Tuesday, 19 January 2010

I Like Big Butts & I Cannot Lie.....

Happy New Year! And the beauty debate has kicked off once more, even more ferociously and controversially in a new decade.

On 16th January 2010, BBC Cambridge invited me on their Drive Time show to discuss two pertinent stories emerging today.

The first is news that UK health experts have confirmed that having large hips or bottom in fact makes you healthier than your less curvaceous counterparts, with hip fat being proven to “mop up” harmful cells which can cause metabolic diseases.

The second is a summary of the recent “Curvelution” which has been happening in the fashion industry, what with British designer Mark Fast controversially using size 12 and 14 women to model his new line (which subsequently sold out in record time) during Fashion Week, American style magazine V devoting an issue to plus size glamour and the surge in popularity of Crystal Renn (whose book I am currently reading and can confirm without hyperbole that since she is incredibly intelligent, articulate and witty in addition to being undeniably gorgeous and is therefore a Goddess).

So, what conclusions did you arrive at, I hear you eagerly enquire (silently)?

The BBC article (you know, the one about bottoms) has brought into the public sphere the important issue of proportion. Ok, so they are looking at it from a physical health point of view but it’s also important psychologically. When I bring my body confidence campaign to schools and colleges, I tell the students that the most pointless thing they can do is compare their bodies with those of their peers. Yet we do it all the time, usually taking into account only weight and dress size, not making allowances for the hugely influential factors of shape, bone structure, height and proportion. We are a unique combination of an infinite number of physical variants and should therefore set our own, personalised standard for beauty.

As an ambassador for the national campaign Body Gossip and a plus size model myself, I wholeheartedly applaud the use of larger models in high fashion and it was therefore difficult for me to comprehend the backlash. Plus size models were said to encourage our increasingly sedentary lifestyle, promote obesity and encourage gluttony. The comments made online by the public revealed two distinct and dangerous misconceptions. The first is that thin is automatically synonymous with a healthy lifestyle – Thin people exercise and watch what they eat and fat people sit on the sofa all day scoffing cake. As the BBC article clearly evidences, thinner does not necessarily equal healthier. We should also take heed of the difference in people’s metabolic rates and body types. It is simply not possible to make sweeping judgments about people’s lifestyle and diet simply from making a visual assessment.

The second misconception is that there are two choices – skinny or obese, without taking into account that there is a huge spectrum of beauty in the middle. Crystal Renn is a size 16, yes. She is also nearly 6 foot tall, toned, with an hourglass shape and very little body fat and yet she is put under the “plus size” umbrella. “Plus Size” is actually anything over a UK size 8 and merely refers to someone trying to present an alternative to the frankly emaciated frames of your average catwalk model (who represent less than 1% of the global population, as a natural body shape).

It is not a question of choosing a camp or allying yourself with a “side”. The war is not a question of “thin people” vs “fat people” but of a community dedicated to promoting health and happiness against one fixed notion of beauty which induces low self esteem in anyone who falls outside it. All people of all shapes and sizes should be given the gift of having a role model they can realistically aspire to, without jeopardizing their health.


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