The New York Times "Reaches Out to Heavier Young Women"
Wednesday's New York Times Fashion & Style section featured an article on the recent "outpouring of fashions aimed at trend-driven, round-figured teenagers and young women." Round-figured? Outpouring? Is that model in the frozen food section of a grocery store?
Courtney at Feministing posted an excellent dissection of Ruth La Ferla's article here, but there were a few points I needed to "expand" on (bad pun? Get used to it! NYT provided us with many more verbally-disappointing gems). As a starting point, let's look at the list of descriptions for "plus-sized" women used in the article:
Outsize, rotund, round-figured, large-sized, woman of size, big-girls, girth, full figured, curvy, larger young women, overweight...
What is up with this lingo? Admittedly, I understand the fear of mislabeling and, thus, being misunderstood as an writer. However, in an article partially about fat acceptance, the f-word is only used in a passing quote. Was this an attempt to avoid a negative or condemning bias? Think again! The article not only ended with the ever popular health angle, but it also dismissed the legitimacy of any body-acceptance from these marginalized "women of size"
"It's important to reclaim 'fat' as a descriptive, as even something positive," argued [Annie] Maribona of Fat Fancy. But others point to serious health consequences of being overweight. Andrea Marks, a specialist in adolescent medicine in Manhattan, suspects that "the vast majority of overweight girls are not so happy." Apparent self-acceptance, she added, may be a cover for defiance or resignation.
This attitude, along with the totally whack list of used descriptives, contributed to an overall tone of body bias. Women larger than a size-12 are discussed as the "diseased them." It is clear that the author does not consider herself part of this demographic, otherwise she may have reconsidered her assertion that there has been a recent "outpouring of [plus-size] fashions." With full disclosure, I consider myself as being on the smaller end of the plus-size spectrum, and I know that I sure as hell am more frequently forcing my body into clothing rather than seeing clothing made to fit my body. It is because of stores like Portland's own Fat Fancy (which i have supported for more than a year now) that I can have a shopping experience where I don't feel like there is something fundamentally wrong with my shape. However, stores like these are few and SO far between.
And who is comprising La Ferla's category of big girls? Is there a shared "plus-size" experience, or are size-12 girls treated differently from size-24? The article constructs a slightly varied community of larger well-known women (Beth Ditto, Adele, Jennifer Hudson, Jordan Sparks) as a reference point for readers, but still falls back on the familiar cop-out of valuing selective curve (read: tits and ass). In the course of the article, La Ferla conveniently exposes her own size hierarchy, inspiring my friend to wonder "Why does Beth Ditto have girth but Jordan Sparks is glamorously curvy?" The media appears to frequently holds up "curvy," conventionally good looking women like Scarlett Johansson and Salma Hayek as a way to cleanly avoid accusations of fat discrimination. But while Andrea Marks may mistake my body confidence as resignation, I think that many girls have long been aware of the media's own resignation to rarely attempt to construct and discuss the female body in realistic and encompassing terms.
At the end of the day, is visibility still visibility, regardless of the values of the messenger? Does it matter that plus-size clothing (and plus-size clothing providers) is receiving attention in the fashion section of the New York Times? What do you all think? And, as a slight side topic, are there Fat Fancy-esque stores in your hometown?
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