By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Orbach‘s feminism feels retro and quaint, non-germane to the politics of size in the new millennium, her conclusions whimpering like so many thin-mongering Uncle Toms unable to escape the bounds of their own oppression, displaying so much of her personal pain, and that of her case subjects. Yet it feels as familiar to me as if I were reading a page ripped from my own diary. There was Penny, the 24-year-old teacher who believed that if she could just lose 10 pounds, everything in her life would run smoothly. There were Maureen and Orbach, who were both afraid that being fat or thin meant having to choose between two opposite personalities. There were entire groups of women tortured by triplicate sets of non-fitting ”thin“ clothes in their closet. That their pain was recorded a generation ago makes me immeasurably sad. Someone, somewhere should have fixed this by now.
Even though today we whisper the gentle new terminology of ”plus,“ body acceptance -- true body acceptance -- is still a radical concept. It never occurs to Orbach, trapped within the thin-is-best paradigm -- in 1978 at least -- that the market, with its dearth of variety in size-14-and-over clothing, should bend to the will of the consumer. That big itself can be beautiful.
The Cult of Emme
Big girls don’t cry (that‘s just an alibi).
--Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, 1963
Fast forward to 2002. Oprah and Emme, E!’s Fashion Emergency host and size-16 supermodel, are on the cover of People magazine: ”Sexy at Any Size.“ It‘s not the size that matters, it’s how you use it. Confidence, a positive attitude, makes you sexy. Inside: Kelly Osbourne, Camryn Manheim, Mia Tyler, Kate Dillon, Carre Otis. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 68 percent of women wear a size 12 or larger. Over 50 percent wear a size 14. I‘m surprised at the number of designers making plus-size styles: Marina Rinaldi for tailored suits and dresses, Lane Bryant, Liz Claiborne’s Elizabeth line, Emanuel Ungaro, Ralph Lauren, Anne Klein II, Dana Buchman, Tommy Hilfiger, Donna Karan, Ellen Tracy, Gianni Versace, Givenchy, Richard Metzger. In 1995, Saks Fifth Avenue Beverly Hills opened an entire floor -- Salon Z -- for plus-size. But the surprise itself makes me angry. Why even have a separate floor? A separate store? Why the segregation?
I am the worst kind of fat girl: un-jolly, sullen, sensitive, ready to take offense, secret nurturer of elaborate revenge fantasies. The kind who just won‘t let it go. The kind with the unsexy attitude. In order to form a more perfect union of women who are large and loving it, there is no room for doubt. No space for regret or for wishing you might be anything other than what you are, which is not thin. Show no fear -- behave as you would around dogs or angry bees.
At the mall, I growl in the dressing room -- stupid little zippers, stupid little buttons fastening handkerchief swaths of cloth threatening to tear when I yank them off. Like an ogre raiding a china doll’s trousseau. So near, and yet so far! A salesclerk raps on the door: ”Is everything all right? How‘s it going?“
Where men’s sizes are denoted in straightforward measurements of inseam, waist size, sleeve length or neck circumference, women‘s sizes are a murky, perverse business fraught with contention. Size 0 to 12 is called ”straight“ or ”missy“ size; 14 to 26 is called ”plus“; 26 and above is ”supersize.“ Roving the second-floor aisles at Bloomingdale’s, I see straight-size dresses in every possible iteration -- pale golds, sky blues, reds, fuchsias. Party frocks in polka-dot tulle. Tailored jackets with clever, nipped-in waists. Audrey Hepburn evening gowns in luscious satin. Sporty little Puma shirts and narrow-hipped pants. Upstairs, hidden behind housewares and lingerie, the plus-size department, a wasteland of stretch. Clustered around the sales counter, a solitary rack of DKNY skirts. I pick up a sleeveless dress, a lone red flare amid a sea of darks, which starts to scream. The dress is wired to the rack. The rack is wired to an alarm. (The better to keep chubby hands from a five-finger discount?) A harried saleswoman approaches. ”Can I help you with that?“ Two pale, round-faced women in the sweater section skulk away, wide-eyed and nervous, quiet as ghosts.
Other times, the act of dressing is a surly rage, an itching for a fight in busty shirt or clingy skirt, revealing the bulge I‘m supposed to conceal -- Go ahead! Say it! Give me an excuse! In Curve, a documentary about the plus-size modeling industry, the filmmakers posed to their model subjects the magic question: ”If you could choose to instantly become a size 2, would you do it?“ Golden-tressed Katy Hansz, apologetic, glitter-lidded eyes misting, gorgeous by any standard but as a size 12 the closest of the bunch to the realm of straight-size modeling, is the only one who answers yes.
DR. LECTER: And how do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet? Make an effort to answer.
CLARICE: No. We just . . .
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