Sunday, 10 July 2011

On Vogue Curvy

The obvious fact is that very, very few women who are not size 0 or 2 have their picture taken for high-end fashion magazines. This is a serious problem. If you are an average-size American woman (or a woman of any nationality), it might be very tough for you to find anyone in fashion magazines who might look at least a little bit like you. This is not just a size issue, but it is also a question of race, level of income, and age. The general state of affairs is that fashion is very exclusive, and it sometimes seems to be the sole right of white, rich, young, thin women, or at least that's what it looks like when you read fashion magazines.

There have been some vague attempts to narrow the gap: Vogue Italia's Black issue was mostly a success some years ago, and generally speaking people tend to applaud casting directors when they choose women of different ages, ethnicities and body types to strut the catwalk. It is, then, welcome news that people within the fashion industry at least occasionally raise questions about whom fashion serves and whom it leaves out. This time, Vogue Italia has dedicated their new issue to curves. (And yes, it is called Vogue Curvy.) My first thought was that it is about time we hear what curvy women have to say about fashion. But looking at the editorial photos taken by Steven Meisel, they don't really say anything. They prance around half-naked and have a nice meal in a fancy restaurant without their clothes on.The second obvious fact is that women in our society are having to deal with the over-sexualized, over-eroticized, over-objectified characterization of women on a daily basis. Most women on TV, in movies and magazines are passive and pretty, not too opinionated, they wear revealing clothes and talk about their need to find Prince Charming. (A career woman has to talk like a man and wear trouser suits in order to be taken seriously.) Women in high fashion magazines are shown in weird fantasy settings and in odd, sometimes sexually provocative positions, but unlike in more commercial settings like the Victoria's Secret catalogue, they usually get to keep their clothes on. Unless, that is, you happen to be a model with curves. Then she gets to undress for us.

I have a serious problem with the fact that that Vogue Italia decided to portray these curvy women posing legs wide open, straddling a chair, and their butts up in the air. If Steven Meisel's idea was to shoot the sad reality of these beautiful women not being able to fit into sample sizes, he succeeded. But somehow I have a feeling that he took the easy way out and decided to depict women with curves in the way that men everywhere are used to seeing them: they are sex objects first, women second, and I don't even know what third. I am so disturbed by the overly sexed up portrayal of curves here that there isn't a bone in my bony body that feels happy that a high-fashion magazine in showing us something else than the usual size 0 16-year old. Am I overreacting? I don't know. I am just so fed up with seeing women portrayed in completely irrational, male-sexual-fantasy-driven settings, especially now, since the issue of the exclusive nature of fashion vis-a-vis women is real. Women of different shapes and sizes need to be heard, not put in demeaning positions as if they were posing for freakin' Playboy. And here I'll just throw my hands up in the air and say "COME ON! It's a fashion magazine, for ****'s sake! Where are the clothes?!"

What do you think? Is any imagery of curvy women a step in the right direction? Why do curvy women need their own magazine issue rather than for them to be included in the general framework of fashion? When are we going to stop portraying women as sex objects?

Pictures from Vogue Curvy


Cynthia said...

Words can not express how much I hate this. I think it's offensive to all women, not just the curvy ones.

I am in constant, active rebellion against the oversexualization of women that is so prevalent in our society. Seeing this photo spread makes me want to construct large angular clothes shaped like perfect rectangles and held away from my body with a wire frame. Or it makes me want to strap down my breasts and ever-after dress as a boy, like the main character in Isabel Allende's Daughter of Fortune.

I didn't write this in last week's screed against heels for some reason, but another reason that I don't wear stilettos is that they are porn shoes, and I am not going to voluntarily submit to The Man's tool that he uses to sexually objectify me and push my ass into a sticky-outy,
sexually receptive position. This photo spread only reinforces my feeling about stilettos, and that same feeling extends to other, specifically sexualizing clothing (or non-clothing). I'm not voluntarily putting on any shackles of objectification.

It's not that I don't like sex, but what I dislike is the portrayal of women that says that that is all I am "for". I decide what I am for, and it is not for The Man's amusement, and by God if I have to purge my wardrobe of every piece of even remotely sexy clothing to make that point, I will.


metscan said...

You brought up the question, which is brought up every now and then.
Nothing has changed, will it ever change, probably not.
The reason I browse through fashion magazines, is to get a glimpse of the accessories.
Thank God, they can be worn by everyone.

Millie from Interrobangs Anonymous said...

I am so with Cynthia on this. It's offensive, short-sighted, and objectifying, and you're not at all over-reacting to it. The women shown here are all hourglass-y shaped, which is usually considered the sexy kind of curvy (whereas say apple-y women aren't the right kind of curvy), and there's hardly a stitch of clothing to be found in what's ostensibly a fashion shoot. For an attempt at broadening the scope of images in fashion, it's a massive, massive fail -- not only does it emphasize how limited and reductive the images of larger women are in this context (ie, incredibly sexed-up in a highly male-centric way), but it actively contributes to the marginalization and erasure of larger women in fashion.

Franca said...

I agree. This is just weird. This isn't even just them prancing around without clothes on, these are explicitly porney poses.

It's something that's always bothered me about any high fashion shoots featuring plus size or even just not standard model sized girls is that they are always naked and sexy. It's so restrictive, like the only way it is acceptable to have some bulgey bits of flesh is if they are 'sexy curves'. Ever Beth Ditto, who is very explicitly not for heterosexual entertainment, is naked more often than not. I think part of this is definitely that there just are no sample clothes that are big enough, but I do also think it's mostly laziness and lack of imagination.

myedit said...

Thanks for the comment on my post on being a tally..
I am kind of sick of magazines and media needing pats on the back and accolades for featuring 'real' women. I find the images more about sex than fashion. What else is new...

Teeny said...

vogue curvy. how f*cking ridiculous. i feel like i'm meant to be gushing and so grateful that 'real' women have a magazine to find themselves in....with no clothes on, and looking porny. i liked what millie said.

Carolyn said...

Oh boy, you are so so right! These pictures here are pretty offensive! how can these be "fashion" photos? It is insulting to the women here that they have been asked to pose like a Playboy bunny, and yes, where are the clothes?? Isn't the point of a fashion magazine to show curvy (and all-sized) women how to select beautiful clothes that show off their figure to best advantage? That after all, is the point of fashion...

It's not that I'm prudish, but I think there is a place for pictures like this, and it is NOT in a womens' fashion magazine! Hopefully this issue has something by way of actual fashion to offer elsewhere in the magazine...

Someone said...

I completely agree with all of you. I am a curvy hourglass, a petite size 6; I sure don't fit the twiggy model mold. I'm also a feminist and find this shoot extremely offensive.

I want to note, too, that it particularly offends me that if we object to this kind of objectification, someone WILL call us "prudes," declare that we MUST be "ashamed of our bodies," and accuse us of not liking sex. I mean FFS! That whole trope is a total LIE, to keep us from objecting to any part of sexualization. As if we have to accept ALL the hateful crap to even be considered sexual beings. Well...they can shove it!

yeldalynn said...

First, I really want to tell you, that I usualy would second every single word you say.

But secondly as a also very curvy woman myself this whole thing is very interesting to me.

I think, its difficult to show woman like this in a world, or even fashion world, where other ideals trump.
I think what the photographer or any every other person in this project just thought how they could show curvy women making them interesting for the usualy very straight business.

Its like this: in every single magazine, especially high fashion magazine, its about sex, glamour and goog looking. Of course. There is no picture in the fashion business, that is not conceived to not being sexy, or attractive or what their idea is of beauty.
We all know, that this idea is about, don't we?

I don't want to say I think, thats the right thing or way to do so or think so.

Under precondition of that, its the most natural thing to show these women as like that! I mean, isn't the message: "look, we're curvy, look how good and sexy and beautiful we can look like and our bodies, too!"

I guess, its about provocation, or at least catching attention.

The other thing is, why do these models support that?
Of course because its a acknowlegdement.

Myrna said...

Since I'm curvy, I'd prefer to see curvy women in clothes that I might buy/sew. I'm not interested in staring at naked bodies that look like they should be in a porn not a fashion magazine.

robin said...

Ok, I had to think about this for a bit, but I wanted to weigh in because I posted a link to these photos on my own blog (which Waves so very kindly and thoughtfully commented on some weeks back). I must confess, I am a little nervous posting this, for fear of being lambasted for my stance on this.

My initial reaction to these photos was, "Damn, that is really sexy, and I am turned on!" This base (and admittedly superficial) reaction made me want to share them on my blog. I think the photos are really well composed, with gorgeous lines, and gorgeous lighting. These women are heartbreakingly beautiful, and as an "hourglassy, curvy" woman myself, it was amazing to see a model that was shaped like ME depicted so beautifully. I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to be photographed looking like this.

That said, you are absolutely right about a photo story like this being out of place in a fashion magazine. I am also very weary of magazines being lauded as revolutionary and progressive (usually by themselves) for deigning to show a size 10 ass and some DD boobs on their pages.

On the other hand...there just aren't too many designer clothes that MY size 10 ass and DD boobs will fit into. Editorial fashion just don't exist in those dimensions! I personally would rather see photos like this than not see these women at all. The women might appear to be overly sexualized or objectified, but in my opinion, it is a refreshing change from the "plus-size" girl being portrayed as the funny best friend on the sidelines, who is all but completely asexual in the media. Just my 2 cents.

I completely respect what the other commenters have to say about this, and it has given me some interesting food for thought.

The Waves said...

Thank you so much for all of your comments!

Cynthia: yes, indeed, there are moments when I, too, feel like dressing like a boy just to make a point, but I also get the point of Slut Walks. We should have the right to wear revealing and clingy clothes if we so desire, without having to feel like we are wearing something that men are telling us to wear so that they can objectify us. It is a tricky equation, for sure.

Millie: I agree that this type of stuff marginalizes larger size women even more, and leaves them completely out of the fashion framework. Now that they can say that they've dedicated an entire issue for women with curves, they probably hope that people will stop asking for portrayal of different types of beauty. You know, "been there, done that" mentality.

Franca: I've often wondered the same thing about Beth Ditto, as well as other portrayals of plus-sized women. I wonder how much of this has to do with the assumption that women with curves supposedly have more and/or better sex? As a skinny woman myself, I've heard many times how thin women are supposedly not "sexy", and even that they don't have sex! It is ridiculous!

Myedit & Teeny: a huge part of me feels like magazines occasionally feature bigger models just so that they can feel better about themselves for a few months, and justify going back to business-as-usual a month later.

Carolyn: I have no idea what the rest of the magazine looks like. I went to the Vogue Curvy website, and the first thing I saw was again plus-sized women in underwear. It's as if they spend all their time hanging out half naked!

Someone: calling people who object displaying women like merchandise "prudes" is super annoying. It is in the same category of ignorant remarks as "feminists don't like sex", or "feminists hate men" or what have you. :S

yeldalynn: I see your point, and agree that a big part of this editorial is to make people notice it. I also agree that fashion magazines always portray models in attractive settings, in one way or another, and sex is a big selling point, regardless of what size the model is. I guess I am offended by this editorial more than others because it relies on the age-old assumption that women with curves are "sexy" first before anything else. It is almost like the issue of sexiness is underlined here to such an extent that it takes over the whole imagery. For any fashion model, Vogue Italia is a huge deal, and I am sure the models in question felt honored to be a part of this editorial, even if it meant for them to take their clothes off. They probably don't even feel the need to question the nature of the pictures and the sociological context, because Vogue Italia is probably going to do wonders for their careers.

Myrna: I'm with you on this one 100%. The reason why I read fashion magazines is the clothes and only the clothes.

Robin: Ever since I came across the pictures on Jezebel and then in your post, I have been thinking about this whole issue every day. As bothered as I am about the too-sexual nature of these photos, I also have to admit that the women are stunningly beautiful. As photos, they are beautiful. I guess what bothers me and so many others is our inability to see the women outside of the context - that they are portrayed as sex objects. As much as I think that the women are beautiful and their bodies stunning, I just can't over what this portrayal means on a deeper level. I think some people are just more sensitive about that type of stuff. And you are definitely not alone in your opinion; The Sartorialist's comment box on the topic is full of people who just love these pictures, both men and women. You, btw, raised a really good point about the portrayal of plus-sized women as asexual funny girls in movies and on TV. Why can't we see plus-sized women who are like real people - they work, they wear clothes, they have families, they have sex? It shouldn't be just one thing or another.

vesperbeauty said...

Just once, I would like to see a fashion editorial featuring fat women that doesn't pat itself on the back for thinking "outside the box". That bothers me much more than naked, sexualized pictures. If you have to call attention to how diverse you are, you're not that diverse. Glamour did a shoot a few years ago with Crystal Renn that didn't mention her body once.

Also, I hate the word "curvy", it's such a BS euphemism for fat.

Katarzyna said...

Generally speaking, dear Waves, rephrasing your first sentence, very, very few women AT ALL have their picture taken for high-end fashion magazines. No matter what their size is. The problem with any kind of modelling for me is that it represents some kind of ideal--whether it be skinny or curvy, it always depicts just one vision of it.

Let me digress. When I was a student, I used to work with anorexics. Cliche as it may seem, they were almost all teenage girls, more seldom twenty-somethings. I have seen more skinny bodies than you could possibly imagine. All the issues about anorexia aside here, there are thousands of types of skinny bodies. The skinny models that we see normally in fashion magazines represent just one type of "skinny"; girls strive for this perfection, yet they will never achieve it- not because they will not be skinny enough but because their bodies are differently shaped.

Same goes with curvy women. Vogue Curvy concentrates only on one type of curvy body: curvy in an over-sexualized way, curvy that suggests, well, plain eroticism. These pictures, however pretty they are, frighten me. In the person of the model they try to create yet another ideal which is not for everyone. Let's assume for one wild moment that the "curvy body" trend catches on. Thousands of women try to get this look and not achieve it- because their bodies are built in a different way. Another thousands of tragedies, of health ruined...

You said you may be overreacting. I am for sure. But these forced ideals of what I should be attack me from everywhere. When I happen to come across a fashion magazine today, I look at women portrayed there as if they were strangers. Aliens. They are not women, they're objects. Just like the chairs and the curtains. And I feel so detached from such images that I usually put back the fashion magazine and look at the world itself and women themselves. They are the real thing.

Rachel said...

I'm really into this post. I've read your blog for a while (hi Waves, you are wonderful!!), but I've been too shy to comment, so thank you and all of your commentators for inspiring me.

Initially, I reacted the same way as a lot of people, I guess. Yes, these photographs are beautiful - and the women are stunning. But then, like you said, that's not really what fashion magazines are about. In all fashion magazines, the pictures highlight the clothes, the bags, the shoes.. the model, although an integral part of the experience, is there to show substance, to show a shape and a sense of narrative, not to be the main focus. These 'Curvy' pictures are all about the model - I have no idea what kind of shoes they're wearing, and honestly, their clothing is kind of boring.

Maybe that's part of what makes it so upsetting, because I really want to like these pictures. As someone who continuously struggles with body image issues, I would have expected something featuring beautiful, full women, as empowering or uplifting or something. But instead I'm all mad and confused.

There's this issue for women, this feeling that clothing makes us less attractive because it's hard to find consistently flattering outfits. A lot of fashion bloggers I know feel really good about their bodies until they put on clothing. And these Vogue pictures just reinforce that - almost as if there's no way for a woman to be beautiful if she's not all sexified and flashing her bits.

So yeah, you're definitely not overreacting. And it's in our best interest as women to react out loud to things like this, because we're the only ones who know what it feels like to wake up and live every day as a woman. These pictures prove that.

(Also, I showed these pictures to a male friend of mine, just to get his thoughts, and his response was, "This magazine seems to be telling me that I've been using all my furniture incorrectly." And that about sums it up, doesn't it.)

Titine and totoche said...

It's like you put in words what I thought when I saw the editorial. I saw it on the sartorialist, then clicked over to vogue, and at first I was like, ok let's see the clothes, the styling. And then as I start seeing the pictures, I was just so offended. Seriously? It's like they're making up for the fact that they included a plus sized model in the cover, with overly sexual images.

Stella said...

I don't think you're overreacting. I think everyone else (ie media, fashion) is overreacting by making a big brouhaha over this issue. Women of all kinds should be continually present in fashion/magazines. Unfortunately, that is not happening.

The way I see it, it looks like the editors/photographers/people involved in the shoot thought that the only way they could possibly make "curvy" acceptable is by (hyper)sexualizing it. If it's a magazine, the focus should be about the clothes. Instead, it is about the body. It's all "look at me, look at me! I'm being progressive!". So I think that all sense of progress is actually lost. There is no focus on the clothes, just the glorification of one type of body (as someone else pointed out), one type of curvy. Yes, they've done "curvy", but they've done it on their terms. There's nothing relatable there.

Thanks for pointing this out. Keep up the good stuff!

tinyjunco said...

hmm....this discussion reminds me of John Berger's definition of the difference between 'naked' and 'nude'.

briefly, Berger says that nakedness is a choice on the part of the naked person - their agency and individualism is acknowledged and affirmed. nudes are pretty much an excuse for 'classier', more tasteful, jacking off. so what gets me about these pix is that the ladies are definitely presented as 'nudes'. imagine the reaction if they were just naked - not made up, in 'sexy heels' and surroundings oozing old money, 'artfully' photographed by a recognized photog. it's like a body has to be all 'artified' in order to become acceptable.

frankly, the hair teased into some freaky, alternate dimension is what gets me most.

i'm bothered that so many women's reaction to this type of objectification is to cover themselves up. in my experience, this is a reaction, not a response, and is what a 'good girl' does to make sure that no man will be subject to uncontrollable urges. what, men aren't human, don't posses free will, aren't responsible for their own reactions and actions?

the 'cover it up' reaction logically leads to the burkha and the harem. i acted out society's rules in my teens and twenties and dressed and behaved very very modestly, in order not to 'tempt' men.

of course, it didn't really work, and i ended up feeling very self-conscious and uncomfortable. i realized that the only thing i could do to 'prevent' men from reacting to my body was to just never go out in public - and this let me see how ridiculous and insidious this line of thinking really is.

i still tend to dress on the modest side, but if it's 110F i don't worry about wearing shorts and a tank top that shows that i have tits. hello, we all have bodies. no one has died from seeing a great rack or a hairy buttcrack.

i'm all for seeing people without their clothes on - if you can still tell that they are PEOPLE. i don't think this Vogue layout meets that standard. this spread is not changing my decision to not buy fashion mags and watch TV. steph

Anonymous said...

They are curvy, and yes, even sexy, but remove one more pice of clothing and the mag could be porn....I am curvy, 5'5 and 150 lbs ( I run or else I would be even 'curvier') but how about some real outfits???

Michelle said...

The modeling world is a cruel one, where women, regardless of size, race or age, are judged on specific body parts: legs, lips, eyes, hair, etc. I think being a fashion model has little to do with being sexy since they are so rarely judged as a whole person.

What I saw in the Vogue Curvy issue was not a an attempt to attract average women, but rather, an attempt to sell the curvy figure to the fashion world. Specific body parts were consistently highlighted, as if it were a catatlog for asses, boobs, thighs and backs.

Just as the waif model is purchased according to what kind of lips or hips or feet or whatever she has, the curvy woman is being auctioned to the fashion industry as more options for body parts.

I anticipate the fashion industry turning towards the porn style and that we'll be confronted with more curvy women dissected by sellable body parts. It's just a thought.

priscilla said...

It must be the madonna/whore thing. You either get skinny little girls or you get curvy oversexed women. There's nothing in between. Women fetishize the skinny (perfect figure! perfect life!) and men fetishize the curves (sex! more sex! you have hips and big boobs, so you must want it!). This is only one of the reasons I simply stopped reading fashion magazines. Just stopped.