Fashion is a contentious and strange cultural beast to wrestle with — its idealizing of the female shape is the source of much dieting, disordered eating and insecurity, but it’s an economic powerhouse that is dominated by women as well. It’s difficult for me to reconcile fashion’s simultaneously destructive and creative capacity.
So it piqued my interest when I saw photos from V Magazine’s “Size Issue,” which hit stands last week. It’s one of contradictions; One series, titled “One Size Fits All,” invites comparison between two models — “straight-size” model Jacquelyn Jablonski and former-model-turned-plus-size model Crystal Renn are photographed in the same clothes and poses. An editorial titled “Curves Ahead” stars four plus-size models, while “V Love U Just The Way U R” features bigger and older gals, gender-ambiguous, men and minorities.
The whole issue sounds a lot like an after-school special: We love you — you average woman that measures size 12 — even with your lumps, bumps, creases and cellulite. Perhaps, however, what the rest of us need is not a condescending pat on the head in a single, solitary magazine issue, but some acknowledgement that the fashion world is out of step with reality, and perhaps an act of contrition by changing that.
Rightly or wrongly, magazines and designers are influencers on women’s psyches and sartorial choices — and as the saying goes, with power comes responsibility. Size 0 models shouldn’t be mandated to pack on the pounds, but they should reflect the breadth (some wider than others) of our hips, our butts and our breasts. The fashion industry does itself a disservice by not reflecting a range of body types — in fact, a 2006 British study found that average-sized models were just as effective at selling products as their skinny counterparts.
The whole thing draws similarities to Vogue Italia’s “all-black” issue in July 2008. In the months since, there hasn’t been a spike in black models on covers or runways, which makes me wonder: Are these inclusive gestures as token as the models they choose? And why bother integrating them into the fashion world, if all they’re going to do is highlight how different they are?
As long as “plus-size” models are ghettoized in a special “Size Issue” and made an exception to the rule, the fashion industry and the women that follow it will never get over their complex of seeing fat as an aberration.