‘The Plus Side’
By Lizzie Widdicombe, The New Yorker Magazine ( September 22, 2014 Issue)
Widdicombe’s article explores the side of fashion somewhat overlooked amidst the commercial realm of the industry; that of the plus-size.
The article opens with the author being seated front row at fashion week. An typical image of a fashion show is created in readers minds; the lights, excitement, glamour and celebrity status present. Widdicombe then deconstructs this pre-conceived notion of fashion week, revealing that she is attending the sixth year of Full Figured Fashion Week, dedicated to plus-size fashion, a manifestation of Gwen DeVoe (a one-time model turned human resources worker). The author, throughout the entire piece, uses this image of the runway as a pivot to re-engage the reader with the central issue (the ‘fashionable’ rise of plus-size fashion) at various points. This allows Widdicombe to explore the multi-faceted word of plus-size without losing audience interest, a compelling ploy that aids in the reading of a long form piece.
The point of view of the article is positive towards the growing movement of plus-size into mainstream fashion, though remains uncritical of current fashion practice. Widdicombe incorporates all realms of fashion, mimicking the highly inclusive and accepting community of fashion followers highlighted in her article by the “evangelical,” “ode to women” by “spoken-word artist Jamaal St.John”. In the same way that Full Figured Fashion Week is “celebratory,” Widdicombe’s piece lauds the entire community of plus-size women.
Widdicombe effectively quotes throughout her article, from editor-in-chief of an online magazine Madeline Jones to very of-the-moment fashion blogger Gabi Gregg. Using such candid, informal quotes allows for personal insight into this rather unseen and overlooked denomination of fashion, almost creating an atmosphere of being seated at a fashion show and overhearing guests’ conversations. It also adds to the allusion of a buzzing environment that the fast-paced fashion world is frequently trademarked for.
The writer regularly references food in her article, through metaphors and general imagery. This aims to highlight the “passing from a land of famine into one of poverty” where “snacks” like “cream-cheese-stuffed strawberries and champagne” are presented to guests at the plus-size shows, a complete paradox to the practice at typical fashion presentations. “Spicing up” and “elaborate layer cake” further enhance this inherent connection and love of food, a celebration of healthy eating. The quote “I like my women the way I like my pancakes; hot, fluffy and stacked” provides the platform for the comical tone laced throughout the piece, alluding to the positively self-depreciating humour noted by women of plus-size and those who adore them.
The behind the scenes of photo shoots is briefly mentioned in the article, with Alexandra Boos (a former plus-size model and current member of a modelling management) explaining the neglect and disrespect shown to plus-size models in comparison to “regular” models during her modelling years. A mention of photo shoot customs more recently may have aided in highlighting the revolutionary development of plus-size fashion over the years.
Widdicombe’s piece ends rather abruptly and strangely negative, given the consistently encouraging tone of the article. It follows a woman who is browsing the racks of the plus-size store ‘Lane Bryant’ seemingly unimpressed with the choice of clothing, questioning the thought process of the designer. A second reading reveals that perhaps Widdicombe is dealing a playful jab at outsiders ignorant of the importance and influence of Full Figured Fashion Week and plus-size fashion in general.
Widdicombe successfully takes the simple Full Figured Fashion Week show of 2014 and broadens the context of the entire issue. The author explores the history of weight and body image, indicating the origins of the word ‘fat’ and how oversize came to be so heavily criticised. Interestingly, Widdicombe juxtaposes the classical notion of clothes being made to fit the body against contemporary practice of making the body fit the clothes. She also rounds out the the history of body image and fashion through the comparison of classic twentieth century female icons with modern day celebrity figures. Widdicombe also takes a New York story and internationalises it by referencing the French translation of ‘fat’ as “grande taille”.
Though seemingly shallow descriptions of clothing are used throughout, Widdicombe is able to explore the depths of what is a complex issue with underlying themes of body-shaming, obesity glorification, feminism and class and racial politics in an insightful and stimulating article. Widdicombe figuratively rips the lifeless “muumuu” of the plus-size woman revealing a brightly coloured, layered, form fitting dress that says “girlfriend, you are beautiful”.