Size 16 models shock Observer Woman!
by Jess McCabe // 10 June 2007, 18:58
A bit like the Daily Mail, there are few things as certain to provide blogable material as The Observer's Woman supplement. Let's just say that today's issue was no exception.
Unfortunately the cover story photo-shoot of size 16 models isn't actually available online, but the text that accompanied it is available. On the front cover, the shoot is tagged "Who's a big girl then?" Do I need to go on?
Are you shocked by these photographs? We were - and we commissioned them. We were there, during the shoot. We watched our models, Kate Smith and Elizabeth Satherlund, get transformed, made-up, and styled. We watched them pose. We studied early Polaroids. But still, we were shocked by the finished product. The photographs seemed illicit, transgressive. They seemed overtly sexual. Fetishistic, almost. They certainly seemed contrary to today's rules on glossy-magazine aesthetics. So much bosom! So much bottom! Such luscious rolls of back fat! Such extravagant thighs! Aren't there laws against this?
Don't you lose the cred gained by including models that wear the "dress size of the average British woman" in your glammed-up photo-shoot if you then reveal you are completely shocked by the photos?
I can't help but think that even the editors at the Observer Woman were a bit ashamed of this one - the copy is completely uncredited, as though the author wanted to disassociate herself with the increasingly delusional and confused rant.
Yes, it's great that the magazine chose to use average-sized women for its fashion pages - because we need to see that beauty doesn't come in only one, rail-thin, variety. Indeed, the decision would have been far more radical and transgressive if they had been placed in the magazine without any commentary. But the photos are not "shocking". They are not "fetishistic". And it's rather offensive to suggest they are.
Even more so, because the next feature on "the body" is made up almost completely of famous people talking about the bits of their body that they hate - most worryingly, Liz Jones' story of seemingly unresolved psychological issues with her body that led her to starve herself and then get her breasts removed. Printed alongside Will Self's rather amusing but incongruous story about hating his feet.
The only good bit of the entire magazine was Ariel Levy talking about her scarred knees:
My knees are proof that I am passionate or reckless, depending on your point of view. When I drink, I drink too much; when I garden, I stay at it until I'm physically unable to continue... They clash with everything. But they are a map of my life, of my accidents and adventures, and I can think of worse accessories.
Great to see someone celebrate their physical "flaws". Shame the Observer Woman chose to photograph her with her knees in "flattering" shade.