Italian Vogue’s Curvy Cover…Is this continued objectification?

So the feminist blogosphere is talking about the “plus-size” models on the cover of Italian Vogue.  This year I am presenting a paper at NWSA that deal with issues I think this image is raising yet  again – My paper was concered with an image in Glamour Magazine in 2009 – Perhaps you remember it:

The Glamour article entitled “Oh. Wow. These  Bodies are Beautiful.”[1]  looked to prove plus-size[2] models equal in Beauty to their super thin counterparts. The article questioned the beauty/fashion industry’s obsession with thinness and announces Glamour magazine’s pledge to start a “body confidence…revolution” (Field 241). As you can see above, the visual focus of the article was a two page photograph of seven plus-size models, naked, their eyes wooing the camera, their lips poised to part, the bodies draped and cuddled together, like lovers, lovers being watched.  Like many models that have come before them, these plus-sized models are objectified, turned into the object of male-gaze.

In light of this objectification, I find myself wondering what exactly a ‘body confidence… revolution’ entails? True, it’s hard to deny the intrinsic joy in seeing somewhat bigger bodies, which could be considered Othered bodies, represented as both normal and sexual, and I enjoyed reading Glamour’s call for a ‘revolution,’ but on close inspection, these plus-sized models that Glamour was cheering about aren’t truly representative of the majority of bodies that have been Othered.

And beyond that I can’t help but note that this should not be the welcome these Othered bodies are looking for, an ushering into the realm of sexually subjugated objects? Is that what a ‘body confidence… revolution’ entails, a move from abjection to objectification?

Understanding women as objects isn’t something new or unfamiliar.  Ringing in the second wave of Feminism, Simone de Beauvoir, explains the nature of women’s cultural standing. She says, “humanity is male and man defines woman not as herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being” (116). In other words, masculinity is perceived as the norm or the superior state of humanity and femininity exists as “inessential” opposition to this norm, the object against which the subject defines himself (116).  Beauvoir advocates the rise of woman from object to subject by assuming the role of the masculine. In other words women would no longer be confined to the ‘feminine’ roles, such as that of wife, mother, teacher or domestic. Arguably, women have attained this status; we can be everything from astronauts to porn stars, but our position as Other remains.

Like the postmodern feminists, I link this continued objectification to the controlling influence of that which gets representation and the limitations of how we understand our socially constructed genders. Currently, women can choose any lifestyle they desire but they are predominately represented as Beauty objects, and so we perceive ourselves as such. Theorists like Bordo and Bartky provide us with the feminist understanding of Foucault’s docile bodies, bodies that inflict self-disciplinary action in response to the internalization of cultural norms, or rather the nature of human beings to respond to cultural representations or metanarratives by trying to assimilate/homogenize to the standards set by them. The female Beauty standard is such a metanarrative.  The ingestion of this narrative as the prescriptive norm and the self-inflicted oppression occurring under its weight are at the center of women’s continued objectification.


[1] The title of the Glamour article insinuates surprise, as if no one would have guessed that the bodies that often kept from representation could be equally beautiful to the bodies we repeatedly represent.

[2] It is worth noting that the title plus-size is inherently prejudicial. Plus implies more than the norm, referencing the continued representation of larger models as Othered bodies.

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One response

  1. I’ve been wanting to post about the Italian Vogue cover as well. Great point that the term plus size turns larger models (and larger women in general) into Others. Part of me is glad to see women larger than a size 2 on the cover of a major fashion magazine. At the same time, it’s not as if the women’s bodies are being treated with any more respect than the bodies of smaller models.

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