A journey in words...

Welcome to my journey in words! A story about health, exercise, weight loss, food addiction, humor, size discrimination, sarcasm, social commentary and all the rest that’s rattling around inside my head...

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How Small is Small Enough?

I really like Tyra Banks.  She’s a smart, savvy business lady with a great personality.  She had a long, successful career as a fashion and runway model before aging out of the industry and moving on to television.  I even like her show: America’s Next Top Model.  The segments with teen girls endlessly squabbling don’t interest me, but I love watching the creativity of the fashion shoots and then getting to see the finished product afterward.  I don’t usually watch daytime TV but I’ve seen a couple episodes of her talk show too and everything I saw focused on being positive and bringing awareness to important issues.  If I did watch daytime TV, her show, much like Ellen Degeneres’, would have been at the top of my list.

This is what Tyra looked like when she was modeling for Victoria’s Secret in 1997:

She recently stated in a letter to today’s models, that her size four body would have been too big for today’s fashion industry – in which the expectation is to be a size zero.  This is current Victoria’s Secret runway model, Chanel Iman:

I admit I can see the difference.  Tyra has boobs, curved hips and thighs and her body is more traditionally feminine looking whereas the current model is more of a boyishly straight column.

They’re both extremely beautiful people, and which you like better is really just a matter of preference.  They’re both slim, and to me anyway they both look healthy.  Tyra looks sexier to me, but there are probably plenty of people who would find Chanel sexier and that’s okay – to each their own.

I personally know a couple of people for whom a size zero is really their natural, healthy size.

It is, however, nowhere near the most common size for an average adult woman.  What Tyra was pointing out in her letter is that expecting models to ALL be a size zero is to inform the majority of them that in order to work in their chosen career, they need to deprive themselves of adequate nutrition.  It also means that the industry is still promoting the idea that the ultimate in beauty is to be zero.  Even then, what few bits of flesh remain on such slender bodies is studiously removed via photoshop to create a perfectly unblemished and smooth final product.

I’ve watched Tyra struggle with this on Top Model, trying to figure out if one of her contestants is just one of the naturally skinny types or if they have an eating disorder – it’s an exceedingly difficult  call to make.  I have seen her send girls home because she believed they were putting themselves in danger.  Right or wrong, she didn’t want to take the chance with a life, and I find that admirable.

My question though, is why has this trend in fashion gotten worse over time instead of better?

Despite criticism being heaped on the fashion and beauty industry for its ludicrous standards and expectations, some things still remain constant: politicians will lie, prices will rise, and women will always be expected to be thinner.

A few are fighting back.  In Israel models have been banned from runway jobs if their body mass index is less than 18.5 and Vogue has recently agreed not to use models who “appear to have an eating disorder” in all 19 of its worldwide editions.

But how can you say who “looks” like they have an eating disorder?  That’s a bit too vague for my taste.  And as I’ve pointed out before, using the BMI to determine anyone’s health is about as accurate as strapping a paper sundial to your wrist in order to accurately tell time.  Sure you’ll get a vague idea, but only a VERY vague one.

Occasionally the fashion industry will twitch a bit at some of the negative backlash and make token gestures like these, but overall the girls are still getting skinnier while the actual population gets heavier and the two are looking less and less alike.  When they do make concessions they feel hollow to me rather than bespeaking real change.  Even Tyra who I do admire, when casting “plus sized” girls on her show (and by plus sized, I am sadly referring to sizes eight and ten) will constantly focus on building those girls up in self esteem as though they must naturally hate themselves.  She tells them over and over how beautiful their bodies are and refers to them as “fiercely real” which, first of all implies that their more slender counterparts are… what?  Not real or fierce?  Secondly it focuses constantly on their size, which isn’t even big, it’s just slightly closer (but still below) what is average.  Why does so much fuss and attention have to be paid to their size at all?  They’re all equally gorgeous, so why can’t they all just be models instead of getting weighed, measured and slotted into the appropriately labeled box?

I can only assume that it must still be cost effective to advertize product on the most slender body available or else they wouldn’t still be doing it.  People must not want to see what fashion would look like on their own imperfect body even though in countless polls they have claimed to want exactly that.  The end result is that some of us have become so detached and bitter toward the fashion industry that we perceive it as something that relates to a whole different species of animal rather than to ourselves.

Despite what a bad dresser I am personally I actually do love beautiful clothes.  I wear glasses made by Michael Kors, who is one of my favorite designers.  Recently a friend of mine admired them (they are after all, quite cute) and I mentioned that I love the things that Kors makes, but since he, like most designers, hates fat women – the only thing I can have from one of his collections is glasses.  Part of me feels guilty for even buying them, because in a sense I picked up the one tiny breadcrumb he was willing to throw at me.  In retrospect it makes me feel pretty cheap.

Michael may or may not actually hate fat women, I don’t know – but that is the impression that he and all the others give by refusing to dress us.  They leave money lying on the table, because losing a sale is far better than seeing their lovely things on a hideously fat body.

There are layers upon layers of complicated reason as to why I despise shopping for clothes.

As for runway models, obviously they are not meant to reflect the general population and never will be.  But even a size four or six does not reflect the general population which tends more toward the ten and twelve end of the scale.  For models, apparently, sizes four and six are now too big.

What’s next?  Where is there to go after zero?

By and large I can’t boycott the fashion industry because it’s already boycotted me first.  Victoria’s Secret is one of the few high end stores that makes my size and I don’t shop there.  I made it clear to them years ago that I wouldn’t be shopping in their stores until I see some women in their ads who look average.  Keep in mind, I didn’t ask them for plus sized models – just average sized ones, and so far even that has been too much of a concession to make.

In the end I’m just one person screaming into the wind.

Until these people stop making money hand over fist, they’re not going to stop and it’s not going to change.  Basically thin people need to stop handing them wads of cash, but… why would they do that?  Why would they even care?  The fashion and beauty industries need to be struck at the bottom line for change to happen, assuming there’s anyone out there besides me who actually gives a crap.

And what would I do if after achieving my weight loss goals suddenly all the beautiful clothes I’ve always desired became available to me?  If suddenly I was welcomed into high end couture stores with a smile rather than given a puzzled or dismissive look?

I’d like to think I’ll be strong enough to continue to tell them all to sod off until they stop promoting beauty ideals that are unattainable for most of us.

Some days, I’m not so sure.

Edit:  I hereby publicly apologize to Michael Kors - as a reader was kind enough to show me, he in fact does design and carry a very attractive plus sized clothing line available at Macy's.  Go Michael!


  1. Beautifully written and it is so sad that it is true. My size 8/9 daughter calls herself fat. I tell her she is kickin in the bod department. It is the media ugh

    1. It's heartbreaking to think that your beautiful girl believes she's fat.

      I have this conversation with Ted where he asks why his telling me daily that I'm beautiful and sexy doesn't seem to sink in - and I reply that it's because the moment I turn on any form of media or even just walk out my door the world I live in is wired to counteract what he said and inform me I'm ugly instead.

      I'm sure your daughter is suffering the same thing. It's just so discouraging.

  2. Perhaps the phenomenon you're seeing may be a smaller fashion industry doubling down. People who don't approve are starting to leave or avoid it; the remainder are more hardcore in their preferences, and actively driving out the opposition. If that's the case, it'll keep getting worse until enough outsider companies are offering alternatives and the existing industry implodes.

    1. Watching the fashion industry implode would be immensely satisfying for me. Heh.

  3. Michael Kors actually does make lots of beautiful clothes for bigger women. My sister just wore a gorgeous black jersey dress by Kors to a party, and she is a size 18. Yes, lots of designers are prejudiced against full figured women, but I think Kors is one of the ones that truly celebrates the beauty of a woman's body. Have you ever watched Project Runway? He is always advocating for the designers that make a woman look hot, not thin.

    1. You are absolutely right, and I owe Michael Kors an apology. I just went and looked up his plus sized collection which is available at Macy's, and it's quite attractive. The reason I didn't realize it existed, is because I went into one of the stores that bears his name and saw nothing there in any size above a twelve. It didn't occur to me that he had the line at a department store instead of in his own stores. Thanks for the heads up though!

      I do watch Project Runway, which is how I got interested in his clothing line - and why I went into his store in the first place. Judging by his attitude I was expecting him to carry my size, which is why I was so disappointed. I am happy in this case to be proved wrong!

  4. This post is so sad. :( But I know how you feel. That's why I loved that Dove campaign: http://blogs.coventrytelegraph.net/passtheremote/6323628-1.jpg - for once I was like... O_O that woman has BOOBS! HALLELUJAH! lol But I'd still like to see even more size variance in that, you know? Also I feel sorry for "normal" (WTF IS NORMAL) sized girls who feel pressure to be unhealthy because of models. No one wins here, except some skewed idea of an unrealistic body that doesn't actually exist but holds this weird psychological grip over everybody...sigh. And I say this now but guarantee you next time I put on clothing I will still want to be her, even if she's not real.

    1. I like the Dove campaign a lot too! The girls in that picture are all super-adorable! My single objection to it is it's "real" women assertion. Women are women in all sizes - none is more real than the other. Beauty also comes in all sizes, and neither bigger nor smaller is more "real".

      I know, it's so easy to say and so hard to do. Just yesterday I tried on shorts in a store, looked in the mirror and wailed, "NO I can't buy these! My legs are HUGE!!!"