Wednesday, January 6, 2010

On The Plus Size

I like liberated bodies, I like the liberation of bodies, I like to liberate bodies - and that is why I hate this story from V magazine.

The idea is to spotlight plus size supermodels and hold them up as some sort of sartorial "fat is beautiful" Aesop's fable. All very worthy I'm sure, but in no way charming, original, exciting, provocative or beautiful AT ALL. The whole spread strikes a tone somewhere between joyless social responsibility and a patronizingly cheery insistence that fat people can be just like thin people too! We can all look the same if we just try hard enough to erase any trace of difference.

Homogenity is not beauty, lover.

Taking a group of curvy ladies and subjecting them to the same processes of mortification (and don't these women all look weirdly wayx?) that every fashion editorial requires, does not by any means reverse or even examine the all consuming body fascisms of the age. Rather it posits the curvaceous babes as this season's quirky, quasi-political concern. Plus size models are cropping up here there and everywhere it's true (on Gaultier's runway, and the cover of Love magazine), but not just as par for the course, not just in amongst the other statuesque beauties in shows and shoots, but always as a special kind of oddity, rare, special, at arm's length.

Furthermore, isn't there some horrible insistence amongst all of this, some pernicious justification that fashion is not just for the terminally thin - that fat people can buy it too? In times of global economic catastrophe, new markets no matter how ludicrous must be prised open. The paradox of the whole dreary spread (and really denim can only ever be dreary) is that it in fact doubles back on itself and undermines itself entirely, by proving how elitist high fashion is thanks to the pitiful selection of clothes on parade. Do any of the pieces tie in with the big fashion stories of the moment? At a push the leopard leotard does, but the rest have a woeful air of desperation about them. You can pratically hear Formechetti wail, "There must be SOMETHING these girls fit into!" before half-heartedly turning back to pile of the Guess Jeans.

The heavy hitters of fashion (and this in not a justification) simply don't make clothes for bigger bodies, designers work to a very certain set of lines and these models highlight that. (As a stylist in a previous life I had more than my fair share of moments squeezing models who could never be considered fat into sample sizes that were seemingly made for two-dimensional projections). So instead of creating a celebration of voluptuous curves or a saturnalia of flesh, what we have on the pages of V is in fact a reinforcment of the accepted belief that thin is in.

There's no suggestion that big is beautiful in her own right, but rather a lack-lustre whimper that fat girls can be cute too. "Too", as in "also", as in "in addition to", as in "a secondary (less attractive) option". The story doesn't encourage us to throw off our clothes and love the skin we're in does it? No, it simply offers the cold comfort that if you aren't whip thin there's still a modicum of hope for you if you act/dress/think thin.

Please. The radical thing about being fat (like being gay/black/disabled/trans or any other variety of freak) is that you don't have to play by the rules. From outside the walled city of Jericho, non-normative beauties can make their own rules since they are permitted the glorious insight that they will never be Giselle (or even Candice Huffine) and frankly that's no bad thing. Freed from the spider's web of conventional good looks, of trying to be something one is not and hating herself for it, the world, the wardrobe and the dressing table become the flaming creature's playground. This is an amazing advantage, a freedom to enjoy whilst the rest of the world slave away under the false hope that if they go on eating less and buying more, they might just be transformed through the powers of some mysterious commercial alchemy into a paragon of gorgeousness. But of course, that never happens. The only way to be beautiful, is to be beautiful, it's in our own hands. I am therefore I am, so to speak.

How I wish V had the intelligence to run a shoot with some genuinely interesting busty babes working their own, ingenious looks. When bodies are outside the boundaries of "normal beauty" (what an oxymoron) then their owners have to think, to actively engage in dressing and presenting them to the world. The higher you get into the digits of fashion, the more is required of you if you want to shine in your apparel. This is a good thing. It's far to easy to be a size eight, roll up to Top Shop and buy one of everything.

And so, here is a selection of some of my all time favourite bigger beauties.


Sue Tilley

Dirty Martini


Jennifer Holliday


World Famous Bob

Beth Ditto

Dame Jayne


Well look at that! The universe has ears, and good taste! With thanks to for this preview of the aforementioned Dirty Martini in V by Lagerfeld. Is this Kaiser reconsidering his outspoken and unpopular views on "fat Mummys"? Here's hoping?

Dirty Martini for V Magazine. (Work Mary!)


holly fluxx said...

fucking awesome post, so glad you wrote this. ps. i'm holly, oliver of the sky's partner x x xx

La JohnJoseph said...

Hi Holly,
Thanks for commenting, I'm so glad you're into the post! Give my love to Oliver he's an incredible creature. X

Phoebe said...

Great post. So agreed on denim.

La JohnJoseph said...

I ought to make you a moderator Phoebe!

Evildan said...

Loved the post, its a brilliantly considered argument, I also loved the ladies at the end, bar one.

Beth Ditto is undoubtedly an amazing musician but shes not a fat lady, she's a morbidly obese lady, and the celebration of her size is just as unhealthy a statement to make as the celebration of Posh Spice's borderline (if not actually) malnourished frame.

Maybe Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) would have been a better suggestion, not that shes fat, shes a perfectly healthy, normal weight/shape for a woman, and is uttterly stunning. said...

Evildan how do you know what constitutes 'fat' vs. 'morbidly obese'? This is not about the individual BMIs of these women-- it's about how to celebrate and locate the intersection of actual fat women and mass-media and fashion.

Beth Ditto is a really wonderful media icon because she is entirely real. She has not been scrubbed clean and photoshopped (like the women in V magazine). Beth does not just wear denim. She wears whatever she likes, and sometimes it looks cute and sometimes it doesn't look cute, but she's not disguising her body. Ditto matters b/c she's not beautify "in spite of" the fact that she's fat-- it's an obvious focal point, it's part of her look because that's how her body is and has always been.

and I think that's great.

La JohnJoseph said...

This post is not about the health implications of body shape (that has to be determined on a personal level not on the www) but rather it's a discussion on how insidiously commerce (in collaboration with pop culture/fashion/ads) tries to convert a radical/non-conformist existence into a convicing arguement for its own existence.

But yes, Christina Hendricks is a total fox; I hope I look like her when I grow up.

Anonymous said...

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

They're all gorgeous.

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

pam said...

awesome post. awesome.

MarieDenee said...


La JohnJoseph said...

Well, this was a popular post wasn't it? I'm glad everyone got so involved.