, Social ConstructMy Thoughts On The Vogue Italia “Plus-Sized” Cover, “Real Women,” and Body Snarking

My Thoughts On The Vogue Italia “Plus-Sized” Cover, “Real Women,” and Body Snarking

If you haven’t heard, Vogue Italia – the Italian version of Vogue magazine, I suppose – is featuring plus-sized models this month. Three beautiful women grace the cover – in lingerie, of course – and on the inside, you see another lovely lady.

In the interest of progress, I am happy to see the non-size-2 figure be highlighted. I think that it can be reaffirming for any woman to see a figure that looks like hers look feminine, desirable and pleasureable. I don’t see myself – past or present – in these women because, honestly, none of them look like me (and I’d imagine this feeling could be the same for any non-Black woman who picks up an Essence or an Ebony) but that doesn’t change the fact that this is going to provide that feeling for some.

That being said… again, in the interest of progress, there are a few things that I’d like to point out, simply because I believe that “plus-size” has become this really loaded phrase that means everything and nothing to women and it makes me wonder if we realize how we inadvertently play into policies and philosophies that are terribly harmful to our own perceptions of ourselves.

The editor-in-chief of the mag, Franca Sozzani, is quoted as saying the following:

WWD: You were initially criticized for your “Black” and “Curvy” pages.
Sozzani:
Oh, very much so, because some said it was becoming the ghetto of plus-sized, the ghetto of black, but it’s not true. These are very happy readers, happy that we are looking at them in different ways. In “Curvy,” they are superhappy with their sizes. We help them dress fashionably. We say: It’s pointless for you to buy leggings, take this because this will look good on you. We help them choose. We don’t talk about diets because they don’t want to be on a diet, but it’s not a ghetto. Why should these women slim down? Many of the women who have a few extra kilos are especially beautiful and also more feminine.

“We help plus-sized women dress fashionably.”

Why are they in lingerie? Some, topless altogether? Lingerie can only go so far, and most of us can’t wear it out of the house. I just wonder if it’s really a good idea to attach the “we help big girls dress fashionably” quote to the issue where the women aren’t dressed practically. It also makes me wonder if that’s because there was no other designers who make dresses for women their size, or if it’s because the editors themselves harbor any kind of bias regarding how to properly dress a non-size-2 woman.

I also keep hearing commentary about “real women.” The Vogue Italia cover features real women. Few things in life annoy me more than this, I’ve got to admit. The irony isn’t lost on me that I’m “attacking real women” on a weight loss blog, but understand – I ‘get it’ from both sides on this issue. It’s Mo’Nique Syndrome, also known as “You skinny bitches…” and it’s annoying.

Read my words – I’m not saying that non-size-0 women are not, in fact, real women. I’m saying that the implication that a woman who doesn’t have “curves” – the woman who might look a little more like the magazine than the “average” woman – is not a real woman is troubling to me. When we have to go out of our way to insult someone else in order to more clearly define ourselves and our own positions in life, I have to wonder whether or not we realize the disservice we do to the collective. Besides, a Black woman’s “curves” are different from an Asian woman’s curves… and both are different depending upon whether we’re referring to a woman who either is or is not more fit.

I get it, no one wants to have sympathy for smaller women – especially in a society that already seems to favor them – but as I am someone who writes far too often about compassion when it comes to women and our bodies, I can’t say “that compassion only extends to non-size-2 women.” That’s just not how it works. Proclaiming “realness” as a realm that only exists for non-size-2 women is an obnoxious form of body snarking that only gains traction because it is a warped form of empowerment for women who are often treated like they don’t deserve power. It’s sad, because we all know that attempts to derive some form of comfort or, dare I say it, superiority from disparaging those not like you… are essentially empty. I’d much rather empower all of these women and convince them to move away from putting so much metaphorical weight onto their bodies.

What is body snarking? To put it bluntly, body snarking is the way we comment negatively on other people’s bodies. It can be “My gosh, she’s gained a ton of weight” when she’s gained, in fact, a ton of weight… or it could be “My gosh, she’s so bloated” when it could merely be something as simple as a camera angle. To look at a woman and decide, by her figure, that she couldn’t possibly be a “real woman” denies her the very essence of who she is. And while we could defend it by saying that we reserve those kinds of statements for magazines… we all know that this isn’t the case. We all have heard “only a dog likes a bone” and “real women have curves.” If that woman likes her “bones,” – because “bones” are relative depending upon where you live – then shouldn’t that be enough?

To put it bluntly, if the resolution is that non-size-2s should be free of bodysnarking and negative comments and dehumanizing comments, the same should exist for the rest. Either we exist in a space where body snarking is acceptable, or we don’t. Either allow comments about weight and bodies, or we don’t. Either everyone should have to explain their size (why they eat the way they eat, why they look the way they look, whatever), or no one owes you any damn explanation. Size 2 or otherwise.

Color me skeptical but while I love the photos that appeared in Vogue Italia, I don’t see why these women, in all their unique beauty, couldn’t have held their own standing – or laying – next to a smaller woman. The idea that non-size-2 women need to be sequestered to their own issue, so as to avoid having them stand near smaller women and remind the reader of “just how large they really are,” is also troubling to me. Size acceptance doesn’t come in the form of one issue a year that, despite the editor-in-chief’s comments and their quasi-progressiveness, doesn’t actually include much clothing. It comes in the form of being able to see women of varying sizes standing next to one another, all being complimented well by their clothing – well, about as well as a mag can get it… they don’t do this very well very often for thin women, either – and not being obstructed by some well-crafted set props.

Maybe my lack of familiarity with Vogue Italia is shining through, here. Maybe I’m too hopeful that magazines that try to “push the envelope” and “be progressive” with how they approach bodies that aren’t common in fashion will, in fact, do the daring thing and juxtapose women of different sizes next to one another. Maybe I’m too hopeful that we’ll stop acting like the only motivation for women to lose weight is that they, in fact, hate “fat.” Maybe I’m too hopeful that we’ll see how an environment that tacitly body snarks thin women is still an environment that encourages body snarking.

Maybe, maybe, maybe, baby. Either way, I’m realistic. Vogue Italia can only be as progressive as its readership. So… perhaps the next step is to do what we can to create a space that is more comforting to women of all sizes, and then that’ll create space for this in our magazines. Maybe, indeed.

By | 2017-06-10T11:22:43+00:00 November 3rd, 2014|Body Image, Social Construct|27 Comments

About the Author:

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes food and fitness, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss by the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is also certified in sports nutrition by Precision Nutrition. She now lives in New York with her husband and children, and is working on her 6th and 7th certifications because she likes having alphabet soup at the end of her name.

27 Comments

  1. circa1908 June 6, 2011 at 11:20 AM - Reply

    Well said Erika, I think your point is one of the reasons I appreciate the Dove campaign in that they put all types next to each other, though their models look to be roughly the same size. But at least they display a variety of color, curves, and diversity in beauty.

    anywho. Thanks for the thought provoking insite

  2. Tatiana June 6, 2011 at 12:30 PM - Reply

    I’m glad you wrote about this. As someone who ranks on the smaller end of the scale, I tend to have hurt feelings over “only real women have curves” agenda. It makes me feel like because I’m not a specific size with large breasts and noticeable hips, that there’s something inherently wrong with me. But I’m not allowed or supposed to feel bad because pictures of thin women are everywhere so I have all kinds of privilege.

    So I definitely agree that body acceptance should apply to everyone: not just women who are curvier than someone who is my size. How are we supposed to progress when everything is portrayed as either “this” or “not this”.

    A woman is a woman, no matter how big or small.

  3. Lauren Lyons June 6, 2011 at 12:51 PM - Reply

    Hi Erika!
    This is a very good article. Y devote an entire issue to just plus sized women y have them standing together? Y couldnt it b a dedication to ALL women no matter what size u r.
    I loved this blog thanks!

  4. Alejandra June 6, 2011 at 4:39 PM - Reply

    I don’t believe that Vouge is going to ever have REAL women on the cover. Vouge has always been a magazine that feeds into fantasy which allows me to find a way to dress myself similarly to what is being featured.

    I’m annoyed how the phrase “real women” applies to anyone that isn’t built like a fashion model. It is like “real women” is code word for “not rail thin.”

  5. Daphne June 6, 2011 at 4:51 PM - Reply

    I used to unwittingly buy into the “real women have curves” precept, even though I HATED Monique’s “Skinny women are bitches….” theme. For the former, I think a lot of it had to do with how I grew up, and what boys/men said about it. For the latter, I never understood why I should insult another woman for being thin. Thus, I had some serious cognitive dissonance going on there. I thought a real woman was curvy, without thinking of “real” womanhood, and what that implies about a non-curvy woman.

    As for Vogue Italia – the fact that they sequester curvy and Black women in “special issues” says a lot more than just featuring more curvy and Black women in general through the year. I assume they do not – otherwise, why devote specific magazines to it? I don’t read Vogue, or any woman-centric magazine, as I think the lot of them feed into the “perpetually self-improve” meme.

    The “othering” seems progressive, but is ultimately condescending – as in, “By the way, these women are beautiful, too! Even though we never/rarely feature them!” It’s like being told you’re attractive……for a black woman. Or being told, “You have such a pretty face….” with the unspoken implication of losing weight. Damning with faint praise and all that.

  6. milaxx June 6, 2011 at 9:21 PM - Reply

    I think it’s Vogue Italia’s thing. They tend to fetishize women to a degree. They do the same thing with their annual “Black” issue. It’s also a bit of a backlash of the fashion community. In fashion 0-2’s are the norm and a size 6 is “plus” so to show women with any bit of hips and thighs is sort of a bug deal. Whenever Vogue Italia does these special issues it seems to me that they take the approach that they are looking at some new and strange creature. The half naked and Underwear shoots? Par for the course.

    I am always torn with these issues. On the one hand VI is one of the few mags that even deems it worthy of devoting 1 or 2 issues a year to something there than the size 2 6ft model, but why is it only once or twice a year that we get to see our AA or plus size models showcased like this en masse? I want to support these models who rarely get these types of opportunities but I’m always wondering if I’m not perpetuating the thought that this should be a rarity instead of the norm.

  7. JoAnna June 6, 2011 at 11:07 PM - Reply

    I will check out the issue in the bookstore tomorrow, but the cover photo is really a shot of plus-sized models?!? Seriously? They look like normal healthy sized women with great makeup. Guess I need to re-evaluate what normal, because those women look smaller than a 10 to me.

  8. Tina Fite June 7, 2011 at 3:03 AM - Reply

    As someone who lives in Italy, I understand this quite well. Italians hold beauty in everything, even what is considered to be ugly and nasty. With that being said, Italians also strive to be like Americans. Even when we talk to some Italians and they find out that we’re from America, they immediately try to check out our style, our mannerisms and our phrases and use them regardless of how improper the usage may be. So if they hear us using the phrase “Real women” for women with curves that are not rail thin, then they use it too. It’s no disrespect for those who are small-framed; it’s just their perception of the world according to what they observe that portion of the world’s view to be. As a matter of fact, many, many, many Italian women are very petite and very small-framed and it’s no wonder they are being that it’s in the Mediterranean and their diets are almost impeccable. So when you see Vogue Italia do the Black issue or the Curvy issue, understand that it is a reflection of their observation of the world. Therefore, perhaps, we should watch what we say and what we allow media to call those of us who are curvy or those of us who are rail thin. Then we wouldn’t be annoyed by what we’re called in other countries when it comes up.

    Frankly I’m happy about the issue and although I agree that they should have an issue for everyone’s shape and size, I will chalk this up to a check into the win column. There are just a handful of Blacks in Italy anyway and for them to want to show us on the cover of any magazine here is progress and is worth applauding. Many of the magazines here are dedicated to smaller women because that’s what’s here. There are other magazines that are dedicated to the food and wine you can find here because that’s what’s here. So again, for someone like myself who is black, curvaceous and lives in Italy, it is such a win because they finally realized that people like me are here too.

    • JoAnna June 7, 2011 at 9:06 AM - Reply

      Thanks for reminding me that everyone who reads this blog doesn’t reside in the U S of A. Sometimes I forget that Americans do tend to be larger than the rest of the world because of the sheer amount of processed food in our diet. I traveled to Bejing, China a few years ago and was amazed at a city full of teeny-tiny, thin, HEALTHY people. I also lost 14 pounds in the 2 weeks I was there (constant walking everywhere, only fresh food, lots of water), but as the people I was with took photos of the sights, Asian tourists took photos us, of this group of Black Americans. As the only large person in the group, I was always approached by beggars for handouts. Told them I was the “poor” one in the group. They thought I must be the wealthiest one because I was the fattest!

    • Daphne June 7, 2011 at 6:29 PM - Reply

      Tina,
      Thanks for your perspective. I’m a bit confused on some things – can you clarify?

      Italians hold beauty in everything, even what is considered to be ugly and nasty. With that being said, Italians also strive to be like Americans.

      So, are the issues dedicated to curvy or Black women due to them finding beauty in everything, or them emulating Americans? If it’s the former, I’m still curious as to why these women are not regular features of the magazine? I get it, Italian women are generally smaller than American women. But if Italians see beauty in everything, then why should it matter what size the majority of women are?

      There are just a handful of Blacks in Italy anyway and for them to want to show us on the cover of any magazine here is progress and is worth applauding.

      So, blacks are a minority in the country. But haven’t those of African descent been part of the Italian landscape, especially southern Italy, for centuries? Obviously, I don’t live there, but I wasn’t aware of a sudden influx of blacks in the past few years that would persuade the fashion world to take note?

      The black Italia Vogue issue was a few years ago – 2008, I think? I don’t read the magazine, so are black models featured morely prominently in the non-black issues than they were before?

      • Tina Fite June 10, 2011 at 4:20 AM - Reply

        Great questions Daphne! Sorry I wasn’t on quicker to answer them. I have been on bed rest due to a recent surgery. However, your questions are answered and I hope this helps you understand a little better why I feel how I feel.

        1. So, are the issues dedicated to curvy or Black women due to them finding beauty in everything, or them emulating Americans? Both. They find beauty in everything but sometimes, it has to be pointed out to them by other countries, especially America. When they do take notice, they do it in a big way, which is why when they do a magazine spread, they dedicate the entire magazine to it – not just a page. Besides, if they do not see it often enough, they will live by the “out of sight, out of mind theory”.

        2. If it’s the former, I’m still curious as to why these women are not regular features of the magazine? Because those women are not regular features in their everyday world. Magazines and various articles are usually generated because there is enough circulated to where people know about what is being discussed and have experience with it and because there is enough variety for a consumer to appreciate it. Blacks and curvy women alike are so few and far between that it’s hard pressed to find one let alone have them featured in a magazine because of the lack of variance.

        3. I get it, Italian women are generally smaller than American women. But if Italians see beauty in everything, then why should it matter what size the majority of women are? It’s like the theory of why people design cars in all shapes, colors and sizes. Differences are desired. No one wants to see the exact same woman on all the pages. Yes, she may have different hairstyle, makeup and clothes but if it’s generally the same woman, then we would get bored with her and may not pay close enough attention to what she may be selling. Consider it a marketing strategy.

        4. So, blacks are a minority in the country. But haven’t those of African descent been part of the Italian landscape, especially southern Italy, for centuries? True. Africans, as well as Greeks, Prussians and Spainards have been a part of the Italian landscape for centuries but it is likened unto the Native Americans for Americans. We see their influence and have used many of their accomplishments even now, but we see them rarely (unless you live in an area where they are highly concentrated) and they are hardly visited unless they are putting on a demonstration of their ceremonies.

        5. Obviously, I don’t live there, but I wasn’t aware of a sudden influx of blacks in the past few years that would persuade the fashion world to take note? With the tensions in Northern Africa brewing and being stirred from time to time, many Africans have sought refuge in the Sicily portion of Italy. Some have traveled even further. So yes, there has been a steady influx over the years but it won’t be shown on television until there is a crisis or a political situation. It’s one of those things where you have to be here to take note.

        6. I don’t read the magazine, so are black models featured morely prominently in the non-black issues than they were before? Sadly no. Blacks and curvy models are generally shown once a year in the magazines here. There is simply not enough curiosity or desire to see those categories featured in magazines.

  9. Ti June 7, 2011 at 9:42 AM - Reply

    I agree wholeheartedly — what i notice also, and maybe it’s just because it’s the cover, is that even though they are in lingere, you can’t actually see their shapes. it seems they took great pains to hide their bodies in plain sight. i wonder if the images on the inside are similar.

  10. Michalet Corbett-Clark June 7, 2011 at 9:51 AM - Reply

    Tina, I agree with you about the attitude of assimilation in Europe. I notice the changes in the friends of my friends when they learn I am American. I love that Black Vogue Italia sells out or goes into multiple runs every year. I love that J-Hud was on the cover and that Toccara had a six page layout. There are still American magazines that have never featured or included us but are still in business. Heck; it took Sports illustrated forever to feature a lone black model on their cover.
    Joann; didn’t you love China? I go twice a year and each time it is harder to come back to the States. The food and the lack of elevators do amazing things to my body. I too lose 15-25 pounds per visit. I definitely come back more toned. The treatment there is so freeing and the acceptance is awesome. It’s like being a rockstar. Experiencing food with taste and freshness again reminded me of the food of my childhood. It has made me a cleaner, healthier eater. The concept of meat as a ‘side’ and vegetables as the star changed the way I feed myself, my friends and my family.
    Thanks Erika for this post. Although I commented slightly off topic, I enjoyed the the reminder of how isolated/insulated we are here in the States.

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