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The Fat Skinny Girl

stout women 1

Yesterday, several media sites published comments made by Christina Aguilera to her record company during the recording of her new album Lotus.  Allegedly, she told them that she was fat and that they needed to get over this idea that she was a “skinny white girl.”  News about her comments spread like wildfire and there was a loud cheer for Aguilera and her acceptance of her “fatness.”  Apparently though, today her rep emphatically denies that Aguilera ever said she was fat.  Whatever the reason is that her people are backtracking from the “fat” statement, the celebration yesterday reflects that there is more willingness to accept celebrities who do not fit the beauty ideal wrapped around females.  It gives women around the world a reason to feel content with their bodies.  But, as we slowly accept that beautiful women encompass all different sizes, shapes, and colors, we are at the same time creating an ideal of female fatness.  Aguilera’s (now refuted) proud statement “I’m a fat girl now,” may be a reason to celebrate, except she’s not fat.  Not even close.  By accepting that Aguilera is “fat,” we are only creating a myth of the fat skinny girl, who still has firm and flawless proportions.  Just as we decry the ideal skinny female, the ideal fat girl does not seem to get much criticism for projecting a body that very few overweight girls and women have.

As I wrote in my Skinny Fat Girl piece – which focused on how definitions of skinniness shifted during the twentieth century – concerns regarding weight gain have been around for most of the twentieth century. Physicians have tried to place bodies within a standardized table of height, weight, and body mass index (BMI).  But as physicians throughout the twentieth century worried about men and women’s weight, retailers marketed solutions for overweight customers to dress or hide their expanding waistlines.  One of the most famous retailers for heavier woman was Lane Bryant.  Although she started as a maternity wear designer, she soon ventured into plus-size clothing, which until about the 1960s, was known as stout fashion.  Lane Bryant promised stout customers up-to-date fashions that slenderized their figures. But in her advertising, the ideal stout body did not differ very much from a skinner version. The waistline was not very wide and the rest of the body seemed fairly proportional.

Indeed Lane Bryant was selling a look, and if she had used a real stout model, it is very unlikely her clothes would have truly slenderized.  So it is not surprising that the commericalized female stout figure did not venture very far from a regular size physique.  What is interesting to note though, is that while Lane Bryant used the word stout, and marketed a skinner version of stoutness, men’s retailers seemed to have no problem with the word fat or the fat body. Is it because men’s rotundness was not linked to handsomeness, where their self-worth did not rely on their pant size? Or is it because fat men are seen as jolly and nonthreatening, like Santa Claus?

Maybe, but the stark difference in word choice and body image is startling and one that we should keep in mind because heavier male celebrities today are not necessarily marketed as unsexy.  T.V. shows and movies link fat male characters with hot women, but how many times are fat female characters linked someone like Michael Fassbender? Not many, and if they are, most likely the women look like Christina Hendricks, whose curves make men swoon and women envious.

But even Hendricks’ body has received negative comments and has been labelled “fat,” but is she?  No way.  Yet a body like hers, which is celebrated for breaking stereotypes of the female body, still reflects an ideal of fatness  that began during the early twentieth century, which whittled down the stomach, erased rolls, accentuated breasts, and made invisible any other flaws connected to a fat female body.  What we are left with is not a fat female, but what we want female fatness to look like.  We do not want rolls, we want curves.  We do not want cellulite, we want soft thighs.  We do not want flabby breasts, but soft marshmallows to envelop a lover.  What we want is a fat skinny girl who is only a few sizes bigger than her skinny fat girl counterpart.  She has the same body (flat stomach, perfect breasts), just a tad bigger.  If we are going to accept that fat is beautiful and celebrate Aguilera’s “fatness,” then we must  realize that the ideal fat skinny girl that we laud is not the reality.

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. lakelady #

    How about the idea that there is no one shape that fat comes in, for men or women. Some fat women have small waists, others have large ones, some have thin legs, others have thick thighs. Even with fat there’s no one size fits all.

    October 2, 2012
    • I completely agree, but it seems that might never happen.

      October 3, 2012
  2. Reblogged this on fortysevenlegs and commented:
    this is super interesting, especially the bit showing men’s advertising vs women’s advertising.

    October 3, 2012
  3. Will we ever come to an agreement on what “fat” means? I will tell you a story. I was having a conversation with some classmates about body image. The man I was talking to was telling me about his insecurity because he was overweight. Me, a size 14, also confided in him my body issues of feeling “fat.” He was bigger than me and I quickly realized why he was staring at me in such a disgusted manner. But to tell you the truth it didn’t initially dawn on me that he would have a problem relating his “fatness” to my “fatness.” But that recognition that he was bigger than me doesn’t relieve my insecurity. It is complicated and I realized right then that “fat” in America isn’t a state of physicality but a state of mind. It seems that “fat” has become anything other than 36 24 36, anything other than perfect, and anything other than accepted. Since every single body is different, having one type to compare yourself to is unrealistic even in regards to the “real” fat world. In the “real” fat world the skinny fat girls are seen as delusional but yet in the fictitious fat world (where a size 12 is seen as fat) they fall into the category of overweight. There really isn’t any winning in this world. Therefore, Aguilera has every right to feel “fat” because of the pressure put on her and the female public to be a specific size . Fat is not just a word anymore it is a state of imperfectness on any level. I believe it is necessary to make the distinction between what Aguilera feels and what she is in reality – however it is also just as important to recognize that you here writing this telling us she isn’t fat is perpetuating the idea that our body image as women should be built from an outside standard – Fat is such, skinny is such, skinny fat is such Aguilera isn’t fat. Yet she feels fat. What then we tell her how she is? how she “should” feel? no.

    October 3, 2012
  4. Babsikins #

    I find this fascinating, it almost feels like calling ourselves fat (whether we are or not) has become a right of passage into friendship with other women nowadays. When did it become such a universal topic? There seems to be 2 main stereotypes of “fat” women, you have the sexual uber woman with huge breasts soft thighs and come hither eyes or you have the emotional mess of a girl who seethes with self loathing. When did your body shape become such a determining factor in you personality?

    Sorry that was a smidge of a rant.

    October 3, 2012
  5. Christina Hendricks’ body does not “break stereotypes of the female body.” She still has the “ideal shape” as described by the media– that hourglass, with huge boobs. No one praises the A-cup or less than A cup women for refusing to get implants to bow down to societies standards.

    October 3, 2012
    • Carmen #

      theawkwardbaker – should we praise or should we try to come to a place where women feel they can live in their body without comparing one to another? Huge feat, I get this but much needed. I have huge boobs (not implants) should I be condemned because this image of big boobs is ruining our young women’s view of themselves. I don’t think so nor should I ever say big boobs are more feminine than small boobs. Woman need to be able to be human.

      October 3, 2012
  6. Pam #

    But there are women with larger, firm, proportional bodies and narrow waists. I would be one. I may not be considered “fat” the way someone less firm, with a wider waistline, would be, but I have never been considered “skinny” or rarely even normal/average. My body is similar to Hendricks’s. And while I do not think Hedricks is fat, she certainly can look oversized compared to the petite and small-boned actresses she works with. It’s all relative, right? In some contexts, I seem “thin” and in others I seem “fat.”

    October 20, 2012

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