From The NY Post
“A-PLUS” ran the headline of a Post story the other day that cheered a fashion magazine’s decision to run pictures of overweight models. So. Hooray for fatties, right? Or maybe we are expected to praise the magazine’s path-breaking and revolutionary decision to be only the ten thousandth magazine to do a (the singular is apt) spread on fat women.
Back when I worked for a women’s magazine, we’d do the Fat-Is-In cover story every six months. (Surprise! Not that many actresses and models wanted to participate. Emme Jacob was to us what Obama’s birth certificate is to Lou Dobbs.) Other stories we’d do every six months: “Inside the Obesity Epidemic,” “Secrets of the Star Who Lost All That Weight” and (in recent years) “Check Out This Chick Who Got Her Stomach Stapled.”
Over at V magazine (Just V? I am reminded of the Woody Allen line, from the story collection “Without Feathers”: “Should I marry W? Not if she won’t tell me the other letters in her name”), the most recent save-the-whales picture layout features a herd — sorry, group! — of semiclad plus-sized models.
The V spread is blissfully meaningless as a trend. The magazine will soon go back to featuring girls built like praying mantises. It’s been about 20 years since glossy magazines first started trying to figure out a way to deal with the larding of America and the issues that weigh down the other side of the scale: feminism, political correctness and skyrocketing sales of pieces of cloth that used to be labeled “pup tents” but now are sold as clothing in the “Real Woman” department, or the “Robust Female” section, or the “Judgment Free Zone,” or whatever the current term is. But in that same 20 years, fashion models have gotten even skinnier.
Surely there must be a way for magazines to sell fat-folk clothes, appease feminists (“James Gandolfini is sexy, so why isn’t Roseanne?”) and express tender tolerance for those who are (as a press release I got the other day put it) “suffering from obesity”?
No. There isn’t. Because fashion magazines are run for the pleasure of upscale advertisers, and advertisers sell aspiration. If you want to sell reality, that’s a completely different and less lucrative advertising category — dubious fat-burning potions, sad little nutri-snacks, grim stretchy exercise belts that harness your gut to the doorknob. Ralph Lauren doesn’t want his ads next to the Thighslammer. And nobody at W or anywhere else wants to descend the social ladder. You know the name of the editor of Vogue. Tell me, who’s the editor of Weight Watcher’s mag?
Writers who praise the V decision to go all “Norbit” seem to think that relief would rain down on today’s high-strung women if only fashion magazines would stop forcing them to buy their monthly package of starved waifery. Aren’t these models driving women into deadly anorexia and punishingly low self-esteem?
Actually, the opposite problem is the case. There are a lot more women “suffering from” obesity, which is prevalent in practically every demographic group, than anorexia, a scourge of school-aged upper-middle-class white girls, the kind of tortured souls you pick up at a party by slipping in a line like, “Are you a writer? There’s something of the old soul in your eyes” and who spend their formative years telling boys pretending to listen, “I think I might be a . . . Wiccan” or “. . . lesbian” or — something really ghastly — “. . . vegetarian.”
In fashion magazines staffed by upper-middle-class white women, the death of millions from obesity-related causes don’t count. What sets off their alarms is the death of one coked-up rice-cake-eating model who starved herself to the grave.
There is a one-word answer to obesity in this country, and you would think fashion-book editors would understand, since it is one of their favorite nouns. Acceptance? Tolerance? Self-esteem? No, Paris.
The average American lard lady would, if sent to Paris, find herself slimming down instantly. Paris is, literally and figuratively, built for the tiny and lithe. American giantesses wouldn’t be able to squeeze into a subway seat or through the closely-arranged tables of a 5th arrondissement cafe, and, if they tried, they’d be subject to mutters of disapproval and rude stares. Shame — the certain knowledge that you have given those around you ample reason to disapprove — is a powerful societal weapon. See how well it worked on cigarette smokers and drunk drivers? Importing a little Parisian attitude to America would vastly benefit the tubby. Obesity has now surpassed smoking in America as a health threat, according to a new 15-year study conducted by City College and Columbia University.
Tolerance is the enemy of shame. With more and more fat acceptance — like that encouraged by V — there will be more and more fat people.
Nobody is born 300 pounds. Nobody “suffers from” obesity. She chooses it, one milkshake at a time.
In New York, as the fatty next to us in coach buries the armrest with his flab or unrolls across two seats in the subway, we think, “Musn’t be intolerant of the horizontally uninhibited!” Fat people harm themselves and take up space for which you paid. They drive up everyone’s insurance costs. If we can’t make them feel shame in this country, then maybe skinny models are our last resort.
If the fashionably starved are the only thing keeping the final 40% of us from turning into human zeppelins, they’re not as useless as you think.