Friday, 23 July 2010

A weighty issue...

One would expect weight to be a different kind of issue for afficianados of vintage style. Anyone who peruses the fashion plates and photographs of the past can see that the female form has always been a movable feast. It moves from the rubenesque Edwardians, to the masculine twenties through athleticism, rationed spareness and thence back to the rounded pneumatic fifties. But that is only half the story because during these eras women of all shapes adapted. Flappers bound their bosoms, Hollywood idols padded their shoulders and teenagers wasped their waists. As many of us are retro-magpies and share the same disposition to physical variety as our ancestresses we should surely be more appreciative and less judgemental than those who don't share our affection for the past. However having read some of the heated exchanges on other blogs concerning dieting, the shapes of celebrities and bariatric surgery I am not sure.

A dancer in the slim-line twenties.

Did anyone ever call Mae West 'fat'?

I should declare myself here, I am not thin but then again nor am I fat. I rest in that average hinterland of a UK size 12-14 so I have no real axe to grind except for preference, I would hate to be a size 6 or without my decolletage. However I know that it is usual for women to have thighs that touch, to have a far higher level of body fat than men, to have a small yet prominent tummy and to need to store that fat as efficiently and quickly as possible. It is one of the factors that contributes to our longer life expectancy compared to the gents. I also know that there is nothing wrong with being naturally thin, but that it is, like being rotund, the far end of a spectrum. A variation just like being very tall or very short. But what I think has happened is that thin has been adopted as a norm by many women. Its equivalent at the other end, fatness is no less appropriate but is now regarded as abnormal.

How can this be regarded as acceptable or normative....

And this regarded as undesirable?

At the weekend I heard a group of (admittedly very young) vintage chaps make negative comments about curvy ladies whilst their badly dressed girlfriends looked thin and ill. There are women who would, with an extra stone or so be transformed for the better in the same way that I might look better a stone lighter or not. But it is, quite correctly, not said to them or about them. I don’t berate the very thin with their reluctance to eat pies, because this would be ignorant and I would have no cognisance of that persons life. Many of my thin vintage friends are beautiful as are my curvaceous ones. My personal opinion is that certain retro styles, like anything else, look better on certain forms or have to be adapted by people with different figures. However my personal opinion is that the thin need fitted clothes, there are loads of girls in big loose tea dresses looking like scrawny orphans. Not the look a thirties or forties lady was really aiming at. It always seems to me that the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s fashions give the larger lady an edge. Gowns with gathers, embellishment and movement sit better on hips and boobs. Having said that none of it works without a waist (off I go again!).

Now here is a woman 'filling' her clothes.

And the very slender Coco looking wonderful.

Ultimately however the fact of the matter is that by choosing clothes from the past we can suit ourselves. The birdlike can slip into elegant fifties suits, the large can look creamy and ample in fifties fashions, the angular can enjoy draping and the curvy sharp 40’s suits. Any of these, with a needle and thread, a sympathetic vintage repro maker or a sharp eye can fit most of us whatever the size. I imagine a reluctance to be forced into buying whatever rubbish is in fashion and choosing our style is another motivation for our retroesque choices. Yet some people are willing to fall in with the herd on size. No one wants to encourage the morbidly obese, but depending on the individual, being a size 8 is not superior to being a size 18 in any way whatsoever. In fact the only thing that is superior in being a size 12 as opposed to a size 28 are the potential health risks involved. Slimness infers no moral superiority. Appending negative assumptions, falling in with media stupidity and judging women on their size rather than their intelligence are things that this feminist certainly wants to try and avoid. We can leave it to men and commerce to undermine us. Certainly vintagely inclined ladies should be immune to this. Meanwhile I think it is time for a bit of sausage charming…..

Any thing to add? Please do! xx


hannahasprey said...

As someone who was naturally REALLY skinny as a youth (and now adores her curves) I learnt at a young age how people make insane judgments about a person based purely on the their size. It was a good lesson to learn as it stopped me from making assumptions about lifestyle or diet based on weight - I know it's perfectly possible to have no control whatsoever over one's weight - I certainly didn't. And if I could have a naturally superfast metabolism then it must follow that someone could have the opposite. I abhor body fascism of any type - I'm always willing to stick up for the skinny girls AND the bigger girls - you don't have to be in one camp or another because it's all about the same thing - the endless judging of women's bodies using whatever may be the standard of the day. If only we could get away from the constant nit-picking and criticising of women's body types and get into appreciating all sizes. So I applaud your post :)

Angel said...

I'm not big but I'm not comfortable in my own skin. I'd like to be fitter. So that's what I'm going to try to do.

I love this post though because some people I know have told me I'm fat... something I seriously disagree with. I think today people don't realise how the media has stopped us knowing what is normal.

Lainie Petersen said...

Wise words as always, Miss Minna. People should be encouraged to dress beautifully now, and not wait until they have reached a certain size.

Have you considered writing a book on vintage dressing for different sizes?

Fleur de Guerre said...

A fabulous post lady.

Angela Peters said...

Thanks for speaking up about the issue! We do need to learn to love our bodies and refrain from criticizing each other.

When I was a growing up I was quite skinny, but I still had stout legs. I store my fat in my lower half, and I think there's quite a lot of muscle there to boot. Incredibly, female friends and family would point to my generous calves and thighs and tell me I needed to lose weight. This when I weighed 100 pounds and less (I'm 5 feet 3 inches tall.) Sadly, I believed them, and so worked very hard to keep myself at an unhealthy weight for years. It wasn't until my mid-twenties, a loving husband, and 30+ additional pounds that I realized I could love my shape, generous lower half and all.

Instead of looking for ways to drag each other down, we women need to stick together and encourage each other to love our bodies just as they are!

Miss B. said...

Wonderful post. I'm proud of my hourglass figure even though it makes shopping quite difficult as some things are cut for ladies without the curves. It saddens me that where i live, people assume curves means fat. by no means am i fat. I just say love you for you first.

Again, wonderful post. Keep up the good work!

Straight Talking Mama! said...

This is a great post well said! I 'developed' early and cos I had curves when others didn't as a very young teenager I was told and believed I was fat, sad huh? I was curvy just long before anyone else was. I've always had a problem with my weight and Hannah is right when she says she had no control over her skinniness, why do people assume that is not the same if you're bigger.

Now don't get me wrong I know I could be thinner if I did certain stuff BUT I will never be slim, or probably even average, thanks for making people think!

Miss Matilda said...

Loved your wisdom here.

As an old matron I don't sit well with the extra pounds I am carrying and I'd like to shed the few stone I HAVE THOROUGHLY ENJOYED PUTTING ON!!

I think society is hilarious, I'm already running the gauntlet by being middle aged and the only vintage fashionista on this Island, so forget the weight issue!!

Thanks again and well said Red Legs!

Retro Chick said...

Fabulous post!

I've always had about a 10 or 11" difference between my waist and hip measurements, and for years I thought I must be hugely fat as I could never get fitted dresses, skirts or trousers to fit me. I've learnt now that's just my shape, I love my curves and I find vintage fits me better.

I do battle with my weight occasionally because I love my food (and drink!), but I also want to look the best I can, but I no longer think that means being a size 8. It means being fit and healthy!

Janice said...

Awesome post! I also wish they'd feature more models in fashion spreads who are in the middle -- neither too fat nor too thin.


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