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Weight in Hollywood: Is the Trend Changing?

Πέμπτη, 24 Φεβρουαρίου 2011 Leave a Comment

It’s the talk of the runways, the tabloids, and even the political circuit. Is the sudden curve craze a passing fad? Or could our bodies—and minds—be shape-shifting toward a more realistic ideal?

At the turn of the last century, none could rival “airy, fairy” Lillian Russell. The thrice-divorced queen of the operetta was known to savor 15-course feasts with her lover, Gilded Age tycoon “Diamond Jim” Brady. Russell’s formidable frame trussed into a bosomy figure eight by the steel-boned corsets of her day and variously reported to be 140, 160, and 200 pounds—was celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic. Then, low and behold, along came a Lil’ of a different breed: a willowy Brit named Lillie Langtry, who embodied the new wasp-waisted Gibson Girl and changed everything. Suddenly, fashionable women—Russell included—were riding bikes and lifting dumbbells, fighting to slim down.

Or so the story goes. In reality, no matter how inspiring either one of them was, the notion that cultural ideals can shift because of onewoman is tempting, but tough to swallow—though plenty of that sort of blame has been heaped at the feet of, say, Twiggy, Marilyn Monroe, and Kate Moss. According to Emory University cultural historian Sander Gilman, PhD, author of Fat: A Cultural History of Obesity, the shift from the “fulsome” 1890s to the sylphlike 1920s was due to weightier forces: the women’s movement and the small factor of a world war. Likewise, even in these tabloid-obsessed times, it’s crazy to think that a few fashion spectacles and a handful of stacked celebs are all it takes to foment a global shift from the skinny-mini standard that has more or less stuck since the ’60s…right? Still, you’d have to be pretty hard of heart not to feel at least a whisper of optimism right now, with the woman in full experiencing a rare cultural moment.
For starters, two of fashion’s most influential minds seem suddenly taken with boobs and bums. Miuccia Prada hired Doutzen Kroes and Miranda Kerr—both Victoria’s Secret Angels, i.e., not “runway girls”—to model her bust-centric fall collection and padded out those who were less well-equipped with layers of strategically placed ruffles and lace. And at Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs gathered a bevy of renowned beauties of diverse shapes and ages (“diverse,” admittedly, being a relative term on Planet Fashion), including Laetitia Casta, Bar Refaeli, Lara Stone, and a better-than-ever, 46-year-old Elle Macpherson, to wear womanly frocks with defined waists and modest, swingy skirts.
Jacobs, predictably, rejected the assumption that his casting was some sort of political statement. (He has a well-known allergy to such “statements.”) The choice, he said, was purely aesthetic: “Even if you never looked at fashion, you would say, ‘Wow. Look how beautiful these women look.’ ” And how. Any one of them would be beanpoles in the Mall of America, but compared with the usual runway sylphs, his chosen few looked positively voluptuous. And, in this issue devoted to the body, it’s worth pointing out the definition of voluptuous: “of, relating to, or characterized by luxury or sensual pleasure.” The word derives from the Latin for “pleasure.”
Over in Hollywood, Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks’ gravity-defying bodaciousness has certainly given us—women, that is—a fair amount of pleasure of late. Men, it’s worth noting, have always gone all wobbly- kneed for Hendricks’ brand of beauty, but this time around, it’s women who are singing her praises (at least, we’re singing loudest). Okay, so, in terms of attainability, her curves are about as realistic a goal as Jane Russell’s were in 1955—we love her because, after so much skinny sameness, what she’s got is gloriously different. And Hendricks is hardly alone: The charms of America Ferrera, Mo’Nique, Kim Kardashian, Tyra Banks, Kelly Osbourne, and even, to some extent, Katherine Heigl offer a seductive rebuke of the industry’s downward-spiralling size 0 standards (despite the fact that, in reality, few of them exceed a size 6).
Perhaps even more reassuring, certain stars are being explicit about where they stand, body-wise, in hopes of counteracting fans’ unrealistic notions about weight. Last year, when a London newspaper claimed Kate Winslet was downplaying her exercise regimen, she filed (and won) a libel suit. The victory, she said in a statement, demonstrated “my commitment to the views that I have always expressed about body issues, including diet and exercise.” Scarlett Johansson fired back at a tabloid that said she’d whittled 14 pounds off her 5'3" frame while training for Iron Man 2 via an editorial on The Huffington Post: “If I were to lose 14 pounds, I’d have to part with both arms. And a foot.” And, when comedian Niecy Nash informed her partner on Dancing With the Stars she had no intention of sweating off her womanly assets—“If I lose my jiggly parts, you’re gonna get it”—it was enough to make women across America leap off their sofas and cheer.
Perhaps no one deserves more confidence kudos than the effervescent Gabby Sidibe, whose weight makes her an obvious Hollywood outlier. Submitted to the rather awkward, pageantlike onstage display of Best Actress nominees at the start of the Oscars, Sidibe was the only one who grinned and saucily swerved her hips. How many of us, skinny or otherwise, could summon that kind of chutzpah?
Whether we’re talking race or age or sexuality or, yes, weight, it should go without saying that diversity is good. The average American woman wears a size 14. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), she’s also 5'3", weighs 164.7 pounds, and has a 37-inch waist—she should be able to identify with at least some of the people she sees on TV. Acceptance is the goal of Full Figured Fashion Week, which returns to New York City for the second time this year; that event is intended to change the image of plus-size consumers (sizes 14 and up), who, according to its organizers, spend more than $25 billion per year on clothes. Few would argue with the necessity—and sheer logic—of serving what is quickly becoming the majority of American consumers. But, on the other hand, according to the CDC, the “average” described above is statistically overweight. Her body-mass index (BMI) would be 29.2—treacherously close to 30, the threshold of obesity. Here, of course, lies the trickiest stuff: Stuck between two unhealthy extremes, we know we should aspire to be thinner than the norm, while also being inclusive of it—to simultaneously embrace and reject what is “average.”

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