The thinspo community is being really, really mean to poor, gorgeous model Kate Upton—the obsessively, unhealthily skinny (or at least those who worship that look) have dubbed the 20-year-old, among other things, "a squishy brick" with "big fat floppy boobs." Wow, lady hate is harsh. Amy Odell of Buzzfeed Shift has come to the defense of Upton, however, writing a post titled "In Praise of Kate Upton." She writes, "Any model that doesn't fit into a the runways' preferred insanely skinny — yet muscley! — mold is more than alright by me."
First of all, let it be said that there's nothing wrong with praising Kate Upton, even if she probably doesn't need it. (As Jenna Sauers writes in a post on Jezebel, "Upton is basically the epitome of curvy, blonde beauty as it's valued in the U.S. today." We'd add: Not just today.) Upton is also a well-paid, much-discussed professional model, and, I'd venture to guess that even in her non-work time gets a lot of positive attention for her looks—even if, like any woman, she probably has things about herself that she wishes were a little different. We love to hear this, right, that seemingly perfect models and actresses are just like regular people, full of self-doubt and hate? Or maybe she, for one of us at least, doesn't have a thing she hates about herself: That would be refreshing!
Point being, do we actually need to waste additional valuable Internet space in praise of Kate Upton? With some exceptions, the fashion industry has gone so far into this weird, skinny place at the same time that real, everyday humans are further from it than ever that I think it does us a disservice to talk about Kate Upton as representative of some pro-woman or pro-actual-people stance in the fashion industry. Even as a relatively small-sized person, I can say honestly that it is not easy to feel good—or even just fine, not ashamed, not necessarily thrilled, but just plain fine—about the physiques we have been given. It is harder still to feel awesome. Even as we know it is self-undermining and wrong, we are always comparing ourselves to these other people we see on TV, in the movies, on the covers of magazines, on the runway: the people who look in whatever way is deemed "better": skinnier, defined abs, longer and more willowy legs, better boobs, prettier, whatever it is. When we see one who might have a wee bit of a tummy, or whose inner thighs actually touch, even if she is otherwise "perfect," it is easy to get a little bit excited that maybe this perfection is attainable after all. Maybe we are closer than we thought!
Odell writes, "I don't think I'm alone among straight women, who I suspect are also Upton fans because she doesn't look like she spends all her time juice-fasting, working out, and popping metabolism-enhancing supplements. And yet, she's been embraced by the fashion industry."
But to hold Kate Upton as some shining example of a "real woman" is just putting our heads in the sand again. Some tiny percent of women look like either her or the hyper-skinny scary models that Odell compares her to favorably. Both types are alien creatures to the majority of women (and men) in the U.S. Still, perhaps more insidious than praising Upton for not looking like she has an eating disorder is heaping praise on magazines like Vogue and GQ for doing the truly audacious and putting a model who looks like she might occasionally eat something akin to a carb on their pages. Yay, guys, you really knocked this one out of the park: You chose someone who will shake the fashion world to its very core!
It's occasionally fun, if surreal, to think back to the days in which the rare woman was healthily curvy, well-fed, voluptuous, or even, by the terms of today, fat. Because, obviously, looks and status are inextricably intertwined, which is why we pay supermodels and desperately want to look like them, and why, when food was (and in places it still is) rare, those who looked like they actually had it were favored, appearance-wise. That such an opposite reality is true in today's world is a rather sad state, but true nonetheless; and that pro-anorexia sites exist are calling Upton fat and lardy represents a real nadir in body-image-health affairs for women in this country.
So what do we do about it? Instead of praising Kate Upton or magazines who put her on their covers, let's hold our praise for fashion and the magazine industry's truly bold, unconventional choices of models who reflect diversity of size, shape, and ethnic background. But as we wait for (and demand!) more of that, how about we go grassroots and start close to home: Praise an actual woman who looks good, and like an actual woman, today (nicely, not creepily, please). It can't be that difficult; we are everywhere.