By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
DR. LECTER: No. Precisely. We begin by coveting what we see every day.
--Hannibal ”the Cannibal“ Lecter, from The Silence of the Lambs
The hunger for clothing is the hunger for acceptance. The drive to match your outsides with your insides. Buffalo Bill had his fat suit, and so did Gwyneth in Shallow Hal. Is there lurking inside every fat woman a thin woman yearning to break free? In college, I take to spying on beautiful women. Corrie in Russian Lit, slender as a Klimt fairy in vintage lace. Cecile at the coffeehouse, with Louise Brooks hair and skinny arms. Susan with the swanlike neck. My dormmate lays out her theorem: ”The hotness of your outfit is directly proportional to your date’s desire to peel it off.“ But struggling in the car with the control-top pantyhose, from which out plops my stomach, I cringe at my date‘s flabbergasted expression: That’s not how I looked with the packaging.
In 2001, Katie Ford, CEO of Ford Models, told Cosmopolitan that the thin-model trend started in the 1940s with fashion illustrators who drew elongated bodies in their sketches. Cosmo, in true Nancy Drew form, set out to ”solve the mystery of the incredible shrinking model.“ a Their conclusion? Blame it on the designers. Designers want girls who are shaped like hangers. Breasts are bad. Hips are bad. Curves? Butts? Tummies? Bad. Bad. Bad. In the early 1990s, Calvin Klein, reveling in androgyny, selected 5‘7”, 98-pound Kate Moss as his “muse.” Cosmo doesn’t actually say it, but you get the picture: It‘s not about hangers or the 1940s. Designers, predominantly male, predominantly gay, didn’t just want women who looked like little girls, they wanted the fantasy. They wanted little girls who looked like little boys.
The truth, of course, is more complicated. Female ideals shift with the seasons, with the generations and eras, in an endless feedback loop. Designer or Model? Industry or Consumer? Chicken or Egg? It‘s a collusion over a fantasy -- of economic success, of sexual and reproductive desirability, of psychological well-being -- that might just as well go back to the Stone Age, when the first australopithecine tailor, squatting over a scrap of woolly mammoth fur, asked the first huntress-gatheress, wouldn’t she care to slip into something a little more huntery-gathery?
There is much debate about the specific connections between the “Cult of Skinny” and eating disorders. Some 8 million people in the U.S. suffer from anorexia nervosa, bulimia or related eating disorders. Images of thinness are everywhere, yet the majority of adolescents do not develop an eating disorder. But then again, anorexia and bulimia are most common in media-saturated industrialized societies. The evidence is a contradictory, tangled mess, but the general consensus is that the links connecting what we see, what we eat and how we feel are undeniable. Witness the pro-anorexia Web sites.
Double the $ize but Twice as $exy
Hey, big spender . . . Say, wouldn‘t you like to know what’s going on in my mind?
--“Big Spender,” Sweet Charity
So why all of a sudden does it appear that plus-size has become a plus and not a minus? The only thing sexier than being too thin is being too rich. Fat and fashion is not just a feminist issue, it‘s a financial one. Like the docking of the Mothership, the large and lovely woman “has finally arrived.” The reverberation of that triumphant “final arrival” has been echoing for 20 years, starting in 1986, when the trade magazine Women’s Wear Daily, the proverbial canary in the mines of fashion, reported a modest yet enthusiastic response to the first plus-size fashion show. Back then, the average American woman wore a size 8. Now she wears a size 14. She‘s bigger. She’s older. And, both collectively and individually, she‘s richer. While 0 to 12 size sales are hitting a plateau, sales of 14-plus are surging (an estimated $17 billion in 2002, even in a downturn economy). Plus-size is the fashion industry’s last great untapped market. Sixty-five million large-size women, MasterCards at the ready. Why should the plus-size woman who has a keen eye for style be relegated to the role of spectator when she should be a connoisseur?, asks Simon Doonan, creative director of Barneys New York. “The money,” he breathes in Curve, “is sitting there on the table.” What kind of self-respecting label whore wouldn‘t take it?
Fatter, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
“Obesity science” has, in the last half-decade, been transformed from a lackluster backwater into a vibrant field of inquiry attracting some of the most brilliant minds . . . and liberating overweight from the murky ghetto of “character flaw” to the more potent status of “disease.”
--Ellen Ruppel Shell, The Hungry Gene
At the same time that plus-size fashion is coming out of the closet, obesity rates are soaring. Because I am gaining weight with unprecedented ease, I visit an endocrinologist, who tells me that I have insulin resistance, the warning-signal precursor to diabetes. “But don’t worry,” he says as I slump down from the examination table, “it‘s fixable.” The Golden Era of Body Acceptance is hurtling headlong on a collision course with the Scary Age of Big Fat Doom. In December 2001, the U.S. surgeon general announced that over 34 percent of adults are overweight and an additional 27 percent are obese, that obesity is soon going to eclipse tobacco as the biggest threat to public health. The categories “overweight” and “obese” correlate to a range of weight, or more precisely, to a range of weight-to-height ratios, known as the Body Mass Index (BMI). The BMI was established four years ago by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute based on how likely it was that a person of a certain weight, height and age would die from certain nasty diseases. Thirty-two billion dollars spent on plus-size women’s clothing versus 1.1 billion overweight adults. In other words, though my chances of dying from high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease or stroke are going up, when they bury me, I am sure to be wearing something really, really cute.