Are Plus-Sized Models Really Such A Big Deal?

According to Page Six, Glamour will feature a number of plus-sized models in the buff in the November issue. The risqué layout is an apparent response to the tremendous feedback Glamour received in the wake of Lizzie Millergate.

Along the models photographed for the upcoming issue:
Kate Dillon
Jennie Runk
Amy Lemons (Hmmm...this can’t be right. Anyone have any ideas if this model is actually “plus”? Size 6?)
Crystal Renn  (You may also recognize her from this well-know ad.) 
Ashley Graham 
Anansa Sims (with mom Beverly Johnson)

Kate Harding has written an excellent blog on the subject over at Jezebel - I urge you to check it out. The gist of it, though, is this: Harding is torn about elevating magazines that feature “plus-sized” models as examples of “real women” because, well, because of all those quotations marks and what they represent. Plus models aren’t really all that big compared to the average US woman. Furthermore, not all “real women” are curvy or big. We come in all shapes and sizes, from teeny and thin to ripped and athletic to overweight and obese. Add to that the fact that, as Harding writes, “plus models are still models. They're still tall, well-proportioned, clear-skinned, shiny-haired, able-bodied and usually white, on top of only being ‘fat’ relative to size 0s. The standard is basically the same as it always was, just notched up to a somewhat more common range of dress sizes — which is to say, the standard is still impossible for most of us to meet.”

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, Harding’s take on this topic has revolutionized my way of thinking about plus-sized models. I’m usually the first one to jump on the blog and start scream-typing about how wonderful it is that a Size 12 model has been featured in a mainstream magazine, usually saying something like “THIS is what real women look like! Hooray!” But in my haste to pat inclusive editors on their backs (which, of course, they deserve for portraying a range of beautiful body types), I’ve been hypocritical. Not all women are large or curvy. I am not large nor exceptionally curvy. I’m 5’10” and about 140 lbs. In truth, I probably look more like the models I rally against for being thin than I do the Size 14 models I applaud. And I’m a real woman, too! I need to remember that ladies of all shapes and body types read magazines and we all crave the opportunity to see ourselves represented in a real and honest way (ie not Photoshopped into caricatures.) It does feel good to open a magazine and see a woman who looks like this or this but it also feels good to see women who look like this or this which is probably more what I resemble anything. (Scary-thin pics of models are different – those portray unhealthy-looking bodies which don’t often exist in nature without the woman drastically restricting her calories.)

As long as we’re on this topic of portraying women, size-be-damned, in a real way, check out these photos of plus model Crystal Renn in Harper’s Bazaar Australia, May 2009. Pay close attention to the last one, which clearly shows cellulite on the model’s thighs. My God, this picture makes me feel like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. So many pics of plus-sized models show them, as Harding mentioned, with zero cellulite – they’re just like bigger versions of lithe models, their skin stretched taut across their 45-inch hips. Pics of Renn usually show her looking like this which we now can see have been heavily airbrushed. Please understand, I am NOT dissing Renn in any way. She has done more than her fair share to give us an inside look at the horrors of the modeling industry (If you’re interested in Renn’s story of going from starving, eating disordered model to full-figured fashionista, check out her new book Hungry  – I read it in about two days and enjoyed it.) I’m just saying, even plus-size models are heavily distorted to look “more attractive.” That, and I’ve finally had my eyes opened to the notion that we needn’t bash naturally slim (or strong, or heavy, or busty) models for looking how they do. Rallying against a Size 6 model doesn’t make me valiant or noble or confident; supporting my fellow woman, no matter what she looks like, does.

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