x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Fashion's obsession with thin swings the other way with Joan Harris

Life&style Fashion should be about pleasure, not an impossible quest for the 'ideal' figure.

Tina Chang / The National
Tina Chang / The National

Fashion should be about pleasure, not an impossible quest for the 'ideal' figure. The UK's new equalities minister Lynne Featherstone recently cited Christina Hendricks - who plays the sassy secretary Joan Harris in the television drama Mad Men - as having an "absolutely fabulous" figure, the shape to which the average woman should aspire. So, sitting here with Joan and her pillowy curves on my mind, I am feeling, well, a little queasy. I'm thinking that packing in a few extra Big Macs will not do to me what they do to Joanie. As an "ideal" she is about as unattainable as Kate Moss and other big-headed supermodels, with their concave thighs and pipe-cleaner arms.

You see, Joan is an objet d'art - a physical anomaly, albeit a rather attractive one. But average? Call me prudish, but Joan and average simply do not mix. For a start, those hips are extraordinary - a medical curiosity - a supernatural event. In fact, the type that makes one wonder if she is hiding some junk up there. Perhaps a couple of basketballs? A sideways bustle? Featherstone's comments came a week after the "plus-size" model Crystal Renn complained that she had been retouched to look several sizes smaller for an ad campaign. Eureka! It seems that big hips are, well... hip. Except that's not really the case; it's just more of the same tired old rant. I'm bored. You're bored. Men are nearly asleep.

I've been retouched myself a few times. I would love to say I was horrified, disgusted even; but I'd be lying. There is something wonderfully satisfying about watching a cursor shave away that extra slab of upper arm with a little click, stretching out a thigh, raising the cheek bones or zapping off some of my bottom. We have become acclimatised to thin. Not slim, not toned, not normal. But thin. Which makes me want to bang my head against a wall, to pound my fist on the desk screaming NOOOO! in retaliation. Thin is not the point. Fashion is supposed to be about giving women pleasure and self-confidence, not make us want to look like a starving whippet. While there is no doubt that slim is healthy, coltishly thin equates to vulnerability, which makes me wince.  The ideals of femininity shouldn't make us want to shrink, to starve or disappear. Nor should they make us want to inflate our bras with a bicycle pump.

Instead, what Featherstone and the rest of us need to do, rather than replacing old impossible ideals with new impossible ideals, is to stop looking for perfection and focus on life's little things that actually matter.