Sisterhood Blog

What Makes a Body 'Womanly'?

By Elissa Strauss

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In the style world, there has been a lot of talk lately of a possible return to “curvy,” or “womanly,” figures on the runway. In The New York Times, for example, fashion critic Cathy Horyn wrote the following about a recent Marc Jacobs show:

But to me, this collection wasn’t as much about returning to the glories of Bardot as it was about presenting an artificial and super-enlarged beauty — and where else could Mr. Jacobs go but to an era when women were still built like women, right down to their girdles?

Bonnie Fuller, a former editor of Us Weekly (and Cosmo and Glamour and YM) wrote a post on the Huffington Post, titled “Why the Return of Gorgeous Curvy Supermodels to Fashion Runways is a Victory for All Women!”

On Jezebel, by contrast, there was a sense that the new curvy isn’t curvy enough:

We’d welcome any divergence from a standard that can be hauntingly gaunt. But let’s not get carried away with the Dove-style celebrations. These women are “curvy” in the way Lara Stone is curvy: They have tiny waists and very little body fat, but they have relatively large breasts. Neither feminine ideal breaks the mold particularly.

To be sure, if days of emaciated models are coming to an end (after the better part of two decades), that is a very good thing. I understand why many see this as a step forward in the feminist battle for the proliferation more realistic images of women. But underneath all of this cheerleading, there is something I find unsettling.

It felt like for a while, after years of having been bombarded with images of models who were too thin and too airbrushed, we had trained ourselves to disregard — or at least to ridicule or to pity — their idealized body types. Now fashion designers and Hollywood have caught on that we are tired of the pre-pubescent boy look, and they have started to present us a new rounder, healthier look. But ultimately this zaftig ideal is just another ideal.

Soon after reading about the new curves on the runway, I thought about my own body in these terms. I have C cup, but not much in the way of hips. Does that make me curvy? Womanly? (I always feel bewildered when reading those features in fashion magazines on dressing for your body type. Am I chesty? Boyish? Athletic?)

All this talk on a womanly body made me think about a line Daphne Merkin wrote more than a decade ago in a New Yorker review of Betty Friedan biographies. She finishes the piece with “What do women want? Ask them one at a time,” providing us with the still necessary reminder that women are made up of individuals — with different ideas, and different womanly bodies.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Models, Marc Jacobs, Fashion, Body Image, Runway

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