The following is a letter written by Dorothy Harrigan to the editor of the People magazine, regarding an article about successful models who are ostensibly on the plump side compared to the standard “American” norms of beauty. People chose not to run the letter, but it is hear now and will appear, along with many others, in the next edition of Rejected Letters to the Editor (which will appear later this month).
Re “Modeling’s Heavyweights!” in the May 7, issue of People.
It’s interesting that in order explore a purported change in American women’s body confidence, you automatically look to models as the accepted index of beauty. The models you point to aren’t just any models, they are “Heavyweights!” What does this say about us that we consider these women to be above average weight? The women presented in your article, if not rail-thin, still embody unreachable, digitally enhanced physical ideals.
These women have nothing to do with the average weight or actual women in the country or even the world. Since we have always held up certain types as ideals, not much has changed here. We used to measure a person’s nose, or “facial angle” to find out his or her worth. Now it is a person’s weight—above all—that matters.
Anorexia and other eating disorders are still a major problem for young women. Photographs like these—depicting supposedly “heavyweight” beauties—are not encouraging or healthy for a young girl with body-image problems to see.
Of course you present this as a story about beauty inside and out. For every woman you describe as “beautiful” you back up that statement with an adorable quirk about them, or a snippet about their charity work.
Let’s call a spade a spade. These celebrities are nothing more than racehorses being trotted out for the world to see and measure itself against. This issue of your magazine claims to represent the new ideal, but it’s the same old thing. Just as noses and foreheads were associated with pure lineage and intelligence hundreds of years ago, weight is now accorded the same virtue and credit. Form without substance is the Achilles Heel of American society in fashion, politics, etc. Why perpetuate it?