I loved Barbie. Like, loved-loved Barbie.
Like, started walking in the Barbie aisle, had three Barbie themed birthday parties, have seen every Barbie movie made- including the most current ones- loved Barbie.
Everyone knows that Barbie could be anything she wanted. She could fly to the moon, be the president of the United States, be a doctor and still be the perfect girlfriend for Ken all at the same time. And, for the longest time, she could do it with flawless blonde hair, wearing heels, and sporting an unhealthily tiny waist sandwiched between plastic boobs and a huge ass.
Barbie was the classic size zero.
The infamous size zero, which I never really thought about before we watched Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women in my media studies class. The documentary is essentially just this woman named Margaret Lazarus giving a talk about how the media and advertising companies represent women in their imagery. At one point she mentioned the “ever shrinking woman”, and as the ads flashed before my face I realized that I hadn’t thought about size zero as a problem before. In my eyes, it had always been an achievement. Something to strive for.
But there has been a war declared on size zero.
Not on looking like a real person, not aiming to go back to the 80’s when the models were still a healthy size, looking more like you and me than some airy skeleton of a woman. When British Vogue’s senior editor Alexandra Shulman declared war on size zero, it was not to save the beauty standard. It was to keep the already tiny models still alive.
There’s a reason that models are so skinny. Clothes are big. They’re distracting. When normal sized people wear them, they’re blended into our being- into who we are. The clothes aren’t the biggest part anymore. It becomes part of a bigger whole. But on tiny, wispy models, with no expressions and even less motion, the clothes are the only striking part. If you look at real models, not models like Kylie Jenner or Gigi Hadid, but real fashion runway models- you’ll realize they’re rarely the stereotypical “beautiful”. That’s not to say they aren’t beautiful, all women are beautiful in their own striking way. Yet that’s the most effective part of real fashion models; they’re striking. They’re massive and emotionless and intimidating. They’re meant to be mannequins, and they’re voluntarily becoming canvases for the designer to drape his or her art in shape of clothing upon.
However, selling the beauty standard of being as skinny as these human canvases should not be sold as the desired look. You should not be told to look like someone who is literally starving themselves so they can be presented as a backdrop for a piece of art.
So then why did skinny become the new pretty? What made advertising companies and magazines look at what fashion designers were using as canvases and think, “yes, this is what all women should look like”?
When you walk into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you won’t find paintings of women shaped like the ones who walk down the runway. You won’t find images similar to the photoshopped perfection plastered all around you. You’ll find women with meat on their bones. Curves and lumps and plump round faces with red cheeks and simple smiles. You’ll walk into the museum and forget all about the fact that you’re supposed to be three sizes smaller than you physically can achieve to look like the girl in the magazine you keep under your bed.
Women strived to be plump back then because it indicated wealth. It meant you could afford to eat, and that was attractive. It meant you could buy nice clothes and have nice furniture and sit for a portrait twice a day. Being flush faced and round meant you had a comfortable life.
Now it’s expensive not to eat. People who don’t have money can’t afford to be picky. They can’t afford to eat only organic, or not eat gluten, meat, dairy, sugar. People who work two jobs are bringing home Taco Bell for dinner because it’s on the commute and they don’t need to stress as much over $2 as they do $10. So being able to work out, eat organic, have dietary substitutes- it’s a rich kid thing. Hell, I used to go to Starbucks with my parents every time we had a roadtrip, but now that I need to pay for it myself? I literally pay an extra 60 cents because I have an intolerance for milk.
This is how companies are making money. They take girls whose bodies are only comparable to the smallest percentage of women in the world, photoshop them impossibly smaller, blur their faces so that they have no pores or no veins or wrinkles or laugh lines, then they take that image and sell it to us as an attainable goal. This industry creates money for dieting industries, cosmetic industries, plastic surgeons and fitness trainers. The whole concept of beauty in the modern age is about money.
The war on size zero is far from over. Designers create ever shrinking clothing, and thus the entire industry is forever shrinking women. But, have we done nothing to move forward in this movement?
Yes and no.
No, one of the recent American publications of Vogue included a list of dieting tips. No, ads haven’t stopped being photoshopped. No, we’re not educating properly about eating disorders and no, we aren’t addressing the fact that only 5% of women, according to the Killing Us documentary, can actually physically achieve the image being sold to us everyday.
And yet, there have been steps. Step; 2015 held the first ever entirely disabled runway show. Step; Jamie Brewer became the first model with down syndrome to walk the catwalk. Step; Candice Huffine became a popular model despite being size 12. Step; Ashley Graham, a well known spokesperson for being a plus sized model, earned a place on Sports Illustrated’s cover at size 16.
There’s movement. Small, but moving. People are recognizing that it’s hard to photograph a wasting human. Nothing changes over night, but the industry is beginning to show an attempt at trying- and that’s a big step. Just remind yourself the next time you flip through Vogue, or Bazaar, or Vanity Fair; these people you see on the pages are not real people. They were once real people- real humans with scars and acne and pores and veins. But the picture in the magazine is not real and therefore useless to look up to. Love your pores, love your veins and your curves or your not curves or how your toes are a little hairy. Don’t sell yourself short, don’t buy into the corporations and industries trying to sell you self hatred that will never go away.
Look at yourself in the mirror. Take a deep breath. Count three things you like about what you see. Breath out.