Friday, August 21, 2009

Glamour Plus-Size Model, Supposedly

Gasp! A size 12 woman is on the pages of Glamour! I wish this weren’t news, but it is -- and readers are noticing, to the point where editor-in-chief Cindi Leive wrote about the reader response on the magazine’s website.

Specifically, the piece the photo originally appeared in is titled “What Everyone But You Sees About Your Body.” The article coaches readers to “look through the eyes of these experts, who recognize the beauty and sexiness you don’t.” And to illustrate the concept, they use a professional model who happens to have a little tummy pooch. Are we supposed to somehow think that this model -- with glowing skin, a radiant smile, and an hourglass figure -- does not recognize her beauty and sexiness? Or are we supposed to play the role of the expert and see her beauty through the gentle padding, implying that there are others who don’t see the beauty of a woman who makes her living off of looking beautiful?

The magazine is between a rock and a hard place here as far as feminist critique goes -- had they illustrated this piece with a standard-sized model, the piece would have lost credibility; and as much as I’d love to see this magazine (or any other) use women who are actually plus-sized as models (as opposed to “plus-size models,” many of whom would be hard-pressed to find anything that fits them in a plus-size clothing store), we’re light-years away from that. The image was a good choice. But the attention it’s gotten forces me to look at it with a critical eye. I’m pleased to read that so many other women felt affirmed by the image. Me? I felt like I was being tricked, like when a saleswoman compliments you in order to sell you more clothes.

I’m guessing that Leive is correct when she writes that the image struck a chord because we have lost contact with what other women’s bodies look like. From the way people are reacting, you’d think that the model was as overweight as the average American woman and therefore a true reflection of what we look like (her BMI puts her at barely overweight, which, given the fact that nobody in their right mind would look at this model and call her overweight, goes to show how ridiculous BMI is as a measure of health; for more on that, see Kate Harding’s BMI Flickr collection). Still, people are reacting, and strongly. I would a zillion times rather that these images appear than not appear. I don’t think they do harm, and reading the testimonials that are on the magazine’s site, it seems that they are doing a powerful good for a lot of women. But one picture does not a revolution make.

I hope to see Glamour follow up this piece and the attention it’s getting with not a stronger message, but one that’s, in some ways, subtler. Using non-standard-sized models in neutral editorial pages (that is, in pictures that accompany an article on, say, dating, as opposed to fashion or body-image pages). Not insisting that models larger than a size 6 are automatically blessed with hourglass figures. (I mean, kudos for the Queen Latifah cover -- brown-skinned AND plus-size! -- but don’t tell me that the Queen’s waist is actually cinched in like that when Photoshop isn’t around.) Basically, what needs to happen for the all-shapes-and-sizes message to appear authentic is that women of, well, all shapes and sizes need to be represented in ways that don’t make it seem like they’re somehow anomalies.

Glamour has a halfway decent track record on this; I’ve seen one neutral editorial image of a model who was maybe size 12 with no comment or text about body image or her size. (Which sounds paltry but is one more than I’ve seen in any other mainstream women’s glossy.) Their woman-on-the-street Dos and Don’ts pages pay attention to the fashions their unwitting subjects are wearing, not the body sizes of the people photographed (yes, they show plump women in white pants, heavens be). And the May 2009 swimsuit spread was a fantastic sprint on the issue: The piece mentions what fabrics “camouflage lumps and bumps,” yes, but it’s the only time I’ve seen a plus-size model (the stunning Crystal Renn, who makes a living as a plus-size model) in a piece that’s not about plus sizes but about average sizes -- which, at size 12-14, Renn and most other “plus”-size models are. But now that the editors do have that track record and people are noticing, they have a responsibility to set a new, higher standard for themselves.


  1. Great post and thanks for filling me in on the context of the picture.

  2. It is stunning, isn't it, that in this microcosm of magazine fashion size 12 becomes enormous? But honestly it doesn't end with the magazines. I've been a 12 for my entire adult life, and I would guess that "average" is really between maybe an 8 and a 14. And yet, every time I try to shop for clothes, the racks are stocked with endless supplies of 2's, 4's, and 6's. I'm thrilled when I find one size 12 shoved all the way at the back of the rack - or, god forbid, a 14.

    Lately I've been shopping for wedding dresses, which for reasons that are completely beyond comprehension tend to run smaller than street clothes. I, who am not a particularly large person, was teetering on the edge of needing to order a plus-size dress!

    Why the fashion industry takes every chance it can to make women feel fat is a mystery - after all, it's not as if they're in cahoots with the diet pill people.

  3. @ Melissa: I remember you writing about the sizing of wedding dresses--I was surprised. At first I was all, Why would companies want women to feel larger than they normally do? But the more I thought about it the less peeved I was--vanity sizing is just ridiculous and goes to show how utterly arbitrary women's sizes are, and how dangerous that can be given what some women invest in being a size [whatever]. My guess is that wedding dresses are sticking to the actual pattern sizes that were standardized mid-century--so, say, a woman with a 28-inch waist would wear a size 8 trousers regardless of the manufacturer. It's still arbitrary (why size 8?? Why not 28, like men's pants are sized?) but at least it's standard, so there's not as much particular investment in being a certain size. If that IS the case then maybe it's one small touch of grace the wedding dress industry is giving--brides-to-be are already trying on a zillion dresses, why make them fuss to find the size? (I would much rather go to the fitting room with a larger size that FITS than have to make trips back to the floor because suddenly I'm a small size because the company thinks that'll make me buy more clothes.)

  4. @Clare: Thank you! I'm enjoying reading your blog, btw.

  5. I had actually postulated myself that wedding dresses may be adhering to older sizing scales. Which is like, OK, whatever. However, the dresses among various companies are not uniform in size, so they're not really conforming to an inches = size system. Plus, most of these companies have been around for ten years or less, so I'd like to know what their excuse is. Women know what size they are in TODAY'S sizes, not sizes that were phased out in the 60s. But what really irks me about it is that once you get into the teens, the dresses cost more. So if I'm normally a 12 but have to order a size 16 because the dresses are tiny, and then they're going to charge me extra for being a "plus size", well I just call that a load of crap.

  6. @melissa: A load of crap indeed! Every so often someone will make a lame-o justification for "plus" sizes costing more because it uses more fabric, which is ridiculous because oftentimes we're talking about A) not much more fabric, and B) cheap fabric (in the case of sportswear). I guess wedding dresses are using better fabric, but the justification is totally off-base -- and in any case, yeah, they want to jack it up. Maybe they figure that if they up-size their sizing then they'll have some sort of "reason" for a totally average-sized woman having to wear a "plus" size and pay more? Ugh.

  7. I think every thing what we get must to be with glamour, the elegance and the style always going to give a great image to every one.
    Actually i went to a hotel with my boyfriend, he usually buy viagra so his sexual development is wonderful, but i was impressive for the glamour of the place, absolutely beautiful.