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Are Special Diversity Issues of Magazines Really Progressive?

January 5, 2010

In the past two years, we’ve seen a number of magazine issues that supposedly promote diversity by featuring only models normally cast aside in castings. From the Italian Vogue that only featured black models in 2008 to the recent burst of apparent acceptance of plus-sized models in Glamour’s November issue and the new  issue of V, editors have claimed they’re taking a stand against uniformity and prejudice by giving these ignored demographics the spotlight for once. But that’s just the thing, the spotlight is given to them once and then by the next issue we’re back to the same blond waifs shown in every other issue before. So are these “all black,” “all fat” issues really promoting acceptance and diversity or are they just a marketing scheme?

In their defense, Glamour seemed to be genuinely caring about diversifying their pages by quietly slipping in a plus-sized model doing a spread on swimsuits, of all things, in their May issue and then again in their September issue by showing a nude plus-sized model accompanying a sex article. When buzz started raging about “the woman on page 194,”  editor Cindy Levine took notice and responded by turning their November issue into a plus-sized issue, controversially featuring a picture of 12 nude models as part of it.

The decision was hesitantly accepted by the critical blogging community, appreciating the fact that a major woman’s magazine was finally showing models their readers could relate to but wondering if the move was akin to the high-school cheerleader befriending a geek to help her image. To put it ever-so-eloquently, fatties were very In for 2009. More to Love and Dance Your Ass Off were two of the most popular TV shows of the summer, for instance, as well as the new media attention on not-so-skinny girls like Christina Hendricks and Kate Winslet. Even the Kaiser of Eating Disorders Himself, Karl Lagerfeld, contradicted his notorious comments on “round women” by celebrating Beth Ditto as a fashion icon. So, was Glamour’s plus-size issue truly opening their arms to a more realistic image or were they just jumping on the bandwagon of using plus-sized girls as the newest accessory?

For a magazine like Glamour, it was a bit easier to accept that their intentions were actually honorable, but my eyebrows are still raised at V’s “Size Issue” that uses plus-sized models. This mag boasts an uber-chic image with only the most cutting-edge of fashion dahling, far more prone to spreads of photos like this:

rather than the All-American image Glamour usually features in their spreads. So when I heard they too were doing a shapely issue the news was a bit more jarring. It didn’t help that the first spread that leaked showed the same outfits and styling compared on a “normal” model to a plus-sized one (oh-so-hiply using Crystal Renn, the Plus-Sized It Girl of today).

I just can’t help but feel that the whole point of this is trying to prove that girls above a size 2 are not as gross as you might think, dear reader (and, is it just me, or does Crystal Renn actually look better than the straight model here?) Although, I immediately start to argue with myself. I think, “if that is my reaction, than why am I angry with them? Isn’t this shoot therefore successful in promoting plus-sized models and, so, shouldn’t I be happy with it?” Even if it is done for not particularly the right reasons, isn’t it better than having nothing at all? Where do the lines of intention and results meet?

Their other spread seems a bit more forgiving, featuring only plus-sized models in positions and outfits that don’t attempt to hide their figures.

I fully enjoyed the photos but in the end it left me with an uneasy feeling. The pictures seem to be done more for shock value: “Hey! Look at this crazy thing we’re doing! There are PAGES of curvy girls in here; can you believe we did such a thing?” If this was the beginning of a new direction for the magazine, where models like these are featured alongside straight models without comment, then maybe I’d be a bit less cynical. But you know that this is just a flash-in-the-pan and by the next issue it’ll be back to skinny model after skinny model after skinny model all over again.

So, the question still remains: should we as consumers scold efforts like these or should we embrace them? Praising and ditching trends like neons and metallics are one thing. Praising and ditching trends like ethnic models and plus-sized models is another. Is a one-issue nod to realism good enough or really just an insult? I can’t help but look at these issues as a business move; a little marketing trick to generate publicity and sales. They may open up dialog on diversity in magazines, but are they really changing things while the money comes flowing in? Are they even changing things in the magazines that publish them? And if they’re doing it just for money, should we  really care?

On the one hand, I don’t necessarily turn to high end magazines for reality. I’m not expecting to open the pages and be able to afford anything on them, or look like any of the models, or have  the lifestyle they’re advising for.   But on the other hand, I don’t exactly appreciate being used as some kind of sideshow-esque attraction. It’s too easy to find a special plus-sized issue published for sales as more offensive than never showing plus-sized models at all. But then on my third hand, I find it nice to see more realistic women being shown as stylish and fabulous for a change. Even if I don’t want it to, it does make me feel a bit better and, maybe it’s just my personal taste but I find this:

more attractive than this:

so I guess I would buy more magazines that showed girls like that instead. Maybe people are only moved to do the right thing when it becomes the economical choice, and if it really does create change then should we turn our backs on them because of how it began? I cautiously say no.  If this is the beginning of a more realistic image being represented in women’s magazines , then I say so be it.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Marcie permalink
    January 5, 2010 6:08 pm

    I’ve always been a fan of fuller-figured models. There’s a great site with many images of Crystal and other plus-size models here:

    They’re all gorgeous.

    The site’s forum also has thought-provoking discussions about body image and the media.

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