What does 'bigger' and 'sturdy' look like? The Sartorialist wants to show you

Monday, 28 March 2011

Making regular appearances on my Twitter timeline since this afternoon: the latest post from The Sartorialist.

He spotlights a woman who is, apparently, 'one of the crop of new bloggers' (sorry, I'm not an obsessive follower of fashion blogs so I don't know anything more about her) - incidentally, without bothering to link her. Not only is she a fledgling blogger, she's also special because she's a 'bigger, curvier girl than most of the other bloggers who you see in the the press and tend to represent the genre'.

Hear that, Scott? That's the sound of a slow handclap because I don't think anyone can quite believe that you just made a point of describing the woman in those pictures as 'bigger', before referring to her 'sturdy' legs and the way that it's okay, she's balancing out their proportions with big shoes because, you know, those legs would overwhelm dainty footwear.

Now I don't really take offence at him having called her 'curvy' as some people have done (including many commenters on the blog, who feel he is using 'curvy' as a euphemism for 'fat' and that the words he has used in the post are negative words - of course they only are if you make them so). We see her side-on. It's kind of difficult to tell what her body shape is so it's pointless to discuss it. Different people have different perceptions of body size and shape so all I will say is that she's a woman who's slimmer than the average woman.

So what is it which has bothered me so much about the post? It's the description of her as 'bigger than other bloggers', which is ridiculous. In my only other real foray into blogging about fashion I spent some time discussing how in general, the fashion bloggers which get the most attention from mainstream media, the sponsorships and the clothing deals are the very young, white, thin, moneyed ones. I also pointed out that for those who care and who want to participate, there are thousands of blogs out there which are inclusive regarding age, gender, race and size, which are run by plus-size women and women in their 40s. Blogs that don't treat anything which deviates from the usual formula as something worthy of a special mention, like fashion magazine editors putting out a super-inclusive 'curvy issue' or 'black issue' once every few years and patting themselves on the back for months about just how revolutionary they're being.

So while Scott's right that the big-name bloggers tend to look a certain way, it's not like the rest of them don't exist. And it's hardly as if Angelika's look represents a major change compared to these big name bloggers, is it? It's extremely telling that all those years of photographing the beautiful and the stylish have left him believing that her body shape and her look represents a radical departure from the norm. If he hadn't made such a point of discussing her size I wouldn't even have noticed the supposed 'difference'.

My question is, why comment on it at all? I like street style blogs. I like them best when they are a real representation of the city they focus on, regardless of how conventionally attractive, thin or young the subject is. If the blog's about the clothes, comments on the subject's body type don't need to come into it, much less such patronising comments - the 'sturdy', the part about the shoes, which leaves you wondering what Scott really thinks about how Angelika looks and why he really felt the need to discuss it. After all, this is the man whose equally well-known partner has described him as her "weight loss coach".

He has said in the past that 'older' and 'larger' women are often reluctant for him to photograph them, which may well be the case, but it does leave me wondering when there's no shortage of them on plenty of other street style blogs.

Furthermore, what's up with the policing regarding what people should and shouldn't wear? So Angelika, 'bigger' than other bloggers, needs a certain type of shoe in order for her legs to look okay? The notion that you should not wear various items of clothing and footwear because of your body type is one of the most tedious things out there. I know from past discussions online that one of the things that never fails to get people riled is the sort of 'advice' from magazines and websites which states that wearing clothes is all about 'hiding bad bits' and making your body into the most acceptable version of its natural shape possible. You know, creating the illusion of cleavage, or longer legs, or smaller hips, or making sure you choose jeans to balance out your proportions. So many bloggers spend so much time fighting these messages and being proud to wear what they want and express themselves through whatever clothes they want, yet the biggest names out there are still perpetuating this crap, these 'rules'.

Probably the worst aspect of it all was the fact that, as the negative comments poured in, Scott decided to do a post edit which increased the 'patronising' factor tenfold, describing to us as it does the way he sees the word 'curvy' and how it's totally okay, ladies, to be referred to as such. The edit finishes thus:

"Last week I did a post of older women every day, and I was proud of that. I am proud to be a blog that is showing women of different sizes."

You go, Scott. Keep being proud of the fact that you had a special 'older women week'.

I know, I know. The blog really does feature subjects of more advanced years, but more often than not it'll be older men that you'll see. And older men with slightly more diverse body types, while the older women are still without exception thin. His posts featuring women with the more, ahem, classic fashion blogger physique never include commentary on their size or shape. Does this show his singling out of Angelika in today's post as a good thing, or a bad thing? If you want to showcase diversity, just do it. Don't be self-congratulatory and patronising. Don't make it a one off and make such a big deal of it that you leave us in no doubt that it probably is just a one-off. Don't tie yourself in knots trying to sound less offensive and dig yourself into a deeper hole by inviting your readers to pass judgement on the size and shape of your subject in a way that you never would usually.

"Help me describe this young lady without using the word 'normal', but in a way that addresses her body size..."

Now I know that commenters being judgmental is just what happens on a lot of fashion blogs (including on this particular post - "yes, the jeans do make her legs look chubbier") but you don't have to ASK for it, as if you're talking about some sort of exhibit at a show, a woman whose size and shape needs to be 'addressed' like some sort of oddity. Help me describe this young lady so that my judging of her will be done in a way which is acceptable to you, my fans. It's not good however you look at it.

Image: Wikimedia Commons


Maria said...

Interesting post. I'll have to check him out.
I agree with you on your comment about not being able to wear certain clothes/hiding and creating illusions. This is one of the reasons I don't like Gok's method on How to Look Good Naked (although I love him in other ways) which is where he makes every woman an hourglass figure, as if that's the only acceptable body shape for a woman! It's bizarre.

Zoë said...

Great post Hannah! It was totally unnecessary to refer to her body shape in such confining terms. He is affixing his image of her as 'different' to himself and as a result to his readers. I noticed some male readers express how they preferred 'curvy' women and had no problem with the term. Hah, when has a male ever been described as curvy? And if they were, I think they would have a problem with that.

Natasha Bailie said...

Love your post Hannah! Totally agree with everything you said and whatever way you look at it, even if you think it has all blown up he would never of said that about a man! Why is it ok to talk about women like this?

Anna said...

Great post. Yet another reason to keep the Sartorialist off my blog reader.

Natalie said...

I love Scott's photos but for a long time I've thought he should stick to what he knows. His commentary on his subjects is often clumsy and awkward and this is just another example.

sarah said...

i love this post, hannah. i absolutely detest the sartorialist and what seems to be his attitude to fashion/women/life. to me, the fact that he referred to that woman as 'bigger' and 'sturdy' just shows how completely out of touch he is with the real world.

Mary said...

This is without question one of the best analysis I have read of the situation. I can't believe he actually referred to a girl as anything at all. I don't think he needed to pat himself on the back and point out that he finally shot someone who wasn't thinthinthin. Sigh.

I hope Garance slapped him.

hila said...

fantastic, I'm glad I read this. There's a part of me that thinks that small "controversies" such as this one simply highlight a wider issue: the lack of reality that infiltrates the insular fashion world. I get it that fashion is supposed to include elements of dream-like untouchability. After all, one of the reasons so many people love fashion magazines is that they present beautiful imagery that is different from everyday life. But really, there has to be some perspective to acccompany this. There also has to be some other way to talk about women's bodies without resorting to categories and placing women within them. It's funny that men are raely scrutinised with the same level of intensity as women. Like you, I don't know why he even made her body an issue, she seems pretty lovely to me.

Gosh, it's such a relief to read such an intelligent post!

Anonymous said...

great post! when i read that schuman post i felt really uncomfortable and strangely upset but couldn't put my finger on it. you nailed it! thank you!

Amie K said...

great post, a really refreshing read.
I'm a new follower, I found your blog through another I follow. I would love it if you coulc check out my blog too :)


xoxo Amie xoxo

chuck n. said...

i really enjoyed reading this post!

however, i do believe this touchy subject has totally blown out of proportions.

i disagree with some of the commenters' statements where they said the word "curvy" is simply a euphemism for fat. in my opinion (of a 16 y/o guy who has lived with women his whole life), every woman is curvy. no matter the weight, the curves exist. and again, no matter the weight, the curves are beautiful.

i'm probably only maundering right now, but i believe he made the totally useless commentary on her shape just to point out the fact that the typical blogger look isn't the only one that exists in the fashion blogosphere. like you, if not for the remark, i would have never noticed her "new" body shape.

scott should leave words to garance.

hopefully, this comment made a bit of sense

TheKiwiBex said...

My main issue with his post was that he felt the need to make any comment at all, especially since he rarely provides commentary on his 'subjects'.

However, I did also take issue with his use of the word 'curvy', not because I think he was deliberately using that word to imply that she was fat, but simply because, like it or not, it is a common euphemism for 'plus-sized' so he should have been aware of the storm he would create.

I completely agree that his post edit made the situation even worse, and came across as a sort of non-apology - "I'm sorry if you were offended, but what would you suggest I do". His last line especially ("I don't want to lose the potential power of the post by being caught up in wordplay.") was incredibly reductive and patronising, suggesting that anyone who took issue with what he wrote was just playing a nitpicky game of semantics rather than having any valid point!

Caitlin Rose said...

whoo, good post! I totally agree with everything you said. and It is no wonder that larger women don't like posing for him, I wouldn't, I don't want my body commented on on a blog that has such a wide readership. There's nothing that bugs me more than magazines and t.v. and everyone telling every woman that she can only wear a wrap dress! what if we don't want to wear wrap dresses!


Caitlin Rose

Leanne said...

xi"like fashion magazine editors putting out a super-inclusive 'curvy issue' or 'black issue' once every few years and patting themselves on the back for months about just how revolutionary they're being."

arghblargh. this really gets on my nerves as well. it's just like, hmm, wait - the world at large is made up of all sorts of people, not just thinwhiteaffluent people.

and yeah, i don't like the attitude he took with this commetary. super condescending.


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