Lisa Armstrong argues that the fashion industry's embrace of Beth Ditto as of late is a clear sign that perhaps "fat girls are finally trendy." But is Ditto's recent popularity really a sign of change?
Armstrong explores the "Beth Ditto Effect" in a piece that praises the fashion industry for their embrace of Ditto while questioning their motives behind it. Armstrong notes that Ditto is "fashion's mascot this nano-second," being spotted at fashion shows, placed on the cover of Love magazine, and being celebrated by the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, who often has less than flattering words for larger-sized women.
And while it's important for fashion to embrace and celebrate a myriad of shapes, Armstrong notes, one can't help but wonder if Ditto's presence is really making a difference: "Designers will continue to stop at size 14 (some at size 12) because that's how it works. And big women will continue to feel alienated by fashion," Armstrong writes. And with Vogue pushing a shape issue that promises styles for "Women Sized 0-20", things still look fairly bleak for women who go beyond Size 20 to be represented by major fashion labels and magazines.
I am a bit torn on this: while I think Ditto's contribution to the fashion world is important, most notably for her undying confidence, love for her body, and willingness to show the world that yes, larger women can be sexy, stylish, and confident, I often feel a bit strange when I see a picture of Ditto next to Karl Lagerfeld, who insists upon pointing at her in every photograph I've seen them in together, which just gives off a weird, "See? I can be friends with non-rail-thin people" signal.
The point here is this: if the fashion world is going to embrace Beth Ditto, then it also has to be willing to embrace other Size 20 plus women; not only on the runways but off. Otherwise, Ditto's inclusion reeks of tokenism; the idea that being a larger woman is "trendy", like a certain print or a type of shoe, is a dangerous message designed to paint Beth Ditto as a novelty, someone to be temporarily celebrated because she's not like the other models and then forgotten when the next big thing comes along, instead of someone to be celebrated because she represents a different ideal, and the notion that all shapes and sizes need to be embraced by the industry.
Ditto herself has spoken out about the hypocrisy of the industry; in 2007, she responded to her image being used to sell TopShop clothing as such: "I don't think it's fair to put my face somewhere where they would never let me in there to wear their clothes. If they want our music they've got to actually do something to earn it. I can get money anywhere, I don't need your money unless you're going to do it my way. They don't want to dress people that look like me, that have a normal body, a bigger body, whatever. I mean I don't really know why they want The Gossip to do things for them, I don't understand because if they saw me in the street they'd never give me the time of day."
One hopes that Ditto's presence on the fashion scene will, indeed, lend a voice to those who never get the time of day, at least in terms of being represented in the fashion world. The spotlight is on her; it will be interesting to see how the story plays out before the curtain falls and fashion finds another temporary hero.
Beth Ditto Vs. TopShop [Too Fat For Fashion]
The Beth Ditto Effect: Are Fat Girls Finally Trendy? [Guardian]