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Curve Ball

2011 March 30

This should be simply a lovely photo of a lovely young woman in kick ass heels and an awesome jacket. It IS a lovely photo of a lovely young woman in kick ass heels and an awesome jacket. However, it is also the center of controversy this week as bloggers and commenters debate the issue of body type.

This photo appeared on The Sartorialist Monday morning. Don’t get me wrong–Scott is a spectacular photographer, and he has a singular eye for fashion photography. His taste doesn’t always echo mine, but that’s what I appreciate about him and it’s why I read his blog–it’s something a little different from all of the other cookie-cutter style blogs where everyone is wearing the same trends or showing pictures from the same collections. But tempers flared when he referred to this woman (an Italian with her own blog) as “curvy.”

All negative connotations aside, I think calling someone “curvy” is fine. I consider my own body type curvy, and I understand that this doesn’t mean I’m fat or overweight. I believe that this is what Scott himself meant when he used that word to describe his subject. However, when commenters expressed concern, Scott updated the post to say, in part, “I get emails all the time from self-professed curvy girls who want to see representations of their size on the site. What sucks is that when I try to put a photograph up to talk about these issues, the post is hijacked over the political correctness of the words.” While he has a point, I wonder why the woman’s body needs to be described at all. The Sartorialist, after all, is a blog about fashion and personal style. Of course, the way you wear clothing is affected by your body type, but this is nowhere near the most important or central issue–the focus should be on the overall effect, how the person carries themselves and expresses themselves through what they’re wearing.

What do you all think of this mini-controversy? Should body type figure at all into discussions about fashion and style, or should we finally be ready to accept that everyone has different bodies, and that the types of bodies normally portrayed in media and fashion are nowhere near what you see on the street every day?

11 Responses Post a comment
  1. March 30, 2011

    Two things.

    1. I would have guessed that people who were angry about the word “curvy” being used to describe this woman in the photo would be more angry about it not being the correct adjective for her. I don’t see much in the way of curves. There’s a hint of an ass curve, I guess, but from the side how much can you really tell?

    2. I normally wouldn’t think of “curvy” being a politically incorrect or rude way to describe a woman, except when I was buying a pair of jeans from The Gap a few months back, I tried on several styles. One kind fit me better than the others. I gleefully looked at the label to forever burn their style name into my memory. They were called Curvy. I got a little paranoid then, because I thought maybe this was The Gap code for fat, and I didn’t think I was fat, and if I was, then screw them and their jeans! So I guess I’m saying, if a person told me I was curvy I’d be all, “Thanks, hot stuff” but when a company says it, I instantly become suspicious that they’re using it passive aggressively.

  2. March 30, 2011

    He also described her as “sturdy but beautiful,” which to me suggests that it’s kind of surprising that someone who’s curvier could be attractive. And like you mentioned, he focuses a lot on her body and how her clothes work with it, as opposed to just saying that she has kickass style, like he would for anyone else. I don’t think it was intended to be a negative post in any way, but it’s a huge example of how different body types aren’t 100% accepted in fashion.

  3. Derrick permalink
    March 30, 2011

    “I get emails all the time from self-professed curvy girls who want to see representations of their size on the site.”

    This is a problem. Ugh. Just this quote is bad. He thinks she’s a “bigger” girl based on the context of his first sentence. She’s not curvy, and she’s definitely not a full-figured woman. Not. Even. Alittlebit.

    To be honest, I was over The Sartorialist awhile ago. I actually think I gave up on it when The Catorialist came out. While he’s always choosing interesting fashion, it doesn’t answer the real question of ‘What is fashion?’ I think that’s a problem with 99% of fashion editorial today. Oh, and this is all personal opinion and worth the paper it was printed on.

  4. March 30, 2011

    I am not 100% sold on the idea that we shouldn’t comment on the size of women’s bodies in fashion. it kind of reminds me of the idea of people saying about race “oh we should be color-blind!” except that’s not the way the world works, and race is gonna affect people’s lives even when you pretend it doesn’t. and some people WANT to keep that attribute as a part of their identity.

    that said, I do think it can get kind of objectifying sometimes, especially in this case. and I agree with TJ that the biggest problem is with this guy’s definition of curvy. it’s not even whether or not she’s big or small or medium, it’s that… are there actually any curves anywhere? cos I don’t see any.

  5. Emily permalink
    March 30, 2011

    Even Scott’s update bothered me – he’s fixated on finding a word or way to describe women who are larger than fashion models. I get that he doesn’t want to use the word “normal” because there’s no such thing as a normal body. But like you said, the real problem is the need to even qualify her great fashion sense as appropriate for her body type. He doesn’t do that with his typical subjects, and he shouldn’t have to at all – just let the beautiful photos speak for themselves!

    His reference to last week’s focus on older women last week was interesting. Yes, you can (and should?) dress for your size, the same way you can (and should!) dress for your age. But the point of The Sartorialist isn’t to give fashion advice. It’s to showcase men and women with impeccable personal style, and to inspire the rest of us to seek our own!

  6. Amy G permalink
    March 30, 2011

    If this woman is curvy, then I am obese! (As I’m not obese, she isn’t curvy.)

  7. March 30, 2011

    I found his post, and the subsequent update, to be problematic. Part of the problem of course is that the term curvy has been co-opted to be a politically correct way of saying “overweight” which of course it isn’t. I do think this girl is curvy in the original sense of the word, not in the euphemistic sense. That said, I don’t think her size or shape needed to be brought up at all in his post. One could argue that you can’t discuss style without bringing up body type (I’m not sure I agree but that’s neither here nor there). But the real problem is that he doesn’t do it with his “non-curvy” subjects. It’s as if he just can’t believe his eyes that a woman who’s bigger than his typical subject can have good style so he has to bring it up again and again.

  8. March 30, 2011

    I just feel that the minute we put a label on it, we do it for a pat on the back. It grates me when glamour or cosmo does a fashion spread with a ‘plus sized’ model and they talk about the fact that they used said plus sized model. Um… yay for you? Just do it, don’t just talk big about it.
    Also… the latest h&m publication has a little blurb about the fashion industry getting a cosy attitude because some designers are sending larger models down the runway… Excuse my french but wtf? Cosy? there is a lot of stupid in that issue… ugh

  9. March 31, 2011

    I just had to comment because I’m so excited to find a blog that combines fashion and literature. I don’t have much to add to the discussion about “curvy.”

  10. kyley permalink
    March 31, 2011

    I agree with some people’s comments: the problem for me isn’t the use of the word “curvy” but its mis-use. At least according to this angle/her outfit, this woman isn’t particularly curvy. Of course, I think this is an interesting word that’s pretty loaded and means different things for different people. Sometimes curvy is code for bigger. Sometimes it means someone with hips. Sometimes it means hour glass shape. Some people love it, because it is a positive way to claim one’s body shape. But Scott is clearly using it to imply “bigger” and she’s not. This ends up being really painful for women who are “bigger,” because if this is what we’re supposed to look life and count as curvy–well then we’re still doing it wrong.

    I think talking about body shape *can* be a good thing when talking about fashion. I think to not talk about it is just to ignore the big white elephant in the room. (I like what rebekah said about race.) And it bums me out that Scott read people’s comments as political correctness, in part because I hate that word with a burning passion (it’s the ultimate way to to dismiss people’s real concerns if they are at all political.), but also because I suspect a lot of people were responding out of their very real, lived experiences with their bodies and body image and the vocabulary that surrounds it.

    @TJ: I’m with you on those jeans at The Gap having an unfortunate name! However, I think when they say “curvy” they actually mean just that: someone with hips! I say this because I am not small (size 12/14, who always buys jeans at the gap) but those jeans look terrible on me…because I have no hips or ass.

  11. Mal permalink
    March 31, 2011

    Honestly, I thought the worst thing about the post was him referring to her legs as “sturdy.” My legs have a similar shape (although they are shorter), and there are many words you could use to describe them that didn’t conjure an image of a gelding. “Muscular,” for a start.

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