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The four reactions to this magazine cover.

The cover of Italian Vogue

What do you get when you put three plus-sized models in their underwear on the cover of Italian Vogue? It seems one of four reactions:

1. “How outrageous that those models are even called ‘plus-sized’. They look average to me.”

Yes they do. But not for models. In fashion, any woman larger than size 10 is exiled to the Siberia of the modelling world: Plus-sizia, an arid land where unemployment is high and job opportunities are scarce. The number of plus-size models in the modelling world is inversely proportional to the number of size 10+ women in the real world. Somehow, the fashion industry has re-calibrated ‘average’ to mean ‘tall and extremely slim’, evidenced by the fact that the sample-sized garments supplied to magazines for photo shoots are a ‘standard’ size 6-8. Never bigger. No wonder plus-size models (that’s 10+) are forced to wander around fashion shoots naked or in their underwear. Which brings us to reaction number two…….

2. “How insulting to put those models in sexy knickers! Why aren’t larger women ever shot in fashionable clothes or any clothes at all?”

Two reason for this. In fashion magazines, larger models are most often photographed naked or nearly naked because the designer gear won’t fit them. See point one. But there’s something else too.

Velvet D’Amour is a well-known American plus-sized-model recently interviewed by fashion journalist Patty Huntington for her Frockwriter blog. Asked why she thought larger models were so often photographed this way, Velvet laughed, noting “99.999% of the artists interested in working with me wanna get me naked, not that I blame them. It is quite the odd dichotomy that as a society, fat is viewed with derision, yet should one go out on a limb and include a genuinely voluptuous model, nine times out of 10 they will do so by harkening back to the Renaissance. Rubens and the like, are seemingly our only reference points for a larger body.”

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Velvet D’amour

On the subject of the overly sexual way larger models are often photographed, Velvet thinks we’ve been programmed to find flesh risqué because curvy women have been relegated to men’s magazines while women’s mags have fed us “ a steady diet of rail thin, white, tall, youth for the most part.” Yes but I think it’s also worth noting that this is Italian Vogue. They shoot EVERYONE half-naked and sexy. At least they didn’t discriminate.

3. “How irresponsible to use models who are plus-sized. This promotes obesity.”

Very true. Every time I see my favourite female artist Adele or watch the gorgeous Chrissie Swan on The Circle or notice Magda Szubanski on the cover of the Australian Women’s Weekly, I’m seized by the urgent desire to put on weight. You? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Because it’s poppycock. For every one of those glorious, talented women, there are millions of size 8s on every TV show, billboard, magazine cover and in every music video, movie and advertisement we see. If looking at a woman of a certain size had a direct effect on our weight, there’d be no obesity problem.

What we do have, however, is a body image problem, which is different. Many people mistakenly think body image is about what you weigh. I disagree. Body image is how you feel about your body. It’s about self-esteem.

So I don’t buy the argument that featuring larger women or plus-size models in a positive way is a statement about health. It’s not. It’s an endorsement of diversity, an acknowledgement that no one particular size or shape of woman has a monopoly on being considered attractive or even ‘normal’.

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Remember, you can tell very little about a model’s health from the outside.  Consider the slim, chain-smoking, binge-drinking, drug-taking, hard-partying Kate Moss. Is she a better ‘role’ model than Adele? Hell to the no.

“Time and again the issue of health is touted as a pertinent reason for the near total exclusion of fat women in modern media,” agrees Velvet D’Amour. “Yet let’s have a look at who we utterly deify in popular culture, without questioning for a second their physical or mental health. Au contraire, we are well aware that a great number of popular actors, models, dancers, rock groups etc. that inundate media have dabbled in drugs, drink, etc. And rather than scoff at them with derision and judgment, we fete them on a daily basis.”

Robyn Lawley

4. “Hubba hubba.”

When I re-published some of the Vogue images on Mamamia, the comments were overwhelmingly positive. Both men and women were quite swoony about the three models on the cover and inside the magazine (one of whom is Australian Robyn Lawley). If only we got to see more of that.

Velvet concurs: “If we start to include a major cross-section of our society within the revered pages of fashion magazines, fat women, emaciated women, women of colour, aging women, differently-abled women, small women, you name it – then we can turn the tide against the overwhelming sense so many women suffer from not being able to live up to this exceedingly stringent, highly unattainable beauty ethic we currently subscribe to.”

Beautifully put. Now bring it on.

Here is a gallery of Australian model Robyn Lawley….

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What was your reaction to the cover?

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