The Fat Skinny Girl

The Fat Skinny Girl

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.

Christina Aguilera 2012.(Wikimedia)

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.


A page from the Lane Bryant Spring/Summer 1954 catalog.(Wikimedia)

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.


Christina Hendricks. (Flickr)

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.

Featured image caption: “Slenderizing Fashions. Everything for stout women.” Lane Bryant catalog, Spring/Summer 1954.(Flickr)

Cheryl Lemus earned her PhD from Northern Illinois University in 2011. Her dissertation, “‘The Maternity Racket’: Medicine, Consumerism, and the American Modern Pregnancy, 1876-1960,” examines the rise of the modern pregnancy in 20th-century America. She is mainly interested in gender and women’s history, the history of medicine in America, and the rise of consumer culture.