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Does Size Really Matter?

Suddenly, it looks as if the moment has arrived for real women to take center stage.

June 17, 2007|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

THE "Best Friends" cover of the June issue of Harper's Bazaar with Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie is wrong for so many, many reasons, starting with the little problem that the two have gone way beyond feuding with each other, to flirting with Johnny Law.

But equally glaring is how their faux-bronzed, pencil-necked, blond-extended, small dog-carrying brand of beauty feels so over.

How did the Harper's editors miss it? There's a new look taking over this town: Strong, curvy women are at the top of every segment of pop culture, including film, TV and music. And we're not talking about a certain size 4 Latina pop star who happens to have a round bottom.

This is a genuine super-sizing. It started way back at the Golden Globes in January, when the loveliest ladies in the room were the roundest -- Jennifer Hudson, the ex-"American Idol" who took home the honor for best supporting actress for "Dreamgirls," and "Ugly Betty's" America Ferrera, who beat out desperately thin "Desperate Housewife" Felicity Huffman for best actress in a comedy or musical series.

The viewing public cast its vote for real-life bodies again when 6-foot, size 12 Jordin Sparks was crowned "American Idol," Amazonian legs, arms and all. She wore a stunning orange Empire waist gown by designers Mark Badgley and James Mischka, who reached out to "Idol" producers to dress her during the final week of the show. Just a year before, they were tapping tiny twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen for their ad campaign.

How times had changed.

And when Sparks took the stage to sing "This Is My Now" in the finale, it seemed as if pop culture was finally reflecting the reality that the average American woman is a size 12 to 14.

The fashion industry had its own body image crisis, when a full-on international debate about skinny models broke out during the last runway season. And for a while, even the glossy magazines seemed to come along.

Hudson was featured on the cover of Vogue in March, and Ferrera looked sultry on the cover of W in May. Just this month, People magazine ran a story about Sparks "being happy with her size" and included her style tips for plus-size girls. (Size 14 is the gateway for plus-size clothing.) OK! magazine published its exclusive under the headline "Jordin Vows Not to Diet!"

Size acceptance is bubbling up from the indie music scene too. At a concert at the Avalon in Hollywood this month, British newcomer Mika performed his new single "Big Girls" flanked by two large, corset-clad backup singers. Meanwhile, the Gossip front woman Beth Ditto, the 210-pound lesbian from Arkansas who has become a punk rock advocate of fat pride, recently posed nude on the cover of British magazine NME. She also pens a gossip column for the Guardian Unlimited in London, where she sometimes hits the town with Kate Moss, of all people.

"You can't hate a person for dieting, and you can't blame a person for feeling [bad] about themselves," says Ditto in NME. "You have to blame the machine that feeds it, the thing that makes people feel like that.... The Beckhams are part of the machine. Paris Hilton is part of the machine."

But before you pare down the Pilates sessions, trade raw almonds for roasted or come to the conclusion that the world is getting saner about weight, consider this: Since Hudson's Oscar win, the media has become obsessed with her new, rigorous personal training regimen. And this week's round of tabloids did a 180 on Sparks, trumpeting her 20-pound weight loss -- with tips about how you can do it too. After Ferrera donated her Golden Globes dress to an online charity auction, it came to light that it was a "Custom size 6."

Talk about a super-size lie.

So while we're all supposed to be changing our attitudes about weight, maybe none of us is really changing at all. Talent may be enough to get you to the top, but hollow cheekbones are still what keep you there.

Which leaves Ditto to rage against the machine.

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