there,” she says.
In 1994, Emme posed as a reclining nude as one of People magazine's 50 most beautiful people in the world. Two years later, she graced a billboard in New York's Times Square for Liz Claiborne's plus-size line.
Today she is spokesperson for Playtex Body Language Lingerie, has her own Web site for fan mail, and runs a one-woman crusade for accepting your size right now, even if you never lose those 20 pounds.
“I think Emme is the first plus-size model to become a celebrity, a supermodel. Just by her first name, we get fan mail from all over the world,” says Patty Sicular, who books Emme's modeling assignments.
Not that it came easy.
Well before 1997, when she was invited to speak before a Congressional subcommittee about eating disorders, Emme endured her own humiliations. In her book, True Beauty, written with Daniel Paisner (Perigee, 1998, $14), she describes “the most clarifying moment of my young life.” It was at age 12, when her stepfather drew in black marker on the parts of her body he thought she needed to reduce.
From ages 18 to 27, Emme suffered through bouts of compulsive overeating.
“I was constantly failing with diets,” says Emme, 34. “Every single Jan. 1, I always gave myself a new one.”
Eventually, “the little light bulb went off,” she says. “When I got my first few paychecks for modeling, I went to a therapist and was presented with the challenge: ‘You can either feel bad about yourself or not.' I threw out the concept (of dieting).”
That's not all she tossed.
“I stood in my kitchen with a huge plastic bag and got rid of all the diet powder, diet candy bars, and protein packs that I had tucked in little niches,” she says.
Her modeling career wasn't nearly as deliberate.
“I fell into it. It wasn't a major goal,” says Emme, who was born in Manhattan, grew up in Saudi Arabia and graduated from Syracuse University. Today she lives in a northern New Jersey suburb with her husband, ad executive Phillip Aronson.
Around 1988, a friend mentioned a new plus-size division at Ford Models.“I was size 12 and thought, ‘what the heck.' It took two years of working as a massage therapist and marketing director for a real estate firm, and also trying to have people see my book as a model.”
Emme cites statistics that suggest her views speak to an increasing segment of the population: 49% of adult American women—or 35 million—wear a size 14 or larger, and by the turn of the century, that number will rise to 50 million.
But the fashion industry has been slow to respond. Styles for large women traditionally have been limited, although more designers are catering to the consumers they previously overlooked.
Sicular tells Emme: “I don't see you as a plus-size woman. I just see you as a beautiful woman.”
Emme agrees. “That's the point. The whole concept of beauty comes in different shapes and sizes. It's not Einstein's theory. It's a logical thing.”
Emme has flaunted her Botticelli proportions on the pages of Glamour, Ladies' Home Journal, and the plus-size magazine, Mode. In 1997, she was named one of Glamour's 10 Women of the Year. That same year, she was selected as one of Ladies' Home Journal's Most Fascinating Women.
“I've been in Swedish Elle and on the cover of New Woman Australia. Other countries don't have that big of a problem having someone above size 6 on their cover.”
Here, she says, “there is a glass ceiling.”
Doctors have hit out at the media and advertisers for encouraging anorexia by portraying skinny supermodels as the beauty ideal instead of ‘more buxom wenches.' The British Medical Association's annual conference in Cardiff voted overwhelmingly for a motion condemning the media obsession with ultra thin supermodels.
Dr. Muriel Broome, a former director of public health, said “the constant image of very thin models” encouraged girls to develop eating disorders. “We urge the media to be more responsible and show more buxom wenches,” she said.
The conference heard an impassioned speech from Dr Ian Bogle, a Liverpool GP, about his daughter's struggle with the eating disorder.
He said that around 10 years ago, when she was in her early 20s, his daughter's weight plummeted from around nine stone to five stone. [One stone=14 lbs. or 6.3 kg—HSG]
He admitted that he had felt powerless to help her, even though he was a GP.
“The devastating effects on the sufferer as their weight plummets, the depression associated with loss of self esteem and the black despair will be well understood by you, a medical audience,” he told the conference.
“What hopefully most of you won't have experienced is the consequences on the family—hopelessness, disbelief and guilt. These are not transient effects. In our house it lasted some five years.”
ANOREXICS SUFFER LONG-TERM HEALTH PROBLEMS AND SOME DIE
Dr. Bogle, who is standing for the top job of chair of the BMA's council, said his family had been lucky. “The family has even been strengthened; the sufferer is now happy and apparently cured,” he said.
“Others have not been so lucky. Suicide, a lifetime's recrimination and divorces are not rare.
“I can tell you it is a stark fact that the pursuit of the waif-like figure and the perception that only slimness is attractive and desirable as portrayed in many forms in the media is a major contributory factor in young people developing this disease.”
Speaking at a press conference after the speech, Dr. Bogle said he had spoken publicly about his experiences to show that even he, an experienced and high profile GP, had been powerless to prevent his daughter and his whole family from suffering.
Dr. Bogle said that, although the problem developed 10 years ago, he would not have been able to speak about his anguish in public until the last three years.
“In severe cases, the idea of suicide is never far away and the low point is seeing somebody so depressed that this is on the agenda,” he said.
He added that people sometimes found it hard to understand how a family could watch a child lose so much weight and appear to accept it.
“If you have girls of that age and try to challege them about things in their life it is a very hazardous thing to do,” he said.
He added that his family only pulled through after seeking specialist help and after realising that no one member was personally to blame.
The BMA overwhelmingly backed a motion condemning the media for its obsession with portraying young, thin girls as role models.
Dr. Vivienne Nathanson, head of research at the BMA, said the association would explore the use of different body types in the media and planned to talk to television companies about a more responsible attitude.
“There are a variety of human forms and we should not be going just for one type of body shape as that propagates the idea that only one type is successful and desirable.”
She added that being too thin was probably more dangerous than being overweight and that anorexics, once they had fallen foul of the disease, needed life-long support.
Meanwhile, the Advertising Standards Authority has warned of unsubstantiated adverts for slimming and beauty products.
It said that, although the number of acceptable adverts had improved over the last year, there had only been a marginal improvement in adverts for slimming and beauty products.
It started with anger.
For years, women berated the clothing industry for ignoring their needs and refusing to put creative energy into clothes that are flattering, contemporary, chic, sexy, affordable…and large.
Without sexy lingerie, demure evening clothes and whimsical sportswear, plus-size women lacked the full complement of stylistic tools that size 8 women enjoyed. Large women could not control the image they presented to the world.
As a result, the nasty stereotypes about them flourished: They were sloppy. They didn't care how they looked. They wouldn't spend money on clothes.
Seventh Avenue mostly ignored the criticism from the size 16s of America. (The average American woman, by the way, is approximately 5 feet 4 and 145 pounds.) Economics, however, began to persuade the industry to rethink its assumptions. The $26 billion plus-size market was too precious a prize to ignore. In the past few years, upscale retailers and bargain-basement manufacturers alike have gradually responded with more varied options.
Lane Bryant, however, was the crucial missing link.
Lane Bryant is the plus-size store of the middle class and of middle America, the chain that, more than any other, defines the way sizes 16, 18 and higher are perceived. With its broad reach and almost 800 stores, Lane Bryant could single-handedly transform the fashion image of full-figured women or keep them mired in a reputation for frumpiness. The company, part of the Limited Inc.'s $9.2 billion retail empire, was founded almost 100 years ago by Lena Bryant.
As recently as two years ago, its image was that of stores trapped in the past. Sales were either dropping or stagnating. And Lane Bryant, with net sales of $907 million a year, was seeing its sizable market share decline.
“We really took a hard look at ourselves about three years ago,” says Jill Dean, president of Lane Bryant. “We knew in speaking with our customers that they were not happy with what was being offered.”
Lane Bryant executives had to update their products to appeal to customers who demanded greater style and quality. In order to increase market share they had to target the growing numbers of young women who wear size 14 and up. Yet for all the challenges these goals presented, catering to a lucrative market would be the easy part.
Most difficult, Lane Bryant bore the burden of transforming perceptions.
“Economically, we're a market they want to tap into,” says plus-size customer Allison Lewis-Smith of Chevy Chase, Md., of fashion retailers. “But I don't think they see the plus-size woman as attractive.”
Most high-end designer merchandise is cut no larger than a size 12. In the plus-size world, trends materialize long after they have run their course in the mainstream collections.
“We were offering pretty inexpensive clothes to the masses, but we also were the only game in town,” says Chris Hanson, Lane Bryant's vice-president of marketing. A plus-size woman went to Lane Bryant, not because the garments were so compelling, but because “she had nowhere else to go.”
As the large-size market increased—it's the fastest growing segment of the women's apparel business—so did the demands of customers. (Today, sales of plus-size fashion represent about 25 percent of total sales; they have the potential to represent 60 percent.) “She won't have to settle for the space in the store upstairs next to the bathroom tucked away in the corner,” Dean says. At the high end, Saks Fifth Avenue expanded and put a gloss on its Salon Z, where it sells plus-size designer clothes. Less expensive retailers such as Target also stepped in, while catalogues including Land's End and Ulla Popken pursued plus-size customers more aggressively. Lane Bryant began to feel the squeeze.
Lane Bryant pulled in outside talent from brands that had undergone similar transformations. It looked to Sears, which had slowly been convincing customers it was more than a purveyor of appliances and tools, and to Oil of Olay, which dusted off its image as a drab beauty potion for matrons.
The prospect of change, Hanson says, “was like turning around the Queen Mary.”
Lane Bryant also wanted to be considered a player in the fashion industry. It needed to be seen as a place where shoppers could expect to find contemporary styles. It needed buzz.
So last summer, the company staged its debut Manhattan fashion show. The presentation was held in June, safely distanced from the April and November competition of Seventh Avenue designers and exceedingly thin models.
The company gathered a group of plus-size models, focused on the company's fashion offerings and drenched the entire presentation in a shower of self-confidence.
“The clothes were so beautiful, the hair, the makeup. The atmosphere felt like a concert. People never sat down once they saw how sexy and vamped we were,” says model Angellika Morton, who was in the show. “People were roaring and screaming and loving our attitude on the runway.”
The clothes were sexy and contemporary: A fitted bodysuit had sheer insets, a black leather blazer topped white jeans, lush scarves were layered over a pinstriped pantsuit and lace peeked from low-cut necklines.
In short, Lane Bryant broke from its formula. “It's not an enlightened territory,” Hanson says. “When people ‘know' a business very well, they have all sorts of rules about the large-size business: You give them black and navy. Don't do anything that hugs the body…Large women don't dry-clean. There were a lot of preconceived ideas about the customer—all negative.”
The company has introduced the Venezia Jeans Clothing Co., a collection of jeans and sportswear that is aimed at a younger customer. It will be promoted in another flashy fashion presentation in August.
The Venezia collection “will take cues from a variety of different sources starting with fashion trade shows both in Europe and (the U.S.),” says Monique Keegan, who has been design director for Lane Bryant for about two years. “We do a great deal of retail shopping; we look for inspiration from magazines. Then, by the time the designer collections come out, we look at that for confirmation. We don't want to be lagging behind…
Allison Lewis-Smith, a 43-year-old Lane Bryant customer, is an attorney and a business consultant.
“They are coming out with the most unbelieveable lingerie,” she says. “Having access to beautiful lingerie does a lot for the image that a young woman has of herself.”
But in categories such as career clothes, Lewis-Smith believes the company falls short with offerings that are too limited. Both she and Morton also note that as the company has embraced sportswear trends with vigor, it has neglected its more mature customers and the needs of professional young women.
Addressing a consumer is easy. It's a matter of supply and demand. The cultural shift, however, is still a dream.
“The large woman is as stylish and sophisticated and smart as any thin woman,” Hanson says.
Lane Bryant executives finally are able to successfully articulate that message to each other. Now they're struggling to make the rest of us listen.
Fashion marketers are beginning to cater to a customer they long spurned: the overweight teen-age girl.
In New York, the Wilhelmina Models agency is for the first time running ads seeking large-size teen-age models.
“It's a new market for us. Our clients never wanted the plus-size teen before, but it's a huge market,” said Peggy Imm, the print booking agent for David & Lee Model and Talent Agency in Cleveland.
Imm said that because the requests have changed, her agency is looking at girls who in the past would never have been considered for modeling assignments.
“I think there is a strong market for that type of teen. They're buyers.”
Marketers are agreeing.
A new magazine called Girl, being launched next month, will target teens of “all shapes, all sizes.” In Los Angeles, jeans maker Michael Caruso & Co. has added sizes 14 to 24 to its teen-oriented Bongo jeans line.
This fall, large-size retailing veteran Lane Bryant plans its first pitch expressly aimed at the college crowd, including a New York fashion show of its revamped casual line, Venezia Jeans. Clothing Co. Among the five celebrity “V-Girls” on the runway will be actress Liv Tyler's full-figured 19-year-old sister, Mia, and the Women's National Basketball Association star Kym Hampton, who wears a size 16.
The Limited Inc. unit also will set up tents on college campuses and hand out discount coupons and credit-card applications to students who have gained the…“freshman 15” pounds.
The main impetus for all this activity has been the recent strong showing of big-sized women's fashions, sales of which now account for a quarter of the entire women's apparel market. Sales in the “plus-size” category, or sizes 16 and up, have grown 20 percent since 1994, to $23 billion last year, according to the NPD Grounp, a marketing information company in Port Washington, N.Y.
NEXT LOGICAL NICHE
Big-size teens were the next logical niche within this niche, marketers say—particularly in light of demographic and health statistics attesting to the size of the market. “There's a huge swell in the population, and there's a lot more opportunity,” says Chris Daniel, vice president of trend merchandising at Dayton Hudson Corp.'s Mervyn's California chain.
The total number of girls ages 10 to 19 is rising, according to the Census Bureau, as the latest baby boom generation reaches adolescence…. People in the fashion business long held that big women—and teens—didn't want stylish, body-revealing clothes. Designers were especially loath to court such customers, for fear of losing cachet with trend-setters. The sweat pants and tent dresses began to give way to more fashionable apparel only when the industry recognized the dimensions of the untapped plus-size market.
FASHIONS THAT FIT
Today, that market also includes teens like Leah Johnson, a 16-year-old from Jacksonville, Fla., who says it is high time apparel makers took notice. Johnson, who wears size 14 or 16, says she feels no need to emulate a reed-slim role model. “I'm really happy with myself,” she says. “I don't want to be a size 5 or something.” But she still has difficulties finding fashions that fit, and has earmarked an entire day this week to shop for jeans. “It's just a pain.”
Apparel makers and retailers are taking note of such complaints. A few fledgling design houses like Kiyonna Klothing in Los Angeles now target plus-size teens. Macy's, a unit of Federated Department Stores Inc., has begun adding larger sizes to its Style & Co. private-label casual line, including items with teen appear like twill pants and woven shirts. Meanwhile, Gap Inc. this year started carrying women's jeans and khakis in size 16 at all of its 1600-plus stories. (One style of size-16 Gap jeans fits a 34-inch waist and 47-inch hips.)
And because feet are growing along with waists and hips, shoe company Candie's Inc. in Purchase, N.Y., recently added sizes 11 and 12 to such popular teen styles as platform sneakers and wood sandals. The company also boosted inventory in sized 9 and 10. The moves have added about 10 percent to Candie's sales, says Neil Cole, chairman and chief executive officer…
Income: $70,000 (last year)
Health Insurance: $118.34/mo.
So she was walking down the street one day in Washington, D.C. “and this man told me we're doing a movie and Art Garfunkel is the star and do you want to make $100 a day? At the time I was a receptionist at a hair salon making $150 a week so I said, Of course, and I played a prostitute which I didn't play very well but I tried to do my best.”
The next thing Angellika knew, she was $700 richer.
“I got seven days of film work and I'm 18 and in college and my mom didn't even know I was making this extra money and so I bought these shoes for $129 and I told her they were $29.99 and she said, Wow, you're really managing your money well. I'm thinking I'm $700 up on her but she'll never know.”
This was in 1987. “Then the guy from the movie said, You should pursue modeling. I was a size four then, 115 pounds, no boobs. So I went up to New York to Sue Charney's Faces Agency and I was working the next day, the whole summer. I became like this catalogue queen for Target, Sears. That's when I was a straight-size model.”
She hit at the right time. “It was the ethnic look. There was all this talk about how biracial models were invading the modeling industry.” Angellika, who is Italian-black American, has a red-haired, green-eyed mother from Milan.
“While I was modeling, I was also studying child psychology at Georgetown University. So there I am on the shuttle commuting to New York,” reading child behavior textbooks and throwing back “Coca-Cola and Ruffles potato chips and gum drops—that's all I ate.”
Then her “grandmother's hips started popping out.” She got into plus-size modeling. Once again, she found herself at the right place at the right time: “big-size clothing really boomed two years ago.” Angellika, now a Ford model—“my dream”—is currently all over New York bus kiosks on a huge poster for Mode magazine. “I'm in this slick dress. I'm all out there.”
Angellika said about $50,000 of her $70,000 income comes from modeling—$187.50 an hour. The rest is from investments. “I have stock in my favorite drink, Coca-Cola. My father taught me if you buy stock, to buy what you like the most.” Angellika's father was a big success in the music business. She grew up in great comfort with a lawyer-stepfather, a mother who didn't have to work, two sisters and a brother, and a live-in housekeeper in a l5-room house on Embassy Row in Washington, D.C.
“My parents may have had money, but they raised us to work.” Though when Angellika went to intern at a day-care center while studying for her master's, “I never got past the door. I wasn't ready to give myself to society. I wanted to make money.”
Angellika said she spends about $5000 a year on clothes—Emmanuel Ungaro, Ferragamo handbags, Chanel shoes. “But I shop outlet, sample stores.” Sometimes $100 a day goes toward food because her best friend and hairdresser, André, seduces her to go to Spartina, 2 Seven 7, Savannah's. “We like to eat where we can be seen and I figure if you want to meet men who have money, you've got to go where they can afford to eat. The man I'm looking for must be making more than me. I'm not taking care of any man. I don't do McDonald's. Recently I went out with a model, he's older, very refreshing. He didn't ask me, What do you want to do? He made the reservations. He called the day of the date to confirm. He ordered my meal. I like being a princess. I have no shame. I love that a man just takes control. Get married and give up my modeling career? Oh, no, I still want my own money. You still have to sneak the handbags. They give you $1000. That's like one outfit. But, as you know, you need the shoes and the handbag. That's an additional $2000.”
[Oh well, no one ever said that a model's personality had to be beautiful.—HSG]
Toronto's Liis Windischmann, 27, is Canada's first plus-size model to get the cover of a major U.S. fashion magazine, says Jonathan Furlong of Plus Figure Models in Toronto. Windischmann, who has been represented by Plus Figure Models during the past five years, is featured on the September cover of the New York-based, plus-size fashion magazine Mode.
Furlong says his agency is promoting Windischmann as Canada's answer to Emme, a U.S. supermodel in the plus-size fashion market.
Windischmann, who is currently on a modelling assignment in Germany, has agents in London, New York, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco and Miami. She currently commands $2,000 a day.
Furlong says the size 14–16 model “has a wonderful presence. She can convey a variety of moods to the camera, from sultry to the girl next door.”
A model is to quit the catwalk at the age of 18, blaming the “rude and impersonal” nature of the fashion world and the ceaseless pressure to be thin. Sarah Thomas, who has spent two years modelling at fashion shows in Paris, New York and Milan, is to concentrate on cosmetic contracts.
Speaking from her home in Swardeston, Norfolk, yesterday Miss Thomas branded the fashion world as sleazy and obsessed with a culture of thinness. she said: “You travel around all these countries to go to castings and stand in a queue of hundreds of girls. Then somebody takes one look at your portfolio, closes it, hands it back, says ‘No thanks' and doesn't even look up to say hello. It's so impersonal. As for Milan, I can't stand it. You have a young driver and he is usually asking you questions about other models. It's all a bit sleazy.”
Miss Thomas, the face of the cosmetics company Cover Girl, claimed that drink, drugs and eating problems added to the often unsavoury atmosphere of international modelling. Young women were going into modelling thinner and smaller than ever before, she said, leading to her willowy 5ft 10in frame being considered over the top by some.
She said: “You see so many horrible things backstage it just makes your job so much harder. They want you to be skinnier. I remember trying something on and it was a bit tight on the hips and someone came up and slapped them. That is hard to take. It is so incredibly rude.”
She said she believed that she had survived the pressures of the catwalk because of her stable home life. She said: “Coming home puts it all into perspective.”
NEW YORK—The phrase “thin is in” was not the guiding sentiment at a recent New York fashion show where Lane Bryant debuted, to ecstatic crowds, its new Venezia collection for plus-sized young women.
The clothing line is a direct response to demands from women age 17 to 25 who say they're tired of dowdy tent dresses and sweat pants. Indeed, the business of outfitting these young plus-sized women in more fashionable clothes is increasing 16 percent every year.
“Our business has really been strong,” says Chris Hanson of Lane Bryant. “Everything we've put into the store that has been sexy, fashionable, trendy is flying out of stores.”
That overwhelming response is making others in the fashion world take notice. Recently, the Wilhelmina modeling agency and Mode magazine held a model search for young women size 10 and above. It was a first for the agency.
Hundreds of young women vied for the chance to redefine the image of beauty—not easy when the public is still bombarded with images of waif-like models.
But plus-size teen models such as Valerie Lefkowitz say they are determined to help break new ground and give big teens their pride back.
“Teens feel so left out, and they're not really happy with themselves because people say, ‘You need to be skinny,'” Lefkowitz says. “But you don't need to be. You just need to be happy with yourself.”
Capitalizing on that new sense of self is Girl magazine, the first multiethnic, multicultural and multisize teen magazine.
Girl's Nancy Lewinter says the magazine “will really say to a teen, ‘You're great the way you are, honey. It's perfect.'”
They're young, sexy, edgy, high-profile young women, some of whom are British and some of whom sing.
They're also size 14—at least.
They're the Girls, the thinking and eating woman's answer to the Spice Girls. They made their official debut today at a Lane Bryant runway show in Manhattan, as they launch the Venezia Jeans Clothing Company, a hip, young collection from Lane Bryant, which specializes in so-called plus-size clothing.
The clothes, and the V Girls, are part of a wave of change taking over the fashion industry.
It's only been during the past few years, with the launch of the plus-size fashion magazine Mode and the skyrocketing career of plus-size model Emme, that the fashion industry discovered larger women, those who wear size 12 and up. All 65 million of them in the U.S., all of whom need clothing.
This summer, the industry's big surprise has been the discovery of plus-size girls—members of Generation Y, who constitute the fastest-growing segment of the plus-size market. According to research done by Lane Bryant, the number of plus-size young women in their teens and early 20s has grown by 16 percent annually since 1993.
So this fall, Mode magazine, whose slogan is “Style Beyond Size,” will launch Girl, a sister publication dedicated to younger women. Bongo, the hip denim line for teens, is launching a plus-sized division.
“I think for many people, Emme paved the way, she was a good starting point—and now the market for plus models is booming. With Mode, which started getting great photographers to shoot real fashions, and everyone could see these women shot beautifully in clothes that fit them—everyone woke up,” says Kristi McCormick, director of special projects at Wilhelmina Models, which represents plus-size stars like Natalie [Laughlin], a model who's been featured on no fewer than six Times Square billboards—long the exclusive domain of the superskinny like Kate Moss.
“The demand for this kind of thing is such that we opened our plus division with four models only a few years ago, and now we're booking over 100 girls.”
And the boom is continuing. Mode and Wilhelmina Models, one of New York's bigger and more powerful modeling agencies, next week kick off a model search for plus-size models that starts at size 10, age 15.
And Lane Bryant brings in Venezia, and the V Girls.
The V Girls include Mia Tyler, sister of Liv, daughter of Steve, and an actress and director in the world of independent film. She looks remarkably like her sister, just bigger.
Two of the V Girls are in fact plus-size models—but Emme, the size-16 blonde from Bergen County who's been lauded for convincing many that a plus-size supermodel was not a contradiction in terms, isn't among them.
Emme, for all her trailblazing, is seen in the industry as your mother's supermodel—not on the cutting edge, into the TV show-hosting rather than runway-strutting part of her career.
So instead, the model V Girls include Sophie Dahl, a 6-foot-2-inch 20-year old who despite her voluptuous size has appeared on mainstream European runways, and Kate Dillon. Dillon, who appeared on the covers of Mademoiselle and Glamour back in her regular model days, quit the business, gained 40 pounds, and came back as a plus-size model. (All this and she's only 22.)
Kym Hampton, a size-16 New York Liberty player whom many remember for belting out the national anthem at the Knicks-Heat semifinal, is “Sporty” V Girl. R&B singer Kelly Price and MTV reporter and Peabody winner Abbie Kearse round out the group.
The women are getting a lot of attention.
“All of a sudden everybody wants to get their hands on me!” exclaims Mia Tyler, who's been doing interviews and television appearances for about a month in support of the Venezia launch.
The V Girls represent her first try at modeling, although she is now meeting with folks at Wilhelmina to discuss continuing this new career after the V Girls. Meanwhile, she says her dad and sister will be at the runway show to see her debut.
“I grew up in New Hampshire, and everybody's kind of big in New Hampshire,” she said.
“So I was always okay with myself. But I think it would have been better if I [had] had someone to look at, to say this is healthy, this beautiful.”
And, of course, finding hip clothes in large sizes is not easy, as any woman over size 10 knows. The Venezia collection, Tyler says, fills that niche.
“I love some of this stuff—they have a big puffy blue winter jacket, and snowboarding pants, which I just love in the winter, and really cute dress and tank tops. And of course, the greatest jeans, those really dark denim jeans—I'm going to be getting a truck load of those,” she said.
NEW YORK—The cruel chants of “Overweight Kate!” that rocked her junior high school bus in San Diego still ring in Kate Dillon's ears.
Now the 24-year-old supermodel, a proud member of the Wilhelmina modeling agency's plus-size division, is lending her support in the national search for nine new plus-size talents.
The need for large-size models is an outgrowth of the retail industry's embrace of large-size women ages 18 to 29. About four years ago, mainstream retailers, including Bongo Jeans, Gitano and The Gap, began targeting the growing demographics and spending power of this group.
Sponsored by Mode magazine and Wilhelmina, the “First Full-Figured Model Search” drew 800 girls and women to the Motown Café to sign up for the contest. The search continues around the country through Oct. 15. By December, 30 winners will have been chosen by Wilhelmina to compete for nine guaranteed modeling contracts.
“It's not about rebelling,” said Ms. Dillon of women size 10–20 who, instead of dieting, are now shopping for clothes that fit. “It's about being tired of apologizing for our genetics.”
NPD, a marketing information company in Port Washington, N.Y., defines plus-size women's clothing as size 16 and up and said sales in this category were at $22.7 billion, up 6.7 percent in 1997. In the first six months of this year, sales were at $11.3 billion, up 3.5 percent from the same time last year.
Peter Simon, NPD's vice president for apparel industry tracking, said, “Retailers have begun to realize that plus-size people want to wear nice stuff, not synthetic mumus, which was all they had to choose from for decades.”
Earlier this year, Lane Bryant, which already caters to large-size women, surveyed 500 of its customers ages 18 to 29, asking what they'd like to see in its stores.
“When we talked to these young women, we asked what do you want that you don't have?” said Chris Hansen, Lane Bryant's vice president of marketing. “The answer was very single-minded: ‘I want to look like my best friend and she's a size 6. I want the same clothes she's getting.'”
Modeling agencies, in turn, realize that big models are needed to showcase big clothes.
Kristi McCormick, director of special projects for Wilhelmina, said that agencies specializing in plus-size models have been around for 20 years but that Wilhelmina is one of the first mainstream ones to establish such a division.
“Four years ago we had four plus-size models,” Ms. McCormick said. “Today, Wilhelmina has 100. Now that other agencies see how successful we are, they'll have them too.”
In August, Ms. Dillon was at Chelsea Piers to help launch the expanded line of Venezia jeans and clothing carried by Lane Bryant. She was named a “V-Girl” along with plus-size British model Sophie Dahl, 20; former MTV news reporter Abbie Kearse, 32; and Mia Tyler, 19.
Venezia jeans, which retail for $25–50, were already a staple on Lane Bryant racks, but more styles have been added in the size 14–28 range.
The four kicked off the event wearing the jeans and were followed by 30 models, who, from the neck up, looked like any others gliding down a runway, pursing their lips into a scornful pout.
They strutted before 300 fashion-industry types, reporters and other fabsters, including Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler (Mia's father).
Tyler, renown rail-thin rocker, got into the spirit of the event. The proud papa lauded “V-Girl” Mia for paying homage to plus-size women “as opposed to all those skin-and-bone people like runway princesses and rock stars.”
The music world has not seen a scandal on this scale for years. Munich's Bavarian State Opera has sacked Cheryl Studer, reputed to be one of the greatest sopranos of our time, on the grounds that she cannot sing. Ms Studer has a doctor's certificate which she says proves that she can. There have been recriminations, lawsuits and taking of sides. Opera has seen nothing like it.
Not, at least, since one fateful night in October 1993 when riot police had to fight back music lovers of the Vienna opera, enraged by the leading lady's failure to ride the high Cs in Il Trovatore. The diva's name was Cheryl Studer.
The conductor caught up in all this embarrassment, Zubin Mehta, will not forget the incident in a hurry. Nor will he forgive, according to Studer. For Mehta is now musical director of the Bavarian State Opera, the company that has suddenly found her talents sadly wanting.
If that explanation of her fall from grace is not persuasive enough, the 43-year-old American soprano, who has stood on all the great stages of the world, sung the biggest roles and helped make record companies immensely rich, has another. She feels she is the victim of prejudice, because she did not fit the physical characteristics of her role. In short, she was not German enough and slender enough to play the lovely Agathe in Weber's Der Freischütz, the pioneering work of German romanticism. “I am not blonde, I have a slight accent, and I am a bit bulky for the small hunting lodge where I was supposed to stand,” she said in a newspaper interview.
Nonsense, counters the company's British-born executive director, Peter Jonas. According to his version, Studer failed to hit the right notes in six passages during rehearsals. Her Agathe was straining, so that a relatively unknown understudy named Petra-Maria Schnitzer had to step in a week before first night. It is true that Schnitzer is young, blonde, slim and German, but Mr. Jonas insists she landed the part solely on merit…
Unusually in the close-knit operatic world, Studer then went public with her grievance. When the interviews did not work, she launched a lawsuit, demanding the full DM200,000 (£74,000) for the eight cancelled appearances as Agathe. It was at this point that the company discovered Studer's unsuitability for another role, that of Rosalinde in Strauss's Die Fledermaus, due to open on New Year's Eve. Last week Studer retaliated with another lawsuit, this time demanding DM100,000 for four contracted appearances she will no longer make as Rosalinde.
The cases come to court next month. The company will call upon critics as expert witnesses, while Studer intends to invoke medical evidence to show her vocal facilities are intact…
The former child star has cast off her Addams Family Values with provocative roles in such twisted indie flicks as The Opposite of Sex, Pecker, and Buffalo 66. Morticia would be proud.
It's been nearly a decade since a 10-year-old Christina Ricci first opened her huge, knowing peepers on screen as Winona Ryder's little sister in Mermaids. But this year, it was our turn to be wide-eyed. The girl went and grew up. And her transformation—startling for both its audacity and its speed—still has us reeling.
Provocative as it was, Ricci's role as a sexually curious high schooler in last year's The Ice Storm was just a peek at what was to come. In May, Ricci graduated once and for all from the Caspers and That Darn Cats of her early career, delivering a performance so heartless and cunning, she could give Linda Tripp a few pointers. Here's how The Opposite of Sex opens: Ricci's 16-year-old Dedee Truitt throws a cigarette into the fresh grave of her stepfather…and oh, what a roller coaster of rage follows. Thanks to Ricci's unblinking contempt, boyfriend-stealing, murdering, just-plain-bad-to-the-bone Dedee is the year's blackest comic gem. “I really cannot imagine anybody else in that role,” says the film's director, Don Roos. “But before she auditioned I didn't even know she was old enough for it.”
In age, perhaps, but Ricci has always seemed shrewder than her years should allow. Her patented world-weariness began ripening as Wednesday in The Addams Family and Addams Family Values. “She's done a lot of racy things, but it hasn't seemed like a total shock because she always played these mature, cynical kids,” says her Sex costar Lisa Kudrow.
The difference, of course, is in the blossoming of other charms: Full-figured Ricci stands as a refreshing antidote to the cookie-cutter hardbodies Hollywood tends to favor. More critically, she's developed a fearless instinct for off-center parts. Most of her films this year—Sex, Vincent Gallo's Buffalo 66, Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and John Waters' Pecker—have benefitted not only from her idiosyncratic beauty but also from her ability to humanize and believably embody the truly eccentric.
No wonder she's stolen the indie It Girl crown from Parker Posey. And no wonder it's so easy to forget that she's a proven mainstream star. Yet despite half a life spent in Hollywood, Ricci has turned out to be both admirably unaffected and curiously, well, 18. “It came out that she's a fan of Friends and wanted to come visit the set,” remembers Kudrow. “That surprised me. I was expecting this girl who was too cool for TV.”
That kind of youthful excitability is a trait Ricci rarely shows the press. Asked whether she's overjoyed by her heightened popularity, Ricci insists she's actually daunted. “I think it's just made me more confused. In the past, I sort of did my thing and nobody paid that much attention. Now it's like every decision apparently is very important,” she says, before flying off to London to play Johnny Depp's love interest in Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow.
Maybe she's a little happier than she lets on? “She met Johnny Depp when she did Mermaids and he was Winona Ryder's boyfriend,” says Roos. “So she's sort of grown into her older sister's boyfriend. She's thrilled.”
They have been denied the juiciest acting roles for years. But fuller-figured women are finally making headway against the “fat fascists”—usually male, middle-aged, overweight television executives—who traditionally plump for skinny, surgically enhanced female stars.
In the most telling example of the shift in attitudes, Baywatch, the world's most popular television show, is reported to be looking for a “large” actress to appear in a swimsuit alongside the show's line-up of beach babes.
After years of casting silicon-supported sylphs, the producers of the California-based series have held secret meetings with “voluptuous models,” Hollywood insiders say.
In the nip and tuck world of Malibu Beach and high fashion, the move represents more than just an attempt to find a new face. Baywatch's new formula is proof that big is now beautiful.
On television, “real” women are suddenly everywhere. Camryn Manheim, who plays lawyer Ellen Frutt in The Practice, dedicated her recent Emmy to “all the fat girls.” She is the latest addition to the full-figured American sisterhood, which includes Kirstie Alley, Oprah Winfrey, Rosie O'Donnell and Roseanne Barr.
Over here, Titanic star Kate Winslet's Rubensesque form has given the status quo a swift kick in the pants. Such natural curves have not been seen in American films since the Fifties, when the size-12 Marilyn Monroe defined female beauty. Even the rehabilitated Miss World, screened last year on Channel Five, featured women so rounded one critic described the Seychelles pageant as “lumpy.”
“The no-boobs, no-ass, just-skull-and-hipbones look of Gwyneth Paltrow, Winona Ryder and Bridget Fonda is out,” one fashion writer observes. “Starving yourself into a size six is bad for the ratings. Shows like Baywatch know they must change with the times.”
Changing images—especially on hit shows like Baywatch—are welcomed by the British Medical Association and by diet and exercise groups, which normally report a rise in inquiries at this time of year after the traditional festive binge.
“When people observe larger women in active roles, they realise you can be large and fit. Not all people who are a size 10 are necessarily in good shape,” said a spokeswoman for the Exercise Association. “It's great to see bigger women being promoted on television. A lot of large people are too embarrassed to go to the gym. Having someone the same size will make them feel comfortable and realise it's OK to be big.”
Top designers agree. Reed-thin Jodie Kidd, the emaciated face of “heroin chic,” may still be treading the catwalk, but models are being held to much less exacting standards these days.
The undulating figure of Sophie Dahl—size 16 with a 38DD bust—has featured on the cover of so many glossies that most model agencies have set up the awkwardly named “plus-sized divisions.” One, in New York, is simply known as Ten/20, and business is booming.
When the new Baywatch actress joins David Hasseloff in the sun, sea, sand and sex series, she will simply be confirming a trend. Ever since the days when Fifties sirens Elizabeth Taylor and Vivien Leigh graced the screen, women everywhere have been filling out.
The modern diet and sedentary lifestyle mean the average British woman is a stone heavier today than her mother. Women have bigger rib cages, larger breasts, thicker waists and rounder hips than ever. The hour-glass figure, which measured a 36B bust, 24in waist and 36in hips, has expanded into a bottom-heavy pear shape measuring 36C-28-38.
In America, the contrast is even greater. Back in 1950, the average U.S. woman was a curvy 36B-26-37. Today, she is a Lewinsky-like 37D-30-40.
Professor Stephen Gray of Nottingham Trent University, who has spent more than three years surveying women aged from 18 to 90, says: “The American woman is a good 15 years ahead in terms of lifestyle and diet and it is only natural that this should be reflected on TV and in the arts.”
In the fickle world of Hollywood, few are brave enough to predict that curves and cleavage will become the norm. But directors and producers insist that the studios have been out of touch with audiences for too long.
Seamus McGarvey, director of photography on Tim Roth's directorial debut, The War Zone, says: “All this hullabaloo about thinness is more to do with what producers and financiers want rather than viewers. If we're talking about sex appeal, people's libidos should be credited with a bit of variation.”
If she keeps smiling and doesn't walk too fast, Mia Tyler may become as widely known as her father and sister.
The daughter of Aerosmith rocker Steve Tyler and sister of actress Liv Tyler (Armageddon) made her runway debut at a fashion show last Tuesday in Columbus. Some 300? Lane Bryant store managers and execs turned out at the Greater Columbus Convention Center for a sneak peek at the spring collection.
Tyler appears in print advertising for the plus-size retailer's Venezia Jeans Clothing Co. as a “V-Girl,” and has been in Mode magazine, which targets the growing-by-leaps-and-bounds plus market, and Seventeen.
But last week was the 20-year-old brunette's first turn on the catwalk.
“I was nervous, sure,” Tyler said after the show. “Then I found out that no one (in the audience) knew I was going to be here—I was a surprise—and I was really nervous.”
She got a backstage crash course in Modeling 101. “They told me not to walk too fast and smile a lot…[and] I did have to practice walking in those shoes [backless heels].”
“Now that it's over,” she added, “I'm kind of sad.”
Tyler—who, incidentally, walked the catwalk without a hitch or glitch—was asked whether her interest in fashion compelled her to give advice to her old man. The elder Tyler's stage attire (he's 50) runs to tight leather pants, an occasional flowing skirt and his trademark flowing scarves.
“I used to give him a lot of grief,” she said. “I wanted him to dress like Robert Palmer.”
Palmer, by the way, is notoriously natty in his black suits and ties.
Plus-size model Natalie Laughlin turned what used to be her biggest problem—her weight—into her biggest success.
“I am no longer afraid to eat or fearful that I can't stop once I've started,” she told a full Hughes-Trigg Theater of mostly female students Monday night.
In the first of the events planned for SMU's Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Laughlin spoke about her battle with eating disorders. In college, she alternated between starving and binging and laxative abuse. She said she was “in pain internally” and began to feel “disconnected” with her body.
“I realized I had a huge self-esteem problem, and it was up to me to do something about it,” Laughlin said.
An NYU graduate, Laughlin said her turning point began when she joined Overeaters Anonymous during college. She said she was encouraged when she saw that so many other women were dealing with the same issues.
I learned how to focus on my spiritual and emotional self, rather than my physical self, Laughlin said.
Laughlin got the idea to be a plus-size model from a hairdresser that commented on her nice appearance. In the panel discussion following the lecture, one student asked why Laughlin was classified as plus-size. The student said she thought Natalie did not look overweight. Laughlin explained that the fashion world isn't the same as the real world. Though 64 percent of American women are size 12 or above, the fashion industry classifies plus-size as sizes 10-20. In fact, models today weigh 23 percent less than the average woman, Laughlin said.
Laughlin further explained that computers can completely reshape a body in a photograph and that most models size 4 or 6 suffer from an eating disorder. Laughlin encouraged the audience to accept themselves as individuals to become more confident.
“I am unique because I am different,” she said.
Students in the audience said they found the lecture helpful and informative.
“Natalie gave a very honest and open perspective with a great deal of hope that you can actually get your life back after an eating disorder,” said first-year student Tricia Hanks.
NEW ORLEANS, March 8 —A busy medical student with little time to work out, Robert Contreras decided it was time to embark on an exercise program. And when his trainer suggested he might benefit from a natural energy booster, the Boston student purchased a health-food supplement that promised to enhance his energy while helping him to shed pounds. It wasn't until several weeks later that he discovered that the supplement—an herbal remedy known as ma huang—contained a stimulant that put him at risk for heart attack, stroke and sudden death.
Warnings about the health dangers of ma huang are not new. The popular herbal remedy is known to contain ephedrine, a stimulant that can raise heart rate and increase blood pressure.
The problem, however, is that the supplements are usually sold under such innocuous names as Enhancer X. While ma huang is often listed on the label, ephedrine often is not.
And even when ephedrine is listed, most people, including Contreras, often don't take the time to read it. “A lot of trainers promote it as a muscle-builder, so I figured, ‘Why not try it?'” he said.
Within one day of starting the supplement, Contreras said he felt “pumped up,” full of more energy than usual. His workouts intensified. He dropped a few pounds. But then, about three weeks later, his heart began racing out of control. He decided to investigate the ingredients. Reading the label, he noticed it contained ma huang.
In the most ironic twist of all, Contreras is a member of a research team studying the health effects of ephedrine. “If it took me three weeks to realize that ma huang contained this stimulant, what about the average consumer?” he said.
NATURAL NOT ALWAYS SAFE
Team leader Dr. David Samenuk of New England Medical Center in Boston agrees.
“There are about 50 or 60 different products on the health-food store shelves that contain ephedrine,” he said Monday. And because they are “natural”, most people assume they are safe.
In fact, taken in large enough doses, without a doctor's supervision, the supplements can cause all sort of heart ills, even sudden death, he said.
In an attempt to find out just how wide-reaching the problem is, the Boston team analyzed 926 reports of possible ephedrine toxicity that had been reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Overall, they found 50 serious heart ailments, including 14 sudden deaths, 13 strokes—two of which were fatal—two mini-strokes, nine heart attacks and six cases of rapid heart beats.
Women seemed to be more susceptible to ephedrine-related health problems than men, the Boston team found.
Of the 14 patients who suffered sudden death, autopsies were performed on 10. Four of the deceased had perfectly healthy hearts.
TIP OF THE ICEBERG?
Samenuk thinks the findings show “just the tip of the iceberg. This is a potentially a huge health problem,” he said. “We just don't know to what degree.”
In fact, during a poster session at the annual meeting of the America College of Cardiology at which he presented the data, Samenuk said at least a dozen doctors stopped by and said they had never even heard of the problem.
How would a natural herb harm the heart?
According to Samenuk, ephedrine acts much like cocaine. “It directly stimulates receptors on the heart which, in turn, increase heart rate and the amount of work the heart must do to pump blood throughout the body.”
People with pre-existing heart problems, such as high blood pressure, are at highest risk for ephedrine-induced cardiac ills. “But even the healthy person can drop dead,” he said.
Ma huang has been used for hundred of years as a Chinese herbal remedy for treating asthma. Now, it is usually sold as a supplement for weight loss, energy enhancement and body building.
In the study, 27 people said they took it to lose weight, 15 to boost energy and one for recreation.
Ma huang is usually sold as a capsule or powder that can be mixed with a fruit drink. Most people take it twice a day.
Because the FDA does not regulate supplements, “ma huang is getting a free ride,” Samenuk said. The burden of proof is on the FDA to prove supplements are dangerous before they can be taken off the market.
So what should you do in the meantime?
Samenuk advises staying away from ma huang altogether. “But if you do opt to take it, at least tell your doctor,” he said.
BOSTON (AP)—Even a magazine editor admits that skinny models featured on covers can make teen girls dissatisfied about their body image.
“Young girls reading magazines certainly compare their bodies to the models that they see in there and come away with sometimes unhappy feelings with the way they look,” Glamour executive editor Stephanie Dolgoff said Monday.
But she said women's magazines are being unfairly singled out by a new study that criticizes publications for feeding an unhealthy body image to young girls—as if teens can't “discern between what's fantasy and what's reality.”
According to the study, published in the March issue of the journal Pediatrics, more than two-thirds of girls in grades five through twelve said magazine photos influenced their notion of the ultimate figure.
Forty-seven percent said they wanted to lose weight because of those pictures. Only 29 percent of the 548 girls interviewed were actually considered overweight.
“Even among the girls who don't read the magazines, very frequently, they, too, felt influenced,” said Alison Field, an epidemiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and the study's lead author. “It really does permeate society.”
The girls filled out questionnaires during mandatory gym classes in an unidentified working-class suburb north of Boston. The study was conducted in 1991, just as thin, “waiflike” models were coming back into vogue.
Each girl was asked to provide her age, weight and height and was asked whether she regularly read magazines such as Seventeen, Glamour or the now-defunct Sassy. The girls answered questions about dieting habits and how they viewed their bodies—satisfied or dissatisfied.
Sixty-six percent of the girls said they wanted to lose weight. Researchers said they suspected the number would have been higher if the study focused exclusively on older teens.
About one-third of the respondents were in elementary school. Even at that age, half reported reading fashion magazines at least two to five times a month.
High-frequency magazine readers of any age were three times more likely to exercise and lose weight than infrequent readers, and three times more likely to have unrealistic body expectations.
Editors at Seventeen, which targets teen-age girls, and Glamour, which targets women ages 18 to 35, said the results weren't surprising.
“The magazines reflect what's going on in the runways because they're fashion magazines and the models on the runways are stick-thin,” said Patrice Adcroft, editor in chief at Seventeen.
This month's issue of Seventeen includes—for the first time—a plus-size model in a fashion spread. The young woman, who wears a size 14, is paired with very slender models in an article on prom dresses.
Ms. Field's study used national weight standards from the 1970s to determine what qualified as overweight. For example, a 5-foot-4 16-year-old girl would be considered overweight if she weighed more than 145 pounds. The healthy weight range for a girl that age would be between 105 and 140 pounds.
For a 13-year-old 5-foot girl, the overweight benchmark was 120 pounds or higher. The median healthy weight for that age and height is 90 to 95 pounds.
On a positive note, the study found that girls who read fashion magazines were more likely to exercise rather than diet to lose weight—a signal that the publications are teaching girls about the importance of good health, Ms. Field said.
“We certainly have a problem with overweight” in America, she said. “But the answer is not to make everyone overly concerned with their weight.”
Click here to read:“We Must Rid Ourselves of False Ideals of Beauty”
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Teenage girls who put themselves on strict diets are 18 times more likely to develop eating disorders than girls who do not try to lose weight through diet.
But girls who go on moderate diets are also found to be more at risk. Their chances of developing anorexia or bulimia are five times higher, researchers say today.
The study of 2,000 boys and girls aged 14 and 15 in Australia found that eight per cent of the girls had dieted severely and 60 per cent moderately. The dieting involved cutting calories, skipping meals and reducing the amount of food eaten. Two-thirds of new cases of eating disorders were found in the group of moderate dieters.
Psychiatric problems such as anxiety and depression were also found to be strongly associated with eating disorders, with the risk of these problems seven times higher than in non-dieters.
The research from Prof George Patton and colleagues, the University of Melbourne and the Royal Children's Hospital Research Institute in Parkville, Victoria, recommends exercise as the best way to help young people to lose weight. They say in the British Medical Journal: “Previous reports have suggested that a risk factor for eating disorders is participation in sports, particularly those that require thinness, such as gymnastics.
“In our study, however, daily participation in sport did not raise risks above those already associated with dieting. In adolescent weight control, promotion of exercise rather than restriction of dietary intake may prove less of a risk in the development of eating disorders.”
Girls are four times more likely to develop eating disorders than boys. The prevalence of eating disorders in developed countries in women is about three per cent for anorexia and eight per cent for bulimia.
The disorders tend to start in adolescence, developing into full-blown syndromes in the following years.
Buxom British model Sophie Dahl will bring her statuesque presence to the Mercedes Australian Fashion Week catwalk in Sydney next month.
The voluptuous Dahl, who burst on to the fashion scene three years ago with a size-14 figure and 38DD bra size, is a modelling anomaly in an industry dominated by waifs. She will parade for Sydney designer Charlie Brown and label Lili.
Ms. Brown, the media savvy designer, stole headlines at last year's event by flying out American model Vanessa Haydon, the then girlfriend of movie star Leonardo diCaprio, for her parade.
Ms. Brown has scored another coup by securing the services of Dahl in what she admits is a deliberate publicity stunt.
“In this business you live off editorial and it's about getting your name out there so we've got her for publicity but we're also looking to her for catwalk credibility,” Ms Brown said.
Ms. Brown said she wanted to work with the 180cm blonde model, who recently trimmed her curvaceous physique down to a size 12, because of her chameleon-like qualities.
“She's fun, she can look young, sexy and brash but also very chic and of course I love the fact that she's a bigger girl,” Ms Brown said.
Dahl, 21, was discovered almost three years ago on the street by eccentric British fashion stylist Isabella Blow, who became enamored by the then teenager's plump frame, describing her as having “a beautiful face and the body of a Playboy bunny.”
In a British interview last year Ms. Blow recalled meeting Dahl and seeing “an enormous thing in front of my eyes.”
I had this overwhelming desire to touch her…it wasn't just the face, it was the package—the cheekbones, the eyes, the bosoms,” Ms. Blow said.
Ms. Blow took her new protege to the renowned Storm modelling agency, which ironically also represents gamin beauty icon, Kate Moss, and within months Dahl was hailed a catwalk sensation by the international fashion glitterati.
Dahl, who is the grand-daughter of author Roald Dahl and Oscar-winning actress Patricia Neal, has featured in fashion spreads for esteemed publications such as Italian Vogue, Visionaire, I-D, Vanity Fair, The Face and Arena magazines.
Most recently, she appeared nude for a Herb Ritts shoot in the 1999 Pirelli calendar and, following in the footsteps of her grandfather, has turned her hand to writing.
She also makes her acting debut this year in Sarah Sugarmann's Mad Cows, which premieres at the Cannes Film Festival in May.
The women's clothing business is finally stretching out to serve real women, with more styles and higher fashion offered in sizes 14 and larger. And much in demand are models who can fill out so-called plus sizes, as apparel makers, catalogs and retailers trade fantasy—a size-16 dress draped on a size-eight model—for reality.
The shift might seem to require an entirely new crew of models, but that hasn't been necessary. “I stopped exercising and gained 50 pounds, and now I'm working a lot more than I ever worked in my life,” says Chyna McGarity, at 34 years old an experienced model who now wears sizes 16 to 18. “It was a career move, but I'm not recommending it for other people.” For catalog work, models say, the pay is generally comparable in either weight class.
Fashion models, thought to be fixated on skinniness, have proven remarkably adaptable to the industry's embrace of double-digit dress sizes. In the process, the modeling business has become a little more like real life: Women gain and lose weight, and manage to keep working.
Of course, size bias isn't altogether dead. Barbara Brickner, 5 feet 9 inches tall and a size 14, says she was recently dumped as a model by Nordstrom—because she is too thin. “You want to show the clothes on a model that truly represents a plus-size woman,” says Amy Jones, a Nordstrom Inc. spokeswoman. The Seattle retailer wants models sizes 18 to 22 for its plus-size clothes.
The industry is responding to years of complaints from women that it was impossible to determine how a garment might actually look on their bodies because it was modeled by someone half their size. “Their legs are about as big as my arms,” Penni Waltz, a 30-year-old social worker, and size 22, from Traverse City, Mich., says of traditional models.
The boom in plus-size modeling assignments has led model Michelle Griffin into a double life. Ms. Griffin began modeling for catalogs seven years ago as a size six. Then, she says, “I fell in love and I gained weight.” Still sought after for her dreamy brown eyes and high cheek bones, Ms. Griffin, at a size 12, shifted to plus-size modeling.
“I was just happy to be able to pay my bills,” she says. But she didn't like the weight she had put on and dieted and exercised back down to an eight. She resumed modeling slimmer sizes, but her New York phone kept ringing for plus-size work, too. She didn't disappoint her old clients, wrapping pillow stuffing around her hips and waist, and pulling a bodysuit over it. For a fuller chest, she uses plastic breast enhancers. “I think I pad up to a size 12,” she says.
But caution is needed. “If a girl pads too much, eventually her body will look too big for her face,” says Tracie Stern, a 6-foot, size-12 model in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who sometimes pads up.
Says Ms. Griffin: “I have a really round face and I think that's really been my saving grace.”
Ms. Griffin works for Wilhelmina Inc., the big New York modeling agency, and appears on its Web-site lists for both regular-size models and for its Ten-20 plus-size division. Still, Ms. Griffin says, “A lot of my straight-size clients don't know I model full-size and vice versa.” She says she is nervous about losing work.
“I told her she needs to make a decision,” says Angellika Morton, an acquaintance and strictly plus-size model. Ms. Morton, 31, also began as a smaller-size model but didn't get much beyond ads for Kmart clothing and Hanes hosiery. “As a straight size, I wasn't all that successful,” she says. But as a size 14, with sultry hazel eyes, she's a hit, and was inducted last month into the Modeling Association of America International Inc.'s Model Hall of Fame, as its first plus-size member. But she says she has noticed a pay differential. “I know I've worked with straight-size girls where they're getting $2,500 for the day and I'm getting $1,500.”
The decision to go plus-size can be difficult for other reasons. Kayla Laurene, 27 and 5-feet-11, started modeling at age 18, as a size eight, just barely making the cut for regular modeling work. “I lost a lot of clients because size eight wasn't small enough,” she says. Eventually, the blue-eyed blonde gave up the struggle to stay thin and quit the modeling business. She went back to school and started bartending part-time.
Two years ago, when Ms. Laurene was a size 10, an agent suggested she come back as a plus-size. But Ms. Laurene hesitated, thinking her boyfriend, a Miami chef, would be embarrassed to date a plus-size model. Instead, he cheered her on and she went for it, gaining 15 pounds. As size 12, though, she still has to pad up about 40% of the time, she says.
Natalie Laughlin, known at Wilhelmina as “the Cindy Crawford of plus size,” also first tried regular modeling but was told to lose 20 pounds. She even got a job at a health club so she could always be in an atmosphere that focused on weight loss. “My quest in life was to be as thin as possible,” she says. Like some other models, she says she developed an eating disorder but has overcome it and grown comfortable with her body type. Now, many people in the industry say the brown-eyed, 5-foot-9 model, size 12-to-14, is at the top of her game.
“My weight has always been an issue. Now this very thing I thought would keep me from being successful is what has allowed me to be,” she says.
Some holdouts against reality remain. Brylane Inc., which publishes Lane Bryant and Roaman's catalogs, as well as plus-size books for Sears, Roebuck & Co., says focus groups have shown that catalog orders are about 25% better when thinner models are featured. Most Brylane catalogs offer sizes from 14 to 60, but its models are size 8 to 10. “Advertising is really partial fantasy,” says Peter Calzone, chief executive officer.
And some true plus-size models say the use of thin models in big clothes remains more widespread than clothing companies admit. Steve Marks, CEO of Hanover Direct Inc.'s Silhouettes catalog, says the catalog uses size 10-to-12 models. But model Karen Axmaker doubts that. “Obviously none of these women is a 12 or up because the clothes just hang off them. They look ridiculous,” she says.
Ms. Axmaker has the distinction of being the fashion industry's rarest breed, a so-called petite plus-size, at 5 feet 4 inches and size 16, a common size for American women. (To qualify as petite, a model needs to be 5 feet 4 inches tall or shorter.)
Next to be conquered: the built-in bias of sizing language. Today, it's plus and regular—though, for most women, there's nothing regular about a size four or six. Many plus-size models call themselves regular and refer to thinner models as “straight size”—as in straight up and down.
Says Emme, a blue-eyed blonde who is one of the most famous plus-size models at size 14 and host of “Fashion Emergency,” her own E! Network television series: “Hopefully, one day we won't have to have categories, just models.”
TEANECK—Thin is how Jessica Urgo would describe some of her friends. But that's not how they consider themselves.
“I sit at the lunch table and say, ‘You have to eat,'” said Urgo, an eighth-grader at Thomas Jefferson Middle School. “And they're like, ‘Don't tell us what to do.' They sit there saying, ‘Oh my God, I'm so fat,' and they weigh 100 pounds.”
On Wednesday, 400 female students at the Teaneck school learned from the world's premier large-size model that having a body like a runway waif isn't the most constructive goal in life.
In fact, she said it can be downright destructive.
“The fashion industry is a fantasy. It is not meant to represent the real world,” said Emme, who at 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, has just been named one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World in 1999 by People magazine.
She is also a Revlon model and the author of True Beauty: Positive Attitudes and Practical Tips From the World's Leading Plus-Size Model.
In addition to her accomplishments, Emme, 35, who lives in Leonia, has also emerged as a spokeswoman for the millions of American women who wear a size 12 or larger.
“Why can't we be happy with who we are?” she asked an auditorium full of 13- and 14-year old girls. “Why is it that women have to body-bash? We are so much more than our bodies.”
To set the stage for her appearance, officials at Thomas Jefferson on Tuesday conducted a poll at the school to determine how important physical appearance is to students.
Asked whether popularity at school is determined by one's physical appearance, 83 percent of eighth-grade boys and 81 percent of eighth-grade girls answered yes.
Meanwhile, about half of all students at Thomas Jefferson said they were concerned their appearance would influence their relationships with the opposite sex.
While Emme spoke with girls at Thomas Jefferson, the school's 400 male students attended an assembly to hear about self-esteem and society's perceptions about men.
Emme's message to the girls was that there's more to life, such as finding out what you're good at.
“You have to find your passion now,” she said. “Passion is what's going to make you happy. Don't go for the money. If you do, you'll have the money and you'll still be unhappy.”
While magazines, movies, and music videos celebrate thinness, Emme took the contrarian's approach, showing students a slide show of grotesquely thin fashion models.
One by one, they appeared on the screen and the students cried out “Ewww!” and “Scary!” as the slides flashed before them. The slides were accompanied by a tape of a woman crooning: “It's a losing game that you don't want to win.”
Emme told students to cultivate their minds and their souls and to make peace with their bodies—regardless of its size.
All my life I kept saying, ‘I don't want my mother's thighs. I don't want my mother's thighs. I don't want my mother's thighs.' And you know what? I have my mother's thighs and I'm proud of them,” she said.
That's a message that was heard loud and clear by students at Thomas Jefferson.
Everyone's self-image is based on what everyone else thinks about them,” said Kathleen Ahearn, 14. “Just worry about what you think.”
Holly Williams, 13, said guys make young women feel self conscious about their appearances.
“There's a lot of pressure,” she said. “A lot of guys don't want to go out with you if you don't dress just right or look a certain way.”
Her friend Jessica said she has found a solution that has given her peace of mind. “If I like a guy and he doesn't like me because of who I am, oh well. I feel bad for a little while. But then I say, ‘It's his loss.'”
May 12 —Doctors have identified five deaths of patients undergoing liposuction, raising questions about the safety of the country's most popular kind of cosmetic surgery. Four of the deaths were found in a review of 48,527 New York City death records from 1993 to 1998. The fifth was found in an unidentified state.
A new report shows liposuction, the most common cosmetic surgery, can be deadly. NBC's Robert Bazell reports.
A report on the five deaths, written by Dr. Rama B. Rao and colleagues from the New York City Poison Control Center, is being published in Thursday's issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.
The surgical procedure often turned deadly in cases in which it included giving high doses of the usually benign painkiller lidocaine.
“The true incidence of complications and death is unknown,” the researchers said, because doctors are not required to report such deaths or mistakes associated with the usually elective surgical operation known as tumescent liposuction.
Plastic surgeons maintain that liposuction is safe, and they said the five case reports do not clearly implicate the procedure in the deaths.
The doctors said they could not say for sure that liposuction caused the deaths, but they strongly suspected the procedure contributed to them.
About 270,000 such procedures are performed in the United States annually. The surgery involves inserting a hollow tube into the layer of skin where fat cells reside. Fluid containing water, lidocaine and other chemicals is pumped into the layer under pressure, and fat cells are sucked out.
In cases where more than three pounds of fat tissue are removed, doctors may need to use several liters of fluid.
Rao and her colleagues said drug interactions, fluid balance guidelines, blood clotting issues and the amount of fat removed from the body “should be reevaluated for this popular cosmetic procedure.”
“I think the most alarming thing about this is that the deaths were really unexplained by any single, clear mechanism,” Rao told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Two of the patients suddenly developed low blood pressure, a slowed heart rate and then the heart stopped.
In a third case a woman was treated in a hospital for two days because of residual pain. Two hours after being discharged from the hospital she developed labored breathing and her heart began beating inefficiently. She died after three days in a coma.
A fourth woman became lightheaded 18 hours after her surgery and died.
Details on the fifth patient were not released because the researchers were unable to get the family's consent.
“So some patients are getting 10, 15 times higher than the recommended dose of lidocaine,” Rao said.
“There could be several factors involved in the deaths,” she said. For example if the patient is taking other drugs, the excess lidocaine may overload the liver, allowing a toxic amount of the painkiller to accumulate.
Genetics might also play a role, Rao speculated.
Based on the findings “my hope is that a little more caution is applied to the use of lidocaine,” Rao said. “It's a safe drug in a setting where its use is well studied. But it's not clear that these doses (used in liposuction) are safe, especially where the drug is not required to maintain the health of the patient or save the life of the patient.”
“A little more thought must go into whether this drug is necessary,” Rao said.
The American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons recommends that people considering liposuction pick their doctor carefully. The organization offers these tips:
SEATTLE, June 2 —Women who have a poor body image are more likely to experience irregular menstrual periods and possibly even fertility problems than those who are more satisfied with the way they look, according to a study of college students presented here Wednesday. Experts said the findings offer another wake-up call to a nation obsessed with thin, taut bodies.
“We found a general overall trend for women with a poor body image to have menstrual irregularities,” said lead study author Nancy Williams, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the Pennsylvania State University in University Park.
Williams said the results point to the power of the mind to influence our physical health. “We know psychological factors can be important in reproductive function,” she said. Studies have shown, for instance, that women who are under heavy stress can have trouble conceiving.
But Williams said the new research, reported at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, is the first to link poor body image with menstrual problems.
Williams presented results of a survey of 211 student athletes (ranging from gymnasts and runners to members of the field hockey and soccer teams) and 132 non-athletes. Participants completed a lengthy, confidential questionnaire that covered their medical history, psychological status, menstruation history, level of physical activity and other health information.
A TRIAD OF TROUBLES
Results supported previous observations that female athletes experience more menstrual irregularities than non-athletes, 29 percent versus 17 percent. A normal menstrual cycle was defined as one that lasted 26 to 32 days.
Fitness experts have observed that heavy exercisers—particularly those in “body conscious” sports such as gymnastics and running—are more likely to experience disordered eating, amenorrhea (loss of menstruation) and, down the line, osteoporosis. Consequences of this “female athlete triad,” as experts call it, can include bone fractures, infertility, poor performance and, in extreme cases, death.
But Williams said there appears to be another factor involved: body image.
Even after the researchers took into account each participants' diet and level and type of exercise, they found that a negative body image was an independent and strong predictor of irregular menstruation. As body dissatisfaction increased, so did abnormal menstrual periods, results showed.
“Body image may be an important factor in menstrual cycle length,” Williams concluded, “and therefore may be an important factor to screen for with respect to the female athlete triad.”
Carol Kennedy, program director for fitness wellness at Indiana University in Bloomington, agreed.
“We need a different attitude about body image,” she said.
Kennedy said she sees many fitness instructors who are in great shape yet still dissatisfied with their bodies. “If they have 12 percent body fat, they want it to be 11,” she said.
She added that many female athletes and fitness instructors seek infertility treatment. And she believes the problem involves more than just heavy exercise and very low body fat—both of which are believed to impair fertility. “It's got to be much more than a low body fat,” she said.
Ally McBeal first stammered, blushed and ditzed her miniskirted way across our TV screens, she was hailed as the quintessential '90s woman: successful, single and sexy, if neurotic in a me-Jane kind of way.
But now she—or the woman playing her, Calista Flockhart—has shrunk to the size of a 14-year-old girl, the heroine has suddenly become the villain of the modern woman's tabloid melodrama. And it's a troubling development for feminism.
We're all sick of the international obsession with the amount of flesh on Flockhart's bones. Sure, she's thin, but her weight loss is seen as more than a diet gone too far. Her protruding ribs have now become symbols of one of the more destructive constructs of Western culture—the anorexic ideal.
Women's magazines regularly feature reports on every morsel that goes into her mouth. She is forced to have lunch with journalists to prove she eats and she is constantly spied on in public. “People are staring at me, watching everything I put in my mouth,” she says.
Which is not paranoia. Paparazzi pockets are lined with cash from pics of Flockhart huddled in cafés with baseball caps and big jumpers on.
The size of her body is seen as a result of her personal problems: she can't cope with fame, she's deafened by her biological clock, she needs a bloke and so on.
In this way, her weight loss is portrayed as a personality disorder problem, not a symptom of the successful marketing of the underweight woman, or reflection of women who shrink in a bid to prolong, or begin, their careers.
Why they have to is probably a more important question than what Flockhart had for breakfast.
Evidently, feminism has pushed body image and weight loss onto the public agenda, but without the hoped-for result.
Body-talk has been taken up with a vengeance by women's magazines, celebrity gossip columns and tabloid newspapers which have picked up on the rhetoric, but are using it in a newly destructive way.
They preach corporeal morality from the high ground, chanting Calista needs a good feed, Sophie's curves are all woman.
At the same time, they interrogate and criticise otherwise strong and successful women who are seen to have a “weakness” when it comes to their bodies. They also cloak voyeurism in concern as they mock women who have taken things too far—from diets to cosmetic surgery—while those who pick the right surgeon still grace the covers and feature in the social snaps.
But by labelling thin women hysterics and screwball anorexics, the focus remains on the women and the problem is still theirs. This is a pernicious re-working of feminism, where notions of control, power, choice and confidence are being touted, offered and undermined all at once, with weight as the medium through which these things are measured.
Anorexia is not just a disease, it's a well-marketed look, which is presented as normal.
Although there are dozens of whippet-thin women currently in the spotlight, including Courtney Cox, Jennifer Aniston, Heather Locklear and Courtney Thorne Smith, it is also an artificially constructed look. Photographic editors of fashion magazines regularly prune their models, trimming away excess, propagating the myth that women retain pre-pubescent figures for most of their adult lives.
The former editor of New Weekly, Cyndi Tebbel, was sacked for attempting to have normal-sized women on the covers accompanied by cries of protest that appear to have gone unheard, in a country where 60-65 per cent of women take a size 14 or more.
It is not surprising, then, that we make reluctant “big-bodied” heroines of women like Sophie Dahl, Kate Winslet and Kate Fischer, heralding their big breasts and bottoms as political defiance, not just the shape of their bodies.
But the spotlight remains on their bodies, often diverting focus from their work. And often they are attacked for losing weight, despite their reasons for doing so.
Kate Fischer was accused of letting the side down when she lost weight in a pre-marital prune-down, and when Sophie Dahl hit the gym and went from size 16 to size 12, she was forced to defend herself.
“This isn't a fat or thin issue,” she said. “It's about looking the best I can by being healthy and toned. I don't know if I'm betraying some cause. I just want to look my best.”
Dahl is outspoken about her discomfort with being a role model. “I didn't come here to be this crusader for curvy chicks,” she said. “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
Often big women are assumed to be healthy minded about their bodies, defiant and sassy feminists who tossed their scales out the window long ago. Thin women—or those who lose weight—are cast as betrayers of their sex, accused of brainless obedience to the wishes of the men who employ them.
Meanwhile, those who succeed with the slender, unlined mannequin look still grace the covers of beauty magazines and coyly reveal their beauty secrets. But handy tips like drinking a bucket of water when you get out of bed pale next to liposuction and airbrushing.
Mia Tyler, daughter of Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler and half-sister of actress Liv, is living proof that you don't have to be stick-thin to be sexy—and a model.
Tyler has always been big. When she was just 13, her mother, model Cyrinda Foxe-Tyler, sent her to a camp for overweight kids where she lost 30 pounds. But back home again, Tyler gained them back, plus 10 more. Now, at 5 feet 7 inches and 145 pounds (a size 12), the 20-year-old Tyler is happy with her body and enjoys being a role model for other curvaceous women. The Wilhelmina model has appeared in several fashion shows and magazine spreads, including Teen, Us, and YM, and soon will be seen in the pages of Seventeen and Jane. When the single, Greenwich Village resident isn't strutting her stuff on the runway, she spends her time writing.
Q: What do you do to relax?
A: I play video games until “Boy Meets World” starts, then I watch “Friends” followed by “Wheel of Fortune.”
Q: What can't you live without?
A: My beautiful cat, Eme.
Q: How do you take care of yourself?
A: I listen to my body and eat what it is craving. I also drink tons of water.
Q: What is your workout routine?
A: I don't have a regular exercise routine, but I walk as much as possible instead of taking cabs, and I use the stairs instead of elevators.
Q: What are some of your favorite things?
A: My best friend Jems, her sister Jocie and anything with Freddie Prinz Jr.
Q: Favorite clothes?
A: Anything that's free—that's one of the pros of being a model.
Q: Favorite food?
A: A toasted English muffin with honey and sliced banana.
Q: Do you follow a special diet?
Q: Describe your personal style.
A: Below 14th Street.
Q: What gives you substance?
A: Being comfortable with myself and having my own personal style.
Q: If you could change anything about yourself, what would it be?
A: I'd stop chewing my nails.
Q: What do you wear when relaxing?
A: Something by Fubu.
Q: What do you wear for a big night out?
A: Vivienne Tam or BCBG.
Q: Do you have any special health or beauty tips?
A: Less is more. And eat what your body is craving.
Q: What do you use to accessorize?
A: I always wear a bunch of necklaces that are from my dad and a few from fans—how weird is that—I have fans.
Q: Whose style do you most admire?
Q: My closet is full of…
A: Stuff I don't wear. All the clothes I do wear are usually piled in the corner.
Q: Some would say I have too many…
A: Giant bags.
Q: Some would say I have too few…
A: Bedrooms, according to my friends who crash at my apartment.
Q: What aspect of your style or appearance do your friends tease you about?
A: They wouldn't dare.
Q: What was your most embarrassing fashion moment?
A: At my confirmation in seventh grade, I wore this horrible pink dress that split up the back while I was walking up the aisle in church. I had to hold the back for an hour.
Q: What would you love to own but would never buy for yourself?
A: A small island in the Caribbean.
Q: If you had more free time, what would you do with it?
A: Star in a major feature film.
Q: What tips have you learned over the years from stylists?
A: Pick clothes that you're comfortable with rather than ones you think you should be wearing to impress or attract others.
Q: What don't you ever leave home without?
A: One of my giant bags—now stuffed with Rolling Stone, The Post, my Walkman, tapes, my Wilhelmina agenda, skin cream, lip gloss, hair ties, a photo book of family and friends and my cell phone.
“Boys with breasts,” TomWolfe calls them.
If you want to know what he means, tune into television's hit legal series The Practice and take a look at Lara Flynn Boyle as Deputy District Attorney Helen Gamble.
What you'll see is a beautiful face atop the body of a 12-year-old boy, except with mammary glands.
And Boyle is no exception. Just ask any fan of television's other hot legal show, Ally McBeal. When star Calista Flockhart turned her back to the camera in a recent episode, she looked like a refugee from some POW camp.
Flockhart has had to answer repeated allegations of anorexia, a potentially lethal eating disorder especially common in young girls. Predictably, she denies it, with explanations that have included “I'm just small-boned,“ “I've been working too hard” and “I have a fast metabolism.”
But her high school pictures tell a different story: Yes, she was a slim, pretty cheerleader, but in those days her bones were amply covered. She looked, dare I say it, normal.
To Boyle and Flockhart add Friends star Courtney Cox, Oscar-winner Helen Hunt, singer Celine Dion, and model Kate Moss, any of whom makes 1960s icon Twiggy look morbidly obese. Frasier's Jane Leeves, Jesse's Christina Applegate, and Dharma & Greg's Jenna Elfman have all been photographed looking rake-thin.
Even 37-year-old Meg Ryan, mother of a six-year-old child, looked much thinner than normal in her most recent film, You've Got Mail (1998).
And if you think they look skinny on camera, which traditionally adds 10 pounds, you should see them in real life.
“I was on the Howie Mandel show with Ms. Boyle,” says novelist Jackie Collins, “and when she turned sideways I swear she vanished.”
As recently as the 1950s, Hollywood stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell and Jayne Mansfield were anything but pinched.
But times change, according to Sharlene Hesse-Biber, a sociology professor at Boston College and author of Am I Thin Enough Yet? The Cult of Thinness and the Commercialization of Identity (Oxford University Press, 1996).
“By the time the '60s came along, women were beginning to close the education gap and seeking out careers,” she says. “And, just as in the flapper '20s when they were out campaigning for the vote, the ideal body image for women started to shrink.”
But Twiggy and other bone-thin “dolly birds” of 1960s Britain were teenagers, Hesse-Biber adds.
“What's new today,” she says, “is we've got 10-year-olds and postmenopausal women trying to be Twiggy.”
And the way they do that is by starvation—there's no other word for it.
“This may be politically incorrect, but I find it fascinating how ugly, starved, bony women can be considered attractive,” says Dr. Arnold Anderson, director of the Eating Disorders Unit at the University of Iowa College of Medicine in Ames. “When you see them during examination, they are skeletons for hanging expensive clothes on. It's extraordinary that people can be convinced they're glamorous.”
According to Hesse-Biber, the current trend is merely the extreme manifestation of a longtime, cross-cultural emphasis on the attractiveness of tiny, childlike women.
“Cinderella was the one tiny enough to fit into the slipper,” she says, “and the Chinese foot-binders used to have smallest-foot contests. In thelate '60s there was Barbie with her Victorian-sized waist and big chest.”
And these days, thinness is big business, with huge sums being spent on advertising that sends the worst possible message to women and especially young girls.
“Weight Watchers, the Jenny Craigs, the gyms, the beauty products, the low-fat-food manufacturers, the diet gurus, the plastic surgeons all conspire to convince us that we need to be skeletal,” Hesse-Biber says.
“We have women dying under anesthetic after nine and 10 hours of surgery, trying to be perfect, and others spending their salaries on expensive diet products.”
It's a vicious circle: Young girls tune in to Ally McBeal and see an ideal they're supposed to measure up to—presumably with the help of the up-coming Ally McBeal line of health and beauty products for young women.
The actresses themselves are trapped in the same spiral, knowing that no one ever fired an actress for being too thin. On the other hand, to be “full-figured” is—except for rare exceptions such as Roseanne or Camryn Manheim—a ticket to the unemployment line.
As a result, they feel pressured into the kind of crash diets, cosmetic surgery and, often, eating disorders which their own example make so dangerous to their young fans.
Writer/producer David Kelley, who created both The Practice and Ally McBeal, is well aware of the controversy over his stars' appearance, as he showed in a recent episode of the latter, in which Ally and Gamble cross paths.
After giving Ally a cool once-over, Gamble sniffily remarks, “Maybe you should eat a cookie.”
“Maybe we should share it,” Ally responds snidely.
In another episode Ally is accosted in a courthouse hallway by a pushy woman who says she wants to nominate McBeal as a feminist role model.
“We'll have to fatten you up,” she adds as an afterthought. “And you'll have to drop that skinny, whiny thing.”
It turns out it's just Ally having a nightmare, of course.
July 13, 1999—Rebecca Scott is 26 years old. She was born in Kenosha, Wisc., and dreams of being a rock star and having her own holistic practice. At 5-foot-8 and 140 pounds, she's what you'd call healthy and average.
Which is why it was so shocking to find her round, voluptuous, airbrushed body gracing the centerfold of the August 1999 Playboy.
Granted, at least 20 of Scott's 140 pounds seem to be shared between her extremely large hooters. In many ways—the platinum blond hair, the pug nose, the ripe, parted lips—this “Anna Nicole Smith look-alike,” as Playboy dubs her, certainly is typical of centerfolds past.
But she also has a few things you don't see that often: thick legs, a rounded belly, a complete lack of jutting hip and collar bones. And her age: At 26, Scott is older than any centerfold I can recall in my year or so of reading “Entertainment for Men.”
What is this? Is Playboy saying, Enough to anorexic models with silicone enhancements! Enough with the barely legal aesthetic! We want real women—guts, hips and all?
A far-fetched notion, to be sure, but I had to investigate.
I spoke with Bill Farley, the chief Playboy flack, about Miss August's unusual size and age. “The truth of the matter here is there is no mystic formula. We have had people of all shapes and sizes over the years, all colorations, ethnicities,” Farley said.
Ah yes, we all remember the infamous Kate Smith spread in January 1965. Let's face it, Playboy hasn't exactly pushed the envelope when it comes to centerfold diversity. But he was, after all, a publicist. What was he going to say: “You're right, no aging fatties allowed!”? I pressed on.
“I looked at Rebecca Scott. She does seem to be a little heavier,” he conceded. But try as I might, I couldn't pry from him any real explanation of Scott's unusually hefty proportions. “Playboy is an equal-opportunity employer when it comes to beauty,” he said.
But Farley also passed along some information that was, if not useful, at least interesting.
Each year, between 8,000 and 10,000 women vie for the 12 Playmate of the Month positions. Submissions come through agents, via photographers and in the mail. Would-be centerfolds can also be snapshot at Playboy's studios in Los Angeles during the week. From this abundance of nudie pictures, the magazine's photo editors pick the best, which despite Farley's claims have been over the years consistently hourglass-shaped.
Farley acknowledged that those who are chosen will not only have gravity-defying breasts, but also will be good with the public; successful candidates are “not going to be complainers, not going to be troublemakers, not going to be problem children.”
But the ultimate arbiter, to this day, is still Hugh Hefner, Farley told me. I asked whether some deduction about Hefner's personal preferences might be made based on the average centerfold's proportions. “It's not so much preference as it is eye,” Farley replied.
Whatever it is, Playboy's centerfolds have traditionally been American boys' first introduction to the female form, and in some cases the cornerstone upon which future likes and dislikes are formed. In the four-decade history of Playboy magazine, Rebecca Scott's 140 pounds are an anomaly. Here are some statistics: The average Playmate is 5-foot-6, 115 pounds, 22 years old, proportioned 36-23-35 and was born in September. The oldest Playmate was 33 and had two kids. The thinnest weighed 93 pounds.
Over the decades the average proportions have changed little. Playmates have gotten slightly taller—the average height in the '90s is 5-7, two inches taller than in the '60s. Her breasts have shrunk an inch from their, uh, peak of 36 inches in the '60s and '70s. And her weight has fluctuated a little: In the '60s and '70s, she weighed 115, dropped to 113 in the '80s and bulked up to a strapping 116 pounds in the '90s. That average will no doubt be helped along by Ms. Scott's impressive heft.
Given these averages, my expectations for more Rebecca Scotts are low. The days of woman-shaped women like Playboy's first centerfold, a small-time actress named Marilyn Monroe, have been snuffed out like a candle in the wind. In all her soft-focus, blond-haired, three-page, immaculately coifed beaver glory, Playmate of the Month Rebecca Scott, despite her 140 pounds, will never look like the rest of us.
The women who epitomize North American standards of beauty are getting thinner and thinner.
A study of body sizes by researchers at Toronto's York University found almost all of the women who were Playboy centrefolds were underweight according to Canadian guidelines—and about one-third meet the World Health Organization's criterion for having the eating disorder anorexia nervosa.
“Clearly the North American ideal for female beauty as portrayed in the media is at a weight deemed to be dangerous by Canadian and World Health officials,” psychologists Brenda Spitzer, Katherine Henderson and Marilyn Zivian write in their research paper.
Their study of the body sizes of Miss America Pageant winners, Playboy centrefold models and male models posing in the pages of Playgirl magazine show the pageant winners have decreased significantly in body weight, the female centrefolds remain well below normal body weights, while the men have bulked up significantly.
Do not think the fellows are getting flabby, however. It's the trend toward revealing muscular physiques on the scantily-clad men that accounts for this discrepancy.
The researchers say their findings point to an increasing divergence between the body shapes and sizes of the average young adult and the bodies they see in erotic magazines and televised pageants.
Women are seeing increasingly thin women and men are seeing increasingly muscular men while average young people of both sexes are seeing their own body weight increase—because of fat rather than muscle, the researchers say in the recent issue of Sex Roles, an academic journal.
“The body sizes of [average] Canadian and American women aged 18 to 24 increased from the 1950s to the 1990s. This increase was particularly dramatic for the American women,” the research paper says. While American women packed weight on more than their Canadian counterparts, Canadian men were more overweight than American men. All the while, the models were toning and slimming.
The researchers studied data on the women who appeared in Playboy centrefolds from 1977 to 1996, Miss America Pageant winners from 1953 to 1985, and men who modelled in selected Playgirl magazines from 1986 to 1997. The data was compared to the average body sizes from Canadian and U.S. health surveys from a variety of sources and years, including Statistics Canada and the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics.
The researchers attribute the decrease in the size of female models and pageant contestants and the toned bodies of male models to the media's reflection of a belief in the cultural differences in feminine and masculine attributes.
There has been growing concern for young people's body dissatisfaction.
Previous American studies have found 60% of high school girls and 80% of university women are dissatisfied with their own bodies. A recent Canadian study found a large percentage of young women were trying to lose weight even though their weights are within, or below, the healthy range. The dissatisfaction is thought to be behind an increase in eating disorders which studies have tracked over the past two decades.
And in a recent survey in Psychology Today, 15% of women said they would sacrifice more than five years of their life to reach their desired body.
“The gap between average women's body size and body sizes in the media is large and getting larger…The thin body size has become normalized, resulting in average size women becoming dissatisfied with their bodies.”
The audience at Film Forum is just settling in when the trailer comes on: an old-fashioned black-and-white preview for a revival of Some Like It Hot, starring an undulating, googly-eyed Marilyn Monroe at the height of her considerable powers. But it isn't her kittenish voice or flaxen locks that have the audience gasping: it's the way her satin dress strains against her belly, the way the fabric caresses every roll and wriggle of her explosive rump. There's only one conclusion to be drawn: Marilyn, by the rigorous standards against which we judge ourselves and each other today, wasn't just a teensy bit overweight. Monroe was fat.
In this single respect, at least, the social norms 40 years ago were far more liberal than they are today. Despite the fact that Americans keep getting bigger, the laws of beauty-land are ever more stringent. No wonder Lane Bryant's recent fashion show, held a few weeks ago at the Manhattan Center, was so refreshing. It featured the “young, hip” Venezia division of Lane Bryant (a store whose name has elicited bittersweet relief from legions of unsuccessful dieters for over half a century) and introduced a collection of shamelessly abbreviated T-shirts, unembarrassed embroidered denim, brazen peasant blouses, daring drawstring pants, and various other versions of the latest trends.
The models ranged in size from proportions that any sane society would consider perfect to women of dramatic girth; the audience greeted each and every one of them with wild enthusiasm. The whole atmosphere, in fact, was faintly transgressive, as if there was something naughty about watching Rubenesque mannequins sidle down a runway. It was the sort of evening that could really cheer a big girl up (the show was simulcast on the Internet, like last spring's Victoria's Secret event), especially if the clothes were ever to turn up in Glamour, Marie Claire, Elle, or the new Harper's Bazaar. Fat chance. As it is, Venezia probably won't surface anywhere except the pages of the smash-hit Mode, a sleek fashion magazine for plus-size women whose slogan is “Style Beyond Size.”
But as with so many other reviled, despised, ridiculed minorities, some members of the oppressed group are beginning to fight back. It's heavy sledding, so to speak: even when the mainstream fashion press thinks it's coming around to a more enlightened, progressive view of weight issues, it only reveals how sick and twisted things have become.
In a particularly offensive article in the July Vogue by Philip Weiss called “The Return of the Curve,” the magazine hails the end of the skinny ideal: “First there was the waif, then quirky models ruled fashion runways. Now the bodacious body is back.” The piece lauds model “Angela Lindvall, a 20-year-old blonde from Missouri…as one of the hotter new girls. With her full cheeks and 34-24-34 figure, Angela could be that all-American sexy ideal—the girl next door…” Well, sure, maybe, but don't expect the neighbors to be cackling about how chunky she is. (As if this isn't creepy enough, the article goes on to trumpet what it calls “the end of an era of the strict enforcement of sexual-harassment law…The workplace is now more relaxed…gender politics have shifted forever.” Gee, isn't that swell.)
Over at Allure, 33-year-old actress Jennifer Coolidge is the subject of a piece called “Slim…Fast,” describing her attempt to lose 15 pounds in eight weeks. She's five foot ten, 150 pounds at the beginning of her quest, measurements the National Institutes of Health thinks are just ducky. (They recommend that a woman of Coolidge's age and height weigh between 134 and 173.) But the director of the Fitness Center at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank disagrees, and is quoted as saying, “She needs to lose 15 pounds to look good on film.” So she treadmills and spins and guzzles water, she squats and curls and lunges, she kickboxes and yogas and starves, but alas, at the end of the eight weeks she's knocked off only 11 pounds. “I never really thought of myself as that heavy,” says Coolidge at the end of the article. “But then I had a party and every woman who came in the door said, ‘Hi…Oh, my God, you lost weight.' And I thought, How fat was I?”
Pretty fat, according to In Style magazine. They like the looks of Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker, who they refer to as “fabulously figured.” “She has a perfect size-0 body,” the show's costumer is quoted as saying.
Is it any wonder that the fabulously-figured Camryn Manheim, Emmy-winning star of The Practice and author of the memoir-polemic Wake Up, I'm Fat! (she opened the Lane Bryant show in a scarlet ensemble that brought the house down), characterizes growing up heavy in America as “no f---ing picnic”?
“I have lived my life in a culture that hates fat people,” Manheim writes. “From magazine covers to late-night talk-show hosts. From would-be employers to would-be lovers. I have felt the judgmental scorn of society's contempt for people like me. It is against all odds that I've managed to arrive in my mid-thirties with any self-respect and self-worth. It's a miracle that I laugh every day and walk through my life with pride and confidence, because our culture is unrelenting when it comes to large people. I don't understand it and I doubt I ever will. We hurt nobody. We're just fat.”
After completing her second graduate degree, Stephanie Martel, 25, recently launched a full-time effort to land a job, but she isn't trying to impress potential employers with just her smarts. She's hoping it'll be what they see—her long auburn hair, light green eyes, and 5'11, size 12 to 14 frame—that will get her foot in the door of the world of plus-size modeling.
“I'm taking time off from the so-called ‘real world,'” said Martel, of Oceanport, who has an MBA from Monmouth University and just received a master's in higher education administration from Villanova University. “In life, there are two routes: a practical route and a dream route. I've already done the practical one. If I don't do this now, I'll always wonder.”
Plus-size modeling and fashion have taken off with the popularity of Mode magazine, which features models size 12 and up, and the success of models like Emme, host of “E! Fashion Emergency,” who is 5'11 and weighs close to 200 pounds.
Plus models working on the national level for designers or magazines are generally size 12–16, and have a proportionate, hourglass figure. Some agencies work with women who wear size 10 or 18. Larger models, size 16 and up, can work for local agencies and get booked for catalog work.
To be considered for work, straight models (the industry term for models under size 10), usually must wear a size 4 or 6.
“The industry is definitely swinging in a positive direction,” said Emme, 35, who in 1989 held three jobs while struggling to get modeling work.
Today, she has no trouble getting booked. In 1998, Emme earned more than $5,000 a day working for companies like Liz Claiborne's Elizabeth and Bloomingdale's.
Plus-size clothing for women is the fastest growing segment in the apparel industry. In 1998, Americans spent $23.7 billion on plus-size clothing, up 6.6 percent from a year earlier, and almost 44 percent from 1993, according to NDP Group Inc., a market research firm based in Port Washington, N.Y.
Which makes sense, since about 65 million American women—62 percent—wear size 12 or larger.
“In our society, so many women treat themselves as if they are only good if they are a certain size,” said Emme, who wears a 14 or 16. “What about important things like their intelligence, their family lives or their creativity?”
Along with modeling, Emme's résumé includes activities such as hosting her show, lecturing on eating disorders, and becoming the first plus-size spokeswoman for Revlon.
“My contract with Revlon was a big stamp of approval,” said the resident of northern Bergen County. “[I] joined a group of women including Halle Berry, Salma Hayek and Cindy Crawford who are all beautiful and diverse. That diversity is important for a beauty company to represent.”
Like straight models, plus models must be 5-foot-9 to 6 feet tall, and they must meet the same beauty standards, said Gary Dakin, an agent at New York City's Ford's 12+ Division, which works with 40 plus models.
“The plus industry has grown in the past six to seven years,” Dakin said. “The whole modeling industry is becoming much more diverse. Models are of all types, ethnicities, shapes and sizes.”
Working in the plus division doesn't mean models are flabby and out of shape.
“Every girl I work with exercises,” Dakin said. “They're just fuller, but they are very healthy.”
Larger, healthy models were absent from the pages of mainstream fashion magazines, until the March 1997 launch of Mode magazine. That year, Mode was named best start-up by Advertising Age and Ad Week, beating out popular titles such as Jane and Maxim.
“There have been so many changes in plus-size fashion over the past few years,” said Michelle Weston, fashion and style editor for Mode. “We've made really big steps in plus-size fashions because so many more designers are creating lines at every price point,” she said.
For example, plus-size fashions are offered by expensive designers like BCBG and department stores like J.C. Penney, she said.
The demand for plus models increased with the start of new lines and magazines like Mode, which has a circulation of 1 million.
“I attribute the rise in plus modeling to Mode magazine,” said model Crystal Israel, 28, whose agent is Dakin. “They show big women who are healthy and physically fit.”
When Israel, of Piscataway, first pursued modeling, she was rejected by straight agencies because she was a size 10.
“There was a lot of pressure to diet,” said Israel, who has done print ads for Spiegel, Macy's and Nordstrom's. “I wanted to look like Naomi Campbell.”
Instead of trying to lose weight, Israel took a chance on plus-size modeling.
She said, when she was a size 10, she would pad herself to look larger and fit into the sample size 14.
“Certain sizes are more desirable,” said Dakin, who acknowledges that some smaller plus models use padding. “Sometimes a girl is not as proportionate as she would like to be, and it evens her out.”
These days, Israel has ditched the padding and is comfortable with her size 18 body. Last month, she strutted down the runway in Lane Bryant's Venezia Jeans Clothing Co. fashion show, which was broadcast on screens in Times Square and on Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles.
The event, hosted by actress Camryn Manheim of “The Practice,” featured separates in bright colors, as well as sexy tank tops paired with low-rise cargo pants or embroidered jeans that revealed models' midriffs. The show can be viewed on the Internet at www.veneziajeans.com.
“Plus fashion has come so far,” said Katie Arons, 33, a size-18 Ford model who remembers wearing men's clothing when she was a size 24 in high school. “Now we have tank tops, jeans and lingerie. But we still complain. It's still hard for a plus-size woman to find a V-neck white T-shirt that fits her well. Often, stores have three floors of ‘minus sizes' and we have one little department.”
Arons, who has been a plus size all of her life, started modeling nine years ago, but didn't accept her body until two years into her career.
“A photographer said there was something in my eyes that said I didn't like myself the way I was,” said Arons, of Los Angeles. “And he was right. So, I began to work on my self-esteem and became more confident.”
To help other women gain confidence in their size, Arons wrote Sexy at Any Size, and publishes Extra Hip, a 'zine that strives to help larger women, 13–30, celebrate their bodies.
“We all have our own stories,” Arons said. If more and more women stand up and tell how they came to love their bodies, girls will have better role models.
Like Arons, Emme also reaches out to young girls and women around the world through her lectures on eating disorders and positive body image.
“It's important for women to use their voice, and I do that by lecturing,“ Emme said. “I was going through big body issues myself, and I found out that I wasn't talking about my feelings. Communication, women talking about their feelings and sharing them with their daughters, helps us improve the way we feel about our bodies.”
Another way to improve body image is to increase the already growing number of plus-size images in the media, said Anne Ruben, creator of www.plusmodels.com, a resource for women who are trying to or have broken into the plus modeling industry.
“On other modeling message boards, plus models were usually totally ignored,” said Ruben, 28, of Seattle. “I also saw instances of people saying, ‘Just go to Jenny Craig and shut up.'”
So, last January, Ruben created a free, non-commercial site that includes a model directory, an agency directory and tips for aspiring models from agents.
Crystal Israel, who often logs on to plusmodels.com, recently added an article to the site giving advice on how to find a good photographer.
When asked what advice she has for women looking to break into plus modeling, Israel said:
“I'd have to say, persevere. There is more and more competition these days, and you're in an industry that's based on people's opinions of you. You can be with an agency and go in one day, and there may be something about you they don't like. Just keep going.”
Which is exactly what Martel plans to do.
“It's about attitude and how you feel about yourself,” Martel said. “I'm confident that I'll be able to do this. It's also about being at the right place at the right time. It's a matter of having to keep trying.”
HONOLULU—Researchers studying dementia say they have uncovered a possible health benefit to the relatively fatty Western diet, but they caution against changing eating habits based on the finding.
A study funded by the National Institute on Aging and the Department of Veterans Affairs found that a diet high in animal fat and protein may protect against the onset of dementia in people who have suffered a stroke. The study was published in the July 22 issue of the journal Neurology.
The findings are the latest from an ongoing study of cardiovascular disease that began in 1965 and initially involved more than 8,000 Japanese-American men living in Hawaii.
Fewer than half the participants of the Honolulu Heart Program are still living. The Honolulu-Asia Aging Study, begun in 1991, is a part of the program that deals with dementia.
Researchers compared the dietary preferences of 68 study participants who had developed dementia as a result of a stroke with the preferences of 106 participants who had had a stroke but were not suffering from dementia, and 3,335 participants who had had neither a stroke nor dementia.
They found that those who preferred a Western diet—higher in animal fat and protein and lower in complex carbohydrates than a traditional Asian diet—were roughly 57 percent less likely to develop dementia after a stroke. They also found a lower incidence of stroke-related dementia in people who took vitamin E supplements.
Study participants, born between 1900 and 1919, answered questions about their food preferences when the study began in 1965.
“This shouldn't be interpreted as advice to go and get in line at the Burger King or McDonald's,” said Dr. G. Webster Ross, co-principal investigator of the aging study and a neurologist with the Honolulu VA Medical Center.
He said the study did not determine exactly what foods and nutrients in the Western diet may be most important in preventing dementia after a stroke. Future research will attempt to do that, he said.
But Ross said studies in animals suggest that higher amounts of animal fat and protein in the diet may contribute to better stability of blood vessel walls in the brain.
Stroke-related, or vascular, dementia is the nation's second-leading cause of dementia after Alzheimer's disease, which afflicts about 4 million people in the United States. An estimated 1 million to 2 million people in the United States suffer from vascular dementia, a deterioration of emotional and cognitive abilities that can affect memory, language, reasoning and personality traits.
Dr. Helen Petrovitch, co-principal investigator of the Honolulu aging study, said the study accounted for previously known factors related to dementia such as age and education.
The highest prevalence of dementia was found in the oldest study participants. The study also found that controlling hypertension, diabetes and other risk factors could help prevent strokes and vascular dementia.
Ross said that by studying the same group of first- and second-generation Japanese-Americans over three decades, researchers have been able to compare environmental and cultural differences between the United States and Japan while keeping genetic factors constant.
Dr. James Mortimer, director of the Institute on Aging at the University of South Florida in Tampa, called the Honolulu findings “very interesting.”
“As far as I know it's the first time that anyone has looked at the issue this way. People have looked at diet and stroke, but no one has looked at diet and [stroke-related] dementia,” he said.
Mortimer said the findings may be related to the fact that the relatively high-salt Japanese diet is associated with an increased stroke risk. High salt consumption is related to hypertension, a common factor in strokes.
University of South Florida epidemiology professor Amy Borenstein Graves, who is married to Mortimer, said the study adds an intriguing twist to her own finding that the general Japanese lifestyle is associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline. She said she hasn't studied the impact of diet, specifically.
Borenstein Graves has collaborated with the Honolulu-Asia Aging Study as co-principal investigator of the Ni-Hon-Sea Project, a broader dementia research effort involving Japanese and Japanese-American populations in Seattle, Honolulu and Hiroshima, Japan.
“This is an exciting study because it's one of several new studies showing an association between dementia and Japanese lifestyle,” Borenstein Graves said.
NEW YORK—Dieting may reduce bone mineral density in the spine and hips—thereby increasing the risk of osteoporosis and bone fracture, according to researchers.
The findings may have “widespread implications,” explain researchers led by Dr. Loran Salamone of the University of Pittsburgh, since “about 50% of American women consume weight-reduction diets at some point.” Their findings are published in the July issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Salamone's team points out that the bone mineral density (BMD) of heavier women tends to be greater than the bone density of thin women, and “heavier women tend to have a lower risk of osteoporosis and related fractures than do slender women.”
The authors theorized that weight-reducing diets might have an impact on bone density. To test this idea, they compared the bone density of 115 premenopausal women placed on an 18-month low-fat diet with that of 121 non-dieters. Dieters lost an average of 7 pounds while on the diet.
The investigators report that “diet- and exercise-induced weight loss was associated with a twofold greater rate of loss in hip BMD.” A similar but less significant association was noted for spine bone mineral density.
Exercise has been shown to be protective of bone density. However, Salamone and colleagues found that while exercise slowed bone loss in the spines of dieting women, it did not appear to protect the bones of the hip.
How might dieting reduce bone density? Reductions in weight lead to a decrease in the stress put on bones, the authors write. This “lightening of load” might trigger a proportional thinning of bone structure, they explain.
In a related statement, Salamone explained that “women need to evaluate the risks and benefits of their weight-reduction program.” Exercise can help, and Salamone believes “the ideal program is one that achieves weight loss while maintaining skeletal integrity.”
Fall fashion is not just for the unusually tall and emaciated.
It's also for "normal" people, including the one-third of American women who, according to plus-size retailer Lane Bryant, wear size 14 or larger.
Those women should take a look at the company's Venezia Jean Clothing Co. collection. The private-label line flaunts most every trend to hit a runway or magazine this fall, from utilitarian cargo pants in high-tech fabrics to decorated denim jeans and leather jackets.
Venezia is “far edgier than any other plus-size clothing out there,” says Chris Hansen, vice president of marketing for Lane Bryant.
The current collection offers:
Lane Bryant, a chain of 730 stores nationwide and a subsidiary of The Limited Inc., launched the Venezia Jean Clothing Co. collection last fall with fanfare.
A New York fashion show included celebrity models Mia Tyler, actress and sister of Liv Tyler; WNBA star Kym Hampton; and London modeling star Sophie Dahl.
In February, the company introduced Venezia Intimates, plus-size sexy lingerie and sleepwear, which includes bras, camisoles and many styles of panties including thongs, the company's second-best selling panty. (The first are hipster briefs.)
Thongs and leather jackets are not exactly what the name Lane Bryant calls to mind. But times have changed.
Several years ago, the company started to pursue more fashion-forward clothes, said Catherine Lippincott, a former plus-size model and the author of Well Rounded, who was hired last October as the company' s public relations director.
“Response has been incredible,” she said. “The more you give this young, hip, trendy customer, the more she wants.”
Plus-size women ages 17 to 26 are the chain's fastest-growing segment of customers, she said.
The company still considers its prices to be moderate, but they've risen some to chase current styles. A leather jacket typically is about $229.
Recently, the company made actress Camryn Manheim, Emmy-winning star of The Practice, its poster girl, running an ad campaign featuring her in Glamour, Marie Claire and Mode. It was shot by fashion super-photographer Ellen von Unwerth.
“Staying on top of trends and having these fashion shows in New York are creating awareness that there are a lot of stylish, successful, beautiful, plus-size women,” Ms. Lippincott said.
If you want to know more, check out Lane Bryant's Web site at www.veneziajeans.com. One section on the site lets readers sign a petition asking Hollywood to cast more real-size actresses in movies and on television. It will be sent to producers, directors and casting agents.
In seventh grade, Kate Dillon hated the bus ride home from school. She'd cry as kids around her jumped up and down shouting, “Overweight Kate! Overweight Kate!”
She wanted to disappear. Instead, she got thinner and thinner. After years of starvation, Kate finally realized that she was living a lie. She then found the courage to accept herself.
WANTING TO FIT IN
Kate had gained weight in sixth grade. “I felt really ugly and gross,” she told Action. “I'd been totally dissed by all my friends.”
She wanted to fit in. So, she began starving herself and exercising a lot. In one year, she lost 35 pounds. “All I could see was my goal of being skinny.” Kate says. She didn't realize it then, but Kate had anorexia. “When I look back on that 12year-old girl, I feel sad,” she says.
At first, her weight loss seemed to be paying off. Her friends started liking her again. Then, when she was 16, she was discovered by a model scout. Kate was an instant success. She graced the covers of Italian Glamour and Australian Vogue. But staying skinny was torture. “I would eat less in one day than most people eat in a single meal,” Kate says.
FED UP WITH FASTING
At 19, the struggle to remain a size six had taken its toll. “I was sick of being in the fashion world. I was sick of seeing people starve themselves and work so hard to create this image of beauty that no one could live up to, not even them,” she says.
She turned to a nutritionist and started eating properly. She gained 15 pounds over a period of three months. But her career wasted away. “I was a size eight. People were saying I was huge, and I believed them.”
When she gained another 20 pounds, her agent complained. “I was so confused. I felt good for the first time in years and everyone was telling me that I was horrible, ugly, fat, and gross?”
This time, Kate didn't starve herself. Her independent side took over. “I thought, ‘This is crazy. I'm trying to please a bunch of people I really don't care about,'” Kate says.
Kate quit modeling and started to heal. She ate right, exercised, and blossomed to a size 14. She accepted that she was a big-boned person, not built to be 120 pounds.
After someone suggested that she try plus-size modeling, 22-year-old Kate walked into an agency and was signed on the spot. It wasn't long before Kate made the cover of Mode magazine.
Today, she goes to schools and talks to kids about body image. “Don't buy into other people's ideals,” she says. “Enjoy who you are. There's nothing cooler than just being yourself.”
LOS ANGELES, Oct. 25 —In one of the first major studies of treatments for body dysmorphic disorder—a disabling condition marked by obsessive preoccupation with a perceived defect in appearance—researchers have finally homed in on a therapy that works.
In a new study, the antidepressant clomipramine was found to be significantly more effective than another commonly prescribed drug for the condition.
“We saw a significant improvement in terms of overall functioning with clomipramine,” said psychiatrist Dr. Eric Hollander, director of the Compulsive, Impulsive and Anxiety Disorders Program at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.
He presented his research here Monday at an American Medical Association science writers seminar. Results will also appear in the November issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, an AMA journal.
Body dysmorphic disorder, or BDD, was officially recognized as a mental disorder in the United States in 1987, though “it's been around at least as long as mirrors have,” Hollander said. An estimated 2 to 4 million Americans are afflicted.
BDD, which usually begins in adolescence, is often referred to as “imagined ugliness” disorder because patients—both male and female—are preoccupied with an area of their body that they feel is unsightly or abnormal. While about half of the cases involve the face—usually the nose, skin or cheeks—patients may be preoccupied with their body size, the shape or size of their breasts, thighs or buttocks—even their sexual organs.NOT A TRIVIAL ILLNESS
Sufferers can become homebound and have trouble maintaining a job or relationship. About one in four patients becomes suicidal. “This is not a trivial illness,” Hollander said.
As many as half of patients undergo cosmetic surgery to change their appearance, yet are not satisfied with the result and go back for more surgery. Others who are satisfied with their newly shaped body part find another one to obsess over, in an endless cycle, Hollander said.
The condition is believed to result from faulty circuitry in the brain combined with cultural influences. “There are a lot of unrealistic body images out there, and this can set up the potential for body dissatisfaction,” Hollander explained.
BDD shares symptoms with obsessive-compulsive disorder, such as intrusive, obsessive thoughts and repetitive behaviors, like constantly checking one's appearance in the mirror or grooming oneself. Because OCD is known to respond to antidepressant therapy, researchers began using the drugs on patients with BDD.RESEARCH DETAILS
In the new study, 29 patients were given clomipramine (brand name Anafranil), a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), for an eight-week period and desipramine, another type of antidepressant, for a separate eight weeks.
Results of various tests showed that when the patients were taking the clomipramine, they thought about their appearance less, exhibited fewer repetitive behaviors, were less depressed and functioned better socially than while they were taking the other drug.
Both drugs cause similar side effects, including dry mouth, drowsiness and constipation, in some patients, Hollander noted.
“This provides the most definitive evidence we have so far that SSRIs work for BDD and work better than other antidepressants,” commented Dr. Katharine Phillips, an associate professor of psychiatry at Brown University School of Medicine in Providence, R.I., and author of The Broken Mirror: Understanding and Treating Body Dysmorphic Disorder.
Phillips is currently collaborating with Hollander and researchers at the University of Cincinnati on a new study of Prozac, another SSRI, for treating teens with BDD.
Hollander noted that counseling and behavioral therapy are also beneficial but that many patients need medication before these other approaches can have much of an effect.
Halifax-based designer Rhonda Burke-Irvine is at a photo shoot for her newest line of lingerie. The models are in various states of undress and are revealing a little more flesh than is usual at such an event. But not because the lingerie is extraordinarily skimpy: The models simply have more flesh to reveal, and the lingerie is designed to emphasize it.
“Being sexy is so much about where you are in your head and who you are as a person. Sex appeal comes totally from the inside. The size of your body has so little to do with it,” says Burke-Irvine, placing her hands on her size-18 hips and playfully winking her huge ice-blue eyes.
Burke-Irvine sells her Lingerie Elegance line through a mail-order catalogue and through her Web site (www.pluslingerie.com) to large women across North America. She believes that most women, regardless of their size, love slinky, satiny underwear, and that more large women would be inclined to wear lingerie if only they could find some that fits.
Recently, Burke-Irvine found a business partner to help her expand her line. Bonnie Damiano of Las Vegas was an online customer of Lingerie Elegance when she contacted Burke-Irvine. “Just because I'm a size 22 doesn't mean I don't have sensual feelings. I just think many designers miss that whole market,” says Damiano, who has come to Toronto to watch the photo shoot.
“I have accepted who I am and I'm happy like this and I don't think it bothers anyone who really cares about me. But I want to look pretty at the same time.”
While everyone waits for the photographer to be ready, the three models, Monique Brown, Sarah Hall and Liis Windischmann, stand around, chatting. They are all 5 feet, 10 inches tall and wear a size 14, except for Hall, who wears a size 10. They confess to addictions to shoes and lingerie, but complain that it's difficult to find well-made pieces in their sizes.
“When I was younger, people would say, 'You have such a beautiful face and you're so tall. You should be a model.' But I was always bigger than the norm for modelling,” says Brown, who works part-time for Plus Figure Models.
Windischmann, who has flawless skin, beautiful blue eyes and rich, dark hair, explains that people rarely take her seriously when she tells them she's a model, simply because she is not toothpick thin. “When I've had to go through U.S. Customs to work in New York and they ask what I do, when I say I'm a model they just give me this look,” she says, raising one eyebrow and sneering to demonstrate disbelief.
“I know another Plus Figure model who was at a photo shoot with skinny models. This male model said to her, 'So, did you just let yourself go?'” says Hall. “When she told him she was a Plus Figure model he said, 'Why don't you lose weight and become a real model?'”
“I hope she asked him why he didn't gain some and become a real person,” says Brown.
The photo shoot involves a lot of standing around and waiting, but finally the photographer is ready for Brown. She leaves the dressing room in dark green satin pants and a flowing top with a plunging neckline. “You have beautiful breasts,” says Burke-Irvine. “Well, thank you,” says Brown.
And then Windischmann emerges in a long cool blue satin gown and robe with lace panels. She's also wearing little black socks. “You look gorgeous except for the socks,” says Brown.
“Better socks than filthy feet in the photograph,” says Windischmann.
The models spend most of the waiting time chatting amiably with each other. Brown says she likes doing shoots with other large models because they can relax with each other. “At least we eat. I was on an all-day shoot once where I was the only plus-size model and no one ate anything. Finally, at six o'clock I said, 'Does anyone want to go to McDonald's with me?' You would have thought I was standing there swearing,” she says.
The photographer motions for Brown again, so she quickly changes into her next outfit. It's a long white satin gown cut in a huge V down the back that stops just at her tailbone. When she comes out of the dressing room, everyone whistles and cheers.
“Are they shooting me from behind? I certainly have the bum for it,” says Brown, swishing her curvy, ample behind in the air. “I should order one of these for my wedding night.”
“Are you getting married?” asks Burke-Irvine.
“No,” says Brown, to much laughter. “I'll worry about the man later.”
Burke-Irvine says that designing clothes for large women has made her realize that heavy women prefer to emphasize certain things. “I was always hearing things like 'I hate this part of my body—cover that.' Or 'My bum is bad, but my cleavage is good,'” she says. So she has designed some lingerie to emphasize a big bottom and some to cover it up. Some of her pieces are quite low-cut, while others, like the blue satin gown that Windischmann wears, cover cleavage with see-through lace…
Teenage girls are more preoccupied with losing weight than ever, according to a study to be published next week.
Among 14-year-olds, six out of 10 would like to lose weight, a finding that is described as “neither physically nor mentally healthy” by the authors of Young People in 1998, conducted by the Schools Health Education Unit.
Prof Ted Wragg, of the School of Education at Exeter University, expressed concerned about “much greater anxiety by girls about their body shape.” He said: “Whereas boys have sportsmen and pop singers as their role models, most of whom are fairly chunky, girls are tempted to envy emaciated super models.”
Girls are not behaving in a health-conscious manner. Twice as many are skipping school lunches than in the late Eighties and there has been a marked and unexpected decline in the consumption of fresh fruit by boys and girls. Cigarette and alcohol intake among young people has increased significantly in the last decade, with 30 per cent of 14 to 15-year-old girls admitting they had smoked and 40 per cent of 14 to 15-year-old boys saying they had drunk beer or lager in the past week.
However, drug-taking appears to be on a downward trend. Although the number of 14 to 15-year-olds experimenting with drugs has increased substantially over the past 15 years, it has decreased since 1996. The number of regular drug-users of most individual drugs is below one per cent.
Prof Wragg stressed the positive findings of the report, for which about half a million teenagers filled in questionnaires since 1983. He said: “What is encouraging is that most young people seem to lead a very healthy life. The word sensible comes to mind more frequently than dangerous or irresponsible.”
Both girls and boys are more hygienic. They brush their teeth and wash their hands more than they did in the last decade.
LONDON—Two leading British supermarkets have urged toy manufacturers to make dolls more full-figured to help cut eating disorders among children.
The Tesco and Asda chains contacted the makers of Barbie and Steffi dolls, asking them to reflect the form of the average woman and make the dolls in more realistic proportions.
They acted after shoppers complained that the wafer-thin dolls were fuelling an increase in anorexia and bulimia sufferers.
Tesco, Britain's largest supermarket chain, said in a letter to Barbie's U.S. manufacturer Mattel Inc: “Research shows there has been a three-fold increase in bulimia cases between 1984 and 1994. ”
“We think it is timely to question this situation, especially if we are to protect impressionable children.”
Asda also asked the Hong Kong-based toymaker Sinba to make a more ample Steffi doll for next Christmas.
The parents of an anorexic schoolgirl were forced to take High Court action against her before she could be persuaded to eat again.
David Carter, 43, and his wife Linda, 46, obtained an order for Vicki, 16, to be detained in hospital and force-fed. A starvation diet had led to her weight dropping to 5 stone [70lbs or 31.5kg]and her waist shrank to 15.5 inches, the average size of a man's collar.
When her parents resorted to a legal remedy in their attempt to save her life she drafted in lawyers to defend the case on the grounds that it was her right to refuse food if she chose. It was only when a judge found in favour of Mr. and Mrs. Carter that she agreed to start eating.
Vicki is now undergoing treatment at an eating disorder clinic in Prestwich, Greater Manchester, and taking food voluntarily. She agreed that her family should publicise the case to warn others of the downward spiral caused by anorexia.
Mr. and Mrs. Carter resorted to law after doctors at Stepping Hill Hospital, Stockport, failed in their attempt to force-feed her. Vicki had initially agreed to take food through a naso-gastric tube, but repeatedly disconnected it.
Mr. Carter, a production assistant, of Stockport, said: “It may seem like a drastic step to take Vicki to court but we could not give in to her because had we done so we would have given in to the disease. We had to take this step to save her life. Anorexia is an evil illness that every parent should be made aware of. At one point Vicki was almost on the flat line you see when someone dies.
“Now it seems she has come to her senses and she's started to put on weight again. She is currently 6st 2lb [86lbs or 38.2kg] and our relationship is as strong as it ever was. As her weight increases she sees the logic in what we did.”
The family had seen her personality change from a popular, gentle teenager with a love of children and animals, who supported Stockport County soccer club, was a fan of rock band REM and had the ambition to become a nursery teacher.
Last January she was taken to see the family doctor, and was diagnosed as having glandular fever. She began to lose weight and within three months it became apparent she had a serious eating disorder. She changed from being fun-loving to being moody and withdrawn. She tried to make her family—she has two sisters, Shelley, 18, and Sarah, 13—believe she was still eating.
Mr Carter said: “Only last Christmas Vicki was 8.5st [119lbs or 54.1kg] which was perfect for her height of 5ft 6in. She had her GCSEs approaching and she was looking forward to becoming a nursery school teacher. She was fit, healthy and popular with her schoolmates.
“But after getting glandular fever she became depressed. She became obsessive and crafty in her efforts not to be found out that she was not eating. She would wear baggy clothes to conceal her weight loss at first. Unless you actually touched her you couldn't tell. She exercised obsessively to bring down her weight and she worked out to aerobics videos—usually at 6 am before the rest of us got up.”
Her parents resorted to law after she continuously refused food at Stepping Hill. Mr Carter said: “When you are 16 you have some rights and parents do not have as many. She was refusing treatment and wanted to leave the hospital, but if she had stood up she would have collapsed.” He went to the High Court in London while Mrs. Carter, a nursery officer, stayed at Vicki's hospital bedside.
He said: “Vicki had a solicitor appointed for her and she said, ‘I am going to fight you,' but her mental state at the time was terrible.” When you go down to 5st your brain ceases to function properly. All we wanted to do was to get her tube-fed so she would stay alive and we would still have our little girl. It was an unpleasant thing to do to have to fight in the court to get your daughter to stay alive, but we did it and she is recovering now.”
Mr. Carter added: “She is even studying an A-Level in psychology while she is at the clinic so she can understand what has happened to her. We have no regrets about taking Vicki to court. Without legal action she would have died.”
It is music to the ears of every woman who has ever looked at herself full-length in the mirror and had doubts about her derriere. A pear-shaped figure is healthier—even if it does mean having a bigger bottom.
Evidence from the Newcastle Heart Project says it is the part of the body where fat is laid down, rather than just weight alone, which is an indicator of health.
Nutritionist Dr Margaret Ashwell says the pear shape seen in the hour-glass figures of Marilyn Monroe, model Sophie Dahl and Spice Girl Geri Halliwell is best.
“It is a healthy shape and we have to get that message across to young girls who hate the shape and try to change it by keeping their weight down, sometimes by smoking,” Dr Ashwell says.
But while the analysis is good news for fashion-conscious girls, it spells bad news for many middle-aged men with beer bellies—apple shapes who accumulate fat around their middle.
Apple-shaped people are more likely to die prematurely compared with those who are pear shaped, where the fat accumulates around the bottom and thighs.
Dr. Ashwell, an independent nutrition consultant, assessed more than 1000 men and women from European, Chinese and South Asian races for her research.
LOS ANGELES—Freddie Prinze Jr. doesn't think sexy equals thin.The star of She's All That likes to cook his way into the hearts of women. There's only one problem: “Girls in L.A. don't eat anything,” he said in February 's Seventeen magazine.
“You don't have to be thin as a board to be hot. I'll say, ‘You look hungry. I'm not kissing you 'till you're full because I'm afraid you're going to bite my lip.'”
Prinze, the son of the late comic, appears in two upcoming romantic comedies—Down to You and Head Over Heals.
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