Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Big Girls: Don't Cry

Cathy Horyn over at the New York Times posted a general comment about the Golden Globes on her On The Runway blog that referred to Christina Hendricks (star of Mad Men, general bombshell, growing fashion icon) as a “big girl.” The words weren’t technically Horyn’s; the quote came from an anonymous stylist who said “you don’t put a big girl in a big dress,” referring to the ruffled gown that Christian Siriano designed for Hendricks for the awards ceremony.

Full disclosure: Christian is a friend, though this has little to do with what I wanted to say about Horyn’s post. She’s not just free to hate whatever dress she chooses, she’s qualified to do so. She is a style critic for the New York Times. I am a person who wears a Sears flannel over an American Apparel dress to events where I want to pick up men. She’s paper to my fashion rock. But what I wanted to say (and what I left in a comment that has apparently been moderated into oblivion) isn’t an opinion on the dress that Christina Hendricks chose to wear. I’m really angry about how Horyn responded to it.

For the moment, let’s just accept as true the premise that Christina Hendricks is a “big girl.” Let’s also pretend that it’s at all appropriate for a New York Times journalist to discuss to her body in a pejorative and almost adolescent way. I’ll get back to these in a minute. The axiom that she attributes to the random stylist—but signs off on via its publication—is still insane and infuriating. What is a “big girl” supposed to wear? I’ve seen women of anything larger than a sample size faulted for dressing down, faulted for wearing menswear-inspired separates, faulted for wearing something understated and looking like a “mother of the bride,” and most of all faulted for wearing the form-fitting dresses that she and the stylist now seem to be prescribing. Thanks to this post, it’s now a faux pas for a “big girl” to wear a gown with a ruffle to the one occasion where it’s wholly fitting to wear a ruffled gown.

The subtext to the stylist’s comment troubles me even more than its surface bitchiness. Cathy Horyn and I both have something in common, and it’s that we both lost a lot of weight. Where she seems to revel in the fact that she can wear whatever she likes now, it’s something that’s made me uneasy about my weight loss and even angrier at the lack of fashion options for women who do wear plus sizes. Loving fashion should go hand in hand with a belief in allowing all sizes access to all styles. Fashion, style, clothing, accessories, shoes, hair, makeup: it is more you than your body, since it is all subject to personal choice. I hated that I couldn’t wear what I wanted to wear when I wore a size 20. Now I hate that I can wear what I want, which makes me feel more comfortable than I’ve ever been, while women who continue to wear a size 20, a size 26, a size 44, don’t have the same luxury. And most of all, I hate that Christina Hendricks, who is built like a dream and has the money and celebrity necessary to have the clothes she loves made for her, can’t escape the same scrutiny that there are things she can or can’t wear. Like she’s breaking the law for wearing a dress with a ruffle on the hip.

The stylist’s advice is stupid. You put a big dress on a big girl if she wants to wear the dress. You put a dress made of bubbles on Lady Gaga if she wants to wear it. You put a suit on Diane Keaton because she likes it. You put people in what they want to wear, because that is how people look beautiful. The worst part of the advice, though, is the language he or she used. “Big girl” is a descriptor so dripping with condescension you can almost hear it, like a leaky faucet. Christina Hendricks is 34 years old. A stylist declares her fat and all of a sudden she’s not just big, she’s a “girl.” It’s infantilizing and snide, and I wish to hell I could explain how hurtful it is to someone who has never had it used in reference to herself.

This is all kind of secondary to the fact that Christina Hendricks is not plus-sized in any way. She has an hourglass figure and a large bust. Her waist is several inches smaller than mine and I wear a size 8. The Times doctored the image that accompanied the article to make her look larger than she actually is. If you’re going to take issue with the sartorial choices of “big girls,” the Times should probably use a “big girl” instead of creating one in Photoshop.

I wouldn’t mind if Cathy Horyn hated the dress Hendricks wore. I couldn’t care less if she had written thousand words on the vileness of ruffles and a sonnet on how peach makes her vomit. She is a fashion critic and that would fall under her job description. Critiquing a woman’s body, however, does not.

Unfortunately, she is the New York Times style critic. And who the fuck am I?


Anonymous nicole said...

thumbs up kathy!

people should be free to wear and express themselves in what they are comfotable in without the scrutiny of joan rivers, cathy horne or jay emmanuale.
and your dead on when saying they critique the body instead of the dress. focus on the color and the design, not the imagined back fat, saggy nipples and thick waist.

12:59 PM  
Anonymous nvam said...

WTF are you? You're an extremely literate writer with an attitude. I lurve you.

1:01 PM  
Blogger Quinn222 said...

Amen to every word. As a photographer and a woman I was revolted by what was both said in the Times and shown, with the manipulated image. Enough with dictating to women what they can and cannot wear based on some stupid "rule", not to mention labeling perfectly healthy and beautiful women as 'big' or 'fat' if they have natural curves.

1:04 PM  
Blogger Sarah B. said...

Very well written. Good job, you.

1:16 PM  
Blogger HnK said...

Amen sister! This is the first article I have read on your blog, caught it from Brad Walsh's twitter, and I was blown away. I am with you 100% on this, and definitely plan on keeping up with this blog from now on. :)

1:26 PM  
Blogger dancinghorse said...

I saw the undoctored photo on the Fug Girls, headlined "Well played" and raving about her "fabulous bod" and the gorgeous way the dress fit her. She looked stunning and she knew it.

I so wish people would not practice psychological projection in public fora, be they style, politics, or any other genre--especially at the expense of others who emphatically do not deserve the nastiness.

2:15 PM  
Blogger tenngypsy said...

Very well written. I can believe they distorted the picture, just like all the stories about how ever celebrity that is a size 12 and under has gained weight. I am a big girl and proud of it, I lost a lot of weight 10 years ago and recently b/c of a really bad year and unemployment have been putting it back on. I still wear "skinny" jeans, I WILL wear shorts, I don't give a F*ck about the "rules". I think Christina looked beautiful, not many people can pull off that color. I found your blog b/c of Brad Walsh, and have been visiting ever since. Thanks for standing up for the "Big Girls".

2:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank You Kathy. Honestly... you took the words out of my mouth and beautified them exponentially.

2:54 PM  
Blogger lacey said...

i just found your blog for the first time, and this is the first post i ever read, and i am probably now a fan for life. brilliant.

3:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this. As one of the "big girls" it's awesome to hear someone say the same thing i think every time i have to put together an outfit to go out or try to go shopping.
As for Cathy Horyn, it's ridiculous that she's writing that crap. Christina Hendricks looked amazing in that gown, which showed off her hourglass figure in an incredible way.
I love your blog. It makes me think and it's brought me a lot of laughter.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Carolina Ramirez said...


This is amazing and you raise a good point. I hate that people like this control what fashion is. And I agree with you, fashion is what makes a woman feel beautiful!! I think everyone should be allowed to wear whatever the fuck they want!!! I can't believe that in this day and age, weight or size is such an issue! It's beyond me. Get over it. Stop making people feel so horrible about themselves!! It disgusts me! NASTY!

Thanks for writing this <3

4:29 PM  
Blogger missris said...

Christina Hendricks is gorgeous and this post is spot-on. Well done.

4:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sort of off the point --- I liked the dress --I listen to Tony Kornheiser's (the sports guy on Pardon the Interruption on ESPN with Michael Wilbon)radio show and he commented how beautiful she looked - like a Botecelli painting (excuse my spelling) -- and this is a very good article and great writing. I read you often first time responder.

5:24 PM  
Anonymous Meems said...

Thank you for writing this! Well argued and totally sensical. Awesome.

5:34 PM  
Anonymous Frances said...

Yes! As a 'big girl' (at 23, I still consider myself more girl than woman), I hate that there are so many rules for dressing a fat body. I hate that satorial suggestions for my size in fashion magazines involve hiding my spectacular body, even though they euphemistically call it 'slimming' or 'flattering'.

To paraphrase the Patron Saint of Fat, Ms Beth Ditto: Just because something makes you look thinner, doesn't mean it's a better outfit.

7:10 PM  
Anonymous Rachel said...

Fabulous post! Thank you for putting it to words so we don't have to. I was left spluttering and without words.

Also, love your blog. I, too, am a late dater and feeling quite out of my depth. Okcupid is leaving me with mixed feelings and I'm getting sick of the game. Been a lot of men wanting nothing but sex or personal pics, and its all very discouraging. Anyhoo! Thanks for the awesome reading! You've been bookmarked. :)

9:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You put a big dress on a big girl if she wants to wear the dress. You put a dress made of bubbles on Lady Gaga if she wants to wear it. You put a suit on Diane Keaton because she likes it. You put people in what they want to wear, because that is how people look beautiful.


4:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

YES! Very well spoken - thank you. Believe you me, nothing wrong with women who look like Christina H. When Cathy Horyn looks as good, beautiful and sexy as Christina, she can use all the biased terminology she likes but until then, she should shut up.

3:59 PM  
Blogger natalie said...

honestly, i think you're totally right. but i feel as though people make comments like that because they have some own deep seeded insecurities about themselves. comments like that are totally unnecessary, particularly for someone who is writing for the times. while that may sound utterly cliche of me, it's what i really believe.

don't let it get to you. i mean, from what i read in her article, cathy horyn just woman writing for the new york times who clearly does not have any more knowledge than anybody else.

12:01 PM  
Anonymous Michelle said...

"Christina Hendricks is 34 years old. A stylist declares her fat and all of a sudden she’s not just big, she’s a “girl.” It’s infantilizing and snide, and I wish to hell I could explain how hurtful it is to someone who has never had it used in reference to herself."

YES. I agree with everything you said, but I particularly loved this part. To refer to Christina as "big" is ridiculous, to insinuate that someone can't wear what they want because of their size is ridiculous, and the whole thing is just insanity. Love that Beth Ditto quote someone posted upthread as well.

12:32 PM  
Blogger Bridget Beaver said...

what really disgusts me is that they distorted the image. that is probably the worst part of the WHOLE ordeal. Some people (like me... ) would have read the first few lines of the article and saw the picture and that would be that...
being a so-called "big girl" myself (and I live in Japan, so I hear this often from my coworkers, neighbors, students... strangers) I feel I have been particularly mobilized by your post. Thank you.

7:24 PM  
Blogger Miss Peregrin said...

This is amazing. I'm glad to hear someone voice what I thought about the whole situation in a much more articulate way than me swearing about it to my boyfriend in the living room. Great post.

3:17 AM  
Anonymous Petrushka said...

I 100% agree. It's totally sick to criticise someone who isn't even big about their weight. Perhaps people should think about the repercussions of what they're saying before they say it. To describe somebody who isn't fat as big automatically implies that anyone over that size isn't just big, they're huge. The article, even with the doctored photo was devastating to my younger sister, who is now trying to starve herself in a desperate attempt to lose weight. I hope people will think of what can happen in a few words. It was a gorgeous dress and she is a beautiful woman.

7:55 PM  
Anonymous LauraSo said...

wow...after finding an image of Christina Hendricks at the Globes on Google, I CANNOT BELIEVE Cathy Horyn wrote that absolute nonsense. Way to go, Kathy, congratulations on an insightful and beautifully written post.

10:50 PM  
Blogger Wildevine (Janet) said...

Christina is beyond beautiful and you are right on!

5:00 PM  

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