Chicago Manual of Style—04/14/09

Vogue’s annual “Shape” issue fails to register as anything other than a pejorative, perfunctory nod to political correctness.

By Jessica Hester

When a nude Beth Ditto graced the cover of the February debut issue of Love, the new U.K. based Conde Nast publication, I hoped that Vogue editor Anna Wintour would take the hint.

Ditto, the obese lead singer of The Gossip, beat out skeletal supermodels Agyness Deyn, Raquel Zimmermann, and Kate Moss, as well as fellow singers Iggy Pop and Courtney Love, to land the coveted spot on the cover of the premiere, icon-themed issue. Despite the generally dismal state of publication sales, the issue sold well, a fact that I hoped boded well for Wintour as spring—and Vogue’s infamous “Shape” issue—approached. Maybe seeing the big success of a sister publication could tip the scales for Wintour and her infamous obsession with slenderness.

Unfortunately, this year’s edition of Vogue’s annual “Shape” issue was another plus-sized flop. The magazine, which hit news stands in April, fails to register as anything other than a pejorative, perfunctory nod to political correctness.

The cover, featuring beautiful Beyonce, was splashed with incongruous claims, at once declaring that “Real Women Have Curves” and offering readers a chance to “Work It!” for “Longer Legs, Leaner Lines, and a Sexier Silhouette.” Other cover lines advertised “Fashion for Every Figure, from Size 0 to Size 20,” as well as a feature on plastic surgery and “Designing the Perfect Body.” The offensive implication is that bodies only exist in sizes 0–20. Stores like Banana Republic have petite sections, which carry to the most diminutive figures, like size 00. Torrid, Hot Topic’s plus-size sister store, carries angsty apparel up to size 28, and Lane Bryant sells dainty dresses in sizes 14–32. Even its half-hearted attempts to be inclusive reveal that Vogue doesn’t really believe in fashion for everybody, but only some bodies.

As soon as the cover was leaked by celebrity blogger Perez Hilton on March 13, the feminist blogosphere was up in arms. Commenters on Jezebel, a feminist pop culture blog, railed against the magazine’s description of “real” women. One commenter suggested that “to imply that curves make a ‘real woman’ does injustice to women who aren’t so curvy, and can be just as damaging to women’s self-esteem as the super-skinny standard.” By setting up a category of “real women,” with its own eligibility standards and size limitations, Vogue adds insult to injury for those women who already feel inadequate in comparison to the models who usually grace the pages of the glossy magazine. If a woman is neither a model nor a “real” woman, based on the limiting Vogue standard, what is she? Vogue seems to think that she is either entirely unfathomable, or not worth acknowledging.

Things didn’t fare much better inside the issue. The magazine profiled women with specific body types: thin, curvy, short, tall, and athletic. I was nauseated by writer Sarah Mower’s affectionate quip that sisters Charlotte Gainsburg and Lou Doillon “treat being thin like a birthright.” The gamine girls, daughters of skinny-style icon Jane Birkin, are thrilled to be thin. The pair, who are actresses, occasional models, and, in Charlotte’s case, an accomplished singer-songwriter, are quoted as saying that they’re psyched to be slender because “it’s great for dressing.” The two young mothers both agree that they “hated” their post-pregnancy bodies and couldn’t wait to lose the weight. Even in an issue dedicated to bodies of all shapes and sizes, the writer suggests that clothes look best on super-slender frames.

Pixie-sized pals Olivia Thirlby and Zoe Kravitz are featured as girls who manage to be both small and stylish. Thirlby, an actress best known for her roles in Juno and The Wackness, and Kravitz, a pseudo-actress-cum-musician best known for her social schmoozing and her rocker dad, Lenny, are both approximately five-foot-three. The magazine claims that this height “imposes fashion limits.” Five-three is only really remarkably short in comparison to supermodels’ Amazonian stature. Portraying the beautiful, slender girls as facing severe sartorial challenges just goes to show the extent to which Vogue’s standards are relative and un-relatable.

L’Wren Scott and Doutzen Kroes were used to illustrate tall and athletic bodies, respectively. The thing is, for both women, these attributes weren’t fashion challenges, but the pre-requisites to successful modeling careers.

Cute crooner Adele was the representative of the “curvy” girls. The article spent most of the time chronicling her much-lauded musical career, but the accompanying picture was disturbing. Her picture was also the only one in which the shape of her body is obscured: she’s lying at an angle that flattens her body into the bed, and wearing clothes that camouflage her figure. Skinny Doilan’s lithe legs are prominent in her picture, and Scott dramatically drapes her long body across a chaise lounge. The fact that Adele was positioned in a way that didn’t show off her lovely figure only goes to show the degree to which Vogue’s “Shape” issue really takes issue with many kinds of shapes.

Ditto’s cover wasn’t enough to get Wintour to see the big picture. It’s going to take more to convince her that everybody and every body can be beautiful.

Love Magazine

Jezebel (Vogue feature)