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Fat is a fashion issue

Muffin top. Tummy roll. Wobbly bit. Call it what you will, but a little roll of fat has had the fashion world convulsed over the past fortnight or so. Seema Goswami tells more.

india Updated: Sep 12, 2009 20:05 IST
Seema Goswami

Muffin top. Tummy roll. Wobbly bit. Call it what you will, but a little roll of fat has had the fashion world convulsed over the past fortnight or so.

It has launched a thousand blog posts, featured in discussion programmes on television, and been dissected to death (only metaphorically, I hasten to add) in magazines and newspapers. The magazine in which it featured has been inundated with mail from readers. And Internet chat rooms are alive with the sound of a million women collectively exhaling and letting their own stomachs out.

In case you haven’t been following the Strange Case of the Spare Tyre on the grounds that you have better things to do with your time (go to work, feed the family, walk the dogs), allow me to bring you up to speed.

It happened like this. This month’s issue of Glamour magazine (the US edition) carried a feature on the different body types of women. To illustrate this, the magazine carried a tiny picture – about 3 inches square – of a young woman called Lizzie Miller.

She was featured sitting on a plinth, wearing only a thong and a wide smile, bending over from the waist. And there it was: a little roll of belly fat, resting comfortably just above her panty-line, complete with stretch marks and just a hint of loose flesh.

Did the airbrush artists at Glamour forget to bring their magic to work on this teeny-tiny picture? Was it too small to merit their attention? Did they overlook it because it wasn’t used in a fashion feature? Or was it a deliberate decision to allow some gritty reality (yes, I know, I exaggerate) into the rarefied world of glossy magazines?

I suspect we will never know for sure. But once the inboxes at Glamour began filling up with grateful mails from ecstatic readers delirious with joy at the fact that the magazine had finally featured a ‘real woman’ there was no going back. The editors duly trotted off to do the rounds of talk shows, holding forth on how different shapes were now being accepted and how fat was no longer a fashion issue.

So, it’s final, is it? It is okay to have a few bulges spilling forth from an hour-glass frame.

And it’s even okay to show it off instead of keeping it under wraps with a control top or Spanx underwear.

I’m sorry but I think these reports have been vastly over-stated. The model in the picture in question is classed as ‘plus-size’ in the fashion world, even though she veers between a size 12 and 14. And she wasn’t featured in all her fleshy glory on the cover or on a full-page spread but in a tiny thumbnail tucked away on page 194.

And despite the avalanche of positive responses that greeted this image, I don’t think that things are going to change in the fashion world any time soon. Or let’s put it this way. I’ll believe that when I see models with Lizzie Miller’s proportions on the cover of fashion magazines and on the catwalks of Paris or Milan.

But you know what, that’s okay. Glossy magazines can go right ahead and use anorexic lollipop heads on their pages. And fashion designers can use emaciated teenagers to show their clothes on the ramp.

I really couldn’t care less. Nor, I suspect, do most other women. All of us who follow fashion know that we are being sold a fantasy. An elegantly visualised and beautifully shot fantasy, but a fantasy nonetheless. And fantasies have no place in the real world.

None of the women I know are foolish enough to believe that the images that we are inundated with in the media have even a tenuous relationship with reality. We all know it takes hours in make-up and hair to make models look that good. And even these most beautiful of women need the services of a lighting genius and much photoshopping before they look the way they do in the glossies and on television.

No, we are not stupid enough to believe that we can look anything like that even if we starved ourselves down to a size zero. Not even in our dreams.

All we really want is to look the best we can; to make the most of our own body shapes, no matter how flawed; and to wear clothes that would look nice on us.

And that’s where the fashion world lets us down, with clothes designed keeping the proportions of adolescent boys in mind.
That’s what really pisses us off. Now that we can finally afford to buy all those nice clothes we see in magazines and in shops, the clothes we fantasised about ever since we were teenagers, we can no longer fit into them.

We don’t really care if your models are fat, thin, plain, ugly, tall or short. We don’t give a toss if they have a roll of belly fat or a concave stomach. But we do care about the clothes – well, at least some of us do.

And sometimes, just sometimes, it would be nice to be able to actually wear them.