The accepted standard for female beauty in Western societies is a woman or a girl who, no matter what her other physical attributes are, must also be thin. Kate Moss, Angelina Jolie, Carolyn Murphy, Miranda Kerr, even Lady Gaga are all thin and are considered so by the most stringent standards that one can apply to this thinness. Their talent has absolutely nothing to do with their dress sizes, and exists apart from what the scales say when they step on them. These women, the three models–who are celebrated for their beauty alone and perhaps for how much the camera can do with them–aside, would not be as celebrated if they were not as thin as they are. If clothes did not look good on them, from sweat pants to bikinis. Every leading designer and fashion house in the world will say that the reason they employ thin women is because clothes look better on thin women. That the drape of fabric falls more gracefully over a thin frame; that thin necks, square shoulders and flat stomachs create silhouettes which show clothes in their most alluring forms.
Even veteran designers like John Galliano, who is haute-couture’s froemost costumer, choses thin girls to wear his clothes when they walk down his runways. I reference Mr. Galliano, because I would think that the theatricality of his shows and the wildly creative genius of his clothes, would make up for the non-thinness of the women wearing then. If the purpose of couture is a celebration of sartorial beauty, and if there was no existing standard of what female beauty is considered to be, would designers chose not-thin women to be the mediums for their creations?
This piece is not about what female beauty is, but about what the standard for beauty in Western societies is. From high fashion and glamour–couture, popular music, film–to merely parochial representations of fashion and glamour–women newscasters, women on television shopping channels–we are simply shown that not-thin women are not beautiful. Will the number of people who do believe that not-thin women are beautiful, even were their opinion a majority one, ever be in positions from which they are likely to change or influence this standard?
Immanuel Kant, is his Critique Of Judgement, says, “Now, where the question is whether something is beautiful, we do not want to know, whether we, or any one else, are, or even could be, concerned in the real existence of the thing, but rather what estimate we form of it on mere contemplation (intuition or reflection).” I wonder if the “estimate we form of” whether a woman is beautiful or not can be freed from the images of the women with which popular culture is glutted — the images of women who are thin like the women I mention at the beginning. The women who conform to this upheld standard of beauty, of glamour. Can there just be “mere contemplation” in an age and in societies in which the opinions people hold come to them not from what they perceive, but from what is perceived for them and then given to them?
Gabourney Sidibe, the actress who was nominated for an Academy Award in 2009 for her role in Precious, has so far been one of the few actresses — persons who are part of the world of glamour and beauty — who has embraced her “not-thinness” and hasn’t made a huge effort to slim down, though even she has spoken about losing weight for health reasons. The truth is that it would probably be in the best interests of her commercial appeal were she to do so. Jennifer Hudson, who won an Academy Award for Dream Girls and was not-thin when she won, has now gone to not-quite-thin-enough and is a spokesperson for Jenny Craig. Queen Latifah, whose early career took off, even though she was not-thin, is now also a Jenny Craig spokeswomen. The apologia of these women for their not being not-thin anymore, is that they lost weight to be healthier and to feel good about themselves. To feel good is important, because only the direst misanthropes do not depend on being accepted to feel good. So does losing weight make these actresses feel good about themselves because they live a in culture where thinness is celebrated and is held to be one of highest considerations when judging beauty? Or does being thin, really mean being healthy? Would Jennifer Hudson feel the same need to lose weight if she lived in Mauritania where girls are force-fed (the practice is called leblouh) prior to being married because stretch marks are considered marks of beauty and the fatter a woman is the sexier she is considered to be and therefore is more accepted?
Kate Moss was never not-thin before she became Kate Moss, Jennifer Hudson was never thin before she became Jennifer Hudson. Jennifer Hudson should not have to change her appearance to conform to a standard any more than Kate Moss should have to change hers if she were in Mauritania. The fact that the people who employ Jennifer Hudson, feel that she must be thin is a reflection of this standard, and also of the not-thin people like she, who help to perpetuate that standard by becoming thin.