More Than Words

Angelika on The Sartorialist

The photo above was taken by one of my all time favorite bloggers, The Sartorialist. I love to see the images he throws up on his blog and see how people wear clothes around the world. The photo above came with a post that generated a ridiculous amount of commentary, myself included. Why? Well, let me ask you to play a quick game. Pick up to ten words that describe this girl’s appearance. Go.

Got them all listed now? Ok here are the excerpts from The Sartorialist’s post that freaked people out:

“I loved that she’s a bigger, curvier girl than most of the other bloggers who you see in the press and tend to represent the genre. The subtle thing she achieves so successfully in these two looks is to complement the sturdy but beautiful shape of her legs with an equally strong shoe.”

You browse the comments and it’s clear a lot of us thought the exact same thing—Bigger? Curvier? Sturdy? For the love of god tell me you’re being sarcastic! Later he came back and updated his post. Here are some excerpts from that:

“A number of the commenters are upset by the word “curvy.” They feel I should have used the word “normal.” However, normal is relative. There is a young lady on my team who is 5’0″, and another who is 5’9″. Which would be “normal”?… This girl is taller than most, and has the bearing to match. Regarding the curves…just because you don’t see them does not mean they are not there. Is there a minimum degree of curviness to be considered “curvy”?… Remember, curvy is a body shape, not a weight. To be honest, you can’t really see in these photographs most of the curves – chest, stomach, hip – this woman has… What sucks is that when I try to put a photograph up to talk about these issues, the post is hijacked over the political correctness of the words… So help me understand; what is the modern way to speak about size? I’m not married to the word curvy… Help me describe this young lady without using the word “normal,” but in a way that addresses her body size and still references my point about the size of her legs relative to her shoes… I am proud to be a blog that is showing women of different sizes. I don’t want to lose the potential power of the post by being caught up in wordplay.”

Ok, here is my thing. It’s not about what words you use to describe her, it’s that you feel you must point out these differences at all and draw attention to the shape of her body in the first place as being different than the norm for the fashion world. Honestly, I wouldn’t have thought of her as different until he pointed it out—and even then, I swear to you I looked at the photos he had of her more than once until I finally saw her legs. If you want to talk about her shoes and her legs, there’s no need to throw in adjectives here. It’s simple. You simply state, “I love how her shoes go so well with her legs.” And the thing about that is if you feel you must make that sort of comment about a girl you perceive as curvier or whatever you want to call it, you should feel the need to make that sort of comment about a girl that’s a skeleton. Do you see my point? We know certain colors complement some better than others and it’s fine to point out how beautifully a particular color enhances the skin tone of a particular subject—but it shouldn’t be the exception because she’s not white for instance. That sort of observation should be universally made if you’re going to bother making it at all. Does this make sense?

The impression I got from the initial post, and even in the update, is what I think SO many of us non-waifs feel when we see these attempts at photographing and highlighting non-models. It’s the equivalent of, “That’s not bad—for a girl.” Except in the street fashion world it’s become “That’s not bad—for a non-model.” And that’s not fair.

The Sartorialist ended his update about how he is proud to be a blog showing women of different sizes (also ages but I didn’t include that part). The thing is, I disagree. He’s NOT showing women of different sizes. And ages? That’s not new at all. Vogue’s been giving us the giant Age issue for how long now? As a matter of fact, in this post The Sartorialist photographs three different instances where a flared jean is being worn. I swear to you they all look like they’re being worn by the same skinny pair of legs. Do you see a big ass in there? No way. Why? Big asses don’t work in flare jeans? Please. They probably work better than those twigs because they are more proportionate. As a matter of fact, in at least one of those instances I would even go so far as to say the flare is borderline ridiculous at the end of that type of body. Furthermore, here are March 2010, March 2009, and March 2008 posts. Tell me how many times you find a girl/woman that’s not a twig?

Exactly.

I think The Sartorialist is amazing at what he does. He captures some excellent stuff on the streets. I think his question is genuine insofar as it can be. But he’s been raised by fashion magazines and the influence is, sadly, obvious. These aren’t real street fashion photographs. They are fashion photographs on the street. The bottom line is, they can easily be taken as staged magazine editorials and while that’s definitely a compliment to his photographic ability, it’s not a compliment to his self-proclaimed diverse eye. The thing I find the most damning to this assertion is the amazing diversity you find in the photographs of men. I mean talk about ALL shapes, sizes, colors, and ages.

The bottom line is this—women who are not skinny are quite capable being pretty, sexy, and fashionable. I think on a surface level, we all know this. But clearly, it’s not ingrained deep enough that it is something natural. Most likely, The Sartorialist would have to re-train his eye to fully accept this view. I think this was why he was inclined to add adjectives to the woman’s body shape. She obviously struck him as out of the ordinary. While she’s very pretty, she’s not out of the ordinary—especially to people who are not caught up in the fashion world. That’s where The Sartorialist betrays himself and why so many people commented on the obvious confusing use of his words. So many women identified with her body shape and here she was being called out specifically because she was “different.” He tried spinning it in a positive way, and I get that, but the point he’s missing, I think, is that it should be the other way around. She shouldn’t be the one he perceives as different because she’s closer to the average (he’s right, there’s no such thing as “normal”) woman. As a matter of fact, research and history have shown women with hourglass or pear figures are generally held the most attractive. The fashion world does not put these shapes forth on the runway. By the way, the statistics for the average woman in the United States are as follows:

Measured average height, weight, and waist circumference for adults ages 20 years and over

  • Women:
    Height (inches):   63.8
    Weight (pounds):  164.7
    Waist circumference (inches):   37.0

I love the world of fashion. I love clothes and believe in the artistry that is to be found at many of the big designer houses. However, I do believe the fashion industry has done a major disservice to the women of the world in the past few decades. I think they truly have a huge responsibility to fix that. They aren’t and don’t even seem to understand the gravity of it. I have always maintained they are even doing themselves a disservice because every designer worth a lick will tell you they design for the every woman. Bullshit. It’s got to change. I feel people like The Sartorialist want to see that happen but are at the same time mired so deep in it themselves, they have a hard time doing what it takes to really fix things. I don’t want you showing me real people wearing runway clothes on a street. I want you to show me real people wearing real clothes on the street and are captivating. This is the true challenge street fashion bloggers need to rise up to. It’s a huge risk to go against the fashion world but it’s a necessary one. The fact street fashion bloggers are just capturing runway trends on the street show they’re doing nothing more than bowing to the big houses. They’re even invited to attend fashion shows now and crowd outside the shows afterwards. Why? This is not street fashion. Let it go. Dictate to the fashion world what is beautiful, don’t let them dictate to you.

11 thoughts on “More Than Words

  1. Agree. In high school I briefly, very briefly tried to model because I was almost 6 feet tall and very thin. What was the first thing the agents told my 15 year old size 6 self? That I’d have to lose 20 more pounds. These days, my size 10, 37 year old self would kill to be a 6 again, but apparently, a size 6 was considered borderline plus sized model back then. Nuts.

    Nice post. This girl is beautiful. I can’t believe peole commented about the size of her legs. Crazy.

    • What kills ME is that girl’s shape is a lot like mine and I flit between a size 2 and a 4 tops. Most likely, she’s taller than I am so maybe because of that she flits between a 4 and a 6. That’s still pretty damn skinny and way below the average US measurements. It just sucks they’re so deluded on body shape in the industry.

  2. This post was the first time I ever felt compelled to leave a comment on his site…the word ‘sturdy’ for her legs was beyond believe. Why even mention her size at all?!

    I read his post addition at the time, but he’s just not getting it.

    • Yeah I rarely post comments but this one got me there more than once. And yes, his update was disappointing because exactly what you said– he doesn’t get it. None of them do, that’s the problem. Have you seen those runway shows where the designer was praised/ridiculed for using out of the ordinary models? They’re not sticks but they’re skinny anyways!! There’s so much out there and it’s really all quite beautiful. I don’t know why the can’t get their heads out of their asses and really SEE that.

  3. Well, I don’t follow any style bloggers or read fashion magazines anymore, but I spotted her “legs” right away. Because she does have a (IMHO) nicer, rounder curve on her butt in the black pants than average – that many women do many squats to try to achieve. But I tend to look at women’s bodies through a muscularity filter of “she wouldn’t have to do any calf raises” kind of thing. And that’s probably my prejudice of having been a personal trainer in a past life talking.

    • You make a good point. Living where I do the curves mentioned are really on the small side. Like I said in another comment, that ass is remarkably similar to mine and I’ve never really considered myself to be a curvy woman. And that’s because around here, I’m definitely not considered curvy. There are way more curves found aplenty in South Florida! it’s hard to get a good gauge on her legs because she IS wearing tight pants. I’m dying to know what they look like in a skirt!

  4. Well put, thanks for saying it. If I looked like this woman, I’d think I died and gone to beauty heaven. As a borderline-plus-sizer (by my standards, certainly not the fashion industry’s — to them I’m a hippopotamus) I dream of the day when women will be appreciated for their various sizes and shapes, none of which will be considered worthy of comment as being unusual.

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