In this month’s issue of Vogue Australia, ‘plus-size’ (14 on top, 16 on bottom) model Robyn Lawley features in a shoot called Belle Curve, a stunning monochrome editorial featuring, amongst the internationals, Australian labels like Alex Perry, Willow and Carla Zampatti. This is undoubtedly an awesome move, for which Vogue Australia and editor Kirstie Clements should be congratulated, but is it, as it has been heralded across the media and blogs, a big leap forwards for the industry?
Well, no. Though Lawley is ‘plus-size’, the other 117 models in this month’s issue are not. (Admittedly this is an inexact figure: including advertisements and stock images, but not including beauty shots, and with the best efforts made to avoid double-ups). The hope, of course, is that with the seed of Lawley’s inclusion in the magazine, as well as a story highlighting the trouble she has faced in the industry and detailing her recent success with a Vogue Italia cover, the rest of the industry will start to follow suit. Unfortunately, that’s doubtful.
The ‘real women’ movement (an ironically anti-feminist term in its suggestion that some figures are more acceptable than others, which is a shame, given the kickarse feminist credentials of the movement itself; every woman, cis or trans, is real, from size zero to size 24 and beyond) has been campaigning for over a decade for a variety of body types to be represented in the fashion industry, with little success. The fact is that, unless she becomes a brand herself, a model’s role is rarely to inhabit the clothes she is paid to wear, but just to prop them up. The phrase ‘walking clothes horse’ is often thrown around in jest, but it’s also often true. The thinner the model, the less she imposes herself on the garment, which is the real star of the show.
Furthermore, designers have no real need to change their ways. Just as so-called ‘real women’ don’t appear in glossy magazines, they also don’t buy high-end designs and couture pieces. The actual demand – in the financial sense – for change is not there.
We’ve been here before. Isabella Blow spotted size 16 Sophie Dahl in the ’90s and referred her to an agency, which led to her working on campaigns for the likes of Versace, Alexander McQueen and Yves Saint Laurent‘s Opium. At a time when the waif look was most popular, and heroin chic was actually a thing, Dahl was celebrated as a possible deus ex machina in the story of the industry; the beginning of a major paradigm shift. We now know that was not to be, and what’s more, even Dahl is now petite. Which is her right; her body is no-one else’s business, but it is an almost too-perfect metaphor. The greatest industry change we’ve ever seen was not a change at all.
This is not to say we should shut up and give up. We should keep fighting against the patriarchal distortion of women’s bodies in the media, advertising, and the fashion industry, but we need to start focussing on ourselves as well. Our calls for change aren’t getting us anywhere fast, and the approach needs to broaden. With eating disorders on the rise, and disturbing body image concerns being seen in increasingly younger girls, it’s just too dangerous for us not to change tack.
Educate yourself. Educate your daughters. We all say we know how unrealistic the images in our magazines are, so why does it get to us so much? Because we let it. Stop allowing yourself to be so influenced by a still life. Own your identity. A slightly larger model will not improve your self esteem; only you can do that. Smarten the fuck up.
Stop criticising your body. Definitely stop criticising your body in front of young girls. Stop criticising other women’s bodies – whether you think they’re too fat or too thin. Call other people out on it when you hear them do it. Write to New Idea and tell them you don’t give a shit if Britney Spears has cellulite. I have cellulite. So do you. I’ll bet this month’s wage that every woman in that office does too. Tell David Koch to shut up about the Duchess of Cambridge‘s supposed ‘eating disorder’ on Sunrise, and skip past the diet/cosmetic procedure stories when you find yourself on those pages.
Vogue Australia has done a great thing in featuring Lawley. They’ve gone against the industry’s conventions and 52 years of their own, and they’ve reopened discourse on the issue in an effective way. They’re not just talking about it, they’ve done it. Still, there’s so much more to be done. When we can see ‘plus-size’ women given equal room in magazines, without having to use the word ‘curve’ or any other synonym in the title, and without having to publicise it as new and different, then we can talk about a big leap forwards. By all means let’s applaud this tiny victory, but let’s not be distracted from the ever-present issue. Yes, Vogue Australia has featured a ‘plus-size’ model, but no, the world hasn’t changed.