Not too long ago, a friend named Kayla Williams - a 33-year-old who's "5-foot-3, with big boobs and a big butt" (her words!) - wanted my opinion on a Lane Bryant commercial that got some attention in the news recently.
It seems that a couple of broadcast networks were refusing to air this ad, which featured a curvy, shapely lady (model Ashley Graham), wearing various lingerie and undergarments from the clothing-store chain. The ad was supposed to debut during an episode of "Dancing With the Stars," but ABC reportedly pulled it for being too racy. (Keep in mind it would've aired during a show where C-list celebs dance in close to nothing.) Fox wasn't going to air the ad as well during an "American Idol" episode. But because a Victoria's Secret commercial was also going to be shown, Fox decided to give the ad equal time.
The whole thing left my friend rather miffed. "Why is this video any raunchier than a Victoria's Secret commercial?" asks Williams, a community college instructor in Ohio. "I would say it was more tasteful than a Victoria's Secret commercial, you know what I mean? So, the only thing that I could come up with, why they wouldn't air it on TV, is because she's too big or, you know, she actually has boobs and a butt.
"It's so shocking!" she said, sarcastically.
Neither the commercial nor the treatment it got from the networks was shocking to me. News outlets can also get downright mean when it comes to female personalities looking the slightest bit plump. The New York Times got some heat in January when writer Cathy Horyn wrote a blog post dishing on "Mad Men" star Christina Hendricks' appearance at this year's Golden Globes.
The post included a distorted photo that made Hendricks look more chunky than curvy. "As one stylist said, 'You don't put a big girl in a big dress. That's rule number one,'" Horyn wrote. (The blog post was later updated with the photo untouched.)
While many people (including Hendricks' own husband) called the Times out for both the disparaging comments and the unflattering photo, Hendricks seems to have gotten the last laugh by becoming an in-demand sex symbol anyway, recently landing on the covers of New York and Esquire, where she was voted the sexiest woman in America.
I've always found it absurd what some in our culture perceive to be a plus-size woman. Professional plus-size models like Crystal Renn (who appears on the cover of this month's Glamour in a bikini) look more normal than zaftig.
Or how about when Whitney Thompson won "America's Next Top Model" a couple of years ago? She was constantly referred to as the first plus-size model to win on the show.
Actually, she was the first realistic-looking model to win on the show, because this full-bodied blonde looked more like the average woman you see in everyday life.
Tracing the attitude
There's, of course, some history behind this misperception. Dian Hanson, book editor for publishing company Taschen and author of the upcoming coffee-table book "The Big Butt Book," says it all started after World War II, when sales of pinup magazines that were all the rage during wartime began going down once the boys came back home and got married.
It wasn't until Hugh Hefner entered the picture with Playboy, publishing photos of topless, trim, well-endowed gals (and hiring guys like future big-bosom movie auteur Russ Meyer to take them), that a new ideal woman began to take form and dominate the culture. "Before that time," says Hanson, "the female body type that was preferred was more of balanced body type: medium-sized breasts, medium-sized buttocks, reasonably slender. But we came out of the war with this very exaggerated interest."
Garner resident Barbara Yonkin Bozon, 55, thinks women who don't fit that exaggerated, perfect body type spend most of their lives paying for it.
"I have found that, being a woman, you're not good enough unless you look a certain way," says Bozon, who works at Briarcliff Elementary School in Cary. "It's not just from experience myself, but it's just what we all hear. We hear it a lot. ... You gotta fit a certain mold. And if you don't, you're no good. And then, it's worse when you get older - I have found."
Buxom and gorgeous
Thanks to this accepted yet unattainable standard of female beauty that has been considered the norm for most of the last century, many women have become self-conscious - self-loathing, even - about their bodies.
Thankfully, curvaceous ladies such as Graham, Hendricks or even Queen Latifah (who is the romantic lead in the movie "Just Wright") are doing their best to show that you can be, in fact, buxom and gorgeous.
Just because you're more fleshed out in some areas doesn't mean you're a disgusting excuse for a human being. To quote a De La Soul song, there ain't nothing wrong with big drawers!
Even Williams has learned not to be so self-conscious when it comes to body image. This is mostly because she knows there are many men (like the guy who's writing this) whose views on beauty do not match the mainstream.
"I think once you start dating and have relationships, you realize that most guys don't want a stick figure, you know," says Williams. "And that's because what's in the media doesn't mean that's reality."
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