Big Girls: Don't Cry
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?