Should Fashion Reflect Fantasy Or Reality?
REBECCA ROBERTS, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. Neal Conan is away. I'm Rebecca Roberts.
A smallish picture on page 194 of the September issue of Glamour magazine set the fashion industry buzzing. It was a beautiful blonde model, almost naked, with a roll of belly fat dipping over her lap. The image set off a spirited debate in the media and among Glamour readers. It suggested the world of fashion magazines could depart from the twiggy-like models in fashion ads in spreads and on runways. But if you pick up Vogue or Elle or Cosmopolitan, pretty much any fashion magazine, there is no shortage of Photoshopped, ultra-thin bombshells.
Today we ask fashion insiders: Is the fashion world really sizing up? And does it even matter? Later in the hour, 100 things no restaurant server should do. But first, does size matter? As you encounter women's images and magazines, catalogues, on billboards, what do you want to see? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can join the conversation at our Web site. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.
We begin with Cindi Leive. She is editor-in-chief of Glamour magazine. She joins us from NPR's New York bureau. Welcome to the program.
Ms. CINDI LEIVE (Editor-In-Chief, Glamour Magazine): Hi.
ROBERTS: You used the word revolution in your blog to describe Glamour's approach to publishing pictures of plus-size models. Of course, plenty of tall, thin models in the rest of the magazine, why is it a revolution?
Ms. LEIVE: Well, I think what was revolutionary to me was the reaction that we got from readers when we published the original picture that you were just talking about a moment ago. This was the so-called woman on page 194 of our September issue. And, you know, as you mentioned, this was a small 3x3 inch photo that we ran along with a story on body confidence. And we started almost instantly, as soon as the issue hit stands, to get letters from readers saying how much they loved this. And how - what they loved about her body was the fact that it looked normal.
And, you know, I think what they most noticed was this little sort of, belly roll, that she has, which is, of course, what so many women see when they look in the mirror. But you don't generally see it represented. And when I blogged about it, it got just an outpouring of completely passionate response from readers. And, you know, they all talked about how much they liked the image, but then they all said, more, please. You know, we've started, sort of, tuning out a lot of what we see in magazines because we don't relate to it. And this we relate to and got our attention.
So, you know, as a magazine editor, when you hear so many women, literally in this case, thousands saying that, you pay attention. So, we decided to take it into account when we're making our own modeling decisions going forward.
ROBERTS: Did you get any criticism for the decision to feature her?
Ms. LEIVE: We actually did not. I mean, it's interesting because a lot of people have asked me that and some have said, you know, gosh, have advertisers had a problem with it or, you know, has anybody objected to your decision to include women of different body types? And, no. You know, my job as a magazine editor is to produce a magazine that people want to buy. So, if this is what people want, of course, it makes sense to give it to them.
ROBERTS: And how much editorial control do you have when it comes to body type?
Ms. LEIVE: You know, I think, listen, you have editorial control as an editor and it would be cop out to say that you don't. That said, there are factors that if you're talking about, sort of, traditional fashion stories make it more difficult to feature a wide range of body types than you might suppose existed.
So, for instance, one of the things that we run into are the sample sizes and just to explain what that means, if you're photographing a fashion story in your long-lead magazine, a monthly magazine, you have to photograph these stories several months in advance. And so you're working not with the range of sizes that you would see at any department store, but with a single sample that's produced by the clothing company, by the designer. And that sample is generally pretty small. It's in the sort of size 2 range.
So, if you want to photograph somebody and something that your reader is, then when they see the magazine, going to be able to go out and buy, you need to use that size. And so that often dictates the size models that you see in traditional fashion stories. In other words, if I wanted to feature a size 10 or 12 model ordinarily, either I would have to do something to the sample, like, you know, slit is up the back or otherwise mutilate it to make it fit a different body type or I would have to go out to the store and buy a garment that would fit a larger model, but then that garment would be unbuyable to the Glamour reader who is reading the magazine.
ROBERTS: Why do sample sizes run so small?
Ms. LEIVE: Well, I think it's probably nine-tenths tradition, to be honest. And, you know, what we're finding, particularly after having published this picture of Lizzi Miller in the September issue and featuring a group of plus-sized models in our November issue, is that a lot of designers are quite enthusiastic about wanting to produce the samples that will fit a wider range of body types. So, I think there is some room for change there.
ROBERTS: Let's take a call. This is Keith in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Keith, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
KEITH (Caller): Thank you. I guess my comment is that, you know, I think men are getting discounted as believing the - women are believing that men actually think that they find these super-thin models more attractive than a real woman. And I think, unfortunately, what's portrayed in fashion magazines, women become to think that that's what they should look like. They don't realize that men actually can find a real-looking woman much more attractive.
Ms. LEIVE: Yeah, I think you're 100 percent on the money there. And, in fact, a lot of the men who commented on our Web site about the picture of Lizzi Miller said, my gosh, she's beautiful. And a lot of women wrote in to say, you know, I just showed this picture to my boyfriend and I asked him what, if anything, he noticed. And he said, yeah, she's smiling and she's naked. That's what I noticed.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. LEIVE: I mean, you know, I think men are much more forgiving of women and their so-called flaws than women are.
ROBERTS: Well, let's us ask our audience. If you've looked at any of these images or you're seeing more different body types in popular media, what's your reaction? What do you want to see? 800-989-8255 or send us email, email@example.com. We're also joined by Robin Givhan. She is the fashion editor for The Washington Post. She joins us from her office in Washington. Welcome back to the show.
Ms. ROBIN GIVHAN (Fashion Editor, The Washington Post): Thank you. Happy to be here.
ROBERTS: Give us a little perspective of where this idea of thin models came from and why the fashion industry caters to them.
Ms. GIVHAN: Well, from the beginning of time, from the beginning of model years, they've always been thin. They've been perceived to be these sort of idealized creatures. But I think what happened was that in the 1980s, the era of the supermodel, when the average sample size was, in fact, a 6, that was followed by the era of the waifs. And that was Kate Moss and her cohorts and they were substantially thinner. And slowly, the eye adjusted to that thin physique, and they were followed by a lot of Eastern European models, and they were even thinner.
So, I think that progressively, the fashion industry has had sort of the incredible, shrinking model. And it was only until it really became sort of dangerously thin that people really woke up and said, my gosh, look how thin these girls are.
ROBERTS: Cindi Leive, would you agree with that that if a magazine like yours featured the supermodel, glamazon, you know, Cindy Crawford, Christie Brinkley model now that that would be surprising to the eye that models have gotten much smaller?
Ms. LEIVE: Well, I think it's definitely true what Robin says, that over the last 20 years, you know, we've sort of gone from the curvier supermodels to the waifs to the kind of child models of today. But I, you know, I think the answer - what we hear from women is that the answer is not to go back to the era of the supermodels. The answer is to realize that actual women come in all those different body types and that we should be able to find all those different body types, whether it's sort of the curvy Marilyn Monroe of the '50s or the super-skinny, sort of lanky, lean, waif look. We should be able to find them all beautiful.
ROBERTS: Let's hear from Jackie in Tallahassee, Florida. Jackie, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
JACKIE (Caller): Hi. How are you?
JACKIE: My - I'm a 31-year-old model/human resource professional. I have four children, and I fit the category - I'm probably Heidi Klum's size, and I guess my issue with the whole - and I didn't write in on the glamour. But my issue is that yes, we should have women of different body types, but I think what we're sending, the super-skinny model is a no-no. But I also think that the plus-size - this plus-size revolution is highlighting a different issue, is that we really need to look at our health, and we're not being healthy. And yes, if we can talk about too skinny, we should also talk about these women that are unhealthy, as well, and look at portion size. So what do you have to say about that?
Ms. LEIVE: Well, I mean, I agree with you. Obviously, we shouldn't be glamorizing anything that's unhealthy, and that's definitely not what we're trying to do. I mean, if you look at the portrait of the seven supermodels, the seven plus-size supermodels who we - that we published in the November issue, none of them are actually obese.
You know, they're women who are still within the healthy range for a woman's body type, and they're just - you know, they're just a little bit heavier than what you're used to seeing in magazines but still healthy. And, you know, so I think that's sort of the first part of it.
The second, though, is that I think it actually helps women who need to lose weight feel better about their bodies if they feel included in the sort of fashion fantasy. I mean, if you start to feel that your body is beautiful, doesn't that help you want to take care of it better? Doesn't that lead you on the road to caring for your body?
ROBERTS: We have a similar email from Tim in Rochester, Minnesota, who says: Why not gravitate towards images of health? Neither the ultra-thin, air-brushed model nor the average or real woman is a picture of genuine health. Are we discussing a false dichotomy?
Ms. LEIVE: No, I mean, I agree with that. I think that it is all about health, and, you know, one of the things that I had some issues with was that when I looked at a lot of the comments on our Web site in reaction to Lizzie Miller's picture, the so-called girl on page 194. You know, a lot of women were saying this is great. Down with the waifs. You know, those skinny models just need to eat a cheeseburger. You know, there was this real undercurrent of real women have curves.
And, yeah, most real women have curves, but you can also be on the leaner side, and the point is to be the healthiest weight for you - not to say that skinny is now out and it's all about plus.
ROBERTS: We are discussing the sizing-up of the fashion industry with Cindi Leive, editor-in-chief of Glamour magazine, and Robin Givhan, fashion editor for The Washington Post.
Anyone who's looked at any images of women, looked at a mannequin, shopped from a catalog, you're encountered images of women's bodies. So what do you want to see? We are taking your calls at 800-989-8255. You can also send us email. The address here is firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Rebecca Roberts. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
ROBERTS: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Rebecca Roberts in Washington. It's safe to say not many of us encounter too many people in our daily life with the pin-thin bodies of fashion models, but we do encounter images of them, from magazines to mannequins. So we want to hear from you. What do you want those images to be?
Give us a call at 800-989-8255. Our email address is email@example.com, and you can join the conversation on our Web site. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.
I'm talking now with Cindi Leive. She's the editor-in-chief of Glamour magazine. And Robin Givhan - she is fashion editor for The Washington Post.
Robin, we were talking about the sample-size issue and how, especially if you have a long lead-time for publication, that's really all that's available, and those are tiny. Is there - especially with some famous, curvy women like Beyonce or Jennifer Lopez or even first lady Michelle Obama, is there any influence on designers making bigger sizes?
Ms. GIVHAN: (unintelligible) become very fascinated and focused on individual women and how - and then become enamored with them, but that doesn't necessarily translate into the way that they see - the way that they view women in general. And so by that I mean they're happy to make a special garment for a Beyonce or for Michelle Obama, but from what I've seen, that hasn't translated into their expanding their sizes in general. It hasn't translated into the vast majority of, say, denim designers working to accommodate, you know, a curvier derriere.
So I think that there's a real conflict with designers in that they are focused on their philosophy and their fantasy of who they're designing for versus the reality of who their customers are.
ROBERTS: Well, there's also this notion that women will want to buy a product that looks spectacular on a spectacular body rather than a product that looks spectacular on an average body, that women are put in the mood to buy by seeing something that is slightly unattainable. Cindi Leive, do you buy into that?
Ms. LEIVE: Not completely. I mean, listen, as the editor of a fashion magazine, of course I believe in fantasy. I mean, it's not like we want to be publishing everybody's driver's license picture here, you know.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. LEIVE: And I do believe that, you know, what you want when you pick up a magazine is a certain amount of sort of escape and fantasy. But I do believe, I mean, to use your words, you know, that you want to see spectacular clothes on a spectacular body, yeah. But, you know, do we think that Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez and Michelle Obama don't have spectacular bodies? Of course they do. It's - there's a wider range out there than we've traditionally seen.
ROBERTS: Let's hear from Rihanna(ph) in Nashville, Tennessee. Welcome to the program, Rihanna.
RIHANNA (Caller): Thanks. Cindi, I just want to say I love your magazine. I am (unintelligible) buy subscriptions for other people all the time.
Ms. LEIVE: Thank you.
RIHANNA: I also wanted to - you guys have spoke a little bit to the idea of designers designing for the idea of a thin woman or basically women as clothes hangers, and I wanted to ask about maybe that influence or the influence of, you know, this rise of curvy models in fashion. Does that have anything to do with, maybe, like, the "Mad Men" type of trend, where designers move a little bit more - especially lately with all the ruffles and stuff - toward a very feminine silhouette or just feminine details, as opposed to, you know, maybe a grunge look or Kate Moss type figures?
Ms. GIVHAN: Yeah. I think that these things are related, you know. And, you know, of course, as women, if we want to see ourselves represented in fashion magazines and in advertising, you don't want to just pin your hopes on what's in style. You want it be sort of regardless of what's in style. But I do think that the fact that a lot of designers are working with sort of more, quote-unquote, �womanly� silhouettes than they used to might make it easier to bring in a wider range of body types - at least I hope so. It certainly makes it, you know, more appealing to photograph curvy women in those clothes on our pages.
Ms. LEIVE: Well, can I also just add that I think some of this also relates to the fact that the fashion industry tends to focus its desires on younger women, and that is in keeping with - I mean, or that sort of dovetails with, you know, the kind of body type that they've been drawn to in the recent past.
So I think some of the reason why women respond quite often so negatively to these incredibly thin models is also because they're responding to the fact that the models look like girls and not women.
ROBERTS: We actually have an email on that subject from Deanna(ph) in Sacramento, who says: How about aging up, as well as sizing up? One thing I've appreciate in many clothing catalogues is the increasing evidence of gray-haired models with crows' feet. I can definitely relate to that, and that makes me interested and noticing what they're wearing.
We also have an email from Amy, who says: Another body type often neglected in the mainstream media is the athletic woman, a woman with big, muscular thighs or a broad back due to soccer, climbing or some other activities.
As a woman who regularly has trouble finding clothes that fit my shoulders and my thighs, I would love to see fashion magazines showing more of this body type. Perhaps if the fashion magazines did this, designers and clothing producers would create feminine clothes for the athletic woman. Cindi Leive?
Ms. LEIVE: Yeah, I mean, well, I think it's interesting because, you know, part of what that writer is saying is that, you know, it's not just about thin versus bigger. It's not about the, quote-unquote, �straight-sized� model versus the plus-sized models. There's a lot - you know, many different kinds of diversity beyond that. And, you know, I think to go back to your question about do the Jennifer Lopezes and the Beyonces have an effect on what designers design? You know, I'm with Robin. I don't think it really works that way, but I do think that, you know, when women see bodies that are curvier glamorized and they start to feel better about their own bodies as a result, then they have the confidence to say to designers - you know, whether directly or more likely just through their dollars, you know, this is what we want. And that's what makes a difference.
And, you know, anybody who's selling clothing wants to make money doing it. And if you think that there are women of different body types who are willing to plunk down some good cash for your clothes, of course, you know, you would want to figure out a way to market to them.
ROBERTS: Let's take a call from Tony, who's calling us from Berlin, Germany. Tony, welcome to the program.
TONY (Caller): Oh, hi. It's fun to talk about fashion. But my whole question was just being here in Europe, I noticed, you know, the ladies here, they're a tad bit smaller than the American woman, and I wonder - maybe what's confusing everybody in American, especially the magazines, is that they're really imposing this European body type onto American fashion, and so you get these kind of very large ladies who are tall from the Midwest or whatever, and they have to fit into these little, European designs. And also the fact that this body type - and nobody's saying this - but it's also sort of tied in with race. I mean, it's a white body type.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. GIVHAN: Thank you. You know, I think that, yeah. Some of this does have to do with the fact that a lot of the European clothes are cut much thinner, but -or much smaller, but that really doesn't let American designers off the hook because you can certainly point to designers like, you know, a Ralph Lauren or - you know, who immediately comes to mind - or others who cut quite narrowly.
So I don't think it's necessarily a kind of American-European divide, but I do think that it is - it does have ethnicity wrapped up in it. I mean, the fact that so much of this downsizing of models came about when Eastern European models�
ROBERTS: We're having�
Ms. GIVHAN: �in the fashion industry.
ROBERTS: We have an email from Jessica in Cleveland, who says: I just wanted to say that when I look at fashion magazines, I'm more interested in the clothes and fashion than I am in the unattainable model. If the fashions are interesting, cutting edge or something inspiring, they'll stand out.
What's most annoying is when the real woman is a model, she is automatically called a plus size. What sizes are in the plus-size category, and what size is the real woman?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. LEIVE: Well, there are sort of two different definitions of plus size. One is for, you know, civilians, and the other is for models. You know, if you're an average woman, you're consider plus size if you're a 14 or up. And, by the way, the average American woman does wear a size 14.
But a model is generally put into the plus-size category if she's a size six or up, which is just, you know, one of the oddities of the modeling industry. So when we talk about plus-size models, we're not necessarily talking about plus-size people.
ROBERTS: And do models who are size six, eight, 10 have work? I mean, is it tiny models and larger-sized models and nothing in between?
Ms. LEIVE: No. Yeah. I mean, there's certainly work for the six, eight, 10 model. I mean, they do model a lot of actual plus-size clothing, and they do campaigns for, you know, things that aren't so explicitly fashion, as well. And there are a few of them, like Crystal Renn, probably the best known right now, had a book out this fall who used to be straight-size model and then became a plus-size model - a few like Crystal, who�
ROBERTS: We also have an email from Amy in Salt Lake City, who says: I take issue with the comment that clothes look better on tall, skinny models. Really? I'm a slim - I'm slim and fit, size four, but I'm only 5'2�. And pictures of tall, skinny models give me absolutely no idea of what the clothes will look like on me. And by the way, this keeps me from spending more money on clothes.
Robin Givhan, is there a connection here? Cindi's been talking about trying to sell magazines. But if - how much of fashion design is about actually selling clothes, and how much of it is sort of art for its own sake?
Ms. GIVHAN: Well, I think a lot of it is art for its own sake, particularly when it comes to editorial shoots because quite often, when you work at some of these shoots, you can barely even view the clothes, or you can barely get a sense of what, you know, the silhouette of a dress. So if it were really about solely selling the clothes, you would see a lot more shoots that actually look like catalogue shoots.
But that said, you know, there's a part of me that, well, I don't want to defend the use of, you know, unhealthy models. I do want to encourage women to understand that, you know, this isn't meant to be literal. And so just because they don't see someone who looks exactly like they do doesn't mean that fashion isn't for them. And I think that's something that is part of a whole sort of complicated piece of the, you know, female psyche, quite honestly.
ROBERTS: What do you mean when you say it isn't meant to be literal?
Ms. GIVHAN: Well, I mean, it's - when you see these images of a model in a ball gown walking along a beach with the edges of the gown trailing in the water, that's not meant to be literal. And so a lot of it is meant to inspire women and to just sort of get them excited about, you know, a particular season. And I always say that quite often, you know, a woman walks into a dressing room and tries on a pair of pants, and if the pants don't fit her, she thinks there's something wrong with her. A man does the same thing and he calls the tailor. So I think there's - often, there's that disconnect.
ROBERTS: We still have an email from Randy in Kansas City, who says: Has anyone been talking about male models and how impossibly thin they are? I find the male models with zero percent body fat an incredibly frustrating ideal to achieve as an ordinary American male.
Ms. GIVHAN: Well, I don't think he's ordinary, that he responds to it in that way, because I don't think that the average man looks at a model, a male model who has the body type of a 12-year-old and says, you know, oh, gosh. I need to stay out at the gym and cut back on, you know, my protein so I can achieve that.
ROBERTS: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Let's take a call from Melissa in Toledo. Melissa, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
MELISSA (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking the call.
MELISSA: I, first of all, just want to, you know, add my consensus kind of to the choir that I think it's great, the movement toward a bit more diversity and definitely towards the diversity in the way of - seen as being(ph) healthy, not at the exclusion of, you know, any shape or size in particular. One other thing I just wanted to throw into the mix in the topic of diversity is the possibility of potential inclusion of women or men, as that's now been brought up, with disabilities.
It's more and more even in younger population as troops are coming back with injuries, you know, whether it be someone in a wheelchair or someone who is an amputee, you know, I think that that would - it's definitely not something that we see in magazines, you know, unless it is a story about an injury or about an illness. And definitely not, you know, to take over by any means, but just it would be great to see that just, you know, on occasion, because it's definitely not something that happens.
ROBERTS: Melissa, thanks for your call.
Ms. GIVHAN: Yeah. I mean, I think whenever, you know, you can sort of bring reality into, you know, a glossy magazine, it gets people's attention. And, you know, what we find, as I was saying before, is that the people are most enthusiastic about it when you're not calling attention to it, when you're not sort of patting yourself on the back and saying, you know, look at this fabulous thing that I did. Our magazine represents America. You know, if you're just, you know, quoting and picturing women of all types, you know, who represent your readership, that's much more powerful.
ROBERTS: We have an email from Ronnie in Jacksonville, who says, I was working in New York City in the theater in model agency world during the '60s. My recollection is that curvy models began to disappear as soon as Twiggy, the Brit fashion model, hit the scene. People were aghast at how thin she was.
But between Twiggy and the Barbie doll, super thin got set in motion. Runway models were always thinner. Their bodies were never to detract from the clothes they were showing. Their bodies were to be fluid coat hangers from which designer clothing could drape and move. Robin, would you echo that?
Ms. GIVHAN: Well, I would certainly say that the era of Twiggy was at a time when models were definitely quite thin. But, you know, you can't really escape the reality that in the '80s, a lot of the supermodels who were on the runway did, in fact, have bodies that you could argue at least at times distracted from the clothes. I mean, that was part of the reason why they were, quote, unquote, "supermodels." They were personalities on the runway.
And I think to some degree, designers did learn a lesson from that and, you know, responded by trying to find models who were sort of a homogenous presence on the runway so that the woman didn't distract from the clothes.
ROBERTS: I think we have time for one more call. This is Jennifer in Centerview, Missouri. Jennifer, welcome to the program.
JENNIFER (Caller): Hi. Thanks.
JENNIFER: I actually - I had two things to say, but I will only say one. I was remembering Mode magazine that came out roughly 10 years ago for, quote, unquote, "plus-size women." And I was just thinking, in all of my years - I'm almost 40, and have always been larger than most other girls - mostly tall, but also got wider as I got older. But I have seen them, you know, the fashion magazines, come and go and try to get more plus-size women in the loop. And it seems like they always fizzle.
Ms. LEIVE: Well, I think in that case, if my memory serves, that was the magazine that was aimed specifically at plus-size women, right? You know, I think part of the challenge is that if you're a size, you know, 14 or 16 or 18 woman, you don't walk around all day thinking about that. I mean, you're - you know, you want trends and you want clothes and you want fashion ideas just like everybody else. You don't necessarily want them in a plus-size context.
You know, I think it's part of the same challenge that department stores have when they try to create plus-size areas within their store, you know, that women want to see themselves as women and as shoppers and not as a plus-size person foremost.
ROBERTS: That's Cindi Leive, editor-in-chief of Glamour magazine. She joined us from NPR's New York bureau.
Thank you so much.
Ms. LEIVE: Thank you.
ROBERTS: And, also, thanks to Robin Givhan, fashion editor for The Washington Post. She joined us from her office in Washington. Thanks to you.
Ms. GIVHAN: Thank you.
ROBERTS: Coming up: Running a restaurant? Here's a tip: Make sure the tables are leveled before your guests sit down. Bruce Buschel has another 49 tips for restaurant staffers. Stay tuned. That's next.
I'm Rebecca Roberts. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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