Does Size Still Matter?

Another year, another ‘Size Issue’ in the world of the fashion magazine. But in a brave new decade, TABATHA LEGGETT asks, can curvy girls really make their mark?

ask men beth ditto curvy kate moss magazine plus sized skinny Sophie Dahl supermodels vogue

It all began with Sophie Dahl. At six feet tall, and a size fourteen, she hardly blended in with the other ultra-skinny models of the nineties. Designers such as Karl Lagerfeld and Jean-Paul Gaultier were mesmerised by her curvy, voluptuous fifties look. It all seemed so promising: curvy girls were fashionable! Or so we thought.

It wasn’t long before it all started to go horribly wrong. Stylists and photographers complained that they couldn’t find clothes to fit Dahl. In her first shoot with ‘Vogue’, pins were used to hold her outfit together. Then came the final triumph for the skinny brigade: almost as soon as Dahl became successful, she lost thirty pounds, making her just as thin as every other model out there.

Since then, we’ve had Mika paying homage to the Big Girl, with his candy-sweet 2009 hit single, “Big Girl You Are Beautiful”, featuring the immortal line: “Walks in to the room, feels like a big balloon, I said, hey girl, you are beautiful.” Then along came Dove, with their “real beauty” campaign where they actually used larger models with (gasp!) real freckles, closely followed by Beth Ditto, flaunting her naked flesh on the front of a magazine cover. But the problem remains. The models that we see in magazines and on catwalks are tiny, and their average size is just a UK 4-6.

And now V Magazine has raised the issue again, causing some controversy by including pictures of plus-sized models in their ‘Size Issue’. These images are currently dominating the billboards of Manhattan, and continue to spark debate. Is the size zero phase finally over? Are we ready to accept normal looking models? Or is the magazine issue simply about gaining media coverage by causing a bit of a kerfuffle?

The issue includes pictures of models with unfortunately tacky names – Candice Huffine, Marquita Pring, Michelle Olson, Tara Lynn and Kasia P – wearing cut-out Gucci bathing suits, tight-fitting Guess jeans and Dolce & Gabbana lingerie. One picture even shows a woman wearing nothing but bright, red lipstick. V Magazine’s editor-in chief, Stephen Gan, claimed, “Big, little, pint-size: everybody is beautiful. And, this issue is out to prove it.”

Photographer Solve Sundsbo conducted the shoot, and it’s refreshing to see actual tummy rolls and meaty thighs. The most striking thing about the shoot, however, is that these women are arrestingly beautiful, despite the fact that they look like they’ve actually eaten a square meal in the past week. They look like gorgeous versions of normal women. Beth Ditto is a pin-up for bigger girls everywhere, but she is just as unusual in her size as her counterpart skinny models. The models in V Magazine, however, are just proving that normal sized women can, and do, look fabulous. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and being really skinny is no better than being any other size.

Sundsbo commented, “I loved the opportunity to show that you can be beautiful and sexy outside the narrow interpretations that normally define us.” And, of course, he’s right. But, the question is: are plus-size models really fashionable?

Beth Ditto’s recent collection for high-street store, ‘Evans’, was extremely successful, which is not surprising considering the average woman is a size UK 14. In another unprecedented move towards normality, plus-size models were used at London Fashion Week last year. Ostensibly, it certainly seems like we are stepping in the right direction: towards accepting women of all body sizes.

Our obsession with skinny, however, is still deeply rooted in the cultural mindset. A quick browse of the internet brings up ‘Ask Men’, an online men’s magazine, which leads me to believe that we’re not all quite ready to move on from skinny minnies. They recently published an article entitled ‘10 Subtle Ways to Tell Her She’s Getting Fat’, which included advice such as, “playfully grab her love handles,” “buy her clothes that are too small,” and “serve her unsatisfactory food portions”. Whether the article was written in jest or not, the point remains that there are guys out there who will always envision a slim girlfriend rather than a chunkier alternative.

Maybe V Magazine’s ‘Size Issue’ was just a desperate attempt to increase sales. Maybe it demonstrates a real turning point in fashion. But is skinny really on its way out? In terms of fashion, it’s inevitable that catwalk maverick and original waif Kate Moss will have the last word: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” It seems like the rest of the fashion world is ignoring her at the moment – but surely the whole point of fashion is that it’s constantly changing? I think we will always be doomed to an endless cycle of skinny versus chunky.