The following is a selection of essays which appeared on the Judgment of Paris Forum in praise of the extraordinary talent of plus-size model Valerie Lefkowitz. The worship of Beauty has inspired artistic creation since time immemorial, and today, the beauty of this living goddess is sure to revive this great tradition, as we yearn for a wellspring of inspiration in our quest for cultural renewal.
The Beauty of the Dawn
After presenting images of full-figured goddesses to the public for over four years, one becomes somewhat jaded, and it requires a truly extraordinary aesthetic accomplishment to rekindle that early sense of astonishment and wonder. So what a joy it is, then, to come across work of such brilliance that it matches and surpass anything we have seen to date.
Valerie Lefkowitz has created two new images which quite literally took our breath away when we first saw them. They vividly testify to her matchless beauty, and to her astonishing talent. No wonder she has eclipsed many famous models in popularity in our survey polling.
Here is the first of the these two new images—a captivating headshot in which Valerie seems to glow from within. Her beauty shines forth like morning sunlight.
And here is her new figure study, which is the epitome of classical perfection. Not only does the model resemble a sculpture of antiquity brought to life, but her expression transmits a passion so vivid that, even across a computer screen, the viewer thrills to see it.
There is an elemental power about these images that is like nothing we have encountered before, except in works of Western art. To aficionados of Romantic poetry, Valerie may appear to be a grown-up version of Lucy, the “darling of Nature” in Wordsworth’s poems. To anyone who admires the plays of Henryk Ibsen, she may remind them of Hilde Wangel, the personification of youthful vitality in Ibsen’s study of art and artistic inspiration, The Master Builder.
Does that sound farfetched? Here is an excerpt from Act Two of Ibsen’s masterpiece, featuring an exchange between Halvard Solness, the artist-figure and eponymous “Master Builder” of the play, and the mountain girl Hilde, who is his irrepressible muse:
SOLNESS: (Looks at her earnestly) Hilde, you’re like a wild bird of the woods.
These are quite simply the greatest test images that we have seen since Barbara Brickner’s celebrated series with the “prince of darkness,” Douglas B. And in many ways, they form a perfect compliment to those images. Whereas Barbara Brickner was presented as a Goddess of the Night, thanks to Douglas B.’s dark, Rembrandt-like palette, Valerie is Aurora incarnate, the beauty of the dawn, shining before us and leading the way to the aesthetic of the future.
HILDE: Far from it! I don’t hide away under the bushes.
SOLNESS: No. Perhaps you’re more like a bird of prey.
HILDE: Perhaps. (Very vehemently) And why not a bird of prey? Why shouldn’t I, too, go hunting? And carry off the prey I want—if I can get my claws into it—and conquer it.
SOLNESS: No. You’re like the dawning day. When I look at you—I feel as though I were watching the sunrise.
HILDE: Tell me, Master Builder—are you sure you’ve never called me to you? Inwardly, you know?
SOLNESS: (Softly and slowly) I’m almost sure I must have.
April 25, 2003
- O cloud-pale eyelids, dream-dimmed eyes,
- The poets labouring all their days
- To build a perfect beauty in rhyme
- Are overthrown by a woman's gaze
- And by the unlabouring brood of the skies:
- And therefore my heart will bow, when dew
- Is dropping sleep, until God burn time,
- Before the unlabouring stars and you.
Although the topics that come up at this site are sometimes very serious, and extend far beyond the confines of plus-size modelling, this site began and always will be a “fan page,” because it is our firm belief that such a site is necessary. We sometimes find it useful to be critical here—if for no other reason than to distinguish between the good, the great, and the truly exceptional ways in which plus-size beauty is presented to the public. But even when we are critical, we try to remain gentle about it—or, at the very least, even-handed. The idea is to “stay on the beam”—to stay focussed on the real enemy (the thin-supremacist mainstream media, and the modernist world-view of which it is a part), and not to cause rifts within the size-acceptance movement, which is rather fractured to begin with. Indeed, if something in the plus-size industry demands a more severe critique, we usually avoid discussing it rather than hammering it needlessly. After all, criticism is easy; creation is hard.
But to be truthful, criticism is neither our preference nor our forte. What we love to do most of all is to celebrate. The opportunities to really burst out into song and express unreserved praise for a model’s work are rare, so we treasure them when they come along. And no other model has consistently warranted as much outright admiration of late for her stunning test images as has Valerie Lefkowitz.
Perhaps it is because she has been modelling since the age of fifteen, so being in front of a camera is second nature to her. Perhaps it is because she has a natural gift for this particular art form. Or perhaps it is something else, but for whatever reason, Ms. Lefkowitz seems to have a unique ability to endow her images with life and personality. She evokes many different moods, and creates different characters from one photograph to the next. She appears to be able to hit any emotional note, and her work assuredly confirms the definition of modelling as “frozen acting”—the creation of character for a single moment in time.
The quiet intimacy of the following stills makes the viewer forget that an entire crew must have been present to help create them, from positioning the camera to arranging her hair to attending to the myriad details that comprise a successful photo shoot. It is simply the viewer and her. The natural light gives the images a “morning” feeling, and you can almost hear the absolute silence in the background, as if the world is just waking up and becoming aware of her beauty for the first time. The setting is today—right now—but the play of light and shadow is worthy of a Caravaggio painting.
The first image is playful, almost teasing. The model plays off the viewer’s interest, secure in the confidence that she has their rapt attention. Like Rubens’s Venus, she smiles to see her effect on her audience.
The second image is more serious, even challenging.
We are so fortunate to be able to share these images with the public. Valerie’s craft—no, her art—transcends any reservations or hesitations that still shackle our culture in terms of its beliefs about the nature of true feminine beauty. She brings the “once and future aesthetic” of timeless femininity to life, right here, right now, in the present day.
July 9, 2003
Star of the Silver Screen
Ticolandia, a reader of this forum, recently sent us the following description of an appearance by Valerie Lefkowitz in a television commercial for David’s Bridal. Her wording is so elegant that it is copied here without alteration:
It was but for a fleeting moment, but Ms. Lefkowitz appeared in stunning form in the latest David’s Bridal commercial. She was dressed in the gown that you had featured in your latest post regarding this lovely model. First, several images of waifish brides smiling gauntly were shown, and then her beaming image flashed briefly across the screen—some would argue as a beacon of light, perhaps—but I would dare say a defining moment in the plus-size movement. Not because she was partially undressed nor wearing the latest horrid trend that designers have concocted in order to stifle femininity, but rather, as an example to the television viewing audience of a flesh-and-blood woman who shines in her own right. Brava.
Goddesses have been inspiring mankind since the dawn of time, and it is wonderful to see plus-size models continuing that tradition. A love of beauty brings out the poet in all of us.
The following images present Valerie as a siren of the silver screen. The first of the two is especially captivating, displaying that mix of playfulness and smouldering sensuality that no one else embodies as vividly as does this ingénue:
Melanie’s concerns [i.e., that Valerie will lose weight as her career progresses] are understandable, considering how many models and actresses have conformed to underweight media ideals once their careers have reached stellar heights. But Valerie may be the exception. She has been aware of the societal importance of plus-size modelling from a young age, and has actively worked for the benefit of eating-disorder organizations. Sophie Dahl always shunned the “crusading” role associated with being a full-figured celebrity, but Ms. Lefkowitz appears to embrace it.
Our prediction is that Valerie will choose to diminish neither her remarkable beauty nor her great importance, but rather, will remain a beacon to society, “shining in her own right,” as Ticolandia writes, by remaining a true goddess.
July 10, 2003
“This beauty’s power”
Like something out of a dream-world—no, out of one’s deepest, most cherished notions of an ideal realm that transcends mortal limitations—come these heartstopping new images of Valerie Lefkowitz. Her glory shines brighter with every new masterpiece, and in these, her most mature creations to date, she achieves the profoundest effects of the great artworks of the past—their ability to stir the soul, to inspire awe, to spur on the pursuit of great and noble goals. At last, we see this model in the lush, pastoral setting that is the most fitting backdrop for her passionately Romantic look—but even this halcyon vision of nature fades before her own splenour. She looks at the viewer—indeed, she looks into the viewer’s soul—with the direct gaze of a true goddess, fully consciousness of her own attractions, and wondering what new possibilities she has created by inspiring the kind of Sehnsucht-enkindled dreams that have been undreamt for generations.
This author has no words, not in any of four languages, that can give expression to the wonder that we see here. He must turn, instead, to the words of the 19th-century Pre-Raphaelite master D.G. Rossetti, in his sonnet sequence The House of Life (1870, 1881). Rossetti laboured for most of his days over this profound work, a symbolic narrative of the loss of Ideal beauty, and its recovery. What texts could be more appropriate to honor this goddess, and her significance for all of us?
Beauty like hers is genius. Not the call
Of Homer’s or of Dante’s heart sublime,
Not Michael’s hand furrowing the zones of time,
Is more with compassed mysteries musical;
Nay, not in Spring’s or Summer’s sweet footfall
More gathered gifts exuberant Life bequeathes
Than doth this sovereign face, whose love-spell breathes
Even from its shadowed contour on the wall.
As many men are poets in their youth,
But for one sweet-strung soul the wires prolong
Even through all change the indomitable song;
So in like wise the envenomed years, whose tooth
Rends shallower grace with ruin void of ruth,
Upon this beauty's power shall wreak no wrong.
Under the arch of Life, where love and death,
Terror and mystery, guard her shrine, I saw
Beauty enthroned; and though her gaze struck awe,
I drew it in as simply as my breath.
Hers are the eyes which, over and beneath,
The sky and sea bend on thee,—which can draw,
By sea or sky or woman, to one law,
The allotted bondman of her palm and wreath.
This is that Lady Beauty, in whose praise
Thy voice and hand shake still,—long known to thee
By flying hair and fluttering hem,—the beat
Following her daily of thy heart and feet,
How passionately and irretrievably,
In what fond flight, how many ways and days!
September 19, 2003
The first face of spring…
A sometime reader of this forum recently sent us the following comment about the latest television spot featuring Ms. Lefkowitz:
I just saw my first Target commercial with Valerie. (Did I read that there are several different ones?) I was staring idly at the screen, not noticing that it was a Target ad, observing the pencil-thin legs of the first model shown with my well-practiced sigh of resignation. Then suddenly there’s this gorgeous, fully rounded woman bouncing on the screen, and I went whoa! Now THAT’s something different! Where did SHE come from? And one second later I realized it was Valerie and this must be a Target ad.
It is an outstanding ad that makes a huge impact. It was all a flash of rapid edits, but the images really stick in your mind. It starts with a skinny girl cuddling with a guy on a bench or sofa, then the next shot is Valerie wearing red and black, I think. The whole ad is quick cuts of various people, with about three total appearances of Valerie in different outfits. She’s always in motion, dancing and beaming that big smile.
I can imagine a LOT of people are going to see this and say, “Hey, that plus-size girl is beautiful!” Then they’ll have to reconcile that supposed contradiction in terms. And people will also say, “Why don’t we see more women like her?—Sexy, energetic, in your face, fun, desirable, and full-figured.”
These are exactly the thoughts we need the public to be thinking. Bravo, Target.
Valerie as a latter-day Bacchante in a television commercial? The cultural genie is surely out of the bottle, and the aesthetic conversion is well under way.
* * *
Although Penningtons has adopted the phrase “Beauty in Full Bloom” for its Spring 2004 campaign, fans have associated that expression with Valerie Lefkowitz ever since she blossomed into a fuller-figured model. And now, for the season that is associated with rebirth and regeneration, Ms. Lefkowitz provides her fans with some spring styling suggestions that they are sure to find inspiring.
Here is Valerie modelling a breezy, abbreviated dress that is admirably body-conscious:
Just as Ms. Lefkowitz helped provide the world with the images that demonstrated, once and for all, that full-figured girls not only can, but positively should wear sleeveless fashions, here she lends her visual support to the crusade to overturn another senseless prohibition of the past, and to demonstrate that plus-size women should be proud of their curvaceous legs as well.
The second of the two images is particularly lovely, and we applaud the model for adopting a straight-ahead stance which lets viewers see her womanly curves. The image communicates a message of size celebration far more powerful than any long-winded treatise ever could. The shawl is an especially nice touch—all the nicer because it is not worn, and consequently, the model appears to be saying to her young fans, “No, you don’t need to cover up. Let people see your beauty, and admire it—and in doing so, you will learn to admire it as well”
February 13, 2004
…and the second…
Ever since readers saw Valerie modelling a sleek black evening gown for David’s Bridal, they have longed to see her take another turn at showcasing evening wear. And in these images, she shows her fans what is the one, essential item that a “curvy vixen” needs in order to make an evening outfit really work. Can you guess what it is? The pictures provide the answer.
In the first image, Ms. Lefkowitz offers an homage to a Kate Dillon editorial from U.K. Cosmo. The tone of the shot is unabashedly seductive, as if to say to any viewer who has not yet been aesthetically converted to size celebration, “I will seduce you into seeing beauty in an entirely new way.”
And here is another abbreviated outfit which makes an eloquent case for showing off a pair of shapely legs. The photographer of this particular image might be Mick Rock, who has previously posed models in this fashion for Grace—but we are not quite sure.
So, now can you guess what that one “essential item” is?
In addition to promoting more exciting styling options, the greatest plus-size models inspire full-figured women to add one more vital accessory to their evening ensembles—and that is…attitutde.
February 13, 2004
…and the third…
Third in our triptych of new Valerie test images is a remarkable pair of close-ups. As always, we have saved the best for last, because these are surely two of the most beautiful headshots that any model has ever created.
In them, we see Valerie adorned with the incomparably gorgeous hairstyle that has become as much her trademark as is the untrammeled passion with which she infuses her greatest images. It is a look that falls somewhere between her straightened style and the thick, enchanting curls for which she initially won fame, and is similar to the blonde tresses that Charlotte Bronte attributes to Ginevra Fanshawe in her novel Villette, or the “spun-gold hair that comb nor confining pin could restrain” by which Kate Chopin distinguishes Adèle Ratignolle in The Awakening:
Why should full-figured women attempt to minimize their looks by deferring to any passing fad for toned-down trims or close-cropped cuts? To paraphrase another model’s mantra, “If you have the beauty, show it off.” Why try to mimic the underweight standard instead of accentuating the opulence of the plus aesthetic? Valerie’s images encourage all women who possess naturally luxuriant beauty to revel in it, to indulge in the lavish charms that are distinctly their own.
Follow a muse, instead of following the fads—and let yourself become your own artwork.
February 13, 2004
Dockers in the West End
For obvious reasons, fall/winter apparel can never be as interesting as spring/summer fashions; however, a truly extraordinary model (with the help of a top-notch photographic team) can still achieve results of high artistry.
Dockers provides us with an interesting example of how timeless beauty can infiltrate a media establishment —if it is only given the chance to do so.
First, Dockers took the all-important initial step of creating a full-figured line to compliment its boyish-sized offerings. Then, it made another advance and selected a genuinely full-figured model to represent the womanly line. However, Dockers initially still restricted the plus-size model’s images to the “Woman” section of its Web domain, whereas all of the site’s other promotional features exclusively featured a typical array of androgynous models.
But Dockers obviously received a very positive response to Ms. Lefkowitz’s presence on its Web site, because this season, Valerie’s images feature prominently in every part of Dockers.com—even in promotional items that have nothing to do with the plus line, and often ahead of the straight-size models’ images.
And that’s exactly how it should be.
Here is the fall cover image, at Dockers:
And here we see Valerie being courted by an English gentleman who has discovered—to his utter astonishment—a world-famous plus-size supermodel travelling incognito in London’s West End. We can forgive this bloke for finding that even his Oxbridge education cannot help him string together a coherent sentence, when confronted by the sight of such enthralling beauty.
Think about this scenario for a moment, if you will. What would you say if you had one chance—just one—just one fleeting opportunity in your entire lifetime—to introduce yourself to a living goddess?
You have correctly identified her, and have taken the liberty of approaching her and asking, “Aren’t you…?” The seconds are ticking by. Tick, tick, tick. By any reasonable standard of etiquette, you will soon be forced to offer her an exit by saying something like, “Well, I don’t want to keep you…” or “I realize you must be very busy…” After all, you couldn’t bear the thought of turning this chance meeting into an awkward situation. Therefore, you simply want to encapsulate all of your ideas in one, single poetic statement—something at least remotely suitable for such an exalted audience. So what would you say?
Fittingly—considering the U.K. theme of the clothing—this campaign is much like a vignette from British cinema…
July 23, 2004
The “burlap-sack test…”
A reader once made an interesting comment about this legendary Fashion Bug ad featuring Shannon Marie. She stated that while that image was surely one of the greatest examples of plus-size beauty she had ever seen, it was only extraordinary because of the model. The dress itself was somewhat formless, she pointed out, and apart from being sleeveless, had little to recommend it. “But Shannon Marie is so lovely” she went on to say, “that she could even model a burlap sack, and make it look terrific!”
This “burlap-sack test” is especially relevant for plus-size models because, let’s face it—even today, unless a girl is modelling for Torrid, the chances are that she will often end up showcasing apparel that is somewhat on the dowdy side. And that is when her beauty and her talent are really put to the test, because in such a circumstance, if an image is to succeed, it will depend entirely on her—on her aesthetic qualities, and on her modelling technique (along with whatever assistance the photographer and his creative team can provide).
This Fashion Bug cover more than proves Valerie’s ability to pass the “burlap-sack test” with flying colours—indeed, with an A+. As a type of clothing, ponchos come alarmingly close to being burlap sacks. But even clad in a poncho, Valerie still manages to create a great image. Not only does she look as pretty as ever, but, as one reader correctly indicated, that really is a textbook-perfect pout. “You know you can’t possibly take your eyes off me,” the expression seems to say—and who can argue?
As for Fashion Bug, their revised Web site remains hard on the eyes, but the company has, until recently, been so unerringly brilliant in its casting, and so progressive in its photography, that it is impossible to say a word against them. FB has never allowed itself to be relegated to secondary status in the Charming Shoppes family, but rather, still leads the way in size-positive imagery.
Valerie smouldering on the Fashion Bug cover, Fall 2004:
August 4, 2004
Valerie: Passion for Fashion (Bug)
Here are two more images in a similarly passionate vein. We discovered these at the Charming Shoppes corporate site, but they are clearly identified as part of the model’s Fall 2004 Fashion Bug campaign.
What a shame that we are only discovering the fruits of this campaign sporadically, in pieces, because the results suggest that this could be one of Valerie’s all-time greatest photo shoots—a superlative performance even by her standards, especially in terms of the intensity of feeling which we see here.
The first image appears on the “rotating” Charming Shoppes cover page. Like a painter blending colours, the model has combined a mixture of emotions to create this stunning expression: petulant and languishing, disdainful yet enticing. The viewer cannot take his eyes off the image—which demonstrates, once again, that a truly exceptional model can rivet the attention of even the most blase spectator, no matter what sort of clothing she must wear.
And here, in this tiny image, Valerie adopts an expression that is a not quite so dark, but no less bewitching. The viewer can well imagine how being fixed with a look such as this would inflame his senses. Angel, seductress, or both? Who can tell—and who can resist wondering…
It may be stretching plausibility to suggest this, but the model may even have tailored the poses to match the nature of the outfits—darker for the steely blue poncho, above, and a slightly softer look (but no less intense) for this pale lavender top.
What a shame that Fashion Bug has not released a video-enriched press kit for its Fall 2004 campaign, in the way that Lane Bryant has for its Cacique promotion. To watch Valerie “in action,” striking one complex pose after another for this extraordinary shoot, would be like watching a world-famous ballet dancer tell a heartbreaking tale of love and loss through physical movement, or hearing a great opera singer transmit emotion directly into the listener’s heart through the nuance-rich power of her voice.
August 20, 2004
“One of the positive things…”
The other day, in an otherwise unimportant article about fall fashion, we came across this rather interesting statement from the manager of a “Goody’s Family Clothing” store in Mississippi:
“One of the positive things we carry is plus-size fashions for the teenager,” Martin said, citing junior-plus fashions “in sizes 13 to 18 that are the same as what we carry in the junior department.”
How encouraging to see an ordinary retail manager describe the advancement of plus-size fashion as something “positive.” This is part of a trend that we are seeing in the better press coverage of full-figured style—i.e., an awareness that curve-friendly clothing is not only good for business, but is also a social boon.
Just as the more enlightened plus-size models understand that they are not merely working for profit, but are genuinely inspiring cultural renewal, so is the plus-size fashion industry as a whole beginning to realize that its importance extends beyond the “bottom line,” and that it can dramatically benefit the lives of full-figured women.
A visit to the Goody’s Family Clothing site provides further indication of the company’s positive approach to plus-size marketing. The store’s clothing brands carry affirmative names such as L.e.i. (“Life, Energy, Intelligence”), and “Self Esteem.” Here is one example of a “Self Esteem” top, modelled by none other than Valerie Lefkowitz:
Could any plus-size teen fail to experience a dramatic boost in self-esteem when she sees Valerie modelling this feminine, sleeveless top? This is exactly the kind of image that can help a young girl realize that, yes, she really can look every bit as attractive as her underweight rivals. In fact, it may help her realize that she can look better than her peers, if she glances at the site’s straight-size junior offerings, and discovers that none of the skinny models can hold a candle to Valerie—the plus-size model who represents her.* * *
Before we leave this topic, we would like to examine another photograph from Valerie’s new junior-plus campaign. This image is significant for two reasons.
First of all, it is a wonderful example of Valerie’s “signature” modelling mode. Just as Barbara Brickner’s most captivating modelling manner is a “feline” demeanor—a look that is uniquely hers, that no other model can duplicate—so Valerie’s signature modelling mien is “rapture,” or pure passion—i.e., her ability to convey, in certain images, the sense that she is experiencing a kind of Dionysian euphoria, or channeling a nameless energy. In these images, the camera seems to disappear, and Valerie becomes a conduit of surging emotion.
The effect on the viewer is similar to watching Anne-Sophie Mutter perform Beethoven, or Karajan conduct the Berlin Philharmonic. At this level, modelling takes on the qualities of a true art form, More than just “frozen acting,” it incorporates elements of ballet, and even sculpture—with the model both as the artist, and as her own medium—the living material that she fashions into an artistic statement.
Second, from the more functional point of view of actually promoting a clothing style, this is the first image that we have seen which persuades us that the “poncho”—that supposedly “hot” garment of the fall season—can actually be a complimentary fashion choice.
Many of the top models have already tried modelling ponchos—from Valerie herself, to Barbara, to Melissa Masi. But none of these attempts have dispelled the unfortunate sensation that the models are simply wearing glorified throw rugs; or, at best, the kind of blankets that one’s favourite grandmother might wrap around her shoulders, to ward off the winter chill.
But this image finally demonstrates that the poncho can be an exciting styling choice. Whether it is because this particular poncho is cute, rather than sack-like, or because the rest of the outfit is so captivating (with fitted jeans, and a hint of midriff showing), or because the model’s pose is so enthralling—whatever the reason, this image finally sells the idea of a poncho as a viable clothing option.
Compliments to Goody’s for a fun fall campaign, and kudos as always to Valerie for her superlative work.
August 13, 2004