We told you all about how much positive response Glamour magazine has received from readers for the image of a nude plus-size model featured in the September issue. Lizzie Miller has since appeared on “Today” and copies of the magazine are selling out. Catherine wondered whether the overwhelmingly positive response would result in magazines, and the fashion industry, finally recognizing that beauty comes in a variety of shapes and sizes and that they would start featuring more models like Miller on a regular basis. The Sartorialist’s Scott Schuman wrote on his blog, “When I am shooting on the street older women and larger size women often say ‘no’ to my request to shoot them…. I think they have a real suspicion about how the image will be used. I also think there continues to be a growing disconnect between the fashion community and ‘average’ women in general.”
If a recent blog post from “style expert and bon vivant” Adrien Field is any indication, we still have a long way to go. Field says that Miller is not normal-sized — actually, she’s “fat” and needs to step away from the Big Mac — and doesn’t understand why she’s being idolized. “I understand the impulse some women have to laud ‘normal’ bodies as beautiful, but why?” he writes. “Do we claim an average song to be a masterpiece? Is Milli Vanilli on the same plane as Mozart or even Madonna? This woman is pretty, don’t get me wrong, but I think fashion exists to fulfill a fantasy. I am frankly sick of the politically correct women seeking to make an idol over any woman that looks like she hasn’t been to the gym since No Doubt was on the Billboard 100.”
Field’s analogy is absurd and offensive because it assumes that the only body types that qualify to be “masterpieces” are those that fit within a very thin range. A true master like, say, Botticelli, would likely disagree. Never mind the fact that comparing body size to the musical accomplishments of Mozart is completely nonsensical. It should be noted that Field is a spritely little fellow and has likely never had to watch his diet at all. Though he may be in the “masterpiece” weight range, at a teensy 5’3, he’s still mighty flawed.
Sure, to a certain degree fashion is absolutely about fantasy. I still read Vogue even though I would and could never spend the enormous sums designers charge for their clothes. But fashion is also about function — we all have to wear clothes and, ideally, we’d all love to feel sexy, cute, and comfortable in what we’ve got on. Fashion cannot and should not be just for the elite — or the “masterpieces,” according to Field — because you need the masses to make money and if the success of this issue of Glamour is any indication, women will spend more when they feel good about themselves.
But this isn’t really about fashion or clothes, is it? It’s about the messages being sent to women about what is beautiful. For a long time now, that definition has been narrow and the results have been more devastating and far reaching than Field could possibly know. I find it interesting that Field says that the positive coverage of Miller’s photo is “endemic of our culture where over-consumption is encouraged,” because it’s clear the only consumption he’s referring to is of food. Over-consumption of food — which people actually need in order to live — is bad, but over-consumption of, say Restylane for your lips, fur for your back, and fad diets for your ignorant pie-hole — three of Field’s favorite things — are good? Field’s reaction to Miller’s photo is endemic of something far more revolting — how utterly shallow, out-of-touch, wasteful, and narrow-minded our culture can be.