Friday, January 13, 2012

Fat Girl's Revenge

The cat swallows the canary

In an effort to change current marketing practices and shift the bias of popular culture that favors slim over round, Plus Model Magazine recently featured an editorial titled "Plus Size Models, What Is Wrong With Them Anyway?" Lots of persuasive statistics were included, like, did you know that the average model weighs 23% less than the average woman or that 50% of women are a size 14 or larger, but the average clothing store carries only sizes 14 and smaller?

Actually, I could have told you that without doing the research, cause I'm a fat girl and there's nowhere for me to shop--unless I go to a freak store that caters only to sizes 14+--and my shape has never remotely resembled that of a store mannequin or the girls I see in ads.  God forbid I should wander by accident into Chico's or Anthropologie--the staff look the other way as I pretend to walk resolutely to the jewelry section...where their lovely bracelets, by the way, won't go over my fists.

While I support Plus Model Magazine's campaign to "[celebrate] the plus size fashion, beauty and plus size modeling industries, [inspire] you to thrive in your curves, crave contemporary fashion and design your life on your own terms, sans apologies," I can't help but question the semiotics of their photo spread.  (Excuse me, but why is a fashion magazine using nude models to justify its existence--or does asking make me a prude?)

Let's start with the photo above, in which a beautiful Russian model proudly displays her back rolls--the same rolls that cause most of us heavy women acute shame--while embracing a painfully thin girl. I like nudity and sapphic embrace as much as anyone, but where is the thin girl's face?  Why does the heavy girl seem to be devouring rather than embracing?

I'm not fooled by their caption, "Changing society's view will not happen overnight.  We are all responsible for helping to make this change.  Embrace the uniqueness of you and appreciate your body."  Big Girl is not cuddling; Big Girl is just getting ready to eat Thin Girl for breakfast.  I've observed this behavior in my cat Pablo, who often grooms his prey prior to striking.

She's too thin:  but there's always my red stiletto
I'm fat, I'm opinionated, I'm passionate, yes; but I'm not butch.  Why do I have to lead the dance just cause I'm taller or fatter?  Why is thin (or emaciated) considered feminine? Because Thin Girl looks fragile and in need of a pair of meaty arms just to hold her upright, and Big Girl looks healthy?  (Let's face it, Big Girl ain't even that big--and where's our trademark cellulite, aren't we celebrating that?)  The caption here reads, "Most runway models meet the Body Mass Index physical criteria for anorexia."  A more honest caption might be, "Hump this, you skinny bitch!"



It's dishonest.  Why do fat girls always have to point at thin girls and cry out,  "Anorexic!" Bitter, bitter fat girls, we are.  (The girl in the picture looks ill, but many thin models look toned and beautiful.)  I, for one, would have liked to see Adam Levine's gorgeous Russian-supermodel girlfriend nude-wrestling with Big Girl (Adam could stay, if he liked).  Then we'd level the playing field and show two different kinds of beauty.  (Not so different, really. They're both tall, blond and Russian--they could be twins--it's just one's skinny and one's not.)  Aren't these photos and the whole focus on health a little dishonest and don't they distract from the real point, which is that beauty comes in many different forms? We must certainly allow each other our personal preferences; but while we're at it, let the fashion industry generate beautiful clothing tailored to the vast number of more generously proportioned consumers--as if all of us are actually worthy of beauty!   Hmmm, I used the word consumers. What did I mean by that? Hungry, gluttonous, wanton, demanding fatties?

And here's another point.  Fat jokes and teasing are painful in a way that a lot of other kinds of prejudiced remarks are not.  When I'm Black or Asian, female or handicapped, that's just how it is. But when I'm fat, I'm personally responsible for "the offense":  I have no willpower, I'm ugly because I have no willpower, I'm a lazy slob, I'm dumb, I don't care how I look, my personal hygiene is questioned, my sexuality is an embarrassment and an affront, and I invite ridicule. No, I'm not suggesting that discrimination against fatties is worse than racial or religious or any other discrimination, not playing who's-the-bigger-victim ('bigger', get it?), I'm just pointing out a unique dimension of the Fat Experience, which is the accusation that we're responsible for bringing shame and dishonor on ourselves, a pox be upon us.)

Hang on, I really don't have willpower and I am kind of lazy--but I'm not dumb or unclean and I do care about my appearance.  (Why else would I hide my extra chin in every profile pic?) Never mind.

I know three morbidly obese women (and two men) who have opted for gastric bypass surgery.  As far as I know, all five are satisfied with the results.  One of my best friends is obese and takes daily medication for diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. She won't consider surgery because she understands the value of good nutrition, daily exercise, journaling and self-awareness, and consequently believes deep down that she should lose the weight on her own, powered by her intelligence and will. (As if bingeing is rational.)  She believes that eventually her willpower will prevail--and, if not, she deserves whatever she gets cause it's her own fault.  I guess I feel the same way.  But you do the math.  We're middle aged and we've been fat for, give or take, most of our lives, so how likely is it we'll make ourselves slim and fit?




Being a tall, voluptuous size 14 or 16 is fine, but I wonder if Plus Model Magazine has medium-height size 24s?  It sounds nice to celebrate all shapes and sizes, but guess what? It hurts to be a medium-height size 24:  joints ache, you can't tie your shoes (unlike our ersatz Big Girl, above), you're chronically out of breath and you sweat a lot.  Let's be honest, we don't want to be teased or unfairly judged, but we fat women and men want to look better--yes, thinner!--and feel better.

This fat girl's revenge is not to have a curvier model posing as a dominatrix engaged in softcore porn with an anorexic.  It's not to say fat is beautiful or thin is ugly.  This fat girl doesn't happen to think that pretending obesity is beautiful with marketing strategies will convince anyone it's true.  This fat girl's revenge is to declare that most fat girls don't, in fact, enjoy being fat and we don't want to embrace obesity, nor do we want to be fat models, we just want to be seen for who we are, not merely as fat people.

Perhaps the sexiest characteristic a person can have isn't a tight butt or a trim waistline but confidence.  Not arrogance, just that wickedly attractive sense of worthiness, as well as the humility to poke fun at oneself.  But you can't take a picture of that or weigh it on a scale.

[This was published in Elephant Journal in slightly different form.  It was met with a lot of criticism from readers who found it offensive to heavier women.  I'm happy to report that there were some readers who were relieved to have my point of view expressed.  Most interesting--and to me the most moving--are the positive responses from women who are thin or extremely thin, whose struggle with their body image is, in many ways, more marginalized than the problems of heavier women.]

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