Consider the cruel plight of model Lara Stone. Although she wears, at most, a U.S. size 4, the fact that she has breasts means that — well, nobody in fashion calls her 'fat' exactly, but...
The way Stone is talked about in this Vogue story — cover line "When Size 4 Is Too Big: A Curvy Model's Struggle To Fit In" — you'd almost think she was a plus-size model instead of a girl with the highly typical (for a straight-size model) measurements 33"-24"-35". Writes Rebecca Johnson:
'What they say is 'curvy,' but you know they mean fat," says Lara Stone, who is Dutch and so soft-spoken, you have to lean forward to hear what she's saying. However, she enunciates that word — fat — clearly and forcefully, as if it were caught at the back of her throat. The word hovers over the din of the hotel lobby where we are seated in downtown Manhattan, laced with irony and just a tinge of bitterness.
So that's 11 rather straightforward words from Stone, and 59 words from Vogue about what Stone said. (I guess when a word, having at last dislodged itself from the subject's throat, literally flies out of her mouth and floats in the air of a hotel lobby, it requires special treatment. Did she fling her arms in the air, too, Vogue? Because limb amputation sounds almost as painful as reading that sentence!) Anyway:
Worse than being called fat is a gaggle of stylists whispering in a corner after you've been trying on clothes for ten minutes. "That," she says, "is when I know I'm about to be canceled."
And even now that her position in fashion's firmament ought to be secure, given she has earned Karl Lagerfeld's favor, worked with the world's top photographers, and been on multiple covers of British, French, and American Vogue, she still encounters narrow-minded folks who make her feel like "the odd one out." "I was on a shoot just last week," Stone told Johnson, "and the stylist took out this tight corset dress and said, 'Here, put it on,' and I was like, 'Who are you kidding?' There was no way, so that was very rude of her. It's like, come on, she's a woman; whether you're buying jeans at the mall or wearing couture, you know what it's like for clothes not to fit. It's not an easy kind of rejection, because it's very personal. It's you, your body. You take it to heart."
What I guess a lot of people don't realize is that modeling is just manual labor with fancier clothes. The work is deeply bodily, and therefore the division between you and your work dissolves: everything you wear, how you present yourself, how you walk, every product you put on your face, every haircut, and, mostly, everything you put in your mouth, impacts your career. It is automatically a professional choice, not a personal one. There is no meaningful work/life balance, because your body is your work. Of course, women outside of the modeling industry have long been told that their bodies need to be their "work," too: that we all need to obsess over our arms and abs and thighs and do 30 squats on our lunch breaks and always take the stairs and use the Shake Weight and join gyms and buy athleticwear and Lose 12 lbs Before Sunday. It's just that for models, these imperatives are professional. Living is work. And that can kinda mess with your head.
Stone herself, being unable to budge from what must be her set point weight range with diet and exercise, began taking pills to lose inches. "But they made my heart race," she reports. So she started drinking. Nobody noticed, and her work didn't suffer, but soon she was waking up with the shakes. Stone did a month of rehab in January — the longest she'd spent in one place at a stretch in the two years since her career kicked into hyperdrive, she told British Vogue — and has not had a drink since.
What is elided in these kinds of stories that trumpet Lara Stone's "curves" and proclaim her to be a size 4 — because we all know clothing sizes are meaningful and consistent nation-wide standards, oh wait — is that Stone differs so barely, so incredibly tinily merely, so very little, from the accepted size standard for fashion models. She is slightly shorter, at 5'7", than most runway models, and her measurements are well within fashion's preferred range. While it's undeniable that she has a slightly different body shape than most models, her size is entirely typical of the industry. (Technically, her stated hip measurement, 35", is about 1" larger than the 34" it "should" be for her to model, but there are dozens of other models who have worked, and done the show circuit, with hips of Stone's size.) It's all well and good to call her the "curvy" model, and it is obvious from her runway work and every nude shoot she's ever done that Stone has breasts. When she slings one hip out, like for the photo accompanying this Vogue story, sure, she can indeed look kind of voluptuous. (When she doesn't, she doesn't: Would you call her the "curvy" one in this Givenchy campaign?) These stories never make clear that Stone veers from the accepted modeling standards only every so slightly, and that booking her for a shoot or a campaign is not some revolutionary act of body diversity. If anything, the fact that she is seen as a different kind of model for her size is the ultimate indictment of the fashion industry's standards. But Vogue would never make that point.
An item on Fashionista this morning points to two actual plus-size models, Crystal Renn and Amy Lemons, who are both busy working in Europe. Renn — whose struggle with anorexia and exercise bulimia is documented in her recently released memoir, Hungry — apparently went blonde for a shoot for Italian Vanity Fair, and Lemons, who also began her career as a straight-size model, is working for French Elle with the photographer Tesh. Her spread is apparently over 30 pages, and includes cover tries. Lara Stone is a fantastic model. I love a lot of her work. But seeing a plus-size model on the cover of a major fashion magazine, now that would be a real sign of change. Yes, plus-size models are still models, and the fashion industry still makes its money presenting women with images to aspire to that are, for most, unattainable and unrealistic. But if we can change the parameters of the beauty standard even just enough to accommodate tall, enviably proportioned young women who don't have 23" waists, then I'd still call that progress of a kind.
Fittingly, Fashionista asks: Italian Vanity Fair and French Elle are great, but where are the U.S. magazines? Aside from Glamour's admirable commitment to using plus-size models consistently in fashion spreads from issue to issue, and V's forthcoming January special issue, what is going at American Vogue, Elle, and Harper's Bazaar? Will we see a plus-size model in a fashion spread in an American magazine that isn't trudging through the clichés of its obligatory annual Love Your Shape issue? I have a feeling — call it blogger's intuition — that it might happen sooner than you think.