15. 7. 2021

English Version | Lado B: All bodies are beautiful*

by Pureza Fleming


Except that’s not exactly how things have been going in this insane form of society where people change opinions as they do their underwear. We go from one extreme to the other and balance, the most necessary equilibrium, is inevitably put in a corner. Bodies with curves are beautiful – we all know this. But that doesn’t mean that thin bodies are not as well.

On the cover of the July edition of a very well-known Fashion magazine, Alva Claire appears, gorgeous, with a crop top and a mini skirt, showing all of her curves. Honestly beautiful, her body sizing must be around 42-44. Claire was one of the three plus-size models to make history by walking the Versace show, in September 2020, having also appeared in two runway shows for Savage x Fenty, Rihanna’s lingerie brand. Ashley Graham is another name to note when it comes to plus-size models. She was the first model ever in this category to land the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine and Vogue US, in addition to being the first to appear on Forbes’ list of the world’s best paid models. So far so good, because “all bodies are beautiful”. In retrospect of what has been the fight for the acceptance of the body, it is impossible not to mention the advertorial campaigns by Dove, a pioneer brand in this route. In their campaigns, the cosmetics brand understood how to display “curvy” women always under the motto of “redefining beauty standards”. It was genius at the time (2004) and it cleared the path for a new perception of what beauty should look like. The catch – and there’s always a catch in today’s forever radical society – is that we went from one extreme to the other. Suddenly, we started accepting, glorifying even, “fuller” bodies (do take the adjective with all the grains of salt it deserves); but simultaneously, thin bodies started to be looked upon as villains. They went from great to gross. And then the witch hunt began, with criticism and judgment to any publication that would dare to choose a “skinny” model for their covers – all is good when cover girls are overweight, but all is wrong when they “appear” to be below the normal weight – or what we consider to be the normal weight. But what is the “normal weight” exactly? Paula Raposo, head booker at the agency We Are Models, clarifies some of our questions: “Clients usually ask for models that fit the ideals of their brand. Being chubby or skinny is not really the point. It’s the same thing as trying to argue on beauty. It’s subjective.” She goes further to discuss criticism, which comes about in all sectors and professional activities, and guarantees: “We prepare our models to be confident in who they are and where they want to go. Unfortunately, it’s part of human nature to easily criticize and judge without knowing any previous knowledge of the matter. We don’t represent models that are too skinny nor too chubby. We always aim to potentialize the people we take on at the agency and pass onto them that the secret lies in equilibrium, so that they are happy and feel at their best, both physically and psychologically. Let’s be objective when we speak of Fashion and what type of Fashion we’re talking about. Within the creative space there’s space for everything and everyone. At the highest level there’s only room for excellence. We can’t trivialize the word ‘Fashion’ and say it is for everyone when it is not. Because not wanting to engage in too many philosophies, I would ask what does it mean to be a XL model? Does XL mean you’re overweight? Is being overweight healthy? There have been attempts to promote the entry of XL models into the scene but with what end? Are XL models not people? Are thin models all size XS? It’s only right to promote XL models for the sake of mental comfort, but is it correct to do so at a physical health level? If there’s something the pandemic has taught us is that the healthiest people are those that take less health risks against this malign virus. That’s what we promote and that’s where the discussion should focus on: equilibrium and health.” Put in simple terms, this means that it’s not because someone is a size XL that they’re unhealthy, and the same goes for a size XS – sometimes people are just thin because that’s their nature. Teresa Herédia, nutritionist, explains: “Nutrition means balance. A good nutritional state goes way beyond weight and there are many parameters that should be taken into account. Being thin doesn’t necessarily mean one is healthy, the same way that being above the recommended weight doesn’t necessarily mean one is ill. The acceptance of what one’s body shape, curves and composition is, without a doubt, a necessity in today’s day and age. No matter how much we accept ourselves, we know that a high Body Mass Index (BMI) or high levels of fat on visceral areas are a risk factor for many metabolic diseases. That being said, the same way we shouldn’t promote unrealistic and pseudo-perfect bodies, we also shouldn’t make the error of normalizing a level of weight and waist perimeter that could be dangerous to one’s health.” She defends that, a priori, she doesn’t think there’s a right or ideal weight for everyone: “There is an interval where it is possible to maintain an adequate weight level that allows for an equilibrium between health (that guarantees a good nutritional state and the prevention of diseases), the body composition (where the proportion of fat and lean mass is appropriate) and the aesthetic part (the weight one feels good with, associated also with mental health). Generally speaking, that interval can be found through the reference values of the BMI, always taking into consideration age, physical activity, body composition, biochemical parameters and health status at the moment. There is a prejudice about nutritional consultations that they are only good for ‘weight loss’ but the role of a nutritionist goes way beyond that. The main purpose should be the reeducation of food habits and promotion of healthy habits, whether in cases that require losing weight, gaining it, or other situations such as in case of changes of food patterns, treatment or prevention of diseases. In a clinical context, we come across people who want to, but alas cannot, ‘lose weight’, because genetically they’ve always been thin, and that in the vast majority, for aesthetic reasons (not health ones) would like to gain more weight/ muscle mass”. 

Times change and so does youth. Confirming it we have the psychologist Célia Francisco, who immediately enlightens that the purposes of these new generations are different and don’t necessarily include having a beautiful and healthy body – in theory yes, but in practice not as much. “In the case of younger girls, we see a lot of bodies that are not thin wearing tight cropped clothes. On one hand, it’s good – it means they assume their body with all its curves -, but on the other, it redirects us to the matter of carelessness with health and with a healthy lifestyle. If we analyze it, they try to convey an image of Fashion that exists, just not through the health and healthy lifestyle models that are promoted through social media.” The days of the heroin chic look are long gone, but other problems arise. We haven’t really overcome the discussion, only replaced it. “I don’t see a lot of today’s teenagers verbalizing the words ‘I want to be thin’. What they want is ‘to wear that piece of clothing, belong to that group, be cool’. Let’s say they’re more focused on the ideal image of a body than on what they need to do to get it. That’s why there’s such a discrepancy in what they say and want and what they actually do to get there.” It’s clear that the dichotomy of thin versus fat is not resolved: bodies with curves became acceptable, but health – which is the most important thing – remained compromised. When I enquired about the motor for this new way of “living”, the psychologist responded: “Social media came to foment the idea of a perfect lifestyle: body, family, job, food habits, clothes, makeup, everything perfect. If we look into that, a lot of what is being portrayed there is not true. We’re creating in society an unrealistic pattern of perfection. This then makes young people – and other less young people – more susceptible to being influenced to consider that lifestyle, body and image, as a synonym of being social, having more friends and becoming known. I consider that social media has a very negative impact on self-esteem.” Psychologist Eduardo Sá, on his end, refuses this view: “The idea of an ‘ideal self’ has always been there. Whether through stories, role models, or (like we see today) opinion makers and influencers. It represents a form of aspiration to be more beautiful.” In the specialist’s point of view, it’s normal for teenagers to mimic role models, just like their parents did before them. “I would take my chances in saying that is a good thing. Something that brings something good to the table when it comes to making them want to feel more beautiful in their own skin. There always will be, however, some people that are more reductive and fundamentalist in the way they conduct their interpretations.” He reinstates the importance of the relationship one has with one’s body but refuses the idea that one’s identity should be confined to one’s body. Hence why, apart from a small minority, “the body is not the ‘reason’ why adolescents seek for help.” In terms of food behavior, the psychologist that has accompanied the contestants of the TV show Peso Pesado, underlines: “The most frequent thing (and not just among young people) is alimentary compulsion, more commonly called binge eating, which is when one compulsively eats (usually in hiding) without compensating for their behavior. Anorexia sometimes as well, but it’s less and less frequent.” Hence the added weight and the certainty that if the gone times of skinny culture were not benefiting anyone, the ones of idolizing “chubbier” ones don’t either. “The message of a body with curves, of the motto ‘accept yourself as you are’, is only positive when it is not excessive. Or else, we’re allowing for a complete disregard and lack of responsibility concerning lifestyle and health in general. Simultaneously, bullying is becoming more frequent in schools, especially amongst kids who are ‘chubby’. Another nonsense: there’s an image, information that dictates ‘let’s love our bodies as they come’. And then, amongst peers, the kid suffers because they’re chubbier and are being cast aside.” The bullying we’re witnessing is also targeting skinnier body types: “If there have been cruel incidents where strangers have offered money to some of our models so they would buy food, with the excuse they’re too thin? Yes.” The head booker from We Are Models shares. “If this affects them? No.” If the moment’s trend is “chubbier” bodies, then so be it. But leave the skinny girls alone, just as it has been fought for “bigger” girls to be left alone before. And quit the cynical act. Because then it will only become more evident that the subject of curvy bodies– or less thin, or “chubby” – is not yet resolved. If not, no comparison would be necessary; we wouldn’t be defending one body type in the detriment of another. We would simply accept. And everything would be fine. Unfortunately, it’s still not. 

*And they (all) really are.  

 Translated from the original, as part of Vogue Portugal's Nonsense Issue, published in july 2021.

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