Photo: via Vogue
Last week, Vogue made headlines for publishing an online editorial dedicated to curvy women dressed in plus-size lingerie.
The decision, quite rightly, was commended – despite the fact it did not appear in the hard-copy version of the magazine – and the images are beautiful. Magazines like Vogue really do have the power to help shift the industry’s obsession with thinness.
However, there was something that stood out to me about the shoot, and it’s something that extends to every “curve celebrating” campaign I’ve encountered. This common issue, often leaves me asking: why do we only see hourglass figures in our commercial exposure to plus-size bodies?
I'm not sure if you have noticed, but ever since magazines and fashion brands began to include bigger models in their shoots and campaigns, they've only come in one shape: the sort that has a waistline considerably smaller than their bust and hips.
Seeing bigger bodies at all is a positive step, but now we need to move on and start being realistic about the larger bodies attracting advertising campaigns and glossy photo shoots.
As Charing Ball writes in Madame Noir, the fashion industry’s interpretation of "plus-size" is just as limiting, and damaging, as its fixation with waif-like figures. Unconventional bodies are being “celebrated” but we’re still being told that there is a “right” way to have a body like that. Our “junk” must bookend our midsections, or else it's wrong.
So, what happens if you're a woman with “less boob than behind or more stomach than ass"? Ball asks.
“While seeing bigger women is an improvement and empowering in itself, if all we are really seeing is bigger versions of the same image we’ve been force-fed since we were kids, all we are doing is trading in one oppression for another,” she writes.
And she is right to be sceptical.
(A perfect example of how we insist that "controversial" plus bodies are similarly proportioned to straight sized bodies. From V Magazine / January 2010.)
I participated in a consumer study for a fashion company a year or so ago, and I remember sitting with a group of other plus-size women. We were handed flash cards that had individual images of large-bodied women on them and we were asked to sort them in order of social acceptability.
The way they were graded had nothing to do with their style, hair colour or confidence, but rather how they stacked up against the ideal of a perfect body. Those classed ‘most acceptable’ proved to be women who resembled larger versions of traditional models. The least acceptable leaned towards the square and apple shaped silhouettes.
It became very apparent that there was discrimination even within the non-traditional body acceptance realm.
It's unfortunate that this happens, not only because of the general perpetuation of unfair standards, but also because it creates a form of privilege among those who do have this body type. While I personally deal with an extraordinary amount of backlash due to my fat body, I am fully aware that I also receive more positive attention than those who may not have an hourglass figure. It's a shame, this perpetuation of subcultured persecution. The one step forward becomes two steps backwards.
It is critical that we acknowledge its existence and the harm that it can cause.
While we are seeing body positive coverage in our media nowadays, the concept of embracing all body types is still in its infant stages. We're slow to adjust to change, and the rampant fat hate is proof that we have a long way to go.
Plus-size bodies in high fashion and advertising are most certainly a step in the right direction, but nowhere near where we want to be. It's one of those situations where we must acknowledge both the progressiveness and the ultimate lack of progress.
The hourglass body is important. It's a shape that many women have, and it deserves celebration. However, it shouldn't be the standard of plus-size beauty and it's my hope society can acclimate to seeing larger bodies and embrace all shapes and sizes.
How do we assist in this forward thinking cultural change? We support companies that are doing this already – companies like Curvy Girl, which is using unconventional bodies to model their lingerie. We celebrate look-books from brands like Re/Dress that veer away from traditional silhouettes and promote alternative style. We can support Louise from Body Exchange who is creating an exercise video for plus-size athletes.
And we can flood the internet with images of ourselves in all of our diverse glory.
All shapes. All sizes. All relevant.
Jes Baker is mental health professional, pastry chef, ex-art major, crazy cat lady, fat model and fiery advocate. She blogs at The Militant Baker.