The audience at Film Forum is just settling in when the trailer comes on: an old-fashioned black-and-white preview for a revival of Some Like It Hot, starring an undulating, googly-eyed Marilyn Monroe at the height of her considerable powers. But it isn’t her kittenish voice or flaxen locks that have the audience gasping: it’s the way her satin dress strains against her belly, the way the fabric caresses every roll and wriggle of her explosive rump. There’s only one conclusion to be drawn: Marilyn, by the rigorous standards against which we judge ourselves and each other today, wasn’t just a teensy bit overweight. Monroe was fat.
In this single respect, at least, the social norms 40 years ago were far more liberal than they are today. Despite the fact that Americans keep getting bigger, the laws of beauty-land are ever more stringent. No wonder Lane Bryant’s recent fashion show, held a few weeks ago at the Manhattan Center, was so refreshing. It featured the “young, hip” Venezia division of Lane Bryant (a store whose name has elicited bittersweet relief from legions of unsuccessful dieters for over half a century) and introduced a collection of shamelessly abbreviated T-shirts, unembarrassed embroidered denim, brazen peasant blouses, daring drawstring pants, and various other versions of the latest trends.
The models ranged in size from proportions that any sane society would consider perfect to women of dramatic girth; the audience greeted each and every one of them with wild enthusiasm. The whole atmosphere, in fact, was faintly transgressive, as if there was something naughty about watching Rubenesque mannequins sidle down a runway. It was the sort of evening that could really cheer a big girl up (the show was simulcast on the Internet, like last spring’s Victoria’s Secret event), especially if the clothes were ever to turn up in Glamour, Marie Claire, Elle, or the new Harper’s Bazaar. Fat chance. As it is, Venezia probably won’t surface anywhere except the pages of the smash-hit Mode, a sleek fashion magazine for plus-size women whose slogan is “Style Beyond Size.”
But as with so many other reviled, despised, ridiculed minorities, some members of the oppressed group are beginning to fight back. It’s heavy sledding, so to speak: even when the mainstream fashion press thinks it’s coming around to a more enlightened, progressive view of weight issues, it only reveals how sick and twisted things have become.
In a particularly offensive article in the July Vogue by Philip Weiss called “The Return of the Curve,” the magazine hails the end of the skinny ideal: “First there was the waif, then quirky models ruled fashion runways. Now the bodacious body is back.” The piece lauds model “Angela Lindvall, a 20-year-old blonde from Missouri…as one of the hotter new girls. With her full cheeks and 34-24-34 figure, Angela could be that all-American sexy ideal—the girl next door….” Well, sure, maybe, but don’t expect the neighbors to be cackling about how chunky she is. (As if this isn’t creepy enough, the article goes on to trumpet what it calls “the end of an era of the strict enforcement of sexual-harassment law….The workplace is now more re-
laxed….gender politics have shifted forever.” Gee, isn’t that swell.)
Over at Allure, 33-year-old actress Jennifer Coolidge is the subject of a piece called “Slim…Fast,” describing her attempt to lose 15 pounds in eight weeks. She’s five foot ten, 150 pounds at the beginning of her quest, measurements the National Institutes of Health thinks are just ducky. (They recommend that a woman of Coolidge’s age and height weigh between 134 and 173.) But the director of the Fitness Center at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank disagrees, and is quoted as saying, “She needs to lose 15 pounds to look good on film.” So she treadmills and spins and guzzles water, she squats and curls and lunges, she kickboxes and yogas and starves, but alas, at the end of the eight weeks she’s knocked off only 11 pounds. “I never really thought of myself as that heavy,” says Coolidge at the end of the article. “But then I had a party and every woman who came in the door said, ‘Hi…Oh, my God, you lost weight.’ And I thought, How fat was I?”
Pretty fat, according to In Style magazine. They like the looks of Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker, who they refer to as “fabulously figured.” “She has a perfect size-0 body,” the show’s costumer is quoted as saying.
Is it any wonder that the fabulously figured Camryn Manheim, Emmy-winning star of The Practice and author of the memoir-polemic Wake Up, I’m Fat! (she opened the Lane Bryant show in a scarlet ensemble that brought the house down), characterizes growing up heavy in America as “no fucking picnic”?
“I have lived my life in a culture that hates fat people,” Manheim writes. “From magazine covers to late-night talk–show hosts. From would-be employers to would-be lovers. I have felt the judgmental scorn of society’s contempt for people like me. It is against all odds that I’ve managed to arrive in my mid-thirties with any self-respect and self-worth. It’s a miracle that I laugh every day and walk through my life with pride and confidence, because our culture is unrelenting when it comes to large people. I don’t understand it and I doubt I ever will. We hurt nobody. We’re just fat.”
Tyler too: Mia Tyler (Liv’s sister, Steve’s daughter) getting beautified backstage