Recognition and Figure Diversity

Does anyone else remember the outpouring of elation that surrounded this photo?

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People were absolutely over the moon that Glamour dared publish a photo of a woman with a visible belly. I remember reading messages from readers who were so overwhelmed by the sight of a belly on a magazine model that they teared up, and others who praised Glamour for being brave enough to break from the pack and feature such a photo. One reader even expressed a sense of validation, saying that seeing this image made her realize that her own belly was “normal.”

And I thought, “These women must not know that blogs exist.”

Women who run blogs that feature photographs of their own outfits and not much else still get a lot of flak. Somehow, in an age that encourages everyone to share the minutiae of their day alongside endless selfies, posting full-body images of your outfits on a blog is considered “vain.” By some folks, anyway. And although I doubt many of those folks are here, reading this right now, just in case they are let me say this: It takes guts to put your ideas out into the world in association with your name. It also takes guts to put your image out into the world no matter who you are, but especially if you are someone who doesn’t fit within the current beauty-body-gender paradigm. And the women who do this – the women who share their outfits with all comers – are a constant visual reminder to their readers that non-model women can still dress, feel, and look stylish and glamorous and chic. And that has value.

And after I thought, “These thunderstruck-by-a-belly-photo-in-Glamour women must not know that blogs exist,” I thought, “It is so, SO important that we see ourselves reflected back by the media.”

Obviously, I’m not the first to think or comment upon this. People of color have been battling for decades – and continue to battle – for visibility on television, in the movies, on the runways, in news studios, at comedy clubs, and just about everywhere that captures and relays images of human beings. Women are still clamoring for book, film, and TV shows that pass the Bechdel test, and are constantly excluded from panel discussions on topics specific to women. LGBTQ+ people are finally being brought into a handful of TV and movie casts, but many are still stereotyped, made the butt of jokes, or targeted for heinous violence outside the studio. People with disabilities, immigrants, older people, many, many groups of non-white non-men must constantly fight to be represented and seen.

And the reaction to this single photo – which was published YEARS ago and still lingers in my mind – is a stark reminder that the range of body shapes and sizes and abilities we are shown by the media is tiny. That we all long to see ourselves, recognize our shapes and sizes and colors and forms, on screens and printed pages. That when we do, it’s actually a relief. That even when the media deigns to show us people of color or queer people or people who identify as women, that they’re all typically tall and slim.

Which is all due to that tiny range. The reason we are overwhelmed by emotion when we are presented with photos of fat women, old women, women with body hair, women using wheelchairs, petite women, tall women, tattooed women, is that virtually every image of a woman that we’re shown is of a woman who fits within a tiny range of body shapes and sizes. And the subliminal message that sends? The slow-burn effect of seeing nothing but tall, slim white women held up as beautiful and worthy? Is that those of us who aren’t tall, slim, and/or white may subconsciously assume that we aren’t beautiful. That we can’t be. Because if beautiful people look THAT DIFFERENT from how we look, we could never fall into the same category.

And, of course, not everyone wants to feel beautiful. It’s very low on the priority list for many, many people. But there’s another subliminal message that floats around in those endless streams of images showcasing tall, slender white women: That everyone else is invisible. That everyone else isn’t quite as worthy. That non-tall, non-thin, non-white women don’t register in the minds of casting directors and magazine editors as “important enough to portray or include.”

Fashion blogs won’t save the world from the dozens of terrifying crises bubbling up to the surface of our collective consciousness. Women who post photos of themselves in their favorite outfits aren’t curing cancer or ending homelessness or reversing climate change with their actions. But in a world that refuses to acknowledge sizes and shapes outside a tiny range, Chastity and Jean and Melanie and Magdalena and Georgette and Gracey and Nadine and Une Femme and Isabell and thousands of other women who post full-body photographs of themselves on the Internet on a regular basis are showing millions of readers that all bodies are good, all bodies are real, all bodies are beautiful, all bodies are worthy or representation. It is so, SO important that we see ourselves reflected back by the media. And while film, TV, and print lag behind, blogs surge ahead, taking on the seemingly minor but surprisingly significant task of being a mirror to the women of the world.

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13 Responses to “Recognition and Figure Diversity”

  1. Robin Hunter

    One of the best things that has happened since I stopped buying fashion magazines and started following fashion bloggers is, I am much less critical of my own appearance.

  2. Fat White Cat

    Fully agree with you! Even if we tend to think critically about mass media, I don’t think we can fully understand how much this constant barrage of homogenous images really influences what we think. There is something so powerful about that steady stream of sameness.

  3. marsha_calhoun

    Yes, quite. The power of image is so badly underestimated, and I am so grateful to those women who are willing to use their own images to connect with others, thereby demonstrating that embodiment is the only appropriate qualification for willingness to be seen!

  4. julia @ When the Girls Rule

    So true! When I went back to paid work after a 20 year hiatus I was trying to find out how to dress for interviews for someone with a big bust and an “apple” shape. I couldn’t find many places that catered to that. So, I decided to write my own! It does take courage but I know there are lots of women out there who look like me and deserve to feel confident when they put on an outfit. It’s ridiculous we’ve been telling ourselves to change our bodies to fit into clothes when what we should have been doing was telling the clothes makers to make them so they fit our body. If you’re interested my new blog is http://www.whenthegirlsrule.com because girls rule!

  5. Natalia Lialina

    You are so right about it. I started my style blog after I discovered Stephanie Zwicky and Tanesha Awasthi. They are younger than me, and I had no idea back then about the whole community of women over 40 blogging – but I started my blog anyway, and it was scary and felt very courageous at the beginning. And I still think that to some people, discovering our blogs might change life, in ways no less important than curing from cancer.

  6. wonkyone15

    It has been an amazing shift in my own self confidence and style when I decided to alter the media I was exposed to! I followed a bunch of plus size bloggers on Instagram and Pinterest, and now I mostly see outfits that would look good on me and are available in my size. A game changer!

  7. Nebraskim

    Good comments. I do not strive to be beautiful. That goal is unattainable and always has been for me. I strive to look presentable, decent, clean. Stylish in a way that suits my style. My beef with the current love for Ashley Graham, who is from my town, is that she represents an unattainable ideal for plus size women — curvy, proportioned perfectly, beautiful face and hair. But I applaud her for being out there and pushing the envelop.

  8. Melanie

    Sally, I love this post and I love all the women you have featured, and so many more. Thank you for including me.

    Ironcially, I just finished my first pro photo shoot. I love not only the mannish, alien tone the designer went for, but also her boldness to go with an amateur +50 woman for her debut line. Things are changing for everyone. Hurrah! And your blog helps in this transformation.

  9. Lisa

    Tall slender YOUNG white women.

    Hot for an old lady, and proud of it;).

    • crtfly

      Lisa,

      I have seen pictures of you. You are not hot for an old lady. You are hot, period!

      Chris