If Fat Women Prefer Thin Models…

Ragen Chastain: 5'4, 284 pounds. Photo by Richard Sabel

Yesterday in response to my post about being disappointed with Lane Bryant for using models whose size precludes them from actually wearing Lane Bryant clothes, I received several replies saying that Lane Bryant has run tests and plus-sized women bought more clothes when they were advertised on a “straight sized” model than on an actual plus-sized model. What with the who now?

So I did some quick (very quick, I left the house at 8am and just got home an hour ago)  research.  According to a  controversial study from Arizona State University:

“We found that overweight consumers demonstrated lower self-esteem – and therefore probably less enthusiasm about buying products – after exposure to any size models in ads (versus ads with no models). Also, normal-weight consumers experienced lower self-esteem after exposure to moderately heavy models, such as those in Dove soap’s ‘Real Women’ campaign, than after exposure to moderately thin models.”

Here’s my question:  Do you think it just might, maybe, possibly be because we have been so aggressively sold the idea that there is only one body type that is beautiful that we’ve started to believe it, and so as a culture when we see someone outside of the single image of beauty that we are sold  99.999999999% of the time we experience a conditioned response and immediately think “That’s a bad body.  That body is wrong.  My body is like that. My body is wrong.”?

Instead of looking at this study, asking the question that I asked, and pondering their culpability in the situation, what I see the media and advertisers doing is hiding behind the study and continuing to perpetuate their singular idea of beauty on the grounds that we like it better, which continues to reinforce that any body outside of that ideal is somehow unworthy of being seen, which means that we like the “ideal” more, and like our own bodies less.  Especially in a world where we almost never see an image that has not been so “retouched” that it is a completely impossible standard of beauty.   Does this seem like a good idea to you?  I think it’s pretty much crap.

I find bodies of all shapes and sizes beautiful – I always have.  I guess if I’m truthful I’ve always been more interested in the present than that box it comes in, but I’ve been purely physically attracted to all shapes and sizes of bodies.  I feel very lucky in that respect – even when I couldn’t find appreciation for my own body – I could always find it for the bodies of others.  And I think that if we truly want a body revolution, then we’re going to have to get it done ourselves.

My first suggestion:

Seek out pictures of bodies of all sizes, look at them every day.  Find things about them that you like. Start to really look around you at the diversity of bodies that exist. Realize that every single body is doing amazing things – the owner of the body isn’t even thinking about it, yet in every one of those bodies a heart is beating, lungs are breathing, eyes are blinking.  Millions of processes are going on every second in every body.  They are amazing machines at every single shape and size.

Decide, right now, that you are above putting down other bodies to make you feel better about yours (even if you only think it), or for any other reason.  Start to notice any time you think anything negative about anyone’s body and stop yourself and replace it with a positive thought.  Refuse to participate in body snarking with other people.  Be the change you want to see in the world.

Find ways to love your own body.  If you want some help check out Love Your Body More in Three Simple Steps

I promise you that your body is an amazing beautiful body that is absolutely worthy to be looked upon and adored, even if you don’t quite know it yet.

Want some places to start looking at beautiful bodies?  Check these out for a start:

Athletes at Every Size Flickr Pool (You may notice some familiar pictures from a certain fat dancing blogger…)

VoluptuArt has amazing pieces to look at and buy.  I have done both and I love the stuff.  (Nope, they don’t give me anything to say that, they most likely have no idea who I am)

This post (check the comments for lots of amazing pictures of fat people doing awesome stuff from belly dancing to hammer throwing).

The Adipositivity Project (NSFW, and the only situation in which I think a headless fatty is ok)

Works of Peter Paul Rubens (NSFW)

Corvetta Curves (NSFW)

The post of my most recent dance photoshoot can be found here

As always, if you know of others please add them in the comments.

Bodies are all around you, just waiting to be appreciated. Get going!!!!

Published in: on January 25, 2011 at 7:06 am  Comments (28)  

28 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. While I have come to accept and appreciate the shape and size of my body, I do sometimes still have issues about accepting that others accept and appreciate my body the way it is. It’s something I’m striving towards. Just like I’m striving towards accepting compliments when they come my way instead of questioning them, or giving an opposing view of what they see or think. Thank you for this Ragen, it gives me a lot to think about.

  2. I think the results of this study do reflect what large women have been conditioned to believe. It is like the study done years ago which showed that black children preferred white baby dolls. This is, of course, because the black children had been conditioned to believe that white skin was more attractive than black skin.
    To say that because plus size women prefer to look at slender models in advertising and therefore slender models are better would be akin to saying that black children preferred white baby dolls because white skin is better. In this decade there are very few people who would accept the validity of this argument. Yet many accept wholesale the validity of the argument that slender models are superior. Very sad.

  3. Being myself on the larger end of the plus-sized scale, from a purely practical standpoint I find the models in the Lane Bryant catalog as well as other chains like them highly misleading. While I’m stating the obvious I’d also like to point out that no, seeing a small model in a catalog selling large-sized clothing doesn’t imbue me with an instant feeling of higher self-esteem. It leaves me feeling patronized, like my being a large person must mean I’m too ignorant to notice the difference.

    Most importantly it is difficult and frustrating to try to judge how an item of clothing is going to look on my body when the only gauge I’m given is on a model barely teetering on the lowest end of the plus-sized scale. Countless times I have ordered relatively expensive items online – and online ordering eventually becomes a must because of extremely limited selection in mainstream retail – only to receive it and find it delivers exactly what it promised, namely that it would look great on a woman several sizes smaller.

    On the contrary, when catalogs use genuine plus-sized models and offer a 1:1 example I am immediately able to get an idea of whether or not an item suits me, and as a result I usually end up buying more as well as buying smarter, and everyone is happy.

    Heads up, industry! You’re shooting yourself in the foot catering to a media-driven dream image rather than giving your customers what they really need – REALITY.

  4. I know my subconscious prefers slimmish bodies, however recently I was shocked and disturbed by a model in a women’s magazine here in Canada who looked like she’d just walked out of a concentration camp and had her hair and makeup done. Your post has inspired me to fire off an e-mail to them saying that that’s not what I want to see!

    • BTW, I did write a letter of complaint…and haven’t heard back. Guess I should check to see if they had the guts to publish it.

  5. Great post, and practical tips I can put into practice today. Right now.

    A quick question (my coffee hasn’t kicked in yet): NSFW=?

    Thanks!
    Mary-Ellin

    • NSFW = not safe for work – it probably contains nudity

      • Ah, ok. Thank you! I don’t recall the website off the top of my head, but I believe some years back, Leonard Nimoy (*that* Leonard Nimoy, aka “Mr. Spock”) photographed plus-sized women for his “Full Body Project.” Really cool photos. Here we go: http://www.rmichelson.com/Artist_Pages/Nimoy/pages/Leonard-Nimoy-Gallery.html

        Interesting stuff…

      • Also NSFW – and it looks like someone already posted the same thing further down.

  6. I can see how having any model at all might make a person a bit depressed; no matter what size the model is, it will never show what the clothing would look like on ME. Plus, many of us are taught to be humble to a fault, and looking at any body makes us think, “I’ll never be as (thin, pretty, fit, stylish, etc.) as HER.”

    Here are a couple links to sites that show images of normal people (both are NSFW):

    http://theshapeofamother.com/ Shows real bodies of mothers, and they tell their stories of body love/hate.

    http://strippedproject.blogspot.com/ An independent project by a student photographer showing unaltered nude images of women and men of every shape/size/color/etc.

    • I love Shape of a Mother. Great purpose, though it’s probably worth noting that there is a fair amount of “diet talk” on that site. It could be triggering for some (myself included). Thanks!

  7. People had lower self esteem because of Dove’s Real Woman campaign??? That’s a joke right??? I loved it to death!!! Sometimes I think that the only way to be fat and have people think u’re FAB is by being a Drag Queen…

    • That campaign was actually pretty insulting to its target audience. The reason Dove used larger sized models was because they were pushing firming lotion, a product that thinner models would not have been able to convincingly sell. So even if they were “celebrating” “real beauty,” they were still telling women to be ashamed of their fat.

  8. It very well could be that one reason why even fat women are drawn to clothes worn by thinner women is because it has been drilled into their heads since birth that thin=good and fat=bad. And let me just say that I think it’s great that you suggested ways of everyone appreciating all body types along with their own instead of just pointing fingers at reasons and blaming media and fashion outlets for why we think the way we do about body types. There comes a point when you have to realize that while yeah, we think this way because of this reason, but it’s ultimately up to our own selves to change that if this issue is important to us. I have been in arguments with other people about this before and they seem to feel a sense of entitlement that we as consumers should just sit back and do nothing while we write complaint letters to magazines and force them to change to accomodate us and what we want to see featured as “beautiful,” But it’s not up to them, it’s up to us to start it, and I think you have mentioned good ways of starting that process.

    I personally appreciate bodies of all types and would love to see more plus size women modeling plus sized clothing, and hell I’m not even plus sized.

  9. My beef is with models that have been so photoshopped, they look like they have plastic faces. I think this is mainly a US thing, to be honest.

    I was in the US last year and picked up some magazines. They appalled me. The faces on the covers were so altered, they weren’t human any more. I actually found them grotesque and garish.

    Contrast this with European magazines, which often show a range of women of different ages. I’ve found I’ve become less panicky about hitting the big Four Oh since I’ve lived here, because there are lots of aging women who are role models. Brigitte, an important German magazine, no longer uses professional models at all, but finds attractive women to feature every month (I suspect they did this to save money initially, but it proved popular).

    What is unacceptable in Europe is poor grooming. You can’t leave the house unless you’ve made an effort, even if you’re just doing grocery shopping, which is in total contrast to the English speaking countries, where you can dress the way you want.

    I’ve come to like it, to be honest. The more attention I pay to myself, the better I feel, without having to live up to some impossible, photoshopped ideal.

    • I like this.

  10. Thanks again for the great post and wonderful resources! I just talked to the fabulous creator of the Adipositivity Project, how wonderful!

    I would also like to offer my link

    http://www.brittneyadams.wordpress.com

    Another resource to striving for self acceptance in our intolerant world.

    Thanks Again Ragen!
    Brittney Cathey-Adams

  11. I agree that it has everything to do with conditioning – it takes work/patience to break out of what we’ve been so brainwashed to believe about women (including, but not limited to, body image). Also the clothes they’re advertising often don’t suit a very curvy body – it takes a change in design to flatter a different shape/proportion. That would help a lot – so plus sizes don’t look like the “fat version” of clothes for slim people.
    I love the comment about Europe being different – I’m in Spain now and was pleasantly surprised to see a perfume ad where the model’s crows feet had not been airbrushed out. I agree that the photoshop look is a little shop of horrors :)
    Keep up the interesting blogging! It is most apppreciated.

  12. I’ve said this same thing for years. I want to know what clothing looks on the average plus-sized woman. not a 6′ model with a little meat on her. Don’t know if you’re familiar with the Torrid clothing line. But over the years, I’ve watched them evolve into a thinner model base. They used to put models up of all shapes and sizes, rolls and everything, now the body types are becoming more uniformed. They also did away with their forums and community page where us fat girls could talk about whatever. They became less customer based. I was so upset about it that I wrote to them. Of course I never got a reply. I think I’m just as pretty as any of them and my body type deserves to be represented in their plus sized store!

  13. My comment is awaiting moderation because the links I put are maybe not appropriate? so here’s the rest of the comment, without the links:

    I can see how having any model at all might make a person a bit depressed; no matter what size the model is, it will never show what the clothing would look like on ME. Plus, many of us are taught to be humble to a fault, and looking at any body makes us think, “I’ll never be as (thin, pretty, fit, stylish, etc.) as HER.”

  14. I think the most salient point of the blog, which is great, is that we have allowed ourselves to be conditioned by the constant, insidious, and inescapable message that only thin is good. Given the power of the media behind the negativity, it will be very difficult to deprogram any great number of people. That merely means we must, every day, use all opportunities to praise all body types. We will never “win” by making them “bad.” We must win by being “better.” Not in a judgmental “I’m-better-than-you-neener-neener,” but better in the sense that we strive to be positive.

  15. I completely agree that we are visually trained, through 1000’s of images we see over a lifetime, to accept a very thin body type as ideal, rather than celebrate the amazing diversity of bodies that surround us everywhere.
    I am a high school teacher and part-time artist, and my illustrations feature women of various sizes, ages and races engaged in positive activities, precisely because anyone who is larger than “straight sizes” is almost invisible in our media culture (even sometimes as models for plus-size clothing!)
    BTW I LOVE the photos of you dancing!

  16. I love what you said about loving all types of bodies. I’m a big fan of the “grotesque” in movies and literature and I love the less conventional aspects of people’s appearances – uniquely shaped noses, asymmetry, etc. – but many people think I’m being snide when I say this. They can’t imagine someone finding beauty in something that isn’t represented in the media. “Grotesque” to me isn’t a negative word in the context of art. It’s just extreme diversity. It’s why I love the worlds of Tim Burton, Roald Dahl, and Lemony Snicket – they celebrate uniqueness in ways that no one else does. The characters’ body types have no bearing on their personalities.

    Another website about body image for women is http://www.007b.com/ (NSFW). Its mission is to combat the media’s obsession with breasts as sexual objects. They also have a large gallery of user-submitted photos to show what “normal breasts” look like.

  17. Leonard Nimoy (yes, Mr. Spock) has been doing photography for quite a while and has a great exhibit here that my lovely art teacher friend directed me to a few years ago. It’s fat positivity is great and his artist’s statement is pretty compelling too:

    (also NSFW)

    http://www.rmichelson.com/artist_pages/nimoy/pages/MaxBeaut.htm

    • Not a personal fan of the work but it is always good to give people options. Who knows, what works for some does nothing for others and vice versa.

  18. I was just talking about this today. I think there is a conflation of “aspiration” with “thin”. Mainstream marketing believes that to present an aspirational image, which we know does work for marketing, it has to be an image of a thin person.

    However, one can aspire to so many more things than thinness. For example, I aspire to have fun. To look nice. To feel good. To be surrounded by friends. To feel glamorous.

    So often, plus-size marketing attempts to use plus-sized models, but fails because they do not grasp the concept of aspirational being other than thin. So they plonk some plus-sized woman on the page in an outfit, with no styling, no back story, just plus-size gal in an outfit.

    For example, look at the website for Autograph Fashion (http://www.autographfashion.com.au) Go into any category, and they have an attractive woman, admittedly at the lower end of plus-size, but I am sure she’d fit the clothes sold by Autograph. But she’s just put there, on a white background, with no styling of her hair or make-up. BORING!

    However look at their sister store, City Chic (http://www.citychic.com.au/) and you will see at least on the front page, some styling and aspirational imagery. Even on plus-size models, gasp!

    It’s so frustrating to be treated like the poor relation and have no effort put into the marketing and imagery for a brand – almost as frustrating as seeing straight sized models in plus-size clothing!

  19. 1) Ragen I absolutely LOVE the dancing picture you have at the beginning of this article it is a glorious celebration of movement and form; you look like a goddess of the wind.

    2) Lane Bryant and all similar stores will never get my money for the following reason (follow the causality with me): I am a short woman with very wide hips –> I cannot find a picture of a short woman with very wide hips wearing the clothing I think I might be interested in buying –> I assume the clothing I am interested in will either not fit me or look unflattering on my shape –> I DO NOT BUY SAID CLOTHING.
    I. Want. To. See. Myself. Or I will not buy the clothes. LB & Co. are clueless.

  20. I came here from the newer post that linked here and wanted to tell you that I did some freelance work for Lane Bryant and this runs contrary to what I was told during my informational meeting with them (I did the work from home so most of our communication was via email — I had just one or two face-to-face meetings). I was told then that Lane Bryant’s customers were proud, strong, opinionated women. I was told that I should in no way shape or form write copy that diminished their customers (like de-emphasized their curves or happiness with their curves) and that my copy should be celebratory and strong. I’m disappointed to hear that they have changed their tune since my gig there, (which was some time in 2008, I think). They were very clear about that — no copywriters should convey that any of the Lane Bryant clients were anything but happy with their bodies because their experience was that happy women were buying their clothes. At the time, the modeling I saw reflected that. (I buy all of my clothes at thrift stores and that includes some Lane Bryant, which kinda gets me off the hook boycott-wise although I recognize my privilege in being able to do that.)


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