There’s a big stink in the media these days. A cold wind is blowing through the hallowed halls of something many people have taken for granted, if they’ve known about it at all, but – it”s a big stink in two words.
We’re not talking about brain cells (although with some of the comments from fashion luminaries, you might call that into question), or the shrinkage of the polar ice caps, but something far less consequential, and far more influential, in the minds of far too many – women.
Size zero is an artificial construct invented by manufacturers of women’s clothing to, so decrees official dogma, accommodate the needs of women who were too thin to fit into the smallest previous size, previously called size 4. It was created in those halcyon days of obvious consumer spending and It bags, and sure enough, before long, there were entire armies of Size Zero declarees, heaving giant sighs of relief – if they weren’t heaving up their dinners – that finally, they were able to find something that – fit. It wasn’t long before other scandals started appearing – the notable shrinkage of several celebrities, the likewise notable skrinkage of catwalk models, and worst of all, the death of several models to anorexia. This, in turn, led to banning models with a BMI of less than 18 (which is still technically underweight) in certain countries, and just last week, in an unprecedented move, the German fashion magazine Brigitte made an editorial decision to no longer feature professional models, but – the horror! – real – women. The art department had grown awfully tired of having to retouch boobs and butts on models that had neither, just so they could look – human.
Naturally, such an august personage as Kaiser Karl (Lagerfeld), chief designer for Fendi, Chanel and his own eponymous brand and Grand Pooh Bah Arbiter Non Plus Ultra of all things fashionable, had to wade into that debacle and provide his immortal 20,000€ (per word) opinions. “Of course real women hate models. They’re all a bunch of fat mummies who sit on their sofas eating potato chips in front of their televisions.”
Note the context. Real. Women. Fat. Mummies. Eating. (the very idea!) Potato chips. The sum entire of all things repellant – and repulsive – to his mind.
Well, even the former Duchess of Windsor said it – one cannot be too rich – or too thin.
The problem is, fashion has always been an aspirational business. It’s not about what you, Ms. Ordinaire, can do, or at least can Look As If – not at all.
It’s what You Can Aspire To. Since the 1920s, the – fashionable – ideal has gravitated toward the tall, the long-waisted and long-limbed ectomorphic, unattainable by just about every means at our disposal even today – unless, of course, you’re born that way. Very few of us so-called “real” women are. And in a day and age where the Privileged West has a historical unpredecented access to any and all foodgroups imaginable, where obesity and Type 2 diabetes are increasingly becoming commonplace industrial-world diseases, the whole size issue is revealing quite a lot about what lies behind it.
Control, and the lack thereof. If you have control of your own bestial appetites, if you watch what you eat, if you exercise like a maniac and work at your looks like a dog, then – you’re OK. You’re – cool.
If not, if Black Forest cake turns you on, and eating it in bed with someone as uninhibited and bestial as yourself floats your boat, if you happen to think that life is too short to deny yourself all manner of sensual pleasures, then you are condemned and damned to be terminally, fatally unhip and uncool the rest of your days, unless – and sometimes, in spite of – whatever you simultaneously cultivate your interior as well, in which case, you might only be cool if you’re talented enough. A few short years ago, the lead singer of the band The Gossip, a defiantly Rubenesque Beth Ditto, was called “a fat pig”, to her face and by Kaiser Karl. who later rescinded and apologized – because, let’s face it, the lady has talent. Not only talent, but a very healthy amount of self esteem as well. She appeared on the cover, in all her naked glory, of a British music magazine and was plastered in billboards – likewise naked – all over London.
In a size zero age, that takes titanium ovaries, and titanium ovaries should always be applauded.
Another case, this one involving Ralph Lauren, has made a stink. One of his house models – used for several years running in all advertising campaigns, catalogs, lookbooks etc – had the nerve to complain that her photo had been retouched to absurdity. Her head was much larger than her waist. This was not the photo she remembered.
She was promptly fired for spilling the beans, on the grounds that she was now, at 27, “too old”.
Right. Which makes your truly something just above “fossil”.
The sinister thing, the scary thing, the thing that keeps me awake at night, is not that I shall never be a size zero, or even semi-close. What frightens me most is just how much the whole size debate/issue/debacle deflects and distracts from something far more disturbing. If you can’t get a woman’s goat on grounds of her intellect, her job status, her qualities as a human being – then, you at least have free reign and ditto license to call her – fat. Even if she isn’t. So long as she diverges even slightly from the “ideal” – go ahead – hit her, make her feel inadequate, make her sense her shortcomings, hit her where you know it hurts.
Anything to distract her from the sad and sorry fact that this is not an equal world, and anything to remind her that whatever else she accomplishes, whatever else she is, she is also – fat. And a woman.
The Cardinal Sin.
Evolutionary biology teaches us that attractiveness is all about sexual competition. It’s all about landing the best mate to propagate the species with. And this is where the controversy gets increasingly strange and contradictory.
In my 46+ years on planet Earth, 31 of which I have been, to a larger or lesser extent, sexually active, I have never, ever lived up to any idea of “fashionable”. I’m built like a V – my shoulders are wider than my hips, my bust is larger than my pelvis, and I’m one of the “lucky” ones who can carry up to 20 extra lbs without it being immediately apparent, at least to the casual observer. If I lose too much weight – which is to say, I approach the “normal” range of certain insurance company weight tables, people start asking me if I have some terminal disease. At my thinnest, I was a US size 8 below, size 10 or even 12 on top. Nothing even close to perfect.
Yet, in spite of it, or because of it, I’ve never had any problems with the opposite sex. On days I’ve felt like crap and looked the part to prove it, I’ve been propositioned by men a good deal younger than myself. On days I’ve made a definite effort, I’ve gotten no reactions at all, or at least, not the ones I wanted. So I came to realize that in the attraction stakes, what a man may define as “sexy” has less to do with “ideal” and much, much more to do with attitude.
My sister knows. She’s my polar opposite – a small, definite A. Even so, she somehow manages to exude her own brand of va-va-voom – not unlike Sophia Loren in her heyday (although they look nothing alike), and like Sophia, a Virgo – and even so, she’s not had trouble, either. She is also the most fashionable woman I know.
We know our limitations. We know we will never be anyone’s idea of size zero, unless you’re talking our computational skills after the second bottle of champagne. We know we live in the real world of Real Women, and we are very much looking forward to see what Brigitte – or other women’s magazines who are brave enough to buck the trend – will do to show just how beautiful we really are!
Even in those moments we’ve parked our post-baby Fat Mummy tracksuit bottoms in front of the TV to watch Disney movies with our progeny, eating potato chips.
Some people out there may loathe that particular ideal, of an Ingres odalisque sleeping in all her curvy splendor, but to many of us – and even to our men – that odalisque is a woman, and that is what a real woman looks like.
Kaiser Karl be damned!
Image: Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Ètude d’après la Dormeuse de Naples, 1839, V&A Museum, London