Sunday 23 October 2016

Plus ça change: Why fashion still won't wear normal-sized women

Amy Schumer - an Irish size 10/12 - is not happy at being labelled 'plus-size' by a magazine. But, says our repoter, the fashion industry just can't shake off its unrealistic expectations of women's bodies

Published 08/04/2016 | 02:30

At a US size six, Amy Schumer is something of an anomaly - not model thin, and not plus-sized.
At a US size six, Amy Schumer is something of an anomaly - not model thin, and not plus-sized.
Singer Adele at the Brit Awards.
This week Gucci came under fire for an advert featuring gaunt looking women.
Actress Melissa McCarthy has been vocal about ridding the industry of labels which categorise women according to their body size.

For women, we're taught to eat less until we disappear, and trained to believe that if you don't look like everyone else, then you're unlovable. And men are not trained that way. Men can look like whatever and still date a supermodel… I think it's good to see somebody saying: I have a belly, and I have cellulite."

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Anyone reading the words of comedian, actress and screenwriter Amy Schumer in the August 2015 edition of the American version of Glamour Magazine would immediately understand several things about Schumer; she's a feminist, she's articulate, she's funny and she doesn't have the honed and toned figure of a Victoria's Secret model - a fair representation of a woman that wants to spread the gospel of body positivity.

This week, Glamour decided to reprint Amy's interview in a special edition of the magazine aimed at US size 12 women (that's a 16 in UK and Irish sizing - American sizes are generally two sizes down from our own measurements), and retailing at an eye-watering $12.99.

Schumer took umbrage at being included, especially without being informed, and took to social media to express her displeasure.

"I think there's nothing wrong with being plus-size," she posted on both Twitter and Instagram. "Beautiful healthy women. Plus-size is considered size 16 in America. I go between a size 6 and an 8. @glamourmag put me in their plus-size only issue without asking or letting me know and it doesn't feel right to me. Young girls seeing my body type thinking that is plus-size? What are your thoughts? Mine are not cool glamour not glamourous" (sic).

Schumer's comments ignited a firestorm online. Some fans were behind her, unhappy that Glamour would include her in a specialist title and put her in a category to which she doesn't belong without her permission. Others questioned why she was bothered and pointed out that there was a double standard in her statement - saying plus-size is beautiful, but still seemingly offended to be categorised that way. Commenters pointed out to Amy that the magazine wasn't actually calling her plus-sized by including her, while some even accused Amy of lying about her body, saying there's no way she could be the size she claims to be.

Glamour's editor-in-chief Cindi Leive took to Twitter not long after with a statement, saying: "First off, we love Amy, and our readers do too - which is why we featured her on the cover of Glamour last year. The cover line on this special edition - which is aimed at women size 12 and up - simply says 'Women Who Inspire Us,' since we believe her passionate and vocal message of body positivity IS inspiring, as is the message of the many other women, of all sizes, featured. The edition did not describe her as plus-size. We are sorry if we offended her in any way."

To me, this is yet another example of how inflammatory the subject of size still is among women. Last year, I wrote an article in this paper in which I trialled high-street jeans brands. The photos were less than flattering, and online trolls mocked me for claiming to be a size 12 even though it's the truth. I know that like many women, I've been preoccupied with size labels in the past, dieting to get in to a size 10 so I could feel some brief sense of achievement. However these days I buy things that fit, and that are comfortable, regardless of the label. Yet I still understand where Amy is coming from regarding Glamour; it must rankle to be misrepresented, even if the connotations are positive.

The vast majority of runway and editorial models are a US size zero or two, and most actresses and celebrities fit in regular sample sizes, rarely bigger than a four. At a size six, Schumer is something of an anomaly - not model thin, and not plus-sized - and as such, it isn't clear to the fashion industry how to categorise her.

In recent years, the waif look popularised in the nineties and early noughties seems to have gone out of style, but the looks that have followed it, although curvier, are just as unattainable for many women. Celebrities like the Kardashians, Nicki Minaj and Kate Upton have been praised for changing perceptions and promoting womanly hips and backsides, but in reality, their flat stomachs, pneumatic curves and eye-watering proportions are just as unusual as a very slight frame.

And in recent months, there have been obvious moves by the world's media and the fashion industry to be more inclusive of different shapes, sizes, skin tones and ages, but to many this is a marketing ploy, and the average model is still white, very tall and very thin. In fact, just this week Gucci came under fire for an advertisement from last December featuring gaunt looking young women, with the Advertising Standards Authority declaring it "irresponsible" and upholding its complaint against the Italian fashion house.

However, the very term being used to describe the women seen as icons for fuller-figured ladies is also being dismissed by them; size 16 (UK) model Ashley Graham appeared on the front of the famous Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition this year and is the current cover girl for men's magazine Maxim in the US, yet the model herself is keen to remove the term "plus-size" from the popular lexicon. At a recent press conference at the South x South West festival in Austin, Texas, Graham declared the term "totally outdated", saying "I don't want to be a label, I want to be a model."

Similarly, actress Melissa McCarthy is often championed as a voice for fuller-figured women, but she too rejects the desire to label women by their body shape.

"I know I am not the 'norm' [in Hollywood] but it never occurs to me in terms of being a role model, though, because I don't know any perfect women," she told Refinery 29. "I know some of those women in those magazines who get called perfect or whose butt is supposedly better, and often they don't even look like that in person… They would be more horrified than anybody else that you're pitting them against each other and judging. You don't see two guys next to each other and somebody going, 'Who's got the better knees? Who's got old knees? Who's got weird feet?' I want to get rid of constantly categorising."

Schumer posted online again several hours after her initial tweet, thanking fans for their thoughts. "Bottom line seems to be we are done with these unnecessary labels which seem to be reserved for women," she wrote, echoing McCarthy's feminist sentiments.

Perhaps it's the segregation of different sizes in fashion and in the media that's the issue. After all, why is a special edition of a magazine even required in 2016, apart from it being a commercial endeavour? Perhaps it's more about representation; about women who don't feel any similarities with mainstream models having a space to call their own, and a magazine full of other women who look like them, and that's entirely understandable.

But for me, a size 12 woman that doesn't fit in to either the skinny category or plus-size, there's still a problem with representation. I often feel like an in-betweener, so it's refreshing for me to see that a woman as famous and influential as Amy Schumer does too. Maybe people like Amy, Adele and Kate Winslet Dunham should keep railing against any descriptions of themselves that don't fit the bill, over-Photoshopped images and other people's opinions of their bodies.

Because it's only when everyone is included that things can truly be different.

Irish Independent

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