Glossy Covers: asos May 2011 (& body politics)

Glossy Covers: Josephine de la Baume for asos spring (& body politics)

Parisian actress/singer/model Josephine de la Baume for ASOS magazine
The other night I watched the terrible George Clooney film (I know, it sounds like an oxymoron; as if he can do any wrong) The American. Apart from appreciating the sculpted Clooney, the one saving grace in a plot line so thin it was at risk of floating away on a feather, was the cast of beautiful women who shared the screen with him: namely Violante Placido (Italian), Irina Björklund (Finnish) and Thekla Reuten (Dutch).

As with ASOS magazine's "ooh la la" cover girl Josephine de la Baume, who has a bottom and boobs (gasp!), it was refreshing to see new faces and women's figures that were less hard-bodied Hollywood, more voluptuous old-cinema. It's pretty sad to think such women are an anomaly on screen...but more still that the buxom are nearly always synonymous with sex (no coincidence that two of Clooney's conquests were prostitutes), while skinny ladies have the fashion world sewn up.

We live in times when "curvy" is more a novelty than the norm (not in real life, of course), but curvy – a particular type of curvy – has also been co-opted by commercial enterprise to sell us stuff because it supposedly makes us more attractive to the opposite sex (has food ever looked more attractive than when dished up by Nigella Lawson?).

Recently, The Sartorialist unwittingly hosted a Body Politics debate after he described one of his subjects as "curvy". She (style blogger Angelika) wasn't personally offended, saying, she thought "being called curvy has a positive meaning[...] curvy= femininity and not = fat, overweight." Her blog is similarly non-discriminatory. She's a girl who's not pegging body angst on that which is seemingly out of her control but at the same time giving a voice (and pictures) to young women who identify with her "curves" and passion for fashion without the overtly sexual overtones.

The great thing about the internet, and glossy magazines, has certainly been giving a voice to the latent Body Politics issues that were once allocated to the realm of private discussion, (patronising) "women's columns", academic texts or, worse, private angst. For too long women have been dictated body ideals by the image-heavy media, fashion and entertainment fields, with little breathing room to, as my friend Beci says, "let your belly out". 

It's fantastic that women have platforms in the public sphere for communicating their discontent with the status quo and the dictates of commercial enterprise aimed at selling them stuff to heal their weighty woes and relational disappointments (lose more weight, have more sex!). The trouble is, the feelings of rejection, loathing and isolation often turn into hate directed at the "other", which isn't always constructive and almost always acts to isolates us from some other group. An enemy likes nothing better than to be the focus of our energies, to divide voices.

I think it's up to women to seize the new media agenda in regards to representations of the diversity of shapes and sizes we are gifted with by giving generously in terms of the images and messages that make us all – fatter, thinner, shorter, taller – feel accepted, validated and loved... no matter where you are on the scale (once you feel loved, then can you think about how you will nurture yourself in health and in your sex life).

That's what I love about personal style blogs like Angelika's and Rosie the Fashademic's: the sheer diversity of personality, thoughts and bodies (arguably, some of the most popular – and thereby commercially sound – girls are also conformist in some regards), which were formerly displaced by cultural norms that put them outside of the trend de jour.

Cheering when we see itty-bitty images of a tummy are not nearly enough: what we need is a full-blown media-wide standard that says, "All women are beautiful", without labels, while balancing the needs and desires of our private sexual selves with our public personas.

Yes, yes, fashiony types will say, "But clothes look better when modelled this way", pointing to the Avatar-like girls who strut the catwalks, and many a pair of Guess? jeans has been sold off the back of a bodacious bum, but...BUT! what a small price to pay to hear women say, "Hip, hip hooray!" when we are inclusive of images they can relate to without the sexual overtones (curvy = sex!) or tokenistic compliments ("Look, we are showing you bigger girls!") or even the body politics commentary.

On that note, it's lovely to see Aussie model Jessica Gomes has been made the ambassador of this year's Australian Fashion Week.

See also 'The Girl, The Debate and The Sartorialist' Fashademic.

Girl With a Satchel