Monday 23 July 2018

Stretching the truth: how the body positivity movement finally got real

Sophie Dahl
Sophie Dahl
Melania Trump
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

I've covered a couple of International Fashion Weeks during my time as a journalist. These assignments almost always included a visit backstage so that I could file a gritty frontline report on high fashion, hairspray and hysterics.

I always came back from these assignments with two stories: the one for whatever magazine I was working with, which focussed on new season trends; and the one for my friends, which described, in forensic detail, what these otherworldly beings looked like in 'real life'. The latter report could be synopsised into a headline: 'ALL models have stretch marks SHOCK!'

They didn't believe me, of course. They were used to seeing airbrushed photos of ethereal skin and flawless physiques (nobody ever notices the five layers of body make-up).

Sure, they knew all about plus-size models but they couldn't quite comprehend how traditional fashion models could be anything other than paragons of perfection.

At the time, there were a number of campaigns designed to challenge these illusory ideals. The trouble is that they were usually founded upon Sophie Dahl-style (above) tokenism, quasi-progressive 'real women' marketing drives and the delusion that 'curvy' is a byword for 'dangerously overweight'.

Dove used a size 18 model to sell its body firming cream. "Let's face it, firming the thighs of a size-eight supermodel wouldn't have been much of a challenge," read the slogan. M&S used models from size eight to size 16 to front its oxymoronic Sexy Shapewear campaign. The message was that you can be beautiful at any size (so long as you're tall, well-proportioned and represented by a modelling agency).

The movement certainly increased the visibility of plus-size women in the fashion industry, but it became a study of extremes: you were either a rail-thin-perma-dieter or a size 16 'real woman' who loved her curves.

It didn't speak to the women in the middle - the woman who can't shift her baby weight; the woman who won't hit the beach without a carefully-positioned sarong; the woman who would be happy with her body if she could only find a cellulite cream that worked. Thankfully, the body-positivity movement is starting to speak their language. Stacey Solomon recently posted a video that poked fun at the pressure to be bikini body ready and celebrated her "muffin top and saggy boobies".

Kendrick Lamar rapped about being sick of Photoshop - "Show me somethin' natural like ass with some stretch mark" - and online retailer ASOS did just that by showing images of models in swimwear and lingerie that haven't been retouched.

They have acne scars, birth marks and stretch marks - and, at long last, my friends believe me.

Will the real Melania please stand up?

Melania Trump

The Trump presidency has all the makings of a Marvel movie franchise, with everyone fitting neatly into film archetypes.

Donald is the classic power-hungry Villain, Hillary is the Heroic Wannabe and Ivanka is the Siren (despite her attempts to reposition herself as a ball-juggling, how-does-she-do-it? Working Mom). Like any good film franchise, there's also a rotating cast, or rather a revolving door, of administration firings and hirings.

Melania is a little harder to cast. She's too artless to be the Wicked Stepmother and too subservient to be the Shrew. In her ever-evolving public perception, she's gone from being the Village Idiot to the Wise Fool, yet every so often, she steps out of character and leaves us wondering if she has something else up her sleeve.

So who is the real Melania Trump? Dame Helen Mirren thinks she has the answer. In a recent interview, the actress said she believes Melania is about to step into the role she was born to play.

"I'm Eastern European, you know; [we've] got these dark souls... that dark Slovenian soul is about to come out."

It's an exhilarating idea - even if it sounds a little like a WWF commentary. Yet one wonders if Mirren, like the rest of us, has got caught up in the stranger-than-fiction plot that's unfolding in the White House. Does she really believe Melania will rise up, or is she holding out for an archetypal dragon-slaying hero?

Irish Independent

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