Saturday, November 6, 2010

Size Matters.

In primary school, a teacher once called my mother to school & after a few warm-up questions, asked if she was feeding me properly.  I still marvel at her audacity/courage/cluelessness/ignorance.  Luckily for her, Mum chose to laugh it off.

I grew up skinny and with having it commented on for about the first 30 years of my life.  Most people refrain on commenting on how overweight someone is to their face but for some reason the gloves come off for the underweight.  Of course, these comments would often try to disguise themselves as concern that I might suffer from some kind of eating disorder but without ever really managing to pull it off.  I would reply that I am half-Asian and might sometimes casually but spitefully add that we can't all be built like farm girls.  This all made me extremely self-conscious and insecure about my body.  In a particularly ironic twist, considering the damage she is said to have inflicted on the body image of so many young women at the time, things changed in a dramatic way for me when I turned a magazine page & feasted my eyes on a Calvin Klein ad featuring a young naked Kate Moss.  I was transfixed.  Not just at that face, but at every part of her.  I sat there, comparing, feeling relief and delight wash over me.  Her breasts were smaller than mine!  Yet she was undoubtedly a vision.  And that's when I realised there was nothing wrong with me.  That I was healthy and proportional.  That I didn't have to measure up to some agreed upon ideal of being blond, white with big tits.  That there are many different kinds of beauty and none so powerful as the beauty in deciding not to hate the vessel that carries your big beautiful brain around.  

Skinny models have been a big bone of contention in the media in the last few years.  And I have to say that I frequently gasp in shock, not pleasure, at the state of some of these young women.  I feel like I would know, better than most, the difference between someone who couldn't put weight on if they tried and someone who is starving themselves.  But the issue is two-fold:  the systemic abuse of these coat-hangers and the effect of this persistent message on "real" women and particularly impressionable young girls.  Fashion is an industry that has the tendency to focus these models solely on their external appearance, often making them feel like they have nothing else to offer.  And then endlessly criticising the 'one' thing they have going for them, so much so that apparently most models are unhappy with their appearance but certainly not because they feel they look like they could use a sandwich.  And while I think that whatever standard of beauty is in vogue will inevitably alienate some, we have definitely gone too far;  as is evidenced by how dumpy the sight of a beautiful woman, who has not been almost photoshopped out of existence, looks to us now in a magazine.  And the fact that despite the three waves of feminism, women hate ourselves more than ever & many of our young ones are starving, slowly killing, themselves.

Actually the issue of skinny models is three-fold.  No-one protests against the protests more than designers.  (Though not all feel that way.)  Protesting that these girls are naturally skinny & avoiding the question of why they are deeming it necessary to use younger and younger girls (some of whom haven't even finished growing yet) to sell clothing to adult women.  Protesting that their clothes won't look good walking down the runway on anything other than the abnormally skinny.  Which is hardly a ringing endorsement of the skills of the designers themselves.  Essentially they are saying that if you have an inch of fat, their clothes will show up your every flaw.  Which, for the most part, can't really be true.  And no-one's really suggesting that the current crop of models all be replaced by the plus-size variety.  (Though some in the pro-emaciated camp seem to have a somewhat skewed view of what plus-size means exactly.)  So the answer to me is for us to throw down the gauntlet and challenge the fashion world to embrace variety being the spice of life and to show us that they can design clothes that we want to wear because they make us look and feel good.

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