"But after a volley of exhausting complaining, defending, finger-pointing and declaring one's right to creative license, a new conundrum has presented itself: It's hard to even know what an acceptable-size model is supposed to look like anymore. How big is big enough? And when does plus size, in a profoundly overweight population, become just as distressingly unhealthy an image as emaciation?"
-Washington Post, January 24, 2010
The fashion industry, like so many aspects of American life, is in the midst of a pivotal debate. This isn't really a debate about health. The debate is about far more than that. This debate is about the way Americans live their lives. Pressure on corporate America to represent reality rather than idealized concepts is nothing new. Average Americans have been rowdy about being ignored by the media (although companies seem more than happy to enjoy revenue raised from these people) for a long time.
Two years ago the first full figured woman won America's Next Top Model. Project Runway has had a full figured challenge in almost every season (at least when it was on Bravo and people still watched it). V magazine will be featuring Gabourney Sidibe next month. Jennifer Hudson was on the cover of Vogue last year. These are just examples of full figured or even average sized women being supported by fashion. Expand this concept to other aspects of life and the examples are endless. Sure, it is possible that some of these examples have little to do with the woman's size. However, some of them are absolutely a reaction to a new debate about our beliefs.
The questions are endless: What do Americans value? Do we care more about the abilities of a person and less about their size? If we value a person's character but they do not represent idealized beauty, can we still value them? If we see a person eating what we perceive to be something unhealthy, does our opinion of them change? Do we have the right to care what other people put in their bodies? Do we have the right to care about how much other people put in their bodies? Does our society care about appearance only because it is an evolutionary necessity or are we truly vain?
I could go on and on.
The fashion industry is not the only sector that struggles with these issues. Corporations care about selling magazines and clothes and traditionally that is done by presenting idealized beauty. Even sporting goods companies try to put their products on the best athletes to make the average student athlete buy their goods. Really, the ultimate question is, are Americans willing to embody the values they so often claim they have (or, at least, are recently claiming to have)? Are Americans willing to demand that companies embody these values?