Do A Few Larger Models In Magazines REALLY Make A Body-Image Impact?

A (ridiculously gorgeous) image from V Magazine's "Size Issue," via the web site I applaud the mag—but wouldn't it be nice to see this woman in an issue that wasn't about size?

Seeing images like the one above definitely makes me feel even prouder of my curvy, size 10-12 frame—and makes me think back fondly to the (equally beautiful!) size 14 body I walked around in for a decade, too.

But Michelle Cantrell over at VenusVision asks an interesting question on her site today: Is it really body diversity if what we’re seeing is just larger versions of the same kind of supertall, superpretty women? Where are the petite gals, she asks? The boy-shaped ones, the pears, the apples?

I’ve gotta say, I’m ecstatic about the changes taking place in magazines and on television—and based on the mail that’s still flooding in at Glamour (where I’m a health editor), so are thousands of other women. If you’ll remember, Glamour sort of kicked off this whole movement with a famous photo in its September issue—and  followed that up with a treatise on the new definition of beauty (all bodies!) in November.

From Glamour's May 2009 issue.

But even way back in the May 2009 issue, we had a gorgeous swimsuit fashion spread with plus model Crystal Renn that didn’t even mention her size. That, I think, is key. There’s something more special, more meaningful about a story like that, in which we just get to see a beautiful woman in beautiful clothes who just happens to be a size 12, than one that’s all about size. Not calling attention to it makes it seem like it’s normal and doesn’t matter—and the fact is, being a size 12 (or 10 or 14 or 0 or whatever) is normal, and doesn‘t matter.

I’m really hoping that other media outlets will follow Glamour‘s lead and include models with more diverse body types in all kinds of issues stories—not just ones about body image, or “size” specials like V Magazine’s new “Size Issue.” (That said, I will buy the issue—if only to get the full image of that gorgeous picture at the top of this post!)

What do you think? Do you think the media has gone far enough? Do you think the changes will stick?

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12 Responses to Do A Few Larger Models In Magazines REALLY Make A Body-Image Impact?

  1. Sunny, great post! I absolutely agree - I think this is a step in the right direction, which I wholeheartedly welcome and applaud. But I wish we didn’t have to make it a “size issue,” either. Does that mean that in the next issue we’ll go back to size-zero silhouettes? I hope we see more diversity (in shapes, sizes, colors, etc.) in magazines in general, without it being some special issue. That includes women who are size zero, six, 10, 18 and everything beyond and in between.

    And I really hope the changes stick and we continue to see other magazines publish photos celebrating women of different shapes and sizes. I hope this isn’t some “of the moment” thing that disappears later in the year. I’m hopeful, though!

  2. Trish says:

    Well, I’ll start out by saying that it’s definitely a step in the right direction by putting these girls 0ut there, in magazines that have probably never shown models like this before, and putting them in fashionable spreads instead of frumpy “cover yourself up” looks. I agree, I think a spread that doesn’t bring any attention to size is a little more meaningful than those spreads that are labeled under “size”, we have to keep in mind that this is going to be a tough transition. Progress is made in small steps, not leaps and bounds. Being a plus-sized girl myself, I’m thrilled to see any plus-size modeling out there in a positive light — labeled or not. When it becomes more commonplace, then removing the “size” from issue will be the next step. Personally, I don’t think I’m going to complain about plus-sized girls looking so sexy and just plain AMAZING simply because it’s called the “size issue”. I can only hope that other magazines take a hint from this and start following suit.

  3. Christopher says:

    Not far enough. Real men like diversity. This is why, to be crass, porn is much more diverse than fashion. Typical magazine images are about female / gay male ideals, not what straight men find interesting. Not that they should be about that – just providing another perspective. And far be it from me to declare that the male gaze is the standard by which all should be judged. It just so happens, however, that in this case the male gaze agrees that size zero models are, frankly, uninteresting. It’s time our “ideal” evolved to be more inclusive – not just in terms of size, but also in terms of ethnicity and every other rubric we can imagine.

    Hell, why not go even further and start tearing down the privileging of physical beauty above all else? Instead of “isn’t it great these women reflect the real world” why not “isn’t it great that we aren’t even talking about what these women look like, but whether or not they have anything else to offer the world.” I think our society is ready. 1/3rd of women out-earn their spouses. Clearly we are moving toward a less patriarchal society where people find all kinds of things valuable and beautiful in both sexes – it’s time our media caught up. I can’t believe, for instance, that the wild success of the Dove Real Beauty campaign didn’t lead to an avalanche of copycats. Or maybe it did and I wasn’t paying attention.

  4. I am totally ecstatic that plus size women are being shown more and more in mainstream media. And I agree it is much more meaningful when their presence has nothing to do with their size (i.e. a “size issue”). I love Chrystal Renn and just finished reading her book Hungry, where she expresses the desire not to be spokeswoman for plus size fashion and modeling, but instead recognized as an amazing beautiful model in her own right.

    I also think its extremely empowering for female readers to see larger sizes represented as beautiful, and I look forward to seeing future issues of Glamour magazine, as well as other publications following this trend. The changes over the last year have truly been momentous. I just hope we continue to move in a direction of diversity, rather than simply moving focus from one body type to two.

  5. Christopher, I loved hearing your perspective. My husband has similar thoughts (which is pretty good since I am definitely NOT a size 00 or anything close for that matter).

    As for the Dove campaign, you might be interested to know that those ads are actually for an anti-cellulite cream (most people who have seen the ads don’t realize that which I’m not sure is a good thing or a bad thing). So much for self acceptance. I kind of felt like I had the wool pulled over my eyes when I found that out.

  6. Christopher says:

    Michelle: Ugh, that sucks about Dove, I didn’t realize that. I really don’t get it, our media’s singular obsession with ultra-thin models. Seems like there’s nothing more stereotyped than advertising. Why are we so hell bent on destroying the world’s little girls (and women)? Not to mention the effects on boys, which are more subtle but still in evidence. Maybe the major brands will never get it – why doesn’t someone just build a brand on this thesis? It would be like Burt’s Bees but instead of having a bearded guy as its emblem, it would be a bunch of real women. Sunny I nominate you. HealthyGirl could be way more than a writing project.

  7. Trish says:

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding everyone’s opinion on this, but are you all saying that you are unhappy with what V Magazine is doing?? I understand your points about more diversity, but as I said, diversity is going to come in small steps, if at all. I think what V Magazine is doing should be celebrated, not criticized as not being enough. Putting these girls out there is a HUGE step forward from where the fashion industry was 5 or 10 years ago. Personally I don’t think it’s fair to criticize V Magazine for trying to do something progressive and say that it’s “not enough”. It’s a forward move, which is totally better than a backward move, right?

    • Sunny says:

      Hey Trish-No, I don’t think most of the commenters-or me for that matter-are saying we’re unhappy with V mag. Just a lot of venting about the state of affairs when it comes to our society’s obsession with weight I think!

  8. Trish, I am not criticizing anyone. My only point that I made in my original post at is that everyone is calling this whole movement “body diversity” and so far, I am only seeing essentially two different body types: tall and thin, and tall and somewhat overweight (and even then, only a certain shape) — hardly diverse in my book.

    I am in AWE of the images in V magazine, as well as recent images in Glamour and the like. It is HUGE what is happening right now. I just want to make sure the momentum doesn’t stop here.

  9. Trish says:

    I still don’t think I’m understanding clearly. I agree that there should be more diversity out there — tall, short, skinny, big, black, white and everything in between. But I also know that complete diversity is not going to come all at once. While I completely agree that it shouldn’t stop here, I’m not expecting a total overhaul of fashion magazines overnight. I just think we should be more enthused about what V Magazine is doing rather than focusing on the fact that it isn’t “enough”. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Perhaps our encouragement and support of what magazines like V and Glamour are doing will push photographers, editors and designers to take “diversity” to the next level, and continue from there.

  10. Christopher says:

    I’d say it’s a positive sign of the mainstreaming of body acceptance that we can even have a debate over whether V mag’s moves are sufficiently radical. I’m pretty sure every movement has this debate (over and over again…)

  11. Mindy says:

    I agree with Christopher.

    My perspective…while it IS nice to see bigger women represented in fashion, it still doesn’t alter certain attitudes about weight and body shape.

    Crystal Renn is very lovely. The woman pictured above is gorgeous. But who are we kidding? They are not considered to be the image of “ideal beauty” by most people in this society.

    Personally, I think this is a shame because they are both beautiful with sexy curves.

    There are many women out there who would still rather look more like Heidi Klum than a plus-size model, no matter how pretty the model might be.

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Sunny Sea Gold

About the Author

Sunny Sea Gold is a media-savvy advocate and commentator specializing in binge eating disorder, cultural obsessions around food and weight, and raising children who have a healthy body image.