Artwork by Rob Cubbon
We all know beauty is superficial. It comes, it goes, but our fixation on it never wanes. What does change though, is its modish shape. Over the past seventy years it has altered dramatically; with the death of Monroe and the early 60s we saw the fuller figures of the 40s and 50s give birth to a more boyish build. Whether this was due to Twiggy’s swinging 60s success, the introduction of the (impractically proportioned and annoying) Barbie doll, or the unabashed skimpiness of the 70s sexual revolution - emaciation was in.
The elitist world of high fashion has always been taken with a pinch of salt, its extravagance fondly ridiculed through the likes of Ugly Betty and Absolutely Fabulous. But somewhere along the line it stopped being a joke. Being thin was no longer just stylish, it was essential. Skinny women smirked down at you from billboards, music videos, films; celebrities were attacked violently by gossip magazines for daring to show a single roll of skin. With the technology boom and high fashion’s integration with high street brands, society screamed that if you weren’t thin, you weren’t allowed in.
Amongst the generation of anorexia devotees and shattered self-confidence, people noticed. Some designers began to creep from size 0, to 6, to 10 on the catwalks, spatters of campaigns for plus-size models appeared in Vogue, Elle, Vanity Fair, Paris Fashion Week. The British Plus Size Fashion Weekend surfaced as an event in its own right. Some high street brands began stocking plus-sizes, then making exclusive plus-size collections, competitions, events, many of which are invading the streets of Leeds this summer, concerned not with obesity or mindless vanity but with celebrating the body you’re dealt. Whilst generations vomited miserably through a dark age of razor-sharp cheekbones and thigh-gaps, something bigger has been undulating beneath the surface; whether you like it or not, The Curve is back.
Crystal Renn is an idol of the movement, becoming the first official ‘plus-size’ supermodel to re-grace the catwalks of high fashion. While her weight fluctuates her beauty remains eternal and absolute. Tantalised with the whisper of ‘supermodel potential’ at fourteen, she suffered through four years of anorexia nervosa, before she too gave the world of conventional high fashion the finger and instead embraced The Curve.
Beth Ditto is fat for the sake of being fat, not to impress you. She became the face of Evans in 2009. She posed nude on the cover of NME and LOVE magazines, every alabaster roll a stark contrast to her choppy pink bob and black pout. She’s a far cry from the usual model insects skittering down the catwalk. Not that she scorns those either – Ditto and Moss are known comrades; after the initial apprehension surrounding their introduction, Ditto broke the ice with the cheerful greeting “You skinny bitch.” A notorious activist for all that is unconventional – transgender rights, transsexual rights, gay rights and a defiant lesbian feminist, her I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude leaves your emotions in confusing tatters somewhere between awe and terror.
We cannot ignore the likes of Lizzie Miller and Robyn Lawley– both shining examples of how beauty does not exist in bones alone.
Whilst the clamour of fashion and beauty rampages around plus-size women, there is only silence and a lone tumbleweed drifting sadly by the spot where the movements male counterpart should be. Despite his infamous renouncement of all things curvy, Karl Lagerfeld himself was in the decidedly heavier bracket of men. Complete with his iconic white ponytail and eternal sunglasses, and as much as would hate to hear it, he works it like no other.
And then there’s Monroe – obviously.
Jean-Paul Gaultier is an haute couture warrior flourishing the plus-size banner in fashion. Using the likes of Ditto, Renn, and Velvet D’amour throughout his collections, his most memorable feats are Paris Fashion Week in 2006 and his 2010 A/W campaign, and yes, the show did include 3D glasses. Gaultier’s known for pushing the boundaries in fashion - you remember that pointy-boob thing Madonna wore that time? Gaultier. Though some people complain that designers use bigger women for the shock factor, the only shocking thing about these models is that they’ve not been used before.
And that is far from all. Zac Posen blended plus-size models with the regular aesthetic without so much as a bat of the eyelid in PFW 2010, with added sentiment “For women who love life, and all the best things in it; sex, friendship, food.” Murmured rumours that Marc Jacobs is designing a plus-size collection ripple through the fashion houses. The second edition of Pulp Fashion Week just shimmered through the fashion capital of the world in May; Organised by Histoire De Courbes, Pulp translates (ish) to luscious fruit, celebrating the succulence of the women the show boasts. Designer Daniella Pearl and Emmy winner Melissa McCarthy have announced their new exclusively plus-size collection Pearl just days ago. Meisel and Afanador, both high profile fashion photographers habitually shoot with Renn.
This is just a sprinkling of many names in high fashion taking the cautious baby-steps back to emancipation, not emaciation, in beauty.
The high street crows Torrid, and Lane Bryant as forerunners, creating designs in plus-sizes as well as exclusive plus-size ranges, leaving the rest of high-street retailers pouting and scrambling to catch up.
Blowing the snide thin-only culture out of the not-even-proverbial water a few days ago, SwimSuitsForAll recreated the 50th anniversary of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition - using wonderfully voluptuous women. This cheeky publicity stunt brought the brand and The Curve under the nose of the world - the brand adamantly refuse to lump either the models or the range with the clunky term ‘plus-size’, instead identifying the range Sexy at Every Curve.
Shareefa’s timeless fro, nineties shades and 40’s inspired white two-piece sets off her mahogany complexion and boasts curves to weep over. I must confess, I myself am slightly in love with Shareefa’s unapologetic monument of an arse (and yes, she does do squats).
The Curve wouldn’t be where it is now without the boisterous voices of the women behind it. I had the pleasure of interviewing Leeds based self-professed plus-size blogger Sarah Hoyes. Hoyes is the event organiser for the imminent Plus-Size Pre-Party (#PSPREPARTY), to be hosted at our own Belgrave Music Hall on the 22nd June, sponsored by PlusNorth and SimplyBe. When I asked what she wanted from the event, she replied thoughtfully; “I basically want to provide an opportunity for plus-size ladies to come together, share experiences and learn some things.” We can expect to see SimplyBe parading their 2014 summer range using full-figured women to flaunt the collection, live tutorials from MUA Beckie Stirk and BBC Hair contestant Annie Davies, as well as Pastille Beauty Bar doing dash manicures. Open to bloggers and the public, the event is sure to be a concentrated shot of what summer is all about. As if these achievements weren’t enough, Hoyes also has the privilege of being Miss Leeds Curve, our representative for Miss Cocoa Couture’s Miss British Beauty Curve competition, with the pageant to be held in London later this summer. Regardless of her successes, Hoyes has her head screwed on right (classic Northern Lass), evident when I asked her about what she thought of image in todays society; “In all honesty I think as a society, we spend far, far too much time focusing on how people look, and not on the actual people and their achievements.” Too right.
ASOS, already a trooper in the movement, are now launching their new ASOS CURVE collection in collaboration with Models1. Following the explosive success of the company's Instagram competition#MakeMeACurveModel last year, the competition is open to all women boasting hips, tits and bums in a size 18 or over, with the winners to be announced later this July.
PlusNorth itself is hosting its own plus-size event in Leeds’ own Baracoa, just off Call Lane, following the triumph of the event last year. Sponsored again by the likes of Topsy Curvy, Yours, and SimplyBe, the event is open to everyone. Kicking off in late August, with exhibitions, catwalks, and models, the event that was in 2013 nominated by the British Plus-Size Events for both “Best Achievement” and “Best Fashion Event” will without a doubt finish off our curvy summer with a big fat gorgeous bang.
But, people cry in outrage, wielding their figurative pitchforks in defence of the world they know, applauding bigger women as role models promotes bad health and obesity!
They are right, I realise in horror, as I dart to the nearest toilet to regurgitate my eight calorie lunch of three carrot sticks: better to stick to the culture we have now, where the models are just the very epitome of glowing health and mental stability.
It’s not that Mossian models aren’t stunning – their ethereal, waiflike features can undeniably be breath-taking. However, having this as a thinspirational prototype of all that beauty, fashion, and style can be is an ugly mutation in the wrong direction. The Curveolution is not there to promote obesity, but equality: it’s there because it deserves to be.
Nothing quite says fuck you to mainstream culture as much as celebrating exactly what it wants us to ignore; with bigger, curvier women coming at you from every angle in high fashion, iconic culture and high street style, maybe we can finally let go of Moss’s worldly proverbs and re-embrace the revolution of The Curve.