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Glossy and Glam, with Girth

I no longer read fashion magazines. I don’t subscribe to them. I don’t impulsively buy them at the grocery checkout aisle. Unless I’m at the salon, bored stupid while waiting for abrasive chemicals to work magic on my mane, I steer clear of glossy beauty rags altogether.

They endorse a pristine level of personal maintenance that makes me feel — in lax contrast — like a wrinkly, flabby savage in outdated pants. And I try never to feel like that.

But there’s a magazine out this month that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on. The June issue of Italian Vogue boasts a lush and provocative cover featuring … wait for it … plus-size models. That’s right: The cover and a generous interior spread celebrate four stunning women with hips, thighs, and hindquarters that don’t hide from hotshot photographer Steven Meisel’s leering camera. In black-and-white 1960s cinema style, the voluptuous ladies lounge in lingerie, sprawling half-nude on divans, crawling cat-like across tables, cuddling up to fur coats (how desperately do you want to see this right now?).

The headline: “Belle vere.” Real beauty.

I’m not one to defend the fashion industry. It’s fickle, it’s shallow, it’s fiendishly (and intentionally) out of touch with reality. Case in point: It trumpets grasshopper-thin girls as paragons of glamour, but has lost five “successful” young models in as many years to anorexic deaths. The youngest was 18; the smallest weighed just 73 pounds.

It’s easy to fault fashion’s figureheads for promoting unattainable and even unhealthy beauty ideals. And it’s easy to deride fashion magazine editors for rejecting diversity.

But judging from the public’s mixed reactions to this new Vogue cover — even my own friends’ opinions have been contentious and contradictory — it’s hard to imagine how the beauty biz could possibly please us all.

I had girl friends shout “Amen!” and guy friends hoot “About time!” at the sight of Vogue‘s shapely divas (who range in clothing size from 12 to 16). But I also had friends of both genders who found the spread disappointing.

“They’re not healthy looking to me,” confessed a slim young woman I know. “They don’t look like they could run very far or jump very high.”

“How about a role model of fitness? Is that too much to ask?” griped a father of two young girls. “Let’s face it, there’s an aspirational quality to such advertising, and I don’t aspire to buy Dockers from a male model who’s 20 pounds overweight like me.”

Shocked at the discrepancy of opinion, I dove into the fashion blogosphere, where I found still more feuding:

These gals don’t look plus-size, they look normal. …

That’s because plus-size IS normal. …

Why must we be labeled by our size, anyway?

If it’s a fashion spread, where are their clothes?! It’s exploitation to expose them like that. …

So, what, you think heavier women should be covered up? How dare you?!

For my part, I found the entire photo spread mesmerizingly sexy. I couldn’t peel my gaze from the fullness of these women’s curves — not fat, but full like fruit. I resemble them no more than I resemble Kate Moss; in fact, none of Vogue‘s readers resemble any of its models because we lack their cosmetically porcelainized skin, digitally de-lumped glutes, and fabulously naughty Givenchy trousseaux.

But if it’s aspiration these “real beauties” are selling, I want it. I want their confidence and sultriness. I want their ginormous back-combed hair. And I wouldn’t mind those patent leather kitten heels, if I’m being entirely honest.

There’s too much insecurity tangled up in our individual notions of beauty, and I don’t know if cover girls are to blame for that. But I think that for fashion magazines, the path from fickle to fabulous — from depressing and dangerous to inspiring and relevant — may not be a straight line.

Yep. I’m pretty sure it’s got curves.

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