Monday, June 29, 2015

Amanda M. Czerniawski's "Fashioning Fat"

Amanda M. Czerniawski is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Temple University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Fashioning Fat: Inside Plus-Size Modeling, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Beauty is a social construction, but these women were not the ones in charge of its construction. Plus-size models must conform to an image created by fashion’s tastemakers—agents and designers. Their bodies need to fit within narrowly defined parameters, often within a fraction of an inch. Ultimately, they mold their bodies to fit an image, instead of being empowered in a way that allows them to mold the image to fit their bodies. These women were not challenging a contemporary definition of beauty. They were changing their bodies into shapes and sizes that were predetermined by others to be acceptable.
Fortuitously, this paragraph, which concludes the chapter on the various forms of bodily labors adopted by plus-size models, summarizes a critical argument in my book. Plus-size models want to change the way people think about beauty, diversifying its definition to include curvy bodies. They champion for size acceptance. Ultimately, they remain voiceless dolls, dependent on agencies to direct their careers and clients to mold their image. Instead of challenge a social system that perpetuated preoccupation with the body, plus-size models reify it. In order to succeed, they alter their bodies according to others’ specifications. So, if we want to seek out those with the power to challenge hegemonic beauty standards, we must look beyond plus-size models. Instead of the objects in the billboards, we must look to the designers of those billboards.

That being said, we must applaud the use of a variety of looks and bodies in fashion. Plus-size models, in particular, should be acknowledged for their courage to withstand fat stigma and bare their flesh for all to see. Plus-size models fight to get out from the margins and into the mainstream fashion market. Their challenge, however, is to maintain their authentic voice amidst a stream of voiceless bodies that flow in and out of fashion’s ranks.

To effectively alter contemporary bodily aesthetics, these models need to go beyond achieving increased visibility in the field and also take ownership of those images. Instead of conforming to fashion’s demands, they need to direct them. Their sheer visibility in the fashion marketplace is not enough because of the engendered nature of bodies and the threat of disembodiment. Unfortunately, models, no matter their size, are simply bodies. Fashion still judges them on the basis of their looks. Modeling reduces them to curves and numbers on a tape measure. They are not women but breasts, bums, and hips. After all the work they do, plus-size models are still objectified and sexualized bodies.
Learn more about Fashioning Fat at the NYU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue