Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Fat girl chic... and shame?

I shop at Lane Bryant, pretty much exclusively, for three reasons:
1. I like their clothes.
2. Their sales associates are really, really nice to me.
3. They gave me credit.

And while for the most part I can identify with their models, I've been noticing once in a while that images on their website look shopped, or that models are much smaller than the sizes 14-32 clothing that Lane Bryant sells. It's subtle though. I'll see a woman with a much slimmer neck than the rest of her body would indicate. Arms are shaved down when the model is wearing a sleeveless top. Bust sizes are changed. Waists are made smaller.

What message is the Lane Bryant website trying to send to its customers? Even your fat ass can look skinny in our clothes? This is by no means an egregious action on the part of the marketing department, but it is subtly sinister and makes me slightly uncomfortable, because I have a size 14 waist and I know what it looks like in pictures -- regardless of whether I'm wearing clothing from Lane Bryant or somewhere else. This ain't it.

Check out the waist:hip ratio in the image at right. These high-waisted pants (which are a pretty good representation of the kinds of pants LB sells) have, in this image, a waistband that would not fit passed the hips of the woman who is wearing them -- unless that's one long-ass zipper! Moreover, this is not a size 14 waist -- but it is a size 14 butt. Two options here: this woman is incredibly disproportionate and all her body fat is either in her butt or her tits; or this image has been photoshopped to make it appear as though this woman has a smaller waist. Why would Lane Bryant do this?

There are probably a number of reasons, and some of them might be acceptable; for instance, they're trying to make money and their marketing department may have information that tells them that women are more apt to buy clothing that is draped over thin models. Maybe this isn't a great reason, but there is no real "great" reason. A less acceptable one, in my mind would be that this is what they think women should look like, but I really don't think that Lane Bryant has an actual opinion of women's bodies. I think they're trying to make money.

Current beauty standards seek to smooth over the wrinkly and bumpy bits. Even if, as Cosmo proclaims, fashion is trending toward "curvy" women, an unsightly curve is still worthy of ridicule. If the woman-at-left's arms were their actual size (upon close-ish inspection, the left shoulder/deltoid area has been shaved down, and the bicep/tricep area of the right arm has been smoothed and adjusted, as has the wrist; although it is possible that this model has dainty wrists), these beauty standards would say that this blouse would not look its best on a model of wider arms.

But, if that is truly the case, and a woman of wider arms would not look good in this particular blouse, why is the company try to sell this blouse to women who most likely have wider arms, waists, legs, etc than the models who show off how great the prospective customer could look in the prospective wardrobe?

As I stated above, most of my clothing comes from Lane Bryant, the "fat girl store" as I call it without enmity toward myself, my fat, the store, or its other customers. I also think that images being over-shopped so that the models conform more to "conventional" beauty standards is the exception rather than the rule. I do believe that most of the models on their website and in their catalogs are my size and bigger, and I'm certain that they are all bigger than your average Victoria's Secret model; but I wonder, what's with the subversive fat-shaming if you're trying to sell clothes to fat chicks?

I'm not sure that "fat-shaming" is a motive here, in fact it's probably an afterthought if it's a thought at all; however, it is the effect. "This blouse wouldn't look right on the model if her arms weren't shopped thinner" is, as an aesthetic rule, fat-shaming. "This model should have a thinner waist to show off how great her butt looks in these pants" is the same. There's no real reason the models above should have had their proportions changed in order to "look good". Moreover, changing the proportions of plus-sized models in plus-sized clothes in order to advertise to plus-sized customers is really unnecessary.

Of course, even the images of super-thin runway models are shopped to make them look thinner with longer necks and legs, so why should the models who hock the fat girl clothes be exempt from this? It's industry standards, after all, and those have nothing to do with making women feel badly about themselves and their bodies... right?


lilacsigil said...

I agree that this is a subtle form of fat-shaming, in a "for your own good" way. Wouldn't you like to look like this? Of course you would! We'll just photoshop in what is obviously every woman's ideal.

On the other hand, I have a size 26 bum and a size 20 waist and do look very disproportionate, and a lot of calls for plus-sized fit models have surprisingly small waist measurements. It's nice to see someone with something close to my shape, though it would be nicer if some clothes were actually designed for the exaggerated shape that they are playing with! And, of course, if all the other interesting shapes that people are were represented - my relatively small bust and annoyingly small shoulders are rare on plus-sized clothing sites, as is my big stomach. It's just the waist that makes it on!

Puspanjali said...

I do not think you need to be skinny like the models to carry off your clothes to advantage or look beautiful.There are many definition of beauty........I like to look beautiful the natural way that God created us.I know I can look exotic and attractive with good fitting and well tailored clothes.All I need is a charming personality and smiling face.........And of course a clean and clear and healthy complexion helps a lot.Check out Lipcare
for more tips.

Rachel said...

Sorry Pupspanjali, the only skin care solicitation that goes on on this blog is Mary Kay stuff.