July 2002

Sonia Pereira

magazine whore

Vogue - Celebrator of the Female Form or Pseudo-PC Smut?

It's no big surprise that in our mass media infested culture of waify chicks, fake-titted Barbie dolls, and Botoxed trophy wives, women's fashion magazines often depict the skinniest members of the (mostly white) female race in their diamond-studded and faux punk pages.

What may be a shocker though, is the blatant manner in which these typical fashion rags so innocently deny their role in creating warped views of female beauty. If this were true, why the hell would so many lip-glossed women run teary-eyed over the demise of such "specialized" magazines like full-figure friendly Mode or throw a lavish soiree over the advent of its successor Grace? Which brings me to my point and to the April 2002 issue of Vogue.

Now, I admit that though I don't agree with Vogue's politics concerning the importance of brand labels or the perfect width of an aerobicized ass, I am (a bit shamefacedly) a Vogue slut. I've always loved what this magazine signifies in terms of glamour and top fashion reporting. It's hard to break the habit, especially since I've been an addict since the tender age of twelve. But though I could be called a devoted reader of columns reflecting the downfalls of nail salons or the wonders of Gwen Stefani's abs, that doesn't mean I have to be brain-dead about it. That's why I've never failed to write the editors (oh, damn that Anna Wintour and her smarmy bob) when I can no longer swallow Vogue's stances on beauty or fashion without eventually puking it up. And guess what? I always get the same response from one of many office secretaries named Shirley or Sandy. It goes something like this: "Vogue merely uses its models as hangers. We are a magazine devoted to the art of fashion and not to the model wearing it. In the future, you would do well to please take note of the clothes and not the mannequins donning them." Gimme a break. Like I'm the one at fault for noticing the models more than the dresses despite the fact that every issue there's an article of some sort devoted to these women's babies (note the July 2002 issue) or shopping habits? Even a twelve-year-old who has never refused dessert realizes such cunning bull.

Thus, being well versed with the nature of Vogue's take on the seemingly irrelevant aspects of schmaltzy articles that focus on models ("Linda's in Love!" Devoted to the art of fashion? Hmm...), I was naturally curious to scope out what their April 2002 issue or "The Shape Issue: what to wear when you're tall, short, thin, curvy, athletic, and pregnant," was all about. And what do you think I discovered? Ha! I was right! Either Vogue's perception of "curvy" is oddly skewed or they simply don't care about the "fatties" that read their magazine. After reading the article though, I didn't feel like shouting Ha! anymore. No, Vogue's shoddy "Shape Issue" merits nothing but groans and tears.

Who does one think of when requested to conjure up a curvaceous woman? Marilyn Monroe? Sophia Loren? Aretha Franklin? Well, according to Vogue, today's quintessential curvy woman is more like a size eight or ten than a (heaven forbid!) twenty-six. Think J-Lo, Sophie Dahl, Jewel, Rita Wilson, and Minnie Driver. Not, not, not Camryn Manheim. After all, this is "voluptuousness" we're talking about here, not "grotesquerie." Remember this is the magazine that put Gisele on the cover as the new "curvy girl" due to her C-cupped breasts but despite her ultra-thin legs and torso.

In addition to the so-called curvy women, several other rather similar body-types were also explored in "The Shape Issue." There's the thin woman like Selma Blair (who proudly states that her body is that of a seventh-grader); the pregnant woman depicted by a young-looking model with slightly big breasts and a definite tummy, but otherwise (thanks to specialized trainers no doubt) much like the thin or athletic woman. Then the tall woman, who is basically the very thin woman with some added height. And finally the "short and sweet" body-type portrayed by Fiona Apple, Salma Hayek, and Christina Ricci (I guess that though Hayek and Ricci are only about 100 lbs. they aren't in with the "thin" crowd considering their relatively large breasts and hips).

Perusing these pages it's obvious there's something deeply embedded in the psyche of American culture (and possibly most of Western culture if not with the entire world) concerning the wrongness connected to fat. And this is regardless of the media's recent attention to eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorder, and American young girls' incredibly low self-esteem during the past few years.

In the July 2002 issue of Vogue several readers exclaimed their revulsion at the inanity and insanity of the magazines ideas about female shapeliness. A ticked off reader writes that next time "The Body Issue" should be called the "anorexic, pregnant, anorexic and pregnant, tall and lanky gal, petite nymph, and girl who whips the guys at basketball issue." One woman comments on the magazine's use of a five foot five inches tall model shown to exemplify short women by saying "You do know that the average American woman is five feet four, don't you?" Another reader claims that she was "outraged" by Vogue's bizarre pairing up of full-figured model Kate Dillon and a very short muscle man in one of the issue's photo spreads. "...to see the beautiful 'plus'-size model Kate Dillon portrayed as a freakish giant next to mini cars and little tykes' toy houses was both embarrassing and insulting," she says. Yet another reader goes so far as to ask how the magazine can even consider Kate Dillon a "plus" sized model considering she's only a size twelve to fourteen.

But maybe the question goes deeper than what constitutes a "plus" sized figure. Perhaps the editors of Vogue who thought they were somehow doing women a favor by including a supposed "glorious variety" of female shapes in "The Body Issue" should be asked a question far more telling of their notions regarding female beauty and even, female worth. What I really want to know is can the fashion world witness, examine, and envision a "fat" or "short" or "decidedly unfashionable" female physique as anything but freakish or (I know you were thinking it) PC? Of course, I doubt Vogue's the type of publication to give a straight and honest answer to such an unfashionable question. Or, more importantly, to even give an answer that they will ever follow up in the contexts of such a highly influential and potentially dangerous magazine.
In the meantime, there's always the marginalized "real woman" mag, (italics)Grace, to look to for semi-hip photo shoots of glamorous big women. One can only hope that someday high fashion publications like (italics)Vogue won't be so shallow as to kick Renee Zellweger off its cover for being too portly or force Oprah, the most powerful woman in America, to lose weight for its Donna Karan scented pages. Come to think of it, one can only hope that someday our culture will never discard an actress, model, or any woman in the public eye, after she puts on a few pounds. Lord knows we won't be seeing the likes of Alicia Silverstone or Kate Winslet on the cover of (italics)Vogue anytime soon. Or at least until these actresses yield to some major calorie busting (paging Christina Ricci), stretch marks be damned.