Has mainstream culture done a 180°? Have we honestly transitioned from Kate Moss to Crystal Renn in just over a decade, or is this just a passing fad?
According to a recent Times Online article by Louise France, plus-size models that previously charged around US$150 an hour are now commanding high profile ad shoots at US$20,000 a day. And models like Crystal Renn and Tara Lynn are starting to become household names.
In the modeling industry, “plus-size” refers to any model that is not “straight-size” – a euphemism for the straight-down, no-curves shape of the traditional fashion model. For example, Whitney Thompson, winner of the tenth cycle of “America’s Next Top Model,” (the show’s only plus-size winner) is a size 10. Renn is a size 12, after overcoming her battle with anorexia to reach the size 0 that the modeling world demanded. The average American woman is 162 pounds and wears a size 14 – so in reality, the term “plus-size” does not seem very accurate. Although it’s only semantics, this idea of plus-size models can have real effects on regular women.
Images in mass media have proven to affect the behaviors and body image of adults, adolescents, and even children. A research paper released in November 2009 – “The Impact of Media Images on Body Image and Behaviours: A Summary of the Scientific Evidence” – signed by 45 leading academics, doctors and clinical psychologists from the U.S.A., England, Australia, Brazil, Spain, and Ireland – reports scientific evidence on how airbrushing in advertising can cause serious problems, especially in young women, such as eating disorders, depression, exercise addiction, and more.
As summarized by the National Eating Disorders Association, the study revealed that:
- Body dissatisfaction is a significant risk for physical and mental health disorders. Idealized media images directly increase body dissatisfaction and negatively impact well-being.
- Numerous studies document that ultra-thin and highly muscular “body perfect” ideals have a detrimental effect on women and men.
- Negative effects occur in the majority of adolescent girls and women as documented in over 100 published scientific studies on the impact of “perfected” media images.
- Adolescents are more vulnerable than adults.
- A subscription to a fashion magazine increases body dissatisfaction and elevates the occurrence of dieting and bulimic symptoms among adolescent girls with little social support.
- Curbing the impact of idealized media images leads to improvement in body image and body-related behaviors, or at least to harm reduction.
If girls and women continue to see more and more women like Renn in the pages of mainstream magazines, such as Glamour, Cosmo, Harper’s Bazaar, and V Magazine, we should be thankful. Even if most of them are on the slim side of the so-called plus-size these models at least come closer to resembling our own bodies, and the bodies of our mothers, our friends, and our sisters. It’s a step, but we have yet to see whether it will stick – and whether the fashion industry is dedicated to real change, or if they are merely latching onto the trend while it’s hot so they can sell more magazines.
One thing that’s clear – some fashion industry influencers (designers, agencies, models, and magazine editors) are highly skeptical that the plus-size trend is here to stay. The Times Online reports on what Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman really thinks:
She has, she says, no interest in running a plus-size issue, despite the fact that she made a high profile plea for bigger sample sizes last year and is tired of seeing images of thin models that she feels obliged occasionally to retouch. What she wants to see are models who are just a few inches bigger. “I don’t think readers want very, very skinny girls; at the same time I don’t think they want size 16 girls either. I don’t think anyone sees a big girl walk down the runway and thinks, ‘Oh, I must put some weight on.’
Ideally, “straight-size” and “plus-size” would eventually blend together without the need distinguish or for magazines to congratulate themselves for being so progressive by including a spread with a plus-size model. We can hope that curvy girls (of all sizes, not just a size 8 or 10) can appear alongside straight-size models without the need to call attention to it. It seems like wishful thinking, but we are making progress, and it’s a cause worth fighting for.
For more on the plus-size modeling trend, check out some additional articles:
The Man Who Champions Curvy Models from The Times Online
The Triumph of the Size 12s from The New York Times
French Glamour Does Plus-Sizes Right from Jezebel