Thin might be in, but if you think it’s here to stay, just take a look back at how we used to think of sexy. When it comes to the shape of your body, it’s all in somebody else’s mind.
Cicero once said, “In a disordered mind, as in a disordered body, soundness of health I impossible.” I think most women would agree that, at one time or another, they have felt sufficiently nonplussed with the figure in the mirror. We go to the gym and watch our carbs, but at the end of the day, what we see rarely comes close to resembling the image we want. I, for one, have never gone by a store window, caught a glance at my reflection and thought; “You know, I really should try modeling.” Maybe one day, if I ever mistake my reflection for that of an 8 year-old boy, I’ll rethink my future on the catwalk.
Body image is a fashion trend as much as the clothing we wish we could fit into. We all remember the obscenity of the heroine chic craze in the 90s, and I think it’s fair to say that we let it go on far too long before voicing our collective disgust. It’s amazing to think that we could sit back and watch Kate Moss—who looked like she’d been awake for a month on a desert island with no food or sleep—and think, boy I need to get me some of that perfume! Yet we played along, and suddenly we weren’t hot unless we looked like we did an eight ball of coke and chased it with a few snorts of smack. It was a look I myself never adopted, as I was too busy eating, but it was—the ideal woman.
There was a time when a model could turn sideways and not disappear. Recent examples like Cindy Crawford, who ruled the runway before those who could camouflage themselves in a bamboo jungle just by standing still. She was far from full-figured, but you got the feeling she’d actually been to a grocery store in her lifetime. However, it’s become increasingly obvious that someone out there wants everyone to think they need to lose weight. Not everyone—women. It would be nice to kid ourselves and equate thin with healthy, but few of us can be as thin as Twiggy and maintain a pulse. Yet, once she hit waif weight, there she was on the cover of magazines for all of us to hang on our refrigerator as “incentive” not to open it.
Growing up, I was lucky to have parents who constantly told me I was perfect the way I was. I never thought for two seconds that I was supposed to look any other way than how I already looked. Yet, decades later, that self-assurance is long gone. Growing up in a different era is all it would take to change the way we feel in our own skin. Women have always been surrounded by images to guide the way they looked, but rather than Cosmo, they had artwork beholding plump, fleshy, and full-figured bodies. A look into Georges Seurat’s painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” it’s obvious I would not be suffering Scarlett Johansson fever the way I do now. A walk around the museum shows that I might not have cared about a couple of extra pounds, as the curvy full-figured women were the only ones worth their weight in marble until the 20th century rolled around. Imagine a sculpture of Lara Flynn Boyle next to the full-figured “Bather” by Allegrain. It’s the difference between skipping the midnight snack and ending my evenings with Ben & Jerry.
We may continue to employ the idea of women’s bodies as works of art, but we certainly let fashion do the talking when it comes to how we present ourselves. Fashion is driven by the way we want our bodies to look. What could possibly be another reason designers would stick shoulder pads in everything that had a pair of sleeves in the 80s? This may have presented a bit of a problem
when you had three layers—say, a blazer, a blouse, and a turtleneck—containing those mini-pillows, but if it made our shoulders look like Refrigerator Perry, and thereby magically turned our legs into a couple of pogo sticks, we piled on the puff.
While the areas we choose to bulk and cinch may change, altering our bodily appearance is nothing new. To think that I might be bustling the back of my rear to make it look ten times bigger than it already is and suffocating myself with a corset is unfathomable, but it’s really no different than lying on my bed and saying a prayer before I zip my tapered jeans.
Women didn’t know how good they had it when the voluptuous Marilyn Monroe set a new standard for women who now needed to rebuild the curves they had previously tried to bind and restrain while they were doing the Charleston in the 20s. Oddly enough, even the icon herself would put herself through the unthinkable to boost the appeal of her shape, which set the standard. Apparently the actress deliberately made one shoe heel shorter than the other so that her hips swayed even more, enhancing her figure and increasing her sexual appeal. Women everywhere followed suit by forcing themselves into girdles and wearing bras that made their boobs look like Madonna’s on the Blond Ambition tour. It sounds ridiculous now, but there is no doubt it beats the skinny grip that took hold with the arrival of Twiggy, who weighed in at prepubescent figures.
Why do we insist on creating figures that we don’t have? Should I blame Hollywood for making me think that thinner is better, fashion designers for insisting that only hipless women have the right to jeans, or McDonald’s for making their fries so tasty? Could Nicole Ritchie and Calvin Klein really be to blame for what Cicero calls my “distorted mind?” A study conducted by a faculty member in North Carolina State University’s College of Textiles revealed that only 8 percent of women actually have the figures for which clothing manufacturers design. Turns out, all you pears and rectangles out there—who force yourselves to suck it in—are in the majority. In fact, an analysis of the body types of more than 6,300 women revealed that most women are a fashion designers geometrical nightmare. According to the study, “The industry is serving less than 90 percent because of the sizing system that’s based on the hourglass.”
Let’s face it, blaming the designers is a lot more fun than going on a diet and paying for plastic surgery. But being able to point our fingers at the fashion industry is only of consolation if they actually do something about the discrepancy between body shapes for which they design and the figures that actually represent the majority of women. While you shouldn’t go stuffing yourself until your button goes flying across the room in an insurance nightmare, nor should you be forced to fit a square peg in a round hole—and that’s exactly what most of us are doing.
It’s likely that no matter how much screaming we do, there will still be a need for control top stockings, body shapers, and boob jobs. But maybe all of us, including clothing companies, could use a trip to the museum as a reminder that women’s bodies—rectangles, spoons, triangles, pears, and hourglasses alike—are works of art. If you think you need to have a certain body type to be beautiful, then beautiful is a concept that might just be lost on you.