Fat chance? Today, size is a plus

Movies, magazines making room for growing segment

February 16, 2003|By Greg Morago | Greg Morago,Special to the Sun

Big Girls Don't Cry.

Well, at Least Not as Much as They Used To. Why? Because After Years of Often Feeling Left Out, They Finally May Be Enjoying Their Place in the Sun. Fashion, Advertising, Publishing and Entertainment Are Embracing (However Belatedly, However Reluctantly) the Full-Figured Woman.

Sizable sisters are not in the minority any longer: 68 percent of adult women wear a size 14 or larger (in 1985 the average size was 8). Health concerns aside, the big woman is an important player in big America where 65 percent of adults are classified as overweight and nearly a third of adults are considered obese. The buying power of this population is enormous: Women's plus-size retail sales in 2000 exceeded $32 billion.

"This is truly the curvy revolution," said Linzi Glass, president of SizeAppeal.com, a fashion Web site dedicated to the larger woman. "Big women are finally acknowledging they can be beautiful."

Beautiful, perhaps, beyond the plus-size community. In the past year, America seems to have welcomed the big woman -- love handles and all. There was Kathy Bates doing a nude scene in About Schmidt. Nia Vardalos gained weight to play a baklava-stuffed bride in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Real Women Have Curves scored big at last year's Sundance Film Festival, earning an award for the pleasingly plump Ana Garcia. Big-boned Marissa Jaret Winokur and several chubby accomplices are bringing down the house in Hairspray, Broadway's biggest hit of the season.

TV audiences didn't mind fat and foul Anna Nicole Smith on her eponymous show on E! Entertainment: Her bosomy exploits earned her a renewal for a new season of camp and cleavage.

In April, queen-size queen of comedy Mo'Nique is coming out with a book called Skinny Women Are Evil: Notes of a Big Girl in a Small-Minded World.

Size 12: Big or normal?

But hold on to your panty-girdles. Maybe not all of America, no matter how super-sized, is ready for the rotund woman to conquer.

"I certainly don't see the fashion world embracing big girls. If we're not embracing anything over a size 6 in a fashion magazine, how are we going to get our hands around a size 12?" said Susie Watson, a pop culture critic.

"I don't see the acceptance happening in a mass way until fashion magazines stop brainwashing teen-age girls that you must be pencil thin. As long as you have someone like [Vogue editor] Anna Wintour in charge of the way the fashion world is viewed, I don't think you'll see any diversity or acceptance of normal-sized people. I don't even mean heavy -- I'm talking about size 12 and up."

And that's exactly the audience of Grace -- a lifestyle / beauty / fashion magazine aimed at the entire spectrum of American women, including size 12 and above. It's an audience that Grace's editor says is the majority of women in America, yet the most marginalized.

"In the magazine industry, a size 12 model is considered a big fat girl," said Ceslie Armstrong, founder and editor in chief of Grace. "In reality, a size 12 in America is smaller than the average-size woman. There's the rub. There's the difference."

Armstrong says Grace doesn't glorify the big girl. Nor does it speak down to her. "We don't advocate obesity, because it's unhealthy. We don't advocate being super thin, because it's unhealthy," she said. "We say be healthy, happy and fit in the skin you're in."

'There's a swing'

The big woman, Armstrong says, still hasn't found general acceptance in society. But that attitude may be changing. "There's a swing happening," she said. "We're beginning to accept these shapes because they're more reflective of our society."

Glass agrees. However slowly, entertainment and media outlets are "accepting that they do have to show the face of the curvy woman," she said.

When SizeAppeal.com launched, Glass said, the glossy magazines weren't doing layouts with big girls. "But there's a real trend now to include a size 14 girl in photo shoots. You see it in Seventeen, YM, InStyle and Glamour."

But what's driving this acceptance? The big girls themselves -- especially where fashion is concerned.

"Women today are much more outspoken," Glass says. "There's really a giant wave of women demanding the same, demanding equality in style. Equality of style has been missing for so long. We're giving them the same, just in a larger size. They say, 'Thank you for not punishing us for being plus.' "

Greg Morago is a reporter for The Hartford Courant, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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