Did somebody slip some E into the Condé Nast Evian supply? Who knows what the trigger was, but someone somewhere was gripped by a seizure of bodily noblesse oblige, and Vogue magazine managed to devote an entire issue to “Shape,” producing a special celebration (to quote one subhead) of The Body Eclectic, complete with “figure flattering” fashion tips.
The result is less offensive than unintentionally hilarious, highlighting Vogue’s version of a gorgeous panorama of womanhood—tall and skinny (6-foot model Eva Kubatova); short and skinny (5-foot-5-inch model Devon Aoki); pregnant and skinny (model Angela Marie Wilkerson); and good old-fashioned emaciated (a “lithe” 5-foot-11-inch, Size 4 Jacquetta Wheeler). Ah, diversity! For the fifth category, “curvy,” they snagged legendary “large size” model Sophie Dahl—who recently slimmed down to a whopping Size 8/10.
Sorry for all the numbers, but they’re necessary. For beneath the addled pro-diversity sloganeering, this issue is as statistically obsessed as Sports Illustrated. Vogue assigned profiles to writers the same “shape” as their subjects, and the result is like eavesdropping on the passive/aggressive chit-chat of an eating-disorder support group—complete with obsessive mentions of weights and measures and faux complaints about shopping in the children’s section. There’s a queasily jealous profile of Anne Heche by a queasily pregnant Rebecca Johnson and an anxious take on Laila Ali by former boxer Lynn Snowden Picket (who feels it necessary to note that unlike her muscular subject, the writer herself was 5 feet 8 inches “and a scant but socially desirable 120 pounds” when she boxed). Size 2 Lauren MacIntyre’s profile of Size 0 figure skater Sasha Cohen abounds in anorexo-porn, purringly comparing her subject to a pearl and a rubber band, “just what was essential, with no unnecessary slack.” Most risible is Eve MacSweeney’s profile of Nigella Lawson, which portrays the “voluptuous” (read: normal-bodied) British TV chef as a shocking anarchist simply because she eats. “One look at Nigella demonstrating the joys of chewing on the fatty bones of a pork roast,” warns MacSweeney, “and years of careful conditioning will start to come unstuck.”
There is one actual “fat girl” in the terms of the magazine: A photo essay displays large-size model Kate Dillon, bare thighs akimbo, paired with a midget male in a tiny toy car—if freak-show calliope music could play from the spread, it would. The only type of heaviness that is actually acceptable in Vogue’s universe is pregnancy, which itself is treated as a kind of nine-month fat suit experiment for the otherwise thin. And it gradually becomes clear that Vogue’s insane taxonomy magically defines fat people (hell, oddly proportioned people!) out of existence: If “tall” and “short” and “pregnant” are body types, and Minnie Driver is “curvy,” there’s no need to admit the existence of the bottom-heavy, let alone try to dress the poor bastards.
It all leaves one longing for the elitist nastiness of the original magazine—which was at least an honest expression of fashionable values. All this populism is just … tacky.