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Thin Isn't In; Voluptuous Bodies Shape Up as the Image for '86

January 03, 1986|MARY ROURKE

"There is something new to be enjoyed. And that is a woman's body."

Ten years ago, at the height of the women's liberation movement, that sort of talk could get a man in a lot of trouble. But at the dawn of this new year, when Charles Gallay of the Azzedine Alaia boutique says it, he is simply observing a trend.

Of all the predictions to make about 1986, one in particular on beauty seems certain: The "anorexic look" is out of date.

Women want bigger, bulkier, bolder-shaped bodies. They want to occupy more physical space. They want to be noticed, not only for their brains or executive brawn but for their breasts, their waistlines and their hips.

"I'd rather be looked over than overlooked," says Apollonia Kotero, the enormously popular rock singer-turned-actress, whose voluptuous figure embodies the current craze for curves. (She credits Mae West with the glib quote, and she includes West with Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren as the ample-bodied actresses she admires most.)

But Apollonia is only one role model for the new female physique. Madonna, another sinuous singer-turned-movie-star, is as much the type.

Beyond the music business, women athletes are doing their part to promote the new proportion. Such powerfully built star athletes as Mary Lou Retton, Chris Evert Lloyd and Martina Navratilova are as responsible as any rock star for giving the broader, bolder physique a good name.

And then there are Helmut Newton's fashion photographs that helped pioneer the trend. For several years he has been praising the mythically proportioned fashion model in photographs that often appear on the pages of Vogue magazine. Newton's idea of "sexy" is something closer to Diana, goddess of the hunt, than the sylph-like Audrey Hepburn sort.

Maintaining a physique of mythical proportion requires a certain discipline, though the technique has little in common with maintaining the "starvation" style that has recently fallen out of favor.

Apollonia says she achieves volume by lifting weights and swimming regularly as well as eating at least one substantial meal a day, refusing to count calories and never stepping on a scale.

"I let the fit of my clothes tell me everything I need to know," she says. For body-beauty inspiration, she watches Loren and Monroe movies from her personal collection.

A "health nut" of sorts, she takes vitamins and sees her doctor and dentist regularly. All this because she believes: "A woman's body should be stronger than the environment. Strong enough to overpower the negative elements, especially in cities like New York and Los Angeles."

In recent years, Apollonia's notion of physical stamina has been adapted by many more women. It isn't unusual now for housewives to excel at body-building, or starting-salary secretaries to spend a hefty portion of their weekly income on tennis lessons, gymnastics classes or workouts with their personal weight trainer. These priorities contribute to the shift in ideal from the balletic to the athletic body-type.

Apollonia sees the shift as positive.

"The new physique shows that women have a healthier mental attitude, a new self-awareness," she says. "I think women are telling the world: 'This is the way I am. If he isn't happy with it I don't need him.' "

Sociologists are already writing formal studies about the shift in attitude that the ample-bodied female represents.

In a book co-written with Barbara Meyeroff, Educator-author Eleanor Lenz describes it as part of "The Feminization of America," which she defines as the bringing of femininity and feminine values from the home to the public world.

"In a man's world, it used to be that feminine meant effeminate," Lenz observes. "Now that women have proved their professional competence, they feel their femininity is something to be proud of. Women are taking pride in being women. And part of showing that pride is accepting the female figure, perfect or imperfect, and letting it show."

Lenz sees evidence of the new attitude among working women who have achieved their career goals and, as a result, feel freer to dress in feminine, body-revealing clothes.

"When they were struggling, feeling insecure in a man's world, they wore man-tailored suits in men's pin stripes," she notes.

Lenz says she has considered whether women's current inclination toward building up and showing off their bodiesrepresents a return to the female sex-object mentality.

"But another way of seeing it can be that women are growing into their womanhood, and that is a sign of maturity," she concludes.

To a certain extent, women taking pride in their figures simply represent a coming to terms with reality.

"Most women are built more like Apollonia than like couture models," says Nina Blanchard, who owns a successful fashion modeling agency based in Los Angeles. " I certainly identify with the more voluptuous body. I have one."

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