Thursday, September 10, 2009

Feel Good Fridays!

Hey Athenites!

My name is Stephanie, and I am a second-year undergrad at Carleton University. I’m taking a “Bachelor of Public Affairs and Policy Management,” which is a mouthful to explain at cocktail parties. I'm minoring in Development Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies. But more important than the academic stuff is my real passion, which is certainly not writing papers. I’ve been volunteering for environmental and social justice charities, including Amnesty International, for about 5 years now. And one of my other passions is Athena Magazine, which combines four of my favourite things: feminism, writing, activism, and letting other young women know that they are kick-ass contributors to Planet Earth.

“Feel-Good Fridays” are all about celebrating the accomplishments of our fellow activists, appreciating the good things in life, and rejoicing when some progress is made by the confusing machinery of our society. Sometimes the successes are small, but they’re always worth celebrating. Baby steps are still steps in the right direction.

Today’s Feel-Good Friday instalment is most definitely a baby step by women’s mag industry. As we all know, photo-shopped, airbrushed, nip-and-tucked photos are the norm. And sometimes the magazine industry gets some grief about it, but for the most part they continue to do this. The flood of images is simply overwhelming.

But recently, Glamour magazine featured a ground breaking photo of “plus-size” model Lizzie Miller. Now, this photo really shouldn’t be considered groundbreaking—it should be perfectly normal, and it is for billions of women around the globe. But since all models, “plus size” or otherwise, are airbrushed within an inch of their lives, I will take my body-image success stories where I can get them.

For once, we can see reflected in a magazine photograph a woman with recognizable and beautiful shape. The reality is that she is still young, white, blonde, and not at all representative of most of the female population of this earth. But she has a little bit of stomach showing, and that is something I have never seen before in a magazine. I mean, never. It speaks volumes about the images of women in our world when I say that this photo shocked me. My reaction was “WHAT?” Quickly followed by: “WOW. Awesome.”

Magazine readers from all around the world responded enthusiastically to the photo of Miller, flooding Glamour with compliments and encouragement. Glamour’s Editor in Chief, along with the model herself, made an appearance on the talk show circuit and announced that she planned to include more diverse images in the future in Glamour magazine. Hopefully her promise will hold and we will see more of this positive work from other popular women’s magazines.

What’s your take on this now-famous photo? A positive step? Or simply a way for the mag industry to stave off criticism for another month or so?

peace and positivity,


  1. I think it's a positive step, but a small one. It would have been more effective if the model had been a bit fuller-figured.

    I've always been a fan of plus-size models! There's a great site with many images of gorgeous plus-size models here:

    They're all gorgeous!

  2. Well. I it's definitely a positive step, and so I think something could potentially be in motion, here. I think that one small step could lead to a continued movement. (What's that law that you learn in grade eleven physics? Things in motion tend to stay in motion. Something like that, perhaps.)

    Let's also keep in mind that, while it may seem like a small step to us ("us" being, for the most part, individuals who are already actively seeking ways to promote the empowerment of women) it was probably a HUGE step for Glamour Magazine! ...It is, after all, what seems like a completely out-of-character choice for them, and for any fashion magazine!

    Thankfully, Steph it seems you've indicated that the general public has been giving a lot of positive feedback about Glamour's featuring of Lizzie Miller. This is GREAT. I think, if the magazine industry hears enough voices and sees enough positive feedback, they can't help but continue to feature more and more diverse images. After all, they are first and foremost a business.

    Let's not underestimate the power of the public voicing their opinion. Especially when it is in the manner of positive feedback (i.e. "we like what you did, KEEP DOING IT") rather than a request for change (i.e. prior to this Miller feature it would have been "hey Glamour, why don't you try changing things up a little and having some more natural women?) businesses are pretty good at responding to the public's voice.

    So let's voice our opinion and keep these positive steps in motion!

  3. Well, it's definitely a step forward. I've seen the occasional curvier model in magazines. I shrug most of it off as gimmicky, because they are tools used to project the "buy our products and you'll be happy with your jiggly tummy" or "buy our products because we're brave enough to use icky HEALTHY BODIES in our advertising" idea that is so fashionable right now. The fact that the use of this image was not (from what I gather) an attempt to play to that market is something new to me, and I'm happy that Glamour would consider slipping this in, but it doesn't surprise me at all. It's not a risky move on their part. They know that readers are going to eat it all up because most of their readers more closely resemble Lizzie Miller than they do the flat-bellied vixens or angular ubermodels gracing every other page.

    I think what ultimately bothers me is that this kind of photo is so rare that it sparks a maelstrom of applause. That it has to be announced whenever a woman with more body fat than is absolutely necessary to sustain life shows up in a magazine. Even the fact that this photo had to be in a "LOVE YOUR BODY" article bugs me because of what it implies. Why aren't full-figured girls being slipped into photographs illustrating the steamy sex articles? Why not put a size 8 or 10 woman in an article about exercise or nutrition? Why is the only place for them in articles about coming to terms with your flaws? Why do they need to be excused? It feels almost like a self-congratulatory move on Glamour's part. They put a small photo of a woman who is laughably considered "plus-size" by the fashion industry and bask in the glow of endless praise because they are just. so. enlightened.

    So yeah, it bugs me a little.

    I don't think that real women will ever be the norm in advertising. On levels we can't really control, we are innately attracted to ads featuring what we want to be. The pros know that, and that's why even Dove and other trailblazers in the anti-airbrushing movement only use models who are relatively in-shape and facially pretty. It's more variety than I'm used to seeing, and I appreciate it immensely, but I am well aware that they're following a formula. They've clued into the perfect balance between what we strive to look like and what we feel is realistically attainable.

    That said, I continue to cheer when I see the media taking baby steps towards accepting different bodies as being equal to the typical model frame. In spite of the cynicism I've been spewing, I have hope that the media of the future won't be quite as damaging to the culture it shapes. I think it's possible to build a media where curves don't cause such commotion, but it's going to take more than an over-hyped shot of a gorgeous woman who happens to have shapely thighs and a tiny bit of pooch. Lizzie may have made a three-inch-tall appearance on page 194, but ten bucks says the cover of the issue features an airbrushed-to-the-nines model and promises of weight loss tips.

  4. props to Hannah. well thought out.


    still think it's a good step though. And I still think that good steps will keep in motion of properly encouraged by the us....