By Remi Watts
Females everywhere, rejoice! The cultural arbiters have loosened the shackles and chains, allowing a little more body mass to fit into fashion’s cuffs. Curves and full-figures may finally be welcome in the hallowed halls of fashion, health and beauty. But there are a few conditions: don’t get too curvy, and you damn well better be pretty.
All too often we construct our ideal selves along the lines of the superficial imagery with which we are inundated daily. And while many of us will be somewhat familiar with the inoculating role held by media and advertising — their powerful effect on people’s self-images — far too few of us understand that things can and ought to be different. It pains me to point out the gross problem surrounding the inclusion of ‘full-figured’ models into the fold. Most of us understand that the ‘normal’ from which curvy models are categorized as ‘plus-sized’ (“full-figured,” “extended-sized,” “outsized” or “curvy” as the labels go) is a sick valuation. And yet we find this barbie-look logic and its stigmatizing language around every corner. The emaciated and contorted women splayed out in every film and advertisement are quite far from any serious measure of normalcy. So while it is certainly comforting to finally see a few women with slightly more realistic bodies being showcased, the language and symbols that capture them (and us along with it) do nothing for conceptions of beauty and self-worth, and do nothing to limit the proliferation of rape culture that infects the fabric of society.
From the point of view of the system in which we live it, makes sense to impose the demands of fashion and beauty upon us. As fashion ever changes, so too must our wardrobes. As the stringent demands of beauty and health weigh down upon us, so too must we continue to push our bodies and budgets to their limits. I need not even mention the abhorrent effect that the demands of fashion and beauty have on our psychology and self-worth — after all, we all know more than a few people suffering from eating disorders, performance anxieties, mental body distortions and related varieties of depression. With the expectation on us to achieve the ‘look’ — the toned, well-groomed and well-dressed body, the ‘technologies of the self,’ as it were — we spend our time in gyms, malls and salons. Such pursuits have the appearance of improvement or betterment, but their primary effect is to distract us from the far more important task of genuine personal growth. There is little money to be made off of moral development, as the more one grows and refines the strength of their own presence, the less reliant one is on the exchange of commodities and the systems of submission. Plus-sized doesn’t let any of us off the hook from the system’s coercions, nor does it open up the sufficient space for resistance to its demands, it just tricks us into thinking that something is being done to make the system better.
With the disfigured bodies of both men and women on the cover of every magazine, in every advertisement and in every film, I can sympathize with those who feel hopelessly distressed by the crushing dissonance between appearance and reality. Yet we all have the capacity to shake off the shackles that call our healthy sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers and friends overweight. The inclusion of curvy is, despite our best wishes, not a real start to constructive dialogue. We ought not lay down our guns, nor take our fingers off the trigger. Thinking that plus-sized models are an acceptable start to a genuine metric of health is as disappointing as saying that hate literature and harlequin romances are positive for literacy on the grounds that they get people reading. While the trappings of fashion and beauty’s discourses are certainly immense, creeping into every conceivable corner of our daily experience, the more we develop and learn — enhance ourselves, not our looks — the more we begin to see the possibilities of genuine possibilities. Too much is still at stake for us to consider this change as being anything more than a small skirmish in a brutal war of attrition fought over the meaning of health and well-being.