Francesca’s last couple of posts, and the comments to them, leave her with an important question: For purposes of this blog, just how big constitutes big?
In recommending plus-size fashions, Francesca’s rule of thumb is that an item of clothing is fair game if it is available in a Size 16 and/or higher. Size 14 is often available in “regular” stores, albeit not as often as size 12, while Size 16 is usually the smallest size available in the plus-size stores. Francesca knows that one could write an entire blog on the travails of the girls who wear size 14, which is often considered too big for the regular stores and too small for the plus-size stores. But she has to make a mental border for herself somewhere. So, for this blog, size 16 is usually it. That is why she sometimes recommends clothing by J. Crew, who are not exactly known for catering to fat girls, because they do have an entire Size 16 section on their site (as well as fashions for the Tall girls, to whom Francesca sometimes wishes to nod and wink), though their failure to offer sizes 18 and up makes Francesca feel a bit squeamish about referring to them too often.
Oh, oh, oh, now we have come straight into the hornet’s nest! For, though this woman probably does wear a Size 16 or 18 on the bottom (she is a beautiful and voluptuous Pear, and very aesthetically pleasing, and probably has a hard time finding skirts and pants which fit her hips but are not too wide at the waist) Francesca fears, some readers may have looked at this image and thought “if that girl is big, what am I?” They may also have thought “Why is Francesca buying into the Big Bad Media idea that a woman with any fat on her is Big?”
Francesca will answer the second question first. In an ideal world, the Big Bad Media would not categorize people by their size at all. But the whole point of this blog is that our world is not ideal, and women’s whose hips or tummies or breasts are more than an arbitrary size are considered “Big” either in terms of where they can find clothes, or whether they are considered “too big” or “too fat” by others, or both.
The point of Big Girls in Art is to show that indeed that mysterious fault line (and Francesca chooses that term on purpose) is indeed arbitrary. There was a time when the woman with very generous hips was considered the ideal, and was celebrated in what was then The Media. There was a time when having a large butt was so attractive that women wore bustles to make theirs reach out to Indiana. In other words, Francesca wants to demonstrate that the problem is not us, it is this strange, arbitrary idea that thinner is better – an idea started, Francesca thinks, partly because thin women serve as better hangers on which to model the fashions on runways, and partly because having the time and money to maintain a perfectly flat belly indicates wealth in our age. The problem is not us or our genes or our class, it is the time. Not so long ago, the woman whose genes made her predisposed to the waif-like frame was the one with the problem.
And in answer to the first question . . . if the woman in this painting is big, do you know what you are?