Long have I railed about the fact our glossy magazines are myopic when featuring thin models and celebrities who are nothing like their readers.
Even when a glossy does photograph a bigger woman – such as Vogue featuring size 16 singer Adele on its cover – they make sure not to show anything below her ample bosom. Given that the average British woman is at least a size 14, it seems insulting and curiously old-fashioned to ignore her so absolutely.
We have seen flesh occasionally, such as when US Glamour dared to show the spare tyre on plus-size model Lizzie Miller, but this is not the norm.
Magazines occasionally feature bigger girls not to celebrate inches on hips and thighs, but to garner column inches in the press. Bigger women in their pages are the exception, not the norm. The editors, fearful of the wrath of the all-important high-fashion advertisers, soon go scurrying back to using size eight girls or even smaller.
Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman – who is the only normal-size glossy editor I can think of – admitted in an interview recently that even she has little influence to change anything.
Talking about the letter she wrote to designers in 2009 complaining that their “minuscule” sample sizes were forcing editors to use models with “jutting bones” and “no breasts or hips”, she said: “I’m pleased I wrote it. Did it make any difference? I don’t think so. But, at least I tried to do something and… there’s no doubt that to our Western eye, clothes look better on a thinner frame.”
When I edited Marie Claire, I, too, found it nigh-on impossible to widen the diversity of the women we put on the cover and used in fashion shoots.
Early in my tenure, in 1999, I hired the model Daphne Selfe, then in her 70s, for a yoga wear fashion shoot. While I got away with using Daphne inside the magazine, when I wanted to put a 40-something star, singer Sade, on the cover, I was vetoed.
Yet, a “fat” woman is even more of an anathema than an older one. In June 2000, when I put the then curvy Sophie Dahl on the cover with an un-airbrushed spare tyre, all hell broke loose. I was sacked soon after for my experiment. So, it is a very brave woman, indeed, who decides to publish a magazine devoted to women who are a size 14 and above.
Yet someone has. Called Slink, published bi-monthly and costing £3.85 (about R48), it is 100 pages of fashion and beauty devoted to the fuller-figured woman. The editor is 26-year-old Rivkie Baum. As a teen, she was a size 22, mainly because “I didn’t stop eating”, but this didn’t stop her falling in love with fashion.
“I loved the Evans teenage range, which I wish they would bring back, but mostly it was so hard, so frustrating,” she says. “I would scour Camden Market looking for clothes that were big enough.”
Did she read glossy magazines? “I read all of them. I loved the images and really wanted to fit in. But, there was nothing for young women who were bigger. The only answer was for me to get smaller.”
Rivkie is now a size 18 and happy that way. When younger and not able to find anything to wear, she decided to train to be a fashion designer. She studied pattern-cutting and design at the London College of Fashion. But, again, she was excluded.
“We would cut patterns using a standard block, which was a small size 10. In four years of study, do you want to know how long we spent learning to make a pattern to make a garment that would fit a woman above a size 10? One afternoon.”
Her dream is to design her own label, but in the meantime, she is putting all her efforts into the magazine. She has just given up her job in sales to work fulltime on the publication, which she launched online a year ago before deciding to take the plunge into print. She says Slink is aspirational, not warts and all – referring to the Glamour photograph of Lizzie Miller, which she feels was exploitative, sensational and designed to get publicity.
“I think the Lizzie Miller shoot was crass, as was the shoot in Heat featuring a naked and curvaceous Gemma Collins, The Only Way Is Essex star. We are not voyeuristic.”
Rivkie has banned “straight” models (the industry term for girls size 10 and below) from her magazine. This poses a problem, given this means she can’t fill her pages with snapshots from the catwalk. To get round this, she has commissioned a fashion illustrator to “supersize” the catwalk looks, showing exactly how they would appear on a fuller figure.
Alongside these drawings are all the pieces that can be bought in sizes up to a 30 that will replicate the designer look. “So, the reader feels she is getting the look from the catwalk… and is not made to feel she can’t even try to look like that.”
While I find the columnists a little gauche (for fabulous bigger girls telling it like it is, visit jezebel.com for articles on the futility of dieting and the genetics of obesity), Slink can only be commended.
Of course, a curvaceous woman should not be excluded from the mainstream glossies for advice on how to find a perfect size 22 leather jacket, but until the other magazines wake up to the fact the plus-size fashion market has shot up by 47 percent from 2006 to 2011, Slink is a great addition.
I commend the fact Rivkie has banned “straight” models, and diets and adverts for plastic surgery, something I failed to persuade my publisher to let me do at Marie Claire.
Will she be featuring bikini shoots for summer?
“Of course! And lingerie,” says Rivkie. “But, we will not run a cover line that says, ‘How to get that bikini body’. Over my big, beautiful body.” – Daily Mail