First, it was Tess Holliday on the cover of People Magazine. Now, it is plus-size model Erica Schenk on the cover of Women’s Running. Plus-size models beyond a size 16 are breaking barriers and making headlines. Both of these women serve as our wake-up call and reveal our culture’s narrowly constructed ideas about bodies, beauty, and health.
We, the public audience, assume that, because of their size, plus-size models fail to keep up appearances and do not engage in all the culturally deemed necessary bodily devotional practices, i.e., dieting and exercise. However, unbeknownst to the public, they do indeed discipline themselves and work hard for their bodies. For example, Erica Schenk, at a size 18, is a runner.
The reality is that plus-size models engage in, at times, severe bodily management practices, such as strict calorie restriction to drop a size and even binge eating to gain a size, as well as more routine bodily manipulations, such as applying make-up and hair products, wearing shapewear, and adding body padding to make the body frame more proportional.
While these plus-size models work extensively on their bodies, the public outside of the fashion industry has no knowledge of it. We are not privy to a model’s intimate disciplines and body work. That is part of the fantasy portrayed by the fashion industry—to show a final image without revealing all the blood, sweat, and tears that goes into its production.
In addition, we assume, solely based on their size, that these women are not healthy. In an interview for my book, Fashioning Fat, Velvet D’Amour acknowledged that she experienced this health-bias after submitting publicity requests for her calendar to several women’s magazines:
I am too obese to be okay. It doesn’t really matter what I have done, you know, in their mind, like, they would be promoting unhealth by touching me . . . That sort of accepted mythology of looking upon a thin model and publicizing that person from here to kingdom come, based on what they perceive as is healthy versus, you know, I go swimming 120 laps and don’t have high blood pressure. I never smoke. I never drink. I don’t do drugs. I just think it is so hypocritical to me that they can put models in magazines, who, on occasion, walk off the runway and keel over. So, how is that healthy?
Her frustration is based on the factual knowledge that we cannot accurately know someone’s health status simply by looking at him or her.
So, instead of fixating on a number on a scale or the size of our clothes (which does not mean much due to a lack of size consistency across the industry and vanity sizing), let’s go out for a run* because it makes us feel good.
*or any physical activity of your choosing. Personally, I’ll be at the Pilates studio.