Can we all just step off the scale for one second?
Chinese calendars may tout 2010 as the Year of the Tiger, but in fashion circles -- from V Magazine to Mark Fast to Vogue Curvy to French Elle -- it's undoubtedly the Year of the Curves. Voluptuous, plus-size bodies have been front and center over the past several months -- and the backlash has been as intense as the adulation.
This week alone, we saw fashion blogger Garance Dore dismiss plus-size models as "not really physically healthy and not always flattering to fashion." Meanwhile, Calvin Klein designer Francisco Costa was celebrated for banning size zero models. Kim Kardashian did her part by baring her famous curves in an unairbrushed photo shoot for Harper's Bazaar.
But the biggest plus-size debate is happening over in Television Land, where Lane Bryant accused execs at Fox and ABC of double standards after allegedly censoring the retailer's lingerie commercial featuring plus-size model Ashley Graham, while a steamier Victoria's Secret ad got the green light.
Though semi-provocative (it's a girl in her underwear, for crying out loud!), the Lane Bryant ad showed nothing that anyone who's seen a weigh-in on "The Biggest Loser" hasn't glimpsed before; meanwhile the Victoria's Secret The Nakeds ad stars flat-tummied Angels in nude-toned bras writhing like they're auditioning for a Whitesnake video.
Like we said, it's been a busy week.
Where does that leave the rest of us?
In the middle of nowhere, apparently. Let's face it -- our culture worships the image of a slim (but curvy where it counts), bikini-clad Audrina Patridge gorging on a Carl's Jr. burger.
Neither size zero nor plus-size models fit in with this ideal, and thus they both get bashed. We imagine that one has never seen a burger in her life, while the other has never turned one down in her life.
On the other hand, being photographed without retouching -- especially if your cellulite and bulge are minimal -- is celebrated, because it goes back to Patridge chowing down on that burger.
People see it as being naturally fit and gorgeous, yet open, honest, and down-to-earth. It's like when models pick on their "figure flaws" in interviews. It's "real." It's human. It's also part of the fantasy.
Just take a look at Victoria's Secret's recent Body for Everybody, Love Your Body campaign, which promoted a line of smooth bras designed for sizes 32A - 40DD. It's a great slogan, yet not one single model defined the "everybody" look -- unless "everybody" is a pocket-sized supermodel with rock-hard abs.
StyleList has covered a lot of body-image topics lately, and the reader comments tend to fall into two categories: the "real women have curves" camp, and the "skinny defense" camp. By "skinny defense," we don't mean pro-skinny, let's-all-starve-ourselves people. We mean readers who point out that it's possible to be naturally skinny without being unhealthy (thanks to a high metabolism), and that women shouldn't be deemed "real" simply because they have curves.
Which brings up an interesting point: Why do we need to pit these two body types against each other? We get up in arms when people like fashion designer Rosemary Masic attack plus-size figures as unhealthy, because having curves doesn't necessarily mean that one is morbidly obese.
Yet, by that same logic, shouldn't we be less quick to judge size zero models who may be naturally skinny and as healthy as the next girl?
"I've worked in advertising and I've recovered from an eating disorder -- that Lane Bryant ad is a breath of fresh air, especially in the lingerie category," Erin Matson, Action Vice-President for the National Organization for Women, tells StyleList.
"That said, it's not fair to pit models against each other. Some women are naturally thin and they shouldn't be made to feel guilty for it. NOW's Love Your Body campaign continues to be incredibly popular with women of all shapes and sizes because we celebrate healthy self-images for everyone."
Research, too, has done its best to pit large girls against thin ones. As StyleList previously reported, a recent study from Arizona State University claimed that plus-size models made women feel bad about themselves, as opposed to aspirational thin models.
But is that because of the curves or because our culture is so programmed to find slim bodies attractive that we react against anything that doesn't fit into that pretty little box?
Perhaps the answer is, rather than celebrating one body type over another -- heroin chic vs. plus size -- we simply focus on embracing all body types, period. No more desegregation. No more "special issues." Just, you know, real life, real bodies.
According to the LA Times, in 2009 the average American woman weighed 162.9 pounds and wore a size 14 -- definitely curvy, and definitely a signal that retailers, designers, and fashion magazines should be more accommodating to larger sizes.
Of course, "averages" always mean that some fall below and some fall higher on the size scale -- so those women who happen to be more petite or more voluptuous should get some face time too.
There should be more blurring, more integration. Perhaps, for that reason, "vanity sizing" isn't such a horrible thing. Maybe it democratizes things for some people. The use of larger mannequins, such as the ones in London's Debenhams, is a positive step forward. And even the unretouched trend -- so long as one of these days we actually get a glimpse of real flab -- is helping to bridge the gap between skinny and fat.
Hopefully these things are all driving toward a more realistic, less black-and-white fashion outlook. And once that happens, we'll see what we can do about that whole world peace thing.
What do you think? What does a "real" woman look like to you? Leave a comment.
Meanwhile, check out a Debenhams campaign starring models of all sizes.