Fat is a Fashion Issue: The Business of being Obese

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Anna Wintour’s explosive interview on 60 Minutes, in which she glossed over eating disorders like anorexia to focus on the growing problem of obesity (one choice quote: “I had just been on a trip to Minnesota, where I can only kindly describe most of the people I saw as ‘little houses'”), sparked a media furor. In light of Vogue’s uncompromising position on weight (Wintour infamously asked Oprah to lose weight for a cover shoot and put the Rodarte sisters on a diet), we started to wonder — are fat and fashion ever compatible?

Contradictory trends seem to be emerging from the world of media and of retailers. Whilst established labels and stores are cutting their plus-size clothing or moving these lines online or into less visible spots in store, larger designs aimed at a younger, more style-conscious customer are flourishing, as shown by Forever 21′s decision to launch their own plus-size line, Faith. Does this mean that fat is no longer acceptable for middle-aged women, but is being embraced by retailers appealing to the young, fast-fashion crowd? With obesity amongst children and youth on the increase, are these stores simply tapping into a new market? Or are they indirectly encouraging teens to continue down an unhealthy path by removing one of the most cited “problems” with being young and fat?

Then there’s the media. While Vogue‘s line (of a BMI under 21) is clear, a recent Conde Nast project in the UK, the inimitably stylish Love magazine, featured the outspoken plus-size feminist/musician Beth Ditto as the cover star for their debut issue. Were they making a statement, or simply courting scandal? While we don’t know anyone who aspires to look like Ditto, the curvy silhouette of Mad Men’s Joan Holloway (actress Christina Hendricks) is a completely different story. And even her figure is deemed “shocking” enough to warrant comment: Last fall the LA Times wondered if she was ‘too plump for primetime’ whilst more recently the Sunday Times in London celebrated her presence as a ‘triumph of curves’.

For now, it looks as if the debate will continue to rage — women’s bodies have been the subject of public scrutiny since forever. Wintour’s comments may have added fuel to the fire, but it will take more than Ditto’s voluptuous body on the cover of Love to fully extinguish it.

What do you think? Are fat and fashion like chalk and cheese? Or are we all missing the boat by looking at this as a vanity issue rather than discussing what really matters — our health?