27 Jan Fat, fab or fantasy by David Menzies
Previously published in “Marketing Magazine”, David Menzies weighs in on the issue of unrealistic beauty standards and how these notions effect the media and society.
For several weeks, Tabatha Roman was the highlight of my commute along Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway. There she stood, soaring eight-storeys high, flashing her pearly white smile and tussling her lustrous chestnut brown hair, all the while displaying a mischievous glint in her eyes. She came across as a kinder, gentler Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Meanwhile, in the right hand corner of the massive billboard was a call for votes: Is Roman fab? Or fat?
Oh, did I neglect to mention that Roman, 34, sports a Rubenesque physique?
Make no mistake: Plus size or not, Roman is a beautiful woman (she’s actually not a model, but an account executive with Ogilvy & Mather in New York). I voted “fab.” (The final score, by the way, after more than 9,000 calls: 51% fat; 49% fab.)
The gargantuan poster was part of Dove’s ongoing “Campaign For Real Beauty” promotion. Besides the fat/ fab query, there are other ongoing polls: Are freckles “ugly spots” or “beauty spots”? Is faded hair “grey” or “gorgeous”?
Yet, the more I dwelled upon the Roman referendum, the more miffed I became. Granted Roman will likely never fit into a size 6 dress. But who cares? Surely beauty is measured by something other than body fat callipers.
Indeed, the underlying message from Dove is that for far too long, beauty has been defined by narrow, stifling stereotypes. That’s not exactly late breaking news. But it got me thinking: With respect to female body size, how did the media-endorsed image of feminine perfection-i.e., the supermodel-come into being in the first place? After all, only a single percentile of the world’s women are capable of achieving-and maintaining- such a physique. Who’s calling the shots? And who truly believes that a buttocks-and bosom- deficient supermodel has a body to die for?
I sought enlightenment from the very beautiful Lisa Tant, editor of Canada’s pre-eminent fashion magazine, Flare. What’s the deal with these stick-figure women being hailed as the feminine ideal? I asked. Tant’s response: The fashion business is all about “presenting a fantasy.” And, she says, those teensy-weensy clothes-hanger models trotting down the Paris and Milan runways represent the sort of women Flare‘s predominately female audience wants to gaze upon.
Granted, Tant has forgotten more about the beauty business than I’ll ever learn. Still, I’m left wondering: Do real women with real curves and real lives truly crave the anaemic-looking body image popularized by high fashion? And just what is this “fantasy” the fashion industry is selling-the joy of anorexia nervosa?
My personal theory as to why a malnourished waif like Kate Moss is a renowned supermodel is that homosexual men control much of the fashion industry. One could make a compelling argument that the lanky physique of Moss has far more in common with the body of a teenage boy than a curvaceous, mature woman.
How sad that in our allegedly enlightened age, there exists a stigma to being big and beautiful. That’s the message of a play currently running off-Broadway (and receiving rave reviews), Fat Pig. Tom, a handsome young professional, meets the plus-sized Helen. To his amazement, he finds her both intellectually witty and physically attractive. He eventually falls in love with Helen, but as the relationship develops, Tom must endure mockery from his male co-workers and verbal abuse from his ex-girlfriend. None of them can believe Tom is actually smitten by such a “fat pig.” (Helen is played by Ashlie Atkinson, who is quite attractive even though she stands 5′, 8″ and weighs 200 lbs.)
In recent media reports, Atkinson says Fat Pig is really about bravery and “feeling positive about yourself when all the messages you get from society and the media tell you you should be ashamed of yourself. In America, there’s a lot of people that would rather risk death than disapproval.”
Those who accept and appreciate “plus-size” beauty should tip their hats to the creators of Fat Pig and to Dove’s ongoing ad campaign. Even so, I fear that changing preconceived notions of what constitutes the feminine ideal will likely take years, if not generations, to achieve. Case in point: When my friend Brian gazed upon the Dove billboard featuring Roman, he said he was going to vote fat. “She’s not a pig or anything,” said Brian, who, ironically, sports a Molson muscle himself. “But fab? No. She’s chunky. She’s fat.”
Judging by Brian’s caustic comments and the final vote tally (almost a 50/50 dead heat), Dove has its work cut out for it when it comes to popularizing the message that beauty is indeed more than skin deep.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!