Enviable Curves V Skinny Self-Control-Or Why Women's Bodies Can't Do Anything Right

By Cosslett, Rhiannon Lucy; Baxter, Holly | New Statesman (1996), April 12, 2013 | Go to article overview

Enviable Curves V Skinny Self-Control-Or Why Women's Bodies Can't Do Anything Right


Cosslett, Rhiannon Lucy, Baxter, Holly, New Statesman (1996)


Fat Betty is no more. For those busying themselves with the earlier Mad Men box sets, let me explain. Betty Draper, a frustrated housewife and one of the show's central characters, spent the last season of the show eight months pregnant and wearing a fat suit.

Played with perfect froideur by January Jones, Betty had previously had the svelte figure appropriate for an ex-model. But after just one series waddling about, "Slim Betty" is back. As a narrative device, the sudden appearance of a double chin had signified many things, not least that the character had relinquished her obsessive, controlling tendencies and, surrendering to her misery, had finally "let herself go".

In a recent interview, Jones described how the audience had responded to the character's weight gain: "When Betty was bigger, audiences were more sympathetic to her," she said. We've read enough interviews with villains from Coronation Street to know that television viewers often conflate the character with the actor who portrays them. But in this age of Supersize v Super-skinny, when you're either "celebrating your curves" or showing off your "tight little body", this observation is particularly interesting. Just what is it about a skinny woman that so gets people's backs up? And how does putting on weight somehow make you a nicer person?

In the size-zero years of the early Noughties, everyone seemed to be worshipping at the altar of skinny. The Hollywood stylist Rachel Zoe pioneered a look that seemed mostly to involve huge handbags on twig-like arms while sporting equally huge, bug-eyed glasses, which gave the wearer the look of a light-averse stick insect. Inevitably the fashion changed again and in the resulting backlash those who'd previously been congratulated on their trim figure were widely condemned and denigrated as "bony", "unfeminine" and "anorexic". Thanks partly to the buxom Christina Hendricks, another Mad Men actress, breasts were "back in", and suddenly Mail Online was teeming with lasses "pouring their enviable curves" into various jewel-coloured outfits and "celebrating" the fact that they were "real women".

"So what am I? A fictional character?" the skinny woman cried. The tide had turned as the fat-shamers shifted their attention to poking size eights in the ribs instead. Of course, in the past hundred years the ideal female body type has waxed and waned more rapidly than the phases of that most mind-controlling of feminine motherships, the moon. Whether it was the flapper girls of the Twenties, the pinups of the Fifties or the Amazonian supermodels of the Eighties, we've always had something to aspire to, body-wise. Shop mannequins have changed too, overtime. In the war years they were much broader and chunkier, a look unachievable for those on meagre wartime rations. Why are we encouraged to hate those who look the way we ourselves are supposed to want to look? …

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