Confident, truly huge beauties

Barbara Amiel: “We are probably in the middle of an aesthetic change”

Confident, truly huge beauties

Photograph by Chris Carlson/Associated Press

Who will make her Oscar dress, I asked myself, as I suspect countless plus-sized people must have been asking. (I’m not a plus-sized person myself but have wish-fantasies of being one—in the right places, that is.) All you saw for the first pre-Oscar hour were skinny white person after skinny white person, like me only decades younger, and all just so incredibly thrilled to be here on the red carpet mantra-ing, “I never dreamt of this when I was growing up…,” not before the age of four anyway. The men wore Tom Ford and Burberry, the women Chanel, Versace, and Valentino with their wrists like Masai tribeswomen all tunnelled up with bangles courtesy of Chopard—which is funny when you remember that the Kenya Masai live with their bangles in huts made of dried merde. But which designer was going to get the starring dress of the night, the super-plus of all pluses?

Meanwhile, you couldn’t but wonder how it is possible for stomachs to be so absolutely flat. God, I know how difficult it is even when you starve for 36 hours to get into the special dress (and then at dinner reach for a piece of bread, which, as one New York stick-person reprimanded me, “is not the staff of life, Barbara.” So no bread that evening). Sandra Bullock, looking as whippet-narrow as a human can be, told the interviewer that after the ceremonies she was going to go out “and have a cheeseburger, deep-fried fries and a milkshake.” Oh yes, and visit the emergency room with a volvulus if she did half of that—there can’t be room in her intestines for a sorbet.

I digress. Along came the much-anticipated dress: the outsized Marchesa dress wearing Gabourey Sidibe. Draped chiffon, sapphire blue like the name of the author of the novel Precious, with sparkly bits around the neckline and hips. A size beyond 26, the same designer that Sandra Bullock, size zero, was wearing. “You look good, girl,” said the interviewer, using the lingua franca of African-Americans.

How did she look? Dimpled arms, lots of extra flesh at the top of them, plump hands, a face radiant with happiness and fat. She looked good, girl, I thought. Back in the fifties, pin-up girls were almost normal weight, even had cellulite, but the hourglass figure was required: that had been an ideal for about 150 years. Then came the post-Twiggy thin thing. Now flesh is creeping back onto bones. But this is something different, these big ladies, from Anna Nicole Smith to Queen Latifah and Oscar winner Mo’Nique (odd to put an apostrophe in your name—rather U’Nique I suppose). They may not be sumo wrestler size, though some are near it, but they are truly huge beauties. They inhabit an alternate universe.

This is definitely not the universe of Mad Men’s gorgeous Christina Hendricks, who was on last week’s New York magazine cover in this season’s bare-your-underwear look. She’s very Anna Nicole Smith voluptuous, but we know she can’t be more than a size 12 absolute maximum and is definitely not a candidate for the Beth Ditto outsize clothing line with its bold domino print dress that sold out at the British chain Evans when it debuted last summer. Still, Hendricks’s very popularity shows where the ideal is moving. She’s at least five sizes larger than a catwalk model or American socialite. But she doesn’t have to scan a room before entering to see if the chairs will be wide enough or hunt for armless seats. She needn’t work out how to avoid obstacles that could be embarrassing.

There is, naturally, a National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance that takes on anti-fat discrimination cases. The majority of NAAFA members are middle-class whites and not the fat African-Americans that we see on screens or in the streets or that I see sometimes when I visit my husband in prison. I don’t know if there are more fat black people than white—there is certainly a higher rate of diabetes in the black community—but they have a different approach to fatness, a more accepting approach, and so the women wear their fat well and don’t bother so much about hiding it. They look better not only because many of them are young but because they have the elixir of confidence.

This is what the Oscar ceremony brought home. We are probably in the middle of an aesthetic change, but of course you can’t feel it. If you were an obese member of the popular Fat Men’s Club of Connecticut, founded in 1866, you were part of a very distinguished group. By the early 1900s, the club was gone. Americans started dieting, and by 1925, there were newspaper complaints that “reducing has become a national pastime…a frenzy.” Those portly men never knew what hit them.

We live on earth in a sort of spacecraft, thinking we are standing still, unaware that we are spinning around at over 1,000 miles an hour. Being in the middle of changing times is rather like that: you only see the change in relationship to something standing still. There’s a whole parallel universe outside mainstream culture, swapping ways to survive in the regular-sized world. Members aren’t much interested in the American way of dissing fat as a moral issue—you’re lazy, undisciplined, self-indulgent or just eat too much. They’re done with yo-yo dieting. They are most unlikely to be the ideal soon of any Eurocentric culture and they’re even losing ground in the Arab and African outposts that prize fat women. But they are having their subtle effect on our beauty standards: I for one will never pass up that bread again.

Confident, truly huge beauties

  1. “The majority of NAAFA members are middle-class whites and not the fat African-Americans that we see on screens or in the streets or that I see sometimes when I visit my husband in prison.”

    Sometimes writing from experience is damaging, like slitting your wrists in public. Why doesn’t MacLeans encourage their long-term employee to take better care of herself? Surely they know that people are reading her to witness the public decline of her mental health. This should be a private matter.

    • Your comments are ridiculous. Nice you can hide behind an avatar and say things like this about people you do not even know. If you are worried about health go help out in a community fitness program, but calling people fat and lazy is not helpful.

  2. Barbara,
    You're a bigot and it drives you nuts that "other" standards of beauty have finally seeped into the public consciousness. Your seething disdain is barely hidden.

  3. Quite frankly, I can't believe you pay this woman that you call a journalist for her illogical and disconnected discourse. Not to mention she is insulting to various groups of people. I agree totally with the previous two comments. I doubt I would pay money to read Macleans magazine because of this kind of diatribe.

  4. Yeah, I'm sure if you were fat, you would be disgusted with yourself. And there go your chances of landing another rich old guy if Conrad perished in jail. Please, why is this lady still writing?? Certainly there are lots of talented, younger Canadian writers out there more interesting points of view. Axing Barbara's column will give someone else a chance to make a more interesting mark on the world.

  5. Barbara Amiel is SPOT ON here, and pretending that what she writes isn't true is the kind of "head up yer a$$" perspective I expect from intellectually templated clone Canadians.

  6. I must agree with the poster who felt more pity for Ms. Amiel than dislike of her thoughts. It is unkind of MacLeans to use someone in such a state of mental distress as "roadkill" lying along the gutter of the information superhighway.

  7. Keep in mind that this woman hookerized herself most of her life to get where she is now…..hey Barbara, how does it feel to get old and crepey…..

    • We all get old and 'crepey,' sweetie. You will, too, rest assured. Our Barbara may not be perfect, but she's lived her life to the fullest without apology.

      Thanks for the wild ride, Barbara. You're still gorgeous!!

  8. I cannot believe the ugliness of the comments posted here. What are you getting out of it, folks? If Ms. Amiel's columns are not your thing, read something else. Sheesh.

  9. I adore reading Barbara's POV. I admire her intellect, her wit and if you've ever seen her up close, her beauty. I have always found her take on things to be fresh, honest, funny and irreverent. She's no Cruella de Ville. I think most of her critics generally miss the point and focus on her personal ‘situation'. As far as that nonsense goes, I live in a glass house. I hope that when life deal's me my humbling blows I handle myself half as well as Barbara has. Keep it up ‘Gurl'!

  10. Reminiscent of Ms. Amiel's more bizarre obsession with Michele Obama's body not that long ago, which included sneering references to all things Black, like fleas, stupid African American children and their fat, lazy, absent parents. "Racial equality really kicks in when non-Caucasian bodies become a universal beauty ideal", was one of the more clear and succinct sentences in that piece of tripe. Clearly Barbara doesn't like that racial equality stuff, especially when fat Blacks show up in places they shouldn't, like the White House or the society pages.

    Amiel has nothing to say, and produces only bile – the literary equivalent of all that spitting up she must do to keep herself white and "toothpick sized".

  11. Amiel is a troubled woman, I'm afraid. Each of her infrequent articles is more bizarre than the last; so, we are well down the autobahn of the abnormal.

  12. Sorry…fat woman just don't do it for me!

  13. Amiel's hilariously non- PC comments on human aesthetics may be cringing to more civilized minds, yet to accuse her of racism is to fail to see the irony and self parody in some of her comments, not just in relation to the present article. She may display some of the attributes of an unrepentant, constipated, right wing harridan yet I fell she totally lacks the hatred and vitriol of the average run of the mill American conservative blogger or talk radio host. She does not have an iota of malice in her vein and she does not hate anyone. Check out some US conservative sites and notice the monstrous degree of hatred and malice displayed towards 'other people'. All Amiel wants is for her Husband to be freed from prison so that they could go back to enjoying the jet set life on both sides of the Atlantic as if what happened in between was a bad dream. In the mean time to make ends meet she will ramble on in the manner in which she is good at. I find her reflections a breadth of fresh air albeit occasionally embarrassing.

  14. Barbara, you are beautiful and you've spent too many years starving to be thin. Look at Jackie O. she died painfully thin. I wish she could have enjoyed the last few years of her life eating pain au chocolat, fried chicken and pasta! Enjoy your golden years Barbara, the extra cushioning will look good on you.

  15. “You look good, girl,” said the interviewer, using the lingua franca of African-Americans.

    The lingua franca of African-Americans ??

    Did we really need an explanation of clear English?

    maybe the editors were too embarrassed to touch the column … if my husband goes to jail can I write nonsense for macleans?

  16. Talk about her acting!!!!
    The package she is wrapped in is so transitory.
    Humans must start to think a little deeper on subjects.
    The shallow drivel of clothing and weight have become so boring!!!

  17. "Who will make her Oscar dress, I asked myself, as I suspect countless plus-sized people must have been asking. (I'm not a plus-sized person myself but have wish-fantasies of being one—in the right places, that is.) All you saw for the first pre-Oscar hour were skinny white person after skinny white person, like me only decades younger"

    Aaaaaaaaaaand it goes downhill from there. What the hell kind of article is this "skinny white person after skinny white person – like ME" hahaha… Barbara Amiel is a joke.

  18. Ok because people are generating eating disorders trying to be thin than conversely being fat is okay because people are overly sensitive about weight in our culture.

    Wow, terrific point of view Barbara. Really digging deep and using all sorts of references (like you being anorexic) to explain that fat people are just people to… yea people that rape our nationalized health care.

    Hey Barbara heres a fact for you, more people are overweight / obese now than ever before (yes, even if you scale population ratios). I don't think its so much about changing views about weight its just most everything we are marketed is unhealthy (and mass media is just getting bigger)and most people who eat unhealthy crap drive around in the laziest form of transportation: the car.

    Superb job as usual editors of Macleans, taking a simple topic and completely f'ing it up.

    Everytime I get sucked into these "articles" i just wan't to punch Andrew Coyne in his oversized and egotistical nose.

  19. I don't think Amiel is a troubled woman but I'm afraid that each of her articles is more peculiar than the last;

  20. I enjoyed a lot.Thanks for sharing.

    I digress. Along came the much-anticipated dress: the outsized Marchesa dress wearing Gabourey Sidibe. Draped chiffon, sapphire blue like the name of the author of the novel Precious, with sparkly bits around the neckline and hips. A size beyond 26, the same designer that Sandra Bullock, size zero, was wearing. “You look good, girl,” said the interviewer, using the lingua franca of African-Americans.

  21. He's one of the elites that's why he got out so early. Look up his history, he is one of the money men buying off politicians. The whole thing is rigged as it is in Britain.

    Submited by : Semanas Embarazo

  22. As a plus-sized woman I do appreciate this piece. I think Amiel is bang-on here. But my reality is — though I do consider myself beautiful –I don't want to end up with premature diabetes or heart disease. I exercise and look good, but I still need to lose 70 pounds. But do I wish to be stick-thin? Never! Just healthy and alive. No extremes in weight or appearance.

  23. We live on earth in a sort of spacecraft, thinking we are standing still, unaware that we are spinning around at over 1,000 miles an hour. Being in the middle of changing times is rather like that: you only see the change in relationship to something standing still. There's a whole parallel universe outside mainstream culture, swapping ways to survive in the regular-sized world.

    Awesome and very pleased to see such a great article.

  24. I don't get the appeal. Sure she appears to have talent, but she clearly has a health problem that needs attention. Justifying her size does not solve that problem. I am over weight myself and at least trying to get back under 200 pounds this month. I am doing it publicly and putting my pics on my http://www.lethbridgerealestateblog.com so that I have to face them daily.

  25. I cannot believe the ugliness of the comments posted here. What are you getting out of it, folks? If Ms. Amiel's columns are not your thing, read something else. Sheesh.

    I very much enjoyed the comment by MaritimeSharon.

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