Monday, May 17, 2010

Six is the New Fourteen

Every so often some reporter writes an article citing research that showing that every woman in the Western World has a poor body image (except for Heidi Klum) and these articles and reports are all followed by much teeth gnashing and wailing from normal women and duplicitous and defensive rejoinders from fashion and advertising land. Researchers point out that even very young girls are worried about dieting, and the fashion industry counters with a model over size zero. (Look, she has flesh on her bones! It must be the token normal woman!) Remember when Stanley Tucci tells Andy that Six is the new fourteen? Didn't we all laugh in recognition?
Ma'am, do you have this in the next size up?
Saleslady: Sorry, we only carry sizes 1, 3, and 5. You could try Sears.
(SEARS! Oh the horror of that comment.)
I have had co-workers tell me that they were told in fashionable New York boutiques that, "we have nothing for you here." They were size 16. I wonder, how is that really any different than being told to leave because of their race or ethnicity?
When Thurgood Marshall argued before the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education, one of the studies his team cited was Clark's doll studies, which showed how African American children had developed feelings of inferiority that caused life-long and lasting damage. There were no pictures of children like them in textbooks or class materials. There were no dolls or toys that looked like them. They were always made to feel invisible and second-best.
Even now there aren't enough faces from different races and backgrounds in our media. I'm sure this has an effect.
Now flash forward to 2010. When you watch television, or look at a magazine, the majority of faces are young, slender and attractive. While you occasionally see a plump man on a sitcom, he is almost always paired with a younger, much hotter spouse. Notice on 24, how everyone at CTU is more attractive than the norm, and never even slightly overweight. In the movies the fat, plump loser guy always gets the hot skinny girl. There are very few movies that feature women over size zero, and even fewer that show women over thirty. If you don't have a strong self-image yourself, you certainly aren't going to see a reflection back from TV, movies or magazine ads. If you are in your forties and over size ten, you might as well be invisible.
The fashion people pay lip service to diversity, but they don't do much to achieve even token diversity. Take a look at Burda- how many models of color do you see? Not very many - they barely even include brunettes in some issues! You know that this is a real problem by the fuss that was made when Italian Vogue did an issue with all women of color. It was so unusual.
In a perfect world, we'd see magazine issues where every single model was not size zero. And I'd be happy if I never saw the term "plus size" again. To me that means that those sizes are outside the "normal" range of sizes. They are "extra", they are "different", in some stores they aren't even there. "Oh those sizes? those are available only on the website." Why is that? Do they think they will get size 14 cooties on the size zeroes? (I don't mean to pick on my size zero sisters. They have their problems too, Everything is too big and too long on them.)( A digression -I recently lost 40 plus pounds, but no matter - size 16 is still plus size to our fashion friends! And I don't think it would be humanly possible for me to ever be a size 0-6, I'd have to have surgery to remove some bones.)
A fellow blogger commented that it bothered her when she saw the ads that said that real women have curves, because she felt like she was just as real, even though she was curve-challenged.
Since both men and women come in a variety of shapes and sizes, it would be refreshing to see that variety reflected back at us in our media.
What examples of size discrimation have you seen? Do you think we can ever get beyond it?


Sophie Miriam said...

As someone who isn't large at all, I agree with the Selfish Seamstress. When someone says that real women have curves, they're implicitly or explicitly saying that I am not a real woman.

And it's not easy for me to find clothes, either, as you mentioned--I have very narrow shoulders and hips a good two or three sizes bigger.

I read an article once saying that studies have shown that "plus-sized" models being used in ads actually decreased a woman's self esteem if the woman was average or larger sized. I should see if I can dig that article up.


beangirl said...

(I could track down the references but I'm too lazy... suffice it to say this is a topic The Husband actually knows quite a bit about and I'm taking his word on the veracity of the following statement).

At the end of the Roman Empire, beauty became the height of social currency. The implication being that as societies decay, productive values (skills for instance) become less valuable than physical values (beauty).

In that respect, I find it really sort of depressing that in our country (and others as well) beauty has become the overwhelming standard of what is valuable. This seems to have been going on for about 50 years or so now (I'm not implying that beauty wasn't always important in some respect, only that it wasn't the MOST important, superceding, for example, intelligence or skill or wealth.)

Actually, the comparison of what makes women valuable today to, for example, what made a woman valuable in the 19th century might bear some examination. Seems to me that "beauty" was considered a woman's only valuable commodity in the days when women had little power over their own lives. How is it that these days this attitude of beauty as an only commodity is returning? Clearly this must have some implication for the position of women in our society today, but I'd have to do some actual thinking to make a decision about what exactly that is.

In a sort of related topic, I also find it highly interesting to see what is considered "beautiful" these days. Body shape seems to have completely surpassed facial features in standards of "beauty", which is an interesting turn of events. I'm not completely sure what initiated this change; I'm sure someone more qualified than me is doing a thesis on it as we speak. Although actually, thinking about the past, it's possible that it's simply related to the fact that these days bodies are significantly more uncovered than they used to be and therefore more likely to be a factor in beauty. Huh. Just thought of that. I had a long night, my brain's not totally on yet. Sorry if this is incoherent.

Henriette said...

I agree with you on pretty much everything, except for your view on the term "plus size". I do not think society should view very large sizes as a normal thing - for health reasons. So while it may be a bit uncomfortable to be "singled out" as plus sized it still serves as a reminder that one is out of the normal, healthy range. I am not writing this to offend anyone but hope we can all strive for the slender, strong, healthy body we deserve.

The Slapdash Sewist said...

There are million issues to discuss, but the double standard is one of the more frustrating ones to me personally. On men, gray hair and "cragginess" (i.e., wrinkles) are hot; on women, they are plagues. And you mentioned the fat slobby guy on TV always having a super-hot, younger wife. I have nothing more coherent to say than "ugh."

yummy supper said...

Great topic of discussion...
I owned a high-end clothing store and the sizing issue was very upsetting. I would buy every size a designer would make in order to accommodate all of my customers. Even so, a size "large" was often the equivalent of a size 6 or 8. No wonder women have body-image issues!

Madame Suggia said...

A few things to add...Henriette says, "I agree with you on pretty much everything, except for your view on the term "plus size". I do not think society should view very large sizes as a normal thing - for health reasons. So while it may be a bit uncomfortable to be "singled out" as plus sized it still serves as a reminder that one is out of the normal, healthy range. I am not writing this to offend anyone but hope we can all strive for the slender, strong, healthy body we deserve." And I say, BS. Body size or shape or weight has as much bearing on one's health as one's shoe size, skin or eye color. There are plenty of 'unhealthy' slender people (coked-up supermodels, anyone? and pleanty of 'healthy' plus-sized people (depends of course on who's standards of 'health' one is adhering to at any given time). But I'd say that if 'everything works' and you feel fine, any bloodwork/labs are 'normal' and you can function as you're healthy. So 'society' can frankly kiss my plus-sized behind. As a life-long plus-size person (just so we're all on the same page, diets don't work, if they did there would be very few fat people) I am also fed up with having the snooty, looking-at-me-with-total-disgust treatment when I've dared to venture into a high-end clothing store. Newsflash! you need customers to stay in business! Not sure if these designers & salespeople have noticed, it's a financial bloodbath out there...the ones who will survive & thrive are the ones who will adapt and be happy to relieve us fatties of our cash. And finally...AFAIC, if you're in possession of a va*ina, you're a 'real woman'...curvy, skinny, plus sized or slim.