Monday, 7 September 2009

In which one stomach does not change the world


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I feel I should roll myself up into a crazed ball of words over the Lizzie Miller affair. Everyone else has, after all. It’s a subject on which I feel strongly. I am not famous for being short of an opinion. I am a mouthy feminist. And yet, and yet, I am tempted to say...nothing.

It won’t happen of course. The last time I said nothing was sometime in 1979 and that was because I had bronchitis. But for some reason, I am tempted to say: so what? Here is what happened, for those of you who have been too busy following the murky Al Megrahi business or the increasingly strange debate over American healthcare reform: a very small picture of a pretty model with a slightly protruding stomach appeared in the back pages of Glamour magazine. The readers of Glamour wrote to the editor saying they were very happy to see a photograph of a real woman. The newspapers picked up on it, and decided that it was the end of fashion as we knew it. The model herself, a beautiful 20 year old called Lizzie Miller, added a footnote about the hall of smoke and mirrors that is the magazine business, reopening the airbrushing debate that has been chugging along for some months. In an added twist, it turned out that Miller was too large to model so-called plus size clothes, despite only being a size twelve herself. The headline writers had a nice time: ‘flabulous’, screamed one. The columnists piled all over each other (one tried to be controversial by stating that if women did not have perfection to aim at, what else were they going to do with their time?). The message boards lit up with every variety of comment. And the world said: excusez-moi?

This is my subject. I loathe and abhor the bizarre dictates of the fashion and beauty industries. I get very sad when I see successful women growing thinner and thinner before my very eyes. I feel a tinge of melancholy whenever I think of how hungry Victoria Beckham must have been for the last five years. I refuse to go on diets, because I am too greedy, because I love food, because I will not be told what size I should be. I should be out there shouting with the best of them. But for some reason, I find the whole thing an absurd storm in a silly teacup. India Knight, who is exceptionally good at sailing through hype and hyperbole with a true compass, made much the sanest and most adult point in the acres of type generated on the subject when she said that fashion is theatre, and it should not be confused with anything else. It seems to me that the fevered debate about Lizzie Miller and her little stomach has rather missed the point. One photograph is not going to change an entire zeitgeist. The very same newspaper which ran a banner headline celebrating ‘The Wobbly Bits that Shook the World’ had a long feature only three days later headlined ‘Why I’ll suffer any pain to be beautiful,’ describing the writer’s long, painful odyssey through Botox and Restylane. All the columnists who are celebrating the appearance of a real woman work for newspapers and magazines that constantly push the latest diet, the newest cosmetic miracle, the hottest anti-ageing concoction, the makeover that will save your very soul. In those same pages, unrealistic, airbrushed models wander freely like rare creatures moving across the savannah. Perhaps it is the phoniness and hypocrisy to all this outcry that makes me want to say: move along, nothing to see here.

Lizzie Miller, for all her galvanising honesty, is not going to change anything. Many of the very same writers who were lauding her little stomach last week will be going out to dinner this week and refusing the bread (Yeast! Gluten! Too bloating for words, darling!). Designers are not suddenly going to send size fourteen girls down the catwalk. The diet industry is not going to pack up and go home. The magazines will not put away the airbrush. Real women are not going to be set free by a small photograph on page 194 of one glossy; they will not be liberated by a scatter of over-excited headlines. True liberation comes from stepping away from the spectacle. I love nothing more than a heated debate, and yet I think this latest one is not particularly helpful, because it is too hysterical and too shallow. It does not, in the end, mean much.

I think we all have to do the heavy lifting ourselves. I think we have to work out where true beauty lies, and understand that it means something quite different to everyone. For real freedom, women have to go to the profundities, far away from vociferous commentary and one-dimensional aesthetic imperatives. It is a question of priorities. To love and be loved, to contribute some small thing to the sum total of human happiness, to fulfil your potential: these are the things that matter. Real beauty comes in many forms: the ability to laugh at yourself, the talent for listening, the trick of making really good chicken soup. Random acts of kindness are more lovely than a flat belly. It’s not a snappy headline, but it is true.

8 comments:

  1. Tania, you are always so right. You are, in fact, the Simon Cowell of bloggers. Lovely post. Have stolen a quote and posted it on mine.

    Hope you're feeling better.

    Love,

    Miss W x

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  2. Reminds me of the Sophie Dahl debate. Her amazing curves (how I longed to look like her on that poster) brought the industry to its breathless knees - 'oh she's a real WOMAN, we must keep her just so' - and then the slow grinding of the machine squeezed her down to a size 6 or whatever she is now. She's written a cookbook, but unless it's terribly tongue-in-cheek, I can't quite imagine what she's able to eat in it.

    And now Lizzie Miller will no doubt be spread all over the Daily Spite or wherever, the journos banging on about 'real women' and before you know it, she'll be the proud owner of a washboard stomach, because the-opposite-of-plus-size models (minus-size models?) make more money... I do hope this won't be the case.

    The celebration of the press of 'real women' is a curiously paradoxical machine. They 'celebrate' them with all their power and might, then the glory and fame convinces the subjects that to keep their names in lights, there must be less and less of them and then we're surrounded by lollipops. And then they're no different to any other starlet (I want to say art babies as am re-reading 'Elvis has left...' - same thing nearly).

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  3. Brilliant as always and had to be twittered to the world (because you won't and I adore you for that).
    I truly don't understand the Fashion Industry - what is that. They dictate what we should and shouldn't wear and what "the norm" is in regards to size, hair colour etc. Who cares and why are they the judges (at times their fashion sense is very questionable).
    There are islands in the South Pacific where the bigger the woman the sexier she is and she's wearing a sarong!
    These ridiculous Fashion Insiders need to go and find something more useful to do with their time.
    xx

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  4. As ever a very thought provoking post, thank you. I enjoyed India's analogy that fashion is theatre. What a shame that the fashion business does not allow some of us to audition because the costumes don't fit. How ghastly that a UK 12 is seen as a plus size. One day will designer clothes be available to anyone.... are designers afraid they cannot design clothes that will make large/overweight/plus size women look stylish ?

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

    http://www.judgmentofparis.com/

    They're all gorgeous.

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

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  6. I am interested in Beth Ditto and where she stands in all this. She's the new "woman of size" for Evans. And the press sing her praises across the board. I wonder whether she's exempt from the usual anti-fat girl vitriol because she's gay? I have no idea, but it intrigues me that she's apparently above negative criticism.

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  7. Miss W - how lovely you are. Being featured on yr blog makes me feel very happy and important indeed.

    Jo - so agree about poor shrinking Sophie Dahl. She always looks a bit querulous now. The cookbook thing must be a joke surely?

    So Lovely - SO agree about the fashion industry's own fashion sense being often odd. They are STILL pushing cobalt blue, the most unflattering colour in the world. Also I have just one word for you: jumpsuits.

    Titian - don't know what the fear of ordinary sized women looking stylish is. Clearly some deep haunting fear of sharing their toys.

    Google Account - thank you and welcome.

    Cassandra - I know, the Beth Ditto thing is fascinating. She was on Woman's Hour yesterday and was adorable. I had not really taken her in before. You might be right about the sexuality thing. I think it might be just her very own force of personality. They would all look like such fools if they did not let her past the red velvet rope.

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  8. YES. I'm surprised by the press this has gotten (in part because Glamour has featured non-standard-sized models before and has tooted its own horn--this seems unique because it was the readers who picked up on it, not the magazine's PR team). People seem eager to forget that this is a great case in point of how the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house.

    It's also noteworthy that the picture was used to illustrate a piece on what other people see about your body that you don't--presumably, positive things that you might miss about your own body. I get that Glamour is between and rock and a hard place here--what are they supposed to do, use a super-skinny model here? Certainly they're not going to use a genuinely overweight model, mais non!--but it seemed a disingenuous spot to put Ms. Miller.

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