Tag Archives: Fat

The “Plus-Size” Calvin Klein Model and Why Everything Is Objectively Terrible

Perhaps you’ve heard the media praising Calvin Klein for the “plus-size” model in their new advertising campaign:

this is not a plus-size woman

The company itself has not branded Myla Dalbesio a “plus-size” model. In fact, they simply released their campaign without calling attention to Dalbesio’s size at all. In a statement made to Elle.com, a representative for the brand lauded the “inclusive” nature of the new “Perfectly Fit” line of underwear:

“The Perfectly Fit line was created to celebrate and cater to the needs of different women, and these images are intended to communicate that our new line is more inclusive and available in several silhouettes in an extensive range of sizes.”

Their “inclusive” new line tops out at a size large for panties, and a size 38DDD for bras, according to the company’s size chart.

In fairness to Calvin Klein, the company has always seemed more plus-size friendly than other famous labels. Some of their ready-to-wear collection goes up to a size 24W. Maybe that’s why media outlets have stirred up controversy by proclaiming their new model “plus-sized.”

For her part, Dalbesio is focusing on the positives of the media scrutiny:

“I love that as the conversation on the internet explodes and brings greater awareness, I am receiving emails from 15 year-old girls, telling me that I have given them hope and that sharing my story has made them feel less freakish, less weird, and that they can accept their size 8 or 10 frame.”

Teens feel insecure about their bodies across the board, and a girl feeling good about herself is always a plus. But is holding up Dalbesio’s figure as an example of a “bigger girl” (a term Dalbesio uses to describe herself) really helping insecure women? Though Dalbesio’s shape is being praised as normal and realistic when compared to the preferences of the fashion world, her body is still considered ideal by current standards of everyday beauty. There’s something disconcerting about a woman who looks like Dalbesio making statements like:

“I had been hoping for a long time that someone would start this, that someone would talk about this, that things might change for girls that are shaped like me in the fashion industry and beyond.” (Today.com)

To many it would appear that Dalbesio has a “Perfectly Fit” body to go along with the ad campaign, yet she’s being framed by the media as a barrier-breaking example of a woman who is attractive despite being burdened with an unfortunate body type, much in the way that Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Winslet, and Salma Hayek have all been branded as “larger” than acceptable women.

The fashion industry is notorious for its worship of the skinny female form. Eating disorders and drug use have long been acknowledged as either dangers of or requirements for models, and Dalbesio herself has struggled with the same insecurities as everyone:

“Do you ever go to the beach and see a woman who’s 300 pounds and wearing a lime green thong and a fishnet cover up? Your like, ‘You look fucking awesome.’ But isn’t that fucked? I’m a model and I still need validation…”

But it’s quite a leap from a three-hundred pound woman in a bikini on the beach and a fit, toned size ten in professional photographs, in both aesthetic and response from society. A woman like Dalbesio may walk the beach feeling like a whale, but the three-hundred pound woman will actually be called one by strangers. While body positivity is for everyone, no matter their size, gender, or race, it’s disingenuous for a model in a major label’s ad campaign to compare herself to a hypothetical parody of an unabashedly fat woman. Yet one can’t help but excuse that remark as a product of the culture Dalbesio is employed in; would she feel the same need for comparison if she were a pilot or a firefighter? Perhaps, but the amount of pressure to worry about her appearance would be inarguably less.

It’s not surprising that women on the internet bristled at the media’s touting of Dalbesio as “plus-size,” a label she seems to dodge and claim all at once, telling Elle.com:

“’I feel like for a minute, it was starting to feel like this ‘plus size’ thing really was a trend, and that it was over,’ Dalbesio says. ‘There was that beautiful Italian Vogue story, and the girls that were in that ended up doing really well [in their modeling careers]. But when that happened, we felt really excited; we thought it was going to open so many doors for all of us, you know? And it felt like it hadn’t. It was dying out.’”

and

“’I’m in the middle,’ she says. ‘I’m not skinny enough to be with the skinny girls and I’m not large enough to be with the large girls and I haven’t been able to find my place. This [campaign] was such a great feeling.’”

If Dalbesio was disheartened by the sudden decline in plus-size modeling opportunities, imagine how plus-size models– and even plus-er sized women– felt. From her own words, her interest in the growing plus-size modeling movement was largely focused on what opportunities would open for her, and for women her size. This eerily echoes those in the body positivity movement whose primary concern is to wrestle control of the conversation from extremely thin women and extremely fat women alike, in order to focus on the self-esteem of women already held up as the example of perfection.

Fashion does have a dearth of opportunity where women sizes two to fourteen are concerned, and Dalbesio has broken ground for “larger” models within the industry. Outside of modeling, thought, Dalbesio’s body type is hardly shunned or degraded. So why declare her story a win for women beyond the catwalk? Fashion is an industry that has worked hard for decades to become the antithesis of body positivity; for it to make such slight progress as to showcase yet another type of conventionally perfect body isn’t a cause for celebration, but a call for revolution.

All women deserve representation. But many people on both sides of this issue, and the media in particular, are confusing representation of one ideal body in one industry with representation in all of society. If we continue to conflate acceptance of women’s bodies as beautiful with acceptance of a woman’s innate worth as a human, we’ll only establish new standards for women to strive for in order to prove themselves. And that size eight or ten teenager who feels “freakish” will only have to work that much harder at loving herself despite the messages the media throws at her.

 

I Am Not All About That Bass: Deconstructing The Summer’s Feel-Good, Body-Positive Hit

Due to a recent threat I received on Facebook, I’m closing discussion here.

You’d know if you’d heard Meghan Trainor’s body acceptance anthem “All About That Bass” before. Because if you had, you’d still be hearing it right now in your head. Over. And over. And over.

Since we’ve got a lot of new visitors here lately, I’m going to restate the unofficial Trout Nation opinion* on liking problematic stuff: Just because we like something doesn’t mean it’s above reproach. We should practice turning a critical eye on the media we consume, as it gives us a chance to view our own thoughts through the lens of pop culture. This helps us learn about internalized prejudices we might otherwise have never realized we had.

(*I said “unofficial” because it’s nothing we’ve ever voted on. It just seems like a lot of people come here specifically for the dissection of pop culture. And we talk about it a lot. But we don’t have a democracy or anything. It’s a government of the people and one bewildered figurehead.)

Before we start taking this apart piece by piece, I want to warn you that the entire song is sung by a white girl using a faux African-American Vernacular accent that’s only about two levels below Iggy Azalea on the “There is no way you actually sound like that in real life”-o-meter.

So, let’s listen to this song and take a look at its accompanying video: 

This thing is catchy, the girl is adorable, the video is like John Waters’s Hairspray if it hadn’t been satire and Amber Von Tussel had been nice. It’s cute and I can see why a lot of people like it. But holy shit is it problematic! Jesus and wowza. Let’s ease into this with some trivial griping before we get on with the serious stuff.

“Because you know I’m all about that bass, ’bout that bass, no treble.”

But what you are singing? Your voice right now? That’s treble. A song that was only bass wouldn’t be a very interesting song. And unless you have a really impressive range that you’re not showing off on this particular composition, you’re going to have a hard time hacking it as a singer in a world that’s all bass and no treble.

So, the lyrics begin:

“Yeah it’s pretty clear, I ain’t no size two/ but I can shake it, shake it, like I’m supposed to do.”

So, she says it’s clear that she’s not a size two:

That's her, the blond one in the middle.

That’s her, the blond one in the middle.

Okay, so, yeah. Maybe not a size two. But not fat or “plus-size” by any means. Don’t let the unflattering dress trick your eye. This girl is not a fat girl. This whole concept of not-fat women believing they need to call attention to their not-fat bodies in order to promote body acceptance baffles me. I call this the “fatcceptable movement.” Notice I didn’t say “fat acceptance movement” or “body acceptance movement.” Both of those ideologies rally against the cultural standard of one perfect size at which an individual earns their humanity. The fatcceptable movement insists that there is only one type of “real” woman, and any outliers are less sexually desirable to heterosexual men, and therefore of less value.

In the fatcceptable zone, you’ll find women ranging from a US size eight to a US size fourteen talking about how big is beautiful, men don’t want sticks, real women have curves, etc. Lots of famous women have made bold statements about their size while living in the fatcceptable zone. Among them are Jennifer Lawrence,  Never Been Kissed-era Drew Barrymore, and Kate Winslet before she started looking like Barbie’s hot mom (that’s a compliment, by the way). These are all women who do not fall outside of the normal range of sexually attractive bodies, but who don’t get described as skinny and who are expected to answer questions about how they feel about their “curves.” Holding women like this up as “plus-size” is meant to spread  a message of body acceptance and positivity to women who aren’t the size two that Trainor throws out there, but who aren’t fat, either. To sum up, easy to digest anthems and slogans of this nature are meant to make women who think they’re fat feel good about the fat bodies they don’t have, while constantly reminding them that they should feel fat.

The lyric “but I can shake it shake it/like I’m supposed to do,” bothers me on two fronts. One, we were supposed to be shaking it this whole time? Why didn’t anyone tell me? Is this going to affect my grade? And two, people who’re a size two can’t shake it? What size is Shakira? Because she’s pretty little and she can definitely shake it.

“Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chase/
And all the right junk in all the right places”

It’s in the right places, guys! Meghan Trainor is a fanfic Mary Sue. You heard it here first.

One of the main themes of this song is that women who are considered to be of average size are preferred by men. If this song is promoting body positivity, then why does it define a specific body type as being more desirable, and place all of a woman’s value on her fuckability to heterosexual men?

“I see the magazines workin’ that Photoshop/We know that shit ain’t real, C’mon now, make it stop/
If you got beauty beauty, just raise ‘em up/
Cause every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top”

This verse is what “All About That Bass” could have been. Look how perfect it is. It celebrates the body of every woman and encourages them to celebrate their beauty in turn. Granted, beauty is a subjective construct that women shouldn’t have to worry about in the first place, so there is a problematic ideology that’s still inherent in these lyrics. But let’s focus on how rare it is to hear this message in pop music in the first place.

Like I said, it’s what this song could have been, because after that we’re right back to:

“Yeah, my mama she told me don’t worry about your size/She says boys like a little more booty to hold at night”

Again, the message isn’t really, “I have value, even though I don’t fit the mold I’ve been told I should fit,” but, “I have value, in fact I have more value than some other women who don’t share my body type, because I’m the one a heterosexual man should be attracted to.” And I say should be, because the next few lines say exactly that:

“You know I won’t be no stick figure silicone Barbie doll/So if that’s what you’re into then go ahead and move along”

“If you’re not a heterosexual man willing to objectify me over other women, then HA HA! I am rejecting you first.”

At what point did “body positivity” become, or need to become, yet another method to police each other’s bodies? If a woman has breast implants, that somehow lowers her worth? This is just another way in which the fatcceptable movement tries to define who is and isn’t a “real” woman. Why is it that we don’t view breast implants as body modification on the same scale as piercings or tattoos? I have this crazy feeling that it has something to do with misogyny. Maybe because the primary objective of breast implants is to conform to a specific cultural standard? How is that different from piercing your septum?

I know how it’s different. Men pierce shit, too! Plastic surgery is viewed as a way for women to make themselves more sexually desirable to heterosexual men for as far into their lives as possible. Even reconstructive plastic surgery after breast cancer fulfills this role; when performed for the patient’s personal comfort, it’s still done to uphold the standard that all women must have breasts (well hello, transmisogyny!), which is what’s making that patient uncomfortable in the first place. To be clear, I’m not shaming anyone for having any elective cosmetic surgery for any reason, just defining our world view and cultural expectations of breasts in this context.

So, with that in mind, back to the fatcceptable stance on plastic surgery: even though we’re defining your worth as a woman solely by your appeal to men, if you do anything to try to make yourself more appealing, you’re a fake ass bitch and we hate you.

Now, onto the “stick figure” portion of the chorus. This is just another shot fired at women who have bodies that threaten the self-esteem of women who can only be content about their size if it’s hailed as the “perfect” shape. That’s really what’s at the base of any “eat a sandwich” or “stick insect” barb.

“I’m bringing booty back/Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that/No I’m just playing I know you think you’re fat/but I’m here to tell ya every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top”

This verse perfectly incapsulates what is wrong with this song. What could be a positive message comes out as a backhanded compliment. Sure, every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top, but only grudgingly. You get to feel good about yourself, but only if women Meghan Trainor’s size get to feel better by mocking your appearance. And only if you share the same weight insecurities.

And come on. Saying what you really think, followed by “just kidding,” is the most passive aggressive move on the planet. “Just playing” is like “bless your heart”: it’s a chance for the speaker to say whatever they want while forcing the target of the insult to accept what’s being said in good humor.

Now, since we’re past all the verses, I want to talk about the video. There’s a theme here:

Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 4.00.37 PM

Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 4.00.54 PM

Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 4.02.11 PM

Did you guess the theme? Did you guess “black women as props?” Because that’s the theme. Of the four back-up dancers in the video, one is white. Trainor is shown flanked by two black women several times, including a scene where the women seem to be enthusiastically encouraging her dancing, a la Miley Cyrus’s infamous “We Can’t Stop” video. This isn’t done to encourage body acceptance or equality of any kind; it’s to show the audience that Trainor is cool. White people can’t dance, right? So if black people cheer on a white girl dancing, that lends her points, right? Because the video strikingly recalls Waters’s Hairspray, I can’t help but be reminded of the line, “Being invited places by colored people! It feels so hip!” We white people love to see ourselves getting approval from black people. We just don’t want our societal standing challenged, because that makes us deeply uncomfortable.

Looking at the two bottom images, let’s discuss the role of “booty” in this song. Booty outside of the pirate context has long been used to evoke the stereotypical image of a black woman with a large, round butt. This particular racial trope has been used by white people to objectify, fetishize, and sexualize black women by our media and our white supremacist culture, then white girls apply it to themselves in a positive context. When Trainor calls attention to the size of her butt and calls it a booty, we’re supposed to laud her as being body positive and a strong feminist, but  she can’t “bring booty back,” because it was never used to stereotype her to begin with.

The last picture is a perfect example of how society views the bodies of black women as available to all takers. In this scene, the white woman pictured grabs the black woman’s butt while she’s dancing. This reinforces not only the insidious cultural need of white people to control and sexualize black women’s bodies, but also the dangerous belief that the bodies of black women are on offer for anyone to sample, consent not required.

Sidebar, the fact that all of the above was going on, and the song was written in the style of 60′s pop music, a genre that was appropriated from black artists of the time and repackaged with white faces really drives home a truth that many white pop artists don’t want to admit: that white performers are only doing shallow imitations of black artists, and suppressing those black artists’ work in the hopes that no one will notice.

I know a lot of people are going to criticize me for deconstructing something that seems, on its surface, to be a positive, important statement, but as a fat woman, I’m no longer content for women who are not fat to define themselves as such to lend their defensiveness and unhappiness with their bodies credibility. As a feminist, I’m no longer content to watch women of color treated as props to further an appropriation of beauty standards that white women boast about and black women are oppressed by. If the core of your message devalues other women based on their physical appearance, you’re not promoting an ideal that helps women in the way you believe it does.

Jennifer Lawrence body shames you more than you might have realized.

An alternate version of this post can be found at The Huffington Post. To save my inbox, comments on this version of the post are closed, but feel free to move discussion to the HuffPo version.

Here are some quotes Jennifer Lawrence has made over the years, regarding her weight:

“I’d rather look chubby on screen and like a person in real life.”

“In Hollywood, I’m obese. I’m considered a fat actress. I eat like a caveman. I’ll be the only actress that doesn’t have anorexia rumors! I’m never going to starve myself for a part. I’m invincible. I don’t want little girls to be like, ‘Oh, I want to look like Katniss, so I’m going to skip dinner!’ That was something I was really conscious of during training. I was trying to get my body to look fit and strong, not thin and underfed.”

“If anybody even tries to whisper the word ‘diet,’ I’m like, ‘You can go f– yourself.”

“What are you gonna do? Be hungry every single day to make other people happy? That’s just dumb.”

Tumblr celebrates her in .gif as a paragon of quirk and body acceptance:

jlaw1

jlaw2

jlaw3

jlaw4

jlaw5

One thing that may have escaped your notice, in the orgiastic celebration of JLaw realness that is the internet, is that Jennifer Lawrence looks like this:

jlaw6

Let’s concede the point here that she is, perhaps, a size or two above the Hollywood accepted norm. Let’s also concede the point that it’s admirable, being the star of a movie franchise aimed at teens, that she is concerned about the effect a too-svelte appearance might have on her audience, who are already bombarded with negative body messages every day. I’m not making this post to attack Jennifer Lawrence. I’m making this post to attack the rabid fandom that has grown around her.

I’m not going to cover the fact that it’s fucked up that a girl like Jennifer Lawrence has to justify her perfectly gorgeous body to every single media consumer in the world. We all know that’s fucked up. Let’s focus instead on the fact that in order to appease our own self-doubt about our weight, we, the internet, have decided to ignore how body-shaming the entire image of JLaw, “Spirit Animal” to fat girls everywhere, really is.

First of all, consider her quotes. She would rather look chubby on screen, but like a person in real life. This is a message of positivity only for people who consider themselves chubby, and it comes at the expense of women who are thin. Maybe they’re thin because they’re sick. Maybe, they just like being thin, or they’re naturally slender. What this quote is saying is that these women aren’t people. I want to know, internet: at what percentage of body fat do women earn the right to be people?

I’m certain that a lot of my fellow fatties looked at that quote and rolled their eyes. We know that being fat doesn’t grant one personhood, because our alleged lack of self-control and dignity are directly linked to that body fat percentage. Fat people are not people. They’re fat people. So, what does that quote do? It’s not empowering to anyone but women who look like Jennifer Lawrence. And it’s not a coincidence that she just happens to be the Coke-bottle standard we’re told men should prefer.

So, consider all those .gifs at the top of this post. The ones where she talks about how much food she eats, how she loves McDonald’s fries. Would the internet have embraced those quotes coming from, oh, I don’t know…

melissa mccarthy

I’ve noticed a funny thing about Melissa McCarthy. Well, besides the obvious, that she’s funny. But I’ve noticed that when Jennifer Lawrence talks about her weight, she talks about how much food she eats, and how she’s never going to diet to be thin. And when Melissa McCarthy is quoted about her weight, this is what she says:

“I don’t really know why I’m not thinner than I am.”

“I want to be healthy.”

“I just don’t lose weight easily.”

“Sometimes I wish I were just magically a size 6 and I never had to give it a single thought.”

Because Melissa McCarthy actually is a fat woman, she isn’t allowed to make brash statements about body acceptance. She has to apologize for her body. Every single one of those quotes might as well have just said, “Sorry I’m fat and you have to look at me, everyone.” But it’s all she’s allowed to say, in the confines of our culture. If Melissa McCarthy had said, “If anybody even tries to whisper the word ‘diet,’ I’m like, ‘You can go f– yourself,” the response will most assuredly not be, “How brave! How strong! What a good role model!” The response will be, “What a bad example, encouraging people to be unhealthy! We have an obesity epidemic! Open your eyes, fat is not healthy, sexy, or acceptable! How very dare she!”

Imagine if Melissa McCarthy had made so many public comments about food and McDonald’s. It wouldn’t be cute or funny, it would be schtick. Look at the fat woman, being human and hungry for something bad for her! How grotesquely humorous it is when fat people eat! When Jennifer Lawrence makes these comments, it’s acceptable, because her body is still pleasing to our cultural expectation of voluptuous, slim-waisted, long-necked female beauty.

Comments about how much food Jennifer Lawrence loves to eat further builds the unicorn-like mystique of actresses who maintain cultural expectations of slenderness while claiming that they eat whatever they want and never work out. Is it more damaging to a fat woman’s self-esteem to see a thin woman on a movie screen, or to see that thin woman calling herself fat and claiming her celebrated figure is the product of eating McDonald’s and hating exercise? I’m fat. I eat a lot of McDonald’s. I do exercise, though I sometimes hate it… so, why then, when I admit to these things, am I a public health crisis, and slender, beautiful women who say them are positive role models? I’m pretty sure you know where this is going.

When Jennifer Lawrence says it’s “dumb” to go hungry to make other people happy, she’s saying it with the carefree attitude of a woman who probably will never have to make that choice to conform. Yes, she might be asked to diet for a role. But a woman who looks like Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t have to shop for her clothes in online stores only, because no physical storefronts carry her size. A woman who looks like Jennifer Lawrence probably isn’t going to have a stranger try to stage an impromptu intervention in a Pizza Hut because they’re so, so concerned for her “health.” If a woman who looks like Jennifer Lawrence goes to her doctor to complain of an ailment, she’ll be offered diagnostic tests instead of a diet plan. Jennifer Lawrence can say it’s “dumb” to go on a diet, but Jennifer Lawrence might not be facing weight-related prejudice or illness. Jennifer Lawrence may never be forced to make the choice between going hungry to lose weight versus having a knee and hip replacement at thirty-five.

I’m sure Jennifer Lawrence has body issues. She is a woman in the U.S., after all. Body issues come pre-installed at birth. But simply feeling bad about your own weight doesn’t give you license to shame the bodies of women who are thinner than you are, or the choices of women who are fatter than you are.

What’s even more troubling is that this mythos of the body-image warrior that the internet has created for Jennifer Lawrence has allowed her to say some pretty shitty things without much consequence. As long as she’s the down-to-earth, quirky, “body positive” weirdo, we can let bisexuality erasing and transphobic comments slide?

The reason Jennifer Lawrence is allowed to be a body-positive role model to young girls and “chubby” women is because she is representative of conventional beauty. She is a thin woman, exhibiting the thin privilege (and I know how much people hate that phrase) of making self-conscious body remarks while the rest of the world rushes to assure her that she’s gorgeous. Jennifer Lawrence’s public image has been built on a foundation of fat girl drag. She can call herself fat in interviews. She can actually believe she is fat, if she wants to. But she is not a fat woman, and her experiences do not speak to the experiences of actual fat people, no matter how strenuously Tumblr works to make it seem so.