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Fat models? It’s all a fashion statement

April 16, 2010

Elle France took a bold step this month by putting a plus size model on the front of the magazine. The move was controversial, with fashionistas the world over clamouring to put their two cents in. Some thought it a great choice, not only a shout out for the larger-and therefore normal – woman (recent statistics showed that the French have caught up with the British in terms of obesity rates), but a good aesthetic move.
But the underlying sense of the decision smacks of a desire for statement-making-  very fashion world- rather than some newfound, non-cynical appreciation of flesh. For indeed the position of curvier women in fashion and the a list circuit is so problematic it caused former size 14 catwalk model Sophie Dahl to shed all her excess weight and so become the induatry standard skinny size she is today. Ironically she has traded catwalks for a career as a food writer. And think of Gerri Halliwell, once a statement for her big bust and womanly dimensions. After a battle with bulimia she looks as taut and thin as a psychotic aerobics instructor.  And Oprah’s publicly pursued dieting successes and failures show a woman in the limelight who can not just let herself to be normal mummy-size.
But just as problematic  as the role of the heavier female celebrity – more so perhaps- is that of the regular woman on the street.
The fact is, for all the fuss over the evils of size zero and how great curves are, shopping for any size above a 12 is a completely deflating and usually futile experience. Zara, French connection and reiss are among high street shops that provide little or no choice in a size 14 or – gasp – 16. Why this is remains a mystery. Ok; in high fashion, the idea is that haute couture only looks good on a clothes horse. But Zara? Reiss? Is it really such a downer for such brands to supply a decent range of 14 and above?
The argument that women of these sizes dont want these clothes is also wrong. What better proof that the 14s and 16s are looking for normal high street clothes (and hard) than that these sizes are always the first to go in the shops that do stock them in nice ranges? Try finding a nice pair of jeans from the gap in a 16 on a Saturday afternoon. Not pretty. And deeply frustrating.
There are a lot of mixed signals in our society concerning the female body. It’s meant to be fertile, to look good in the latest fashions (ie thin), to look young and toned but not too thin or too forced.
Every now and then the fashion world will let a larger girl into its folds and parade her as an edgy statement. But until such women become the accepted and celebrated norm, those of us left to the forces of the high street will continue to be frustrated and demoralized (and often, frumpily dressed) – Elle cover or no.

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