I saw this image on Facebook and Twitter this morning, and the subsequent discussions have been interesting. I assume the image was designed to help women feel better about themselves, but the people who created it have not gone about this in a particularly useful way. First of all, I’m pretty sure many people would not call this woman fat. She appears to be somewhere around the average size for women in the UK – perhaps a little under – and is only ‘fat’ by fashion model standards. In addition, whether or not someone is fat is entirely subjective and it’s also a very loaded word. Some people see fat as an insult and others embrace it warmly, either as a personal preference or as an attempt to reclaim it from the haters. Labelling this woman as fat is unhelpful as it simply alienates anyone who doesn’t view a bit of tummy squish as obesity.
Secondly, the caption says that she is “just as beautiful as any other amazing woman” implying that she should still be considered beautiful even though she is supposedly fat. Wow, so fat people can be beautiful too? Thanks so much for pointing this out to me! I hadn’t realised that you could only be beautiful if you are young, slim, tall, white, female, able-bodied etc! OK so, sarcasm aside, perhaps some people really don’t realise that, but a better way of promoting this idea is probably not to use the word just. Being beautiful isn’t the same as being amazing, either. And beauty isn’t all about our bodies. I have known traditionally physically attractive people who are utter twunts, and others who are on the fringes of physical beauty whose personality shines brighter than anything portrayed in a magazine.
Finally, the image is headless – perhaps because the photograph wasn’t originally shot for this purpose – which makes the caption’s use of I’m somewhat redundant, as the woman has been reduced to an anonymous body. How can you speak out for fat women when you have no head… and aren’t really what most of us would consider to be fat anyway? Facebook is filled with these images, telling us that one body type is better than or just as good as another, but it’s all lies. Thin isn’t better than fat, just different to it. Women don’t have to be curvy to be gorgeous. Instead of concentrating on this, why don’t we point out that: beauty is a combination of many things, the only person we need to please with our appearance is ourselves, and everyone has the potential to be amazing.
I’m considering creating an image like this myself and would be interested to hear what, if anything, you think the caption should be. I have a photoshoot planned for tonight, so watch this space!
Image via @Manda_Jones. Original image from Glamour magazine, May 2006. Source of cropping and the addition of the quote (from Crystal Renn’s book Hungry) are currently unknown.
I know it's commercial, but the images and captions in the Dove Pro Age campaign were great. They addressed not only age, but also body type prejudices. Perhaps something along those lines?
I'm suggesting this as a woman in her late 50s who is average size, and who really appreciated the work regardless of the motives.
Dove did really well with those, didn't they? I think the thing which really stood out for me was that they used a mix of women and they all looked happy. Great big fat smiles! Loved it 🙂
Did you know Dove turned down some women for some dodgy reasons and DID airbrush? Behind the scenes it wasn't so peachy, and to me, they don't look truly diverse. They all have ONE non-stereotypically-pretty element (i.e. model looks but older, larger but again very symmetrical model face…). And I felt the 'but' was there, albeit silently for that reason. Disabilities and so forth were also toned down. But then again it was an just advert for soap dressed up as a campaign.
The headlessness of this image really disturbs me. It's what all this 'real women have curves' v 'thinspiration' stuff boils down to: a female human's body is (should be?) politicised at the expense of her individuality. Whatever 'cause' that's for, it's abhorrent.
The mystery has been solved! The photograph is from the May 2006 issue of Glamour magazine (http://weywardsisters.wordpress.com/2011/02/13/crystal-renn/) and the quote appears to be from her autobiography. That still doesn't explain why someone chose to crop her head out of the photo before circulating it.
@Perdita – Do you have any links to articles about the 'behind the scenes' stuff on those Dove campaigns? I'd be interested in reading more about it.
Lori, thanks so much for posting this as you have articulating many things I have been feeling but not found the words to say.
The problem I find, is that it's difficult (for me) to express my sexuality/appearance in images without adhering to cultural norms. I want to say, X, Y and Z don't matter, but when I start to think about how to represent that in an image, it gets harder. Especially since I am not a professional model (and it's not all in the looks, these people know how to express emotion in their faces, and I don't).
Though in theory I think 'beauty is'.. (add word not relating to physical) and I like seeing pictures of people representing a wide range of physicalities, I like pictures of myself in which I look slim. And, esssentially, adhere to current beauty norms.
This is of particular significance to me as an erotica writer using a pseudonym. I have pictures on my website of me that could easily be viewed as 'tits and arse', not helped by the fact that I have cropped my own face off, because I don't want to be recognised by people who might judge me for writing erotica.
If you find a way (with the help of your most excellent photographer 🙂 ) to create an image tonight that goes some way to responding to this I would be so happy. No pressure!!
Great points Lori. It bothers me that, fat or not, old or young, women somehow have to keep on justifying their appearance. As if our bodies are the property of the beholder, not the owner. We either become apologetic or staunch in explaining why we look the way we do, and how happy we are about it. I believe we live in a society which might now listen to a woman's opinions as much as a man's, but which will rate those opinions against a woman's appearance before considering them. The fact we are still fed these sorts of articles, of women standing up for their natural physicality makes me furious. It shouldn't even be a subject of discussion – certainly not in the media.
Funny – I didn't realise this is what the debate was about, but I awoke to some 'fat acceptance' tweets which really pissed me off: Being fat makes you neither better nor worse than anyone else. Anyway, I just randomly tweeted the following in response, and feels it probably fits here too:
“Hmph. 'Fat' is just an adjective; stop endowing it with greater powers.”
These sorts of campaigns never really work do they. I think if we need to change perceptions we don't need patronising ads like this, we just need to see a variety of different women in all our media and for people to not make a fuss about it. Maybe we need a campaign like Stonewall: “Some people aren't supermodels. Get over it.” Actually that's going to be my next blog post…thanks for the inspiration Lori!