I am bigger than a size 12 and smaller than a size 18 and I am goddamn tired of not seeing women who look like me in magazines, in movies, on TV, and on billboards.
Gentlemen: Imagine being told that the type of body you were dealt in the shuffle of the genetic cards is unfashionable. Imagine opening a magazine to learn that washboard abs are so last year, and that this season, you’d better have broad shoulders if you’ve any hope of being stylish. Pretty absurd, huh? Yet this is the kind of thing women face all our lives. We can ignore the unrealistic ideal of the female body our pop culture presents to us, laugh at its ridiculous inattainability, dismiss it as ludicrous. But for many of us — no matter how self-confident we are, no matter how sexy we feel, no matter how attractive someone else tells us we are — there’s always a niggling little voice in the backs of our heads telling us we just don’t measure up if we’re more than a size 2.
Curve, a compact, concise documentary from the brother-and-sister team of Constantine and Christina Valhouli, takes a look at a few of the women trying to broaden the perspective a tad, and the tiny corner of the fashion industry that’s helping them. With a withering eye, the Valhoulis chat with a few daring magazine editors, department store and modeling agency executives, and fashion designers who are tired of the literally one-size, cookie-cutter image presented as female perfection. Simon Doonan, creative director of Barneys New York, offers the single funniest one-line commentary on the fashion industry I’ve ever heard, and designer Richard Metzger, who dubs himself a “big snooty queen,” is a riot, exasperated with his fellow designers and excited about having a fashion frontier — clothing larger than handkerchiefs — all to himself. But even some of these sympathetic insiders on the vanguard unknowingly project a discouraging irony: an editor from Glamour refers to “bigger size women,” by which she means those over size 12; the Ford modeling agency’s plus-size ghetto starts at size 10.
Size 10. At model height, around five-eleven, this is probably too thin. And these are “plus-size” models.
We’ve got a long way to go.
The Valhoulis talk to some of the “plus-size” models themselves, and here there is much to hope for. You won’t believe how gorgeous, vibrant, and not-fat these women are, when they’re so unlike — so wonderfully unlike — the kind of women we’re used to seeing presented as beautiful. Just seeing them on camera, posing for photographers, and walking runways is wonderfully refreshing. They look like the sex goddesses of old — Mae West, Marilyn Monroe — with curves and real breasts (no silicone needed here) and genuine womanly, feminine attitude; they look like grownups, not like pouty children trying to act adult, like so many “straight-size” models do. (That’s what the industry calls the size 0 to 2 range, we learn here, as if there’s something crooked or suspicious or dodgy about most women’s bodies. It’s enough to make you want to scream.)
But the women — including the “plus-size” supermodel Emme and actress Kathy Najimy — recognize the uphill battle they face in trying to change the cultural image of what’s sexy and what’s beautiful, particularly when so few people seem to realize what a size-14 woman looks like. Most of the women onscreen here relate how people just don’t believe that they’re “plus-size” models and not “regular” models — one model, in awe, can’t believe how skinny her “regular size” compatriots are. “People don’t understand how thin you have to be,” she says, to be a “regular” model. She’s the same girl who is near tears when she talks about her desire to be “small,” like a size 2, based on an image that she has so internalized that even though she tries to intellectualize it away, she can’t. It’s heartbreaking — this girl is stunning, and looks perfectly, loverly slender — and yet so many women could identify with her desire.
Those are the women — the, oh, 95 percent of the female population that with some flesh on their bones — who need to see Curve. It’s only a tiny — there’s that word again — indication of the merest beginnings of a change, but it’s a terrific confidence booster while we wait for Emme to appear on the cover of Vogue.
‘Curve’ is available for sale on the film’s official Web site.