A Plea for Bodily Diversity

body_diversity
I am not the first to make this plea, and I certainly hope I won’t be the last.

I don’t actually want my fashion magazines to show photographs of women who look like me from cover to cover. I also don’t want them to show photographs of women taller or heavier or curvier or older or more muscular or longer-waisted or more petite or higher-cheekboned or bigger-breasted than me. Not exclusively.

I want it all.
I want diversity.

Countless studies have proven that magazines packed with images of rail-thin models have screwed up our daughters’ ideas about bodies. That the constant barrage of waif-like celebrities scrambles and scars our own ideas about bodies. Decades of damage have been done, across age, geographic, sexual, religious, and political boundaries. And it’s downright sickening.

But I get really riled when I hear bits of the outraged backlash. Because much of it seems so damn short-sighted to me. Yes, it’s harmful and fucked up to make thin women – and thin women alone – the paradigm of female beauty. But in my opinion, demanding that thin models be completely removed and/or replaced with curvier or heavier women is not the solution.

I hear people saying, “Ban tall, thin, hipless models from the runways, ads, and magazines. Show us REAL women! Women who look like us.” I hear people saying, “Those women are so far from the national average, none of us can relate.” I hear people saying, “One plus-sized model in a magazine of skinnies isn’t enough! You’re still harming us with all those other images.”

But all women are real. And WE look like everyone. And the fact is that both skinny women and fat women can be beautiful. Both short and tall women can be beautiful. Both old and young women can be beautiful. And the most visibly insidious and undeniably universal aspect of this issue is weight-related, and that aspect is potent, harmful, and oppressive. But we can chose to address the issue holistically, seize the opportunity to knock down thin-centricity AND a handful of less-acknowledged prejudices with one strategic blow.

I want to see short women with huge boobs in my magazines. I want to see women with pancake-butt. I want to see women with salt-and-pepper hair who have to shave off their chin whiskers before the photographer starts clicking. I want to see women who have a 36″ inseam. I want to see pear-shaped women and apple-shaped women, and I want their figures to be complemented by the stylish clothes they don. I want to see women who are super athletic and muscled to the gills.

And I want to see skinny women. The kind that have been stalking the runways for years. Because they, too, can be beautiful. And the end goal should be to teach readers and viewers and consumers that there isn’t ONE type of beautiful body. There are many. Infinite, even. Bodies are beautiful because they are diverse. Don’t replace tall, thin, hipless models with curvy size 14 models. Bust it open and let us all in.

I feel like there is a theory that swinging the pendulum to a different body extreme will eventually create a more equalized, diverse, healthy beauty/body paradigm. That we need to go hard in the opposite direction before we can reach the middle ground. But I truly do believe there is a better way. That we can, instead, petition for bodily diversity from the get-go and get what we’re after faster.

Demanding a clean slate from entrenched industries is wholly unreasonable. Saying “no more thin models” to the fashion and entertainment industries is like yelling into a well. Demanding diversity is actually more feasible, because it allows more and varied body types to work their way into fashion images and TV plot-lines gradually and organically. This has been happening slowly for several years, but PRAISING it can only speed the process. It’s more financially and logistically appealing to the industries, yet still gives us what we want: To see ourselves reflected back as beauties. Additionally, including more women of more body types gives more of us the chance to identify with the figures we see portrayed as desirable on television, in magazines, and on the runways. Win-win.

Insisting on media portrayal of bodily diversity makes sense from a body image perspective, and even from a business perspective. And yet, it’s still asking a lot. A LOT. And don’t I know it. Diversity scares the shit out of people because it’s complicated and unwieldy and cannot be described or defined or labeled. The demands I’m demanding are big, and may overwhelm both demander and demandee. But you know something? It’s totally worth it. It is worth biting off more, battling for the big picture, attempting to kill a giant flock of birds with one well-placed stone.

Because the world is a big, indefinable, diverse place and we all deserve to feel at home in it. We, all of us – tall, heavy, curvy, old, muscular, long-waisted, petite, high-cheekboned, big-breasted, and thin – deserve to see ourselves included in the definition of physical beauty. And we can be. We absolutely can be.

For my part, I will always encourage the portrayal of MULTIPLE body types as desirable, lovely, and good. Because they are.

They absolutely are.

Images courtesy (left to right) i<3+, carlosoliveirareis, Emery Co Photo.
See also ASDAH and Health at Every Size.

Next Post
Previous Post

  • Meli22

    perfectly said, exactly what I have thought myself. I don't want to see the models go away forever- they ARE beautiful too!

    I want to see skin solors and textures of all types. I want to see woman with hair of all different types- and african american women with their real hair, as well as weaves that are the beauty standard today. I want to see the beauty I see around me reflected in the media.

  • Tibbar de Gniw

    Thank you for this post. It made me smile. =)

  • Anonymous

    Amen

  • Mandy Kate

    Women do come in all shapes and sizes, and I agree that the media's portrayals of these women greatly affect how girls (and grown women) look at their own bodies. At the same time, I'm not sure that thin women need to be defended any more than they already are. The recent pleas for size 14 women to be showcased are necessary because thin women, whether they be on the runway, in magazines, or in movies, are already seen as the paradigm of beauty. I don't believe that more portrayals of plus-sized, busty, petite, athletic, boy-shaped, pear-shaped, apple-shaped, etc. women will come close to threatening the reign of thin women. The fashion and film industries will always rely on those women to an extent, so I think that for now, while we're still trying to crack America's homogeneous beauty norm, we need to give special attention and care to the countless other beautiful body types that have been long ignored.

  • Emily B.

    Rock on sister!

    I am a proponent of Health at Every Size – I am a size 16-18 who walks every day, plays tennis 3 to 4 times a week and runs around the park with her dog at every opportunity. This is the body I have been given and I aim to take care of it in every way possible. I am not ashamed of who I am or what I look – and it is my mission to see other women feeling the same way.
    I don't want to see just my figure type in magazines and on the runway. I want to see thin and big, curvy and straight, dark skin and light and every size, shape and colour out there. We are a rainbow sisterhood and it's time we celebrated that.

  • Angel

    Sally,

    A while back my family said that I should go into modelling, because I am slim. However, I happen to be classed as a plus size model for runway (my measurements are 34, 26, 34) and also too short.

    I want the same as you. I want enough coverage of every type of body shape so that all bloggers (I know some who are too shy to post pictures because of thier size) and all women feel like they have something to be proud of.

    However, there is a limit as to how far we should go with this. If someone is obese I don't think we should glamorise that lifestlye, the same with the stick thin girls who are anoerexic. I think we should focus on healthy, happy confident women, no matter if they are curvy or flat as a board.

  • Christina Lee

    AMEN sister!

  • Sal

    Mandy Kate: I am not "defending" thin women. I am asking that women of all body types, shapes, and sizes be included. And I think that can be done without excluding anyone. I agree with your statement that, "we need to give special attention and care to the countless other beautiful body types that have been long ignored," and believe that can be done gradually, holistically, and with a focus on diversity instead of divisiveness.

  • brittanny

    Great post. I too look for the same things you do. I am a plus size girl who is short and always had dreams of being a model as a child but I knew that would never happen. In my adult life I'm now a photographer who has a friend who is a model who is rail thin and five feet tall. Her dream is to walk the runways but she is far too short to do so. She's fantastic and it's a shame that a talent like her most likely will never make it big because of her height.

  • Haller Family G

    Well done, I appreciate your emphasis of celebrating all body types. As a thin (but not tall woman) I thank you for including me.

  • K.Line

    Oooh, food for thought. I read a rebuttal of the latest "put real women in fashion mags" argument (following the Glamour photo). I wish I could remember where I read this but, according to this writer, the reason it is presumed that "real women" a la that model in Glamour (sorry I can't remember her name) won't fly in mags is because, if a model is very tall and thin (unlike most regular people) then regular people won't feel bad that said model is also gorgeous. Apparently, however, regular women can't bear to see other regular women depicted because then they can't justify their own relative unattractiveness (body proportions notwithstanding).

    Can't say how much I was depressed by this perspective. Couldn't someone imagine a world in which regular women would be inspired to be ever more gorgeous (like the gorgeously styled "real" models)??

  • Sal

    K.Line: FOR SERIOUS? If you track down that piece, will you send it my way? I find it really hard to believe that seeing a diverse group of body types portrayed as beautiful would make non-models feel inferior … even if that diverse group had the high cheekbones and the great hair and suchlike.

  • smaro

    Well said!

    Diversity is such a buzz word but clearly many industries and much of the world seems to make this term fit anything, in the happy belief that they are contributing to greater variety. In actual fact often diversity is attached to ethnic, language or social diversity but rarely all things at once and never including the diversity of bodies that make up the human race.
    In Irish politics for instance, the fixation has been to get more women into politics and this belief of contributing to diversity has caused the drafting of policies to skew things so that the final cabinet can have seats reserved for women. Possibly a more varied approach to diversity capturing different social backgrounds, classes and professions and ethnicities might naturally draw more women in.

    I remember watching some 'fashion-forward' show where some apprentices tried to get a plus sized mannequin into a big London high street store. At the time it sounded great, but looking at the mannequin, it still looked perfectly proportioned, statuesque, with clear polymer-based skin, even if they had 3 different types representing Causican, Asian and African ethnicities.

    It is also true to say this of many feminist arguments too (not too get into this tetchy subject)but its always the extreme view that the only way for women to be ahead is to reverse the status quo through complete replacement. Often, the quiet revolutions are the one that make the most ground, like the idea of having a huge variety of shapes, sizes, heights represented in fashion magazines, runways and on clothes racks in department stores.

    I would love this to take root, but who would ever be able to convince the artists in fashion, that they must design for real women!

  • Cupcakes and Cashmere

    you bring up really good points here…i think sometimes people are so against the thin models that they beg to see only bigger girls. what we should want to see are real women of ALL shapes and sizes. preach on, sister!

  • LynnieBee

    Well said indeed 🙂

  • Sarah R

    Hot damn and Amen, sister.

  • Rosie

    Great post. I whole-heartedly agree. Show all types of women!

    Regarding what K-Line referred to: wow. That is crazy. Personally, I don't agree at all with the rubbish that person wrote! Did I get all depressed by Crystal Renn's shoot in Glamour? No, I got seriously excited!

  • Alex

    Brilliantly put!

    The only thing I would add is that it would be wonderful to have women of all colors as well as sizes and shapes visible in our media. Our culture places far too much emphasis on having white or light skin; no one should ever feel like they need to buy bullcrap "skin-lightening cream" in order to be beautiful.

  • Kelly

    Totally agree! I think a lot of people think there's only "skinny" or "fat" and don't really take into account the wide variety found in those two categories, or the fact that there are other categories at all.

    If you ever get your hands on the article K.Line is talking about, will you post a link on your blog so we can read it too?

  • Make Do Style

    I do love the lofty skinny young models but I agree it is time to get over the strictures of that being the only way. Mixing it up wouldn't hurt but I would like to see the issue of race tackled first – the catwalk and advertising and editorial is still too dominated by white models.

  • LENORENEVERMORE

    I was just standing to a tall & skinny beautiful model recently…sure was intimidating! I'm much better now, yayyy…no self condemnation, just a slight 'sighing'. Still work in progress~

  • rb

    Just this morning when my daughter came downstairs wearing her skinny jeans tucked into motorcycle boots, I again thought, "She has the perfect body for clothes." She's rail thin, long-legged, hipless and looks just like the models I seen in Harper's Bazaar and Vogue.

    She's 8 1/2 years old.

    Not even what you would call "pre-pubescent." Puberty is not even on the horizon.

    Me, I'm shaped like a bigger version of Michele Obama. Thank goddess for her, because the media's coverage of her style has done more for my personal self esteem than anything I've seen in twenty years.

  • Sal

    Kelly: Definitely.

  • Hanako66

    as always, this is so dead on Sal.

  • Diana

    As always, wonderful post. I'm glad to see such a balanced perspective on this issue. It's so true – all women of all sizes are real women, and we should learn to recognize that and embrace it, as should the media.

  • Vitania

    I think it's great that so many women are speaking out about diversity. Whether you don't want to see thin anymore, or want more variety, what's important is that the beauty industy actually does something about it. Up until now when I flip through the pages of my top tier fashion mags – it's still the same old itsy bitsy model.. Same with the runways!

    Glamour magazine featured a naked plus size model (who is actually a size 8) in a 3" x 3" photo.. and everyone noticed.. So when will I see an 8 page editorial spread on a woman who is over a size 6? instead of -2 or -4. Add to this photoshop .. and these women might as well be from Mars!

    Thanks for posting on this very important topic.. maybe if we yell loud enough we'll actually be heard!

  • MP

    Hear, hear. Why is so difficult to understand that we all would like to be represented? I don't think it's that hard of a concept to figure out.

  • Natalie

    Always an important message to explore! I agree, there is no reason to make one woman feel less "real" than other. I don't embrace the idea of "standard of beauty". There is no standard body and there is no standard beauty.

  • Elise

    You are totally right and you have expressed it perfectly.

  • fortressofeden

    You are really good at making me cry. I am a fifteen girl who is recovering from an eating disorder. I am supposed to be finishing my higher level biology write up but I felt that certain, ominous negativity rising up in me again so, as always, I searched the internet for something to make me feel sane again.

    It's so hard for me – everyday presents its own unique challenges. Although I am recovering independently the stressful parts of my life that trigger my E.D. have not. I still fit the cliche "eating disorder profile"… Six college level courses, Amnesty International, Student Council, Soccer, MUN, and musicals – I do it.
    Every day is a challenge but your words make it seem easier.

  • issa

    your posts make me feel good 🙂

  • Amy

    While I agree with you for the use of models to show beauty in general, when it comes to runway models I always thought the history behind them was that they were all supposed to be tall and thin b/c they were essentially "hangers" for the clothing. Their beauty shouldn't take away from the design.

    That's what I think of at least when I watch ANTM. The two friends I watch it with however apparently don't see it this way because they both have issues with their body while I have always accepted mine.

    It's for this reason that I don't see anything wrong with using one-size, skinny tall runway clothing models but do see a problem worshiping them for traits they have no control over. I could be totally wrong about the clothes hanger theory, but I like it and think the diversity of models should be with advertisements, actors and catalogs.

  • dapper kid

    Bravo, this is one of the best posts I have read in ages. I think diversity is definitely the key, swinging to either end of the pendulum is foolish. At the end of the day I want to see whatever body shapes and sizes work for what is required. A curvy dress requires a curvy body. Similarly some looks require a slimmer look. In non-fashion terms, I think diversity would not only help change the industry image, it would actually help create a more 'fair' idea of female beauty. I think the media image of beauty has become so far removed from the 'real' image of beauty, that we barely recognise it. Thank you for the wonderful post.

  • LPC

    Can I sign up for the chin-shaving role? 🙂

  • Gillian

    Can I get an amen?!

  • Rosie Unknown

    Wonderful post, I hope you don't mind if I link to it in my next post!

    I really agree. I don't want to look at a magazine and see myself reflected back in every picture. I want to see all the different and beautiful body types, just like I do every minute of the day, when I look around at my family, my friends, my classmates, the people who I have never spoken to, but who I see everyday, and the people who I pass on the street.

  • Robin

    Thank you so much for typing this so eloquently – I've been losing it over this 'real women' bull for years. It is so upsetting.

  • Sheila

    Wonderful! Hallelujah! That was just awesome. Thank you, Sal!

  • Laura.

    okay, so reading this and k. line's comment sparked this thought in my head (re: "i can't handle seeing other 'normal' women because i end up feeling inferior"): that is such a silly perspective! i believe the opposite is true, and i'll give you a *hopefully brief* example. i recently followed 'more to love'–a bachelor-style show for the rest of us (total guilty pleasure, btw). all the women were gorgeous, and ranged from simply being taller/bigger boned to overweight. the most prominent thing i take away from watching that show is that having finally seen beautiful women that are my size on tv, i finally feel like i am beautiful at my size. how effed up is that?! i wasn't even aware that i thought otherwise directly until i started to realize how great i felt after watching an episode. weird. and something i need to keep reminding myself of (that i am great at the size i am, not that i belong on reality love tv). bring on the diversity! seriously!

  • tiffany

    Fantastic post.

  • Elissa

    I think this is exactly why fashion blogs are getting so popular, because by and large, they feature people of diverse proportions and nationalities, etc. in a world where most media exclude them. I know that I personally get excited about seeing "average people" share their style.

  • enc

    I'm completely with you on this one. Variety would be great.

    I just wonder how designers would do their work with so many different shapes to consider, and no universal idea to use as a tailoring master template?

  • budget chic

    I agree that I would like to see more diversity in body types, weight, height and ethnicity. I especially would like to see more diversity in terms of photographing women who are shorter than 5'4.

    I really have to examine all the shoots in these magazines because I know they are using teenagers who are 5'8 and taller to sell clothes to grown women. Since you can't get a good representation in these magazine, you really have to know what type of looks works for you.

  • Iheartfashion

    I'd love to see a magazine experiment with this to see if women *really* want to see clothes on real people, not skinny models. Would the clothes still sell if they were pictured on a size 12 woman? I think a huge part of the fantasy of Vogue and the like is the aspiration that the viewer could look like the photo if she had the designer clothes.
    I'd like to see diversity of ethnicity and age featured a lot more in fashion mags, but I'm not sure about size. Sure, a woman larger than a size 2 (the average model size) can look fantastic in clothes too, but I guess I still buy into the notion that most clothes hang better on a stick figure, and that obesity, even dressed up and styled, isn't pretty.
    *preparing for accusations of fat-bashing*

  • Sal

    Iheartfashion: Again, not suggesting that thin models and actresses be supplanted, merely supplemented. Clothes may appear to hang better on a tall, thin frame, but while that creates the "fantasy of Vogue," as you say, it also feeds inferiority complexes. Not everyone who is stylish and fashionable is a lanky size 2, and I believe women would be MORE inclined to buy clothing if they were shown how flattering it could be on harder-to-fit figures.

    A theory that remains to be field-tested, of course, but I feel it is a sound one.

  • The Waves

    What a great post this is. All too often people see this issue as "thin vs normal", and it goes so much deeper than that. I have struggled being underweight all my life, and it is wonderful that you included us skinnies in your plea. So many forget that we are women too, with our insecurities and inperfections. 🙂

    Just out of curiousity, did you hear that they are considering labelling photoshopped magazine images in France to let people know that the photos have been retouched, and all this because the photoshopped images promote unrealistic body images? I mean, no sh**!? Funny how they didn't consider banning photoshopping altogheter then & showing the people as they are – then there would be no need for warning labels! 🙂

  • Sal

    The Waves: I DID! I've got a link to that story in my roundup on Friday!

  • CB

    Amen, sister. Simply brilliant

  • ML

    don't forget women of color!!!

    i want to see them too!!

  • Anonymous

    As a small muscular proportioned woman I find no fashion reference except my own mirror and an impossible standard to emulate. Tall and slim is a beauty ideal I admire, but so is round, glowing, and disproportioned. Even Pregnancy models can pull off styles and designs that make me look like a flea market purse. It would be great to see pictorials and not just dress your body-type specials in the mags. I have sworn off all fashion magazines in the last year and feel better personally, but crave the fashion input as well.

  • Anonymous

    I've always been a fan of plus-size models! There's a great site with many images of Crystal and other plus-size models here:

    http://www.judgmentofparis.com/

    They're all gorgeous.

    The site's forum also has thought-provoking discussions about body image and the media.