Watching the proliferation of larger women in ads, posts and articles over the last several years has been like watching a really bad reality TV show. I should know being a bad reality TV show aficionado.
I live in two schools of thought around the supposed movement toward size acceptance in our society: ‘wow, I wish this had happened twenty years ago’; and, ‘wow, what the hell are they trying to manipulate everyone into believing?’
On most days, I lean toward: ‘wow, what the hell…?’
What we see is not any move toward size or shape acceptance. What we see is an attempt by big business and its massive consumer audience to make anyone beyond a size 12 (or “plus”) “ok”. If larger people can be remade in society’s definition, they can garner the approval of the masses. If they still don’t fit, oh well.
This doesn’t mean the larger-sized women we see aren’t beautiful or more representative of another demographic who wasn’t necessarily catered to before – but the identified plus models I see now, even in and for larger magazines, are simply larger versions of what society has decided is “ok”. For now. They are, in many cases, the voluptuous mirror images of their typical runway counterparts. They are also often hyper-sexualized. So, in being more OK, it’s also more OK to strip them down in lingerie and parade them around as a show of acceptance.
I can’t. I just can’t.
My version of being “plus-sized” (note that this label didn’t exist years ago; I was generally just fat) has always included fat thighs, arms and a stomach. Cellulite. And, over the last several years, sagging skin from weight loss. Let me be clear: my version of what society wants to label me is NOT anything I see in a magazine or social media, and yet I consider myself attractive. I’m tall (5’9), good-looking (DNA), and have a decent physique (combination of DNA + working out). I do not have giant boobs or a giant butt. I’m pear-shaped with strong legs and (I’d say) a cute-yet-average-sized butt. The women splashed across the glossy pages of the acceptable plus-sized world are typically brick houses. They aren’t representative, I would argue, of most women who would fall into the plus-sized, larger, or fat categories. In effect, they fit a sexual ideal for all the non-skinny women:
She’s a brick house She’s mighty mighty just lettin’ it all hang out She’s a brick house The lady’s stacked and that’s a fact Ain’t holding nothing back
She’s a brick house Well put together everybody knows This is how the story goes
She knows she got everything That a woman needs to get a man Yeah, yeah How can she lose with the stuff she use 36-24-36, oh what a winning hand…
I don’t think the models I’m talking about all embody these exact measurements – though they definitely meet the proportion (and the blatancy of a patriarchal society affirming that they have what they “need” to get a man – that’s an entirely separate post). And, whether people understand this or not, proportion is another measure of how we consider people attractive in society (in fact, it’s been studied). The proportion of the attractive Gap model is simply translated to a woman with a larger frame – with an emphasis on/exaggeration of T & A. Yep, I said it.
Repeatedly telling women that they need to look a certain way continues to be a sad and dangerous slippery slope toward self-loathing and body-shaming. Likewise, telling women that they are the current definition of “ok” is ALSO dangerous for about a million reasons. We’ve reached the zenith of a society obsessed with women’s bodies. While all women should be considered beautiful, it’s wholly unfair to further identify – and stratify – an already marginalized group by giving them a closer means of comparison and saying: “hi, you’re still not good enough; you’ll still never live up to our ideal.” Imagine it this way:
Historically, there has always been a narrow classification of woman that society finds physically acceptable or beautiful. That classification lives with the TV stars, recording artists and (new) Hollywood brat pack set. It always has. But now there’s a whole other classification for larger women to stare at and think: WTF. She (Lane Bryant model) may be larger than her (let’s say, Gap model), but I still can’t really identify with her. Who do the “plus” women who have smaller boobs, larger arms, larger chests, smaller or no behinds, skinny legs, fatter faces (this list is absolutely not as exhaustive as it could be)… who do they look to for any frame of reference? The fact is that they don’t have many, if any, active examples of ok-ness (like them). And this places them (a huge proportion of the population, I’m sure) even further down the pyramid as far as being acceptable. They are clearly not seen as ok. The modern movement toward how we consider weight, size, shape and acceptance has become, in many ways, another vehicle for female- and fat-shaming.
Brick House lyrics. Retrieved from http://www.bing.com/search?q=brickhouse+lyrics&src=IE-TopResult&FORM=IETR02&pc=WCUG&conversationid=