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Body Image Revolution! Bellies, Jiggles & All

October 8, 2009

There has been a lot of talk lately about “real” women with “real” bodies, curves, tummies and all. I am all for it, though I think it will be a long, hard slog before I see a size 12 woman on the cover of Cosmo or Vogue. Still, starting with the success of the Dove “real women” ads, we’re seeing more and more of this “positive body image revolution”. My favorite of the last 24 hours? The Funny or Die video of former Baywatch babe Nicole Eggert.

(You go, girl! Not too many of us look quite like we did at 20, even in Hollywood.)

A few weeks ago, Glamour magazine made a big splash by printing one small picture of a beautiful “plus-size” model named Lizzi Miller. Why all the hub-bub? She was nearly nude in just a g-string, relaxed and showing a little belly. It created a lot of good press for Glamour, with Miller getting booked on the Today show and Glamour editor-in-chief Cindi Leive vowing to “celebrate all kinds of beauty” in her magazine. Of course there were also many commenters calling Miller fat or gross, or even concern trolling about her health! Then there’s the other end of the spectrum, the new Ralph Lauren ad with an already thin model Photoshopped into famine victim. Let’s compare:

Lizzi Miller, from Glamour

Ralph Lauren ad

The good news, if you agree with my view, is that Ralph Lauren is taking a big PR hit on this. The bad news is that they still felt this was a good look for women. More good news: yesterday, we got word that the German magazine Brigitte will be using actual women, instead of models starting next year. Said the editor, Andreas Lebert, “For years we’ve had to use Photoshop to fatten the girls up. Especially their thighs, and decolletage. But this is disturbing and perverse and what has it got to do with our real reader?” Got that?

So the other night, I watched Gossip Girl. (Don’t laugh! It’s “high camp!”) Regardless of the dive your opinion of me may have just suffered, I have a point. Hilary Duff is a guest star on the show this season. I don’t know much about her, but she is a very cute girl. If any guy were to see her walking down the street of his hometown, his eyes would probably linger at least a bit. She is by no means fat, jiggly or anything else. Still, she looked completely out of place amongst the stick-thin regular cast. So I wondered what I would find in online chat comments after the show aired. Sure enough: “she’s a cow,” “time to count calories, Duff!” (And many more too rude to bother typing.)

So where are we? I’m sure we will continue to see more stories about and images of real women, and that makes me happy; but I’m cynical. The reason we’re seeing this at all is because it makes good business sense. America is and has been fattening up and aging, businesses know they have to reflect that. In the end, I don’t think it’s worth worrying about.  Societal definitions of beauty change over time. Maybe that’s happening now right before our eyes. Still, I doubt it; any change will probably be very slow. In the mean time, I will teach my daughter that she’s beautiful no matter what and laugh my own jiggly butt off with Nicole Eggert! Go girl!

Update: Ralph Lauren has issued an apology, with a spokesman saying, “After further investigation, we have learned that we are responsible for the poor imaging and retouching that resulted in a very distorted image of a woman’s body. We have addressed the problem and going forward will take every precaution to ensure that the calibre of our artwork represents our brand appropriately.”

Update: Filippa Hamilton, the french model from the Ralph Lauren ad,  now claims she was fired from her Ralph Lauren modeling gig in April because they thought she was too fat. I just don’t even know what to make of that!

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Lois permalink
    October 18, 2009 1:26 am

    I’ve always been a fan of plus-size models! There’s a great site with many images of plus-size models here:

    They’re all gorgeous.

    The site’s forum also has thought-provoking discussions about body image and the media.

  2. October 11, 2009 2:44 pm

    My body type is probably more like yours than Blake Lively’s — I only thought I could look “almost as good” as her.

    Just to show how crazy life is, Blake said in an interview that she doesn’t exercise at all. I believe her, because even people who don’t exercise claim that they do. And I don’t hate her for it, but I sure do envy her.

    • October 11, 2009 3:43 pm

      No doubt! Life sure isn’t fair… Just remember that she’s young now – more than likely the day will come when she does have to work-out. Until then, she’s a lucky girl.

  3. October 11, 2009 8:10 am

    As a dedicated “Gossip Girl” fan whose body is more like Hilary Duff’s than “the stick-thin regular cast,” I have a slightly different viewpoint.

    Apart from the wonderful acting, the outrageous characters, and the fashions, another reason that I like “Gossip Girl” is that the stars are *not* impossibly thin. They’re certainly not fat, and the camera adds 10 pounds. But I’ve always felt that if I really worked at it, I could look almost as good as Blake Lively.

    If you want to put “Gossip Girl” in perspective, try watching “90210” sometime. Now *they* really are stick-thin. I love that show, too, but there’s no way I could ever get like that.

    • October 11, 2009 9:16 am

      You may a have point about the comparative size of the GG cast versus the 90210 cast (GG chose to go with a cast that is actually sexy, while still quite thin rather than just “ewww” thin like 90210.) Overall, though, the problem with these shows is that, whether they go sexy-thin or ewww-skinny, they choose a homogeneous cast of body-type. I would prefer to see a more honest depiction of the range of body types that are normal and healthy. It would be nice to think that GG put Duff on the show for this reason, but we all know it’s just an attempt to rescue anemic ratings.

      Especially considering the target audience of these shows (to which, as a 40 year old mom, I admittedly don’t belong), it is unfortunate that the media continues to push an idealized body type that won’t be achievable for many. You say that if you worked really hard you could look like Blake Lively, and that’s great for you. But many most girls don’t have a body type that will ever look like that, no matter how hard they work. Also too bad, is that we don’t ever see Serena at the gym or doing anything else to look like that, although I’m sure Blake the actress does.

      It’s always been like this, I guess; but I can’t help rooting (for the benefit on my little girl) that change will come. Personally, at 40, Serena is certainly out of reach – but she was always out of reach for me. At 5’2″, with big breasts & a bit more of a J.Lo butt, even when I was 18, an athlete & weighed next to nothing – that wasn’t my body-type. Actually, I wish J.Lo & K Kardashian had been around back then: it would have been nice to spend my teens & twenties showing off my booty, rather than hating it.

  4. October 10, 2009 12:26 pm

    Oh thank Gawd! I’m so glad to see any earnest move away from the use of stick thin models. Seriously, anyone who can look at the skinny girl in the fashion magazine in this post and think she looks anything other than frighteningly emaciated needs to readjust their visual radar.

    It’s been a long time coming (remember when America Ferrara made “Real Women Have Curves”? that was 2002!) and more movement towards seeing real women in the media is desperately needed. Kudos too, to Dove for their Real Women of Beauty ad campaign.

    My suggestion? Find a women’s gym where real women walk the locker room sans clothing. Now THAT’S an eye opener and great for adjusting your attitude about your body. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, not just “I’ve got a wasting disease” size.

  5. Justine permalink
    October 8, 2009 4:39 pm

    Great read! Good for Nicole for being willing to be human. Too bad the rest of us can’t follow her example with grace and dignity.

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