Sunday, January 10, 2010

Women's Bodies

Last night, after reading Emily’s post, I looked through the February issue of Glamour, which had arrived the day before. For the first time, I actually thought the models looked familiar, and no wonder: one of them was the infamous Crystal Renn, now the #1 “plus sized” model in the business.

Plus size my ass. Of course, in the modeling world, plus size is a size 6—whatever the hell that means, since that’s actually smaller than average and sizes are not standard in the US. Take a look at these photos from Glamour:

To me, she looks just like any other beautiful woman in a magazine spread. Katy Perry is on the cover, and both share similar body shapes. But looking through the pages, no matter whether it is the ads or the features, I don’t notice anything that’s radically different. There’s one “regular”, skinny model, Nina Van Bree, who’s done other work for Glamour, but I also see Sarah Jessica Parker, Kate Moss (not looking super-skinny, but she’s wearing a thick pencil skirt), Faith Hill, the women from Big Love, four Olympic athletes, and a number of other unknown women, some of whom are only shot from the chest, shoulder, or neck up. All of them are slender. All of them fit within the standard slim aesthetic of a woman. None of them have any proportions out of the ordinary—nothing too small, too big, too muscular, too short, too long, too wide, too narrow, too bloated, or too bony.

Now, I was never one to bitch loudly about magazine models, because I rarely paid attention and I just don’t care. But what does bother me is the attitude they promote, and while many people have lauded the supposed shift from “skinny is wonderful” to “celebrate your curves”, I’ve always bristled at the curves part, because they’re often intended to be opposites. You can’t be both thin and curvy, and curvy was used to represent every shape and size under the sun. I disliked it when men used, I disliked it when women used it. And this excerpt from Victoria at Feminazery is why:
First off, this new culture of curves is NOT about celebrating fuller figures, it is about denigrating slender women. How many more screaming "So Skinny She Looks Like She'll Break!!!" headlines on the frontpage of Heat Magazine, how many more paparazzi shots of "Worryingly thin Lindsay" in the Dail Fail, how many more scare-mongering ITV documentaries on the "dangers of size zero" before people realise that there is no new culture? The culture is exactly the same, it's just that the target has changed. We've swopped fat-bashing for skinny-bashing and exchanging one prejudice for another isn't an advancement in women's rights, it's a step sideways.

Secondly, to the "more attainable, more womanly" part. Who is to say what is "womanly"? Women come in all different shapes and sizes and only a fool would try to attribute a higher level of feminity to one over the other. Really this argument belongs to the first point I made - it's not about celebrating so-called "womanly" figures, it's about taking a dig at slimmer women, saying they're "manly", less "real". Who cares which women we're picking on, as long as we can still pick on women, hey?

As for "more attainable", let's investigate this, shall we? In the last week two websites; MSN Lifestyle and the Daily Fail have run articles on the "most desirable" body shapes, with an emphasis on "curvy" woman such as Kate Winslet, Halle Berry and eponymous Kelly Brook. The Fail, in particular claims this as a great victory for women, because such figures are supposedly more realistic a goal for the average woman. Really? Neither Winslet, Berry nor Brook can be more than a size 10 at most, and with the average dress size in the UK now up to a 16, that's quite a gap. More pertinently though, "curves" of the type that these women have are not something you can ever achieve. They have big breasts, and wide-set hips, set off by tiny waists. No matter how much you diet you can't change the width of your pelvis, you can't grow your breasts without implants - you're either born an hourglass shape or you're not. Don't get me wrong, I think Winslet, Brook et al have fantastic figures (as do Kate Moss, Cheryl Cole and Victoria Beckham) but promoting them as "better" role models than your average supermodel because their figures are "more attainable" is ludicrious because a girl with a straight-up-and-down body type has as much chance as naturally growing a second head as she has of ever looking like Kelly Brook.
I went to high school with a girl who was tall and flat as a board all over. There were rumblings about her being anorexic, partly because of her shape but also partly because she always talked of losing weight, trying to be thinner. She couldn’t get much thinner without becoming seriously ill, but one day I heard her moan about what was really bothering her: her hips. She thought they were too wide, and she wanted to narrow them down. That’s ridiculous, I remember telling someone. Unless she wanted saw off inches on both sides of her body, what she wanted was impossible. Yet somehow she equated narrower hips with being thinner, and hence, more attractive.

It’s so ridiculous, reading these women’s magazines, how often copy is focused on “love your body”, and all the related affirmations. You’d think we’d have gotten the message by now. But there’s always someone out there with a nicer shape, and we can’t help but wonder…even if there’s no way that body is ever attainable.


Emily said...

The thing is, though, that many, many people depend on women hating some part of themselves in order to make their money. The magazines need to keep creating a "hate this about yourself, and we'll tell you how to fix it!" cycle that just goes round and round because, like you noted, you can't change your pelvis, or get rid of your "cankles" (thank god that trend is over...I think.) Your hair isn't shiny enough, so buy this pricey shampoo. Your skin complexion is uneven, so try one of these four million moisturizers.

It's almost like these magazines are tricking us. As if they are saying, we want you to love yourself! Which is why we are going to help you lose those last five pounds! We're going to start rating all of these makeups so that you can buy the best one to slather on your face to bring out THE BEST YOU. Which is, obviously, not the you without the makeup or with those five pounds, because then why would you buy this magazine in the first place?

Anonymous said...

I've always been a fan of fuller-figured models. There's a great site with many images of Crystal and other plus-size models here:

They're all gorgeous.

The site's forum also has thought-provoking discussions about body image and the media.