Let us now praise the plump woman.
Also known as La Femme en Plus. La wide load. Everything you always wanted in a woman, and more.
For years, ample women have been the butt of jokes. Joan Rivers made a career of savaging the pre-Betty Fordian Elizabeth Taylor. ("Mosquitoes see her and scream, 'Buffet!' She pierced her ears and gravy ran out.")
But now, the zaftig look is back, bigger than ever. We're talking Reubenesque, as in the sandwich. Double-decker dames. Life in the fast Lane Bryant.
This week, Vogue magazine hit the stands with a 33-page advertising supplement celebrating the larger-sized woman. For the first time in its 94-year history, the fashion bible is acknowledging what women have known all along: None of us looks like Jamie Lee Curtis.
"Why would you want to devote your life to looking like her? Her whole day revolves around dieting," says Hara Marano, editorial director of the Fashion Plus supplement and a Size 20 herself. "There's more to life than a waistline."
Of course the magazine is merely cashing in on what merchants have known for years: 30 percent of the female population wears Size 14 or over. That's 40 million women. Or 80 million thighs.
"It's the fastest growing segment of the fashion industry," says Jere Daniel, the supplement's publisher. "The reaction has been extraordinary, not only from the fashion industry but from advertisers as well. There's been nothing like it."
Daniel, who said he sold the full-page ads at the regular Vogue advertising rate ($27,500 for full-color page, $19,000 for black and white), is already planning an even larger supplement for the September issue praising the fat pack.
"They're not fat," Daniel says. "I would call them large. And large women can be beautiful."
Bill Fabrey, chairman of National Association to Aid Fat People, flipped through his advance copy of Vogue and proclaimed the supplement "a good beginning." But Fabrey has a problem. The models are too thin.
"These are not fat models," he complained. "These fashions stop at Size 22 or 24. What about the other 10 million women who are heavier than that?"
Fabrey, who appeared recently with other fat-loving men on the Sally Jesse Raphael syndicated talk show, says his wife, for example, is a Size 52. She weighs more than 300 pounds.
"I'm attracted to curves and softness and size," he says. "For lack of a better term, we call ourselves fat admirers."
Fabrey says he's impressed "by big things" -- including ocean liners, steam engines and the George Washington Bridge -- and he prefers that people call a spade a spade. "We don't like to use euphemisms like ample-figured, or plus sizes. The word is fat."
And the word, in the fashion industry, is spreading.
Says Marano, firmly: "There is fashion after Size 12."
Why can't we manage to be proud of our large bodies? Why can't we altogether grasp the fact that there might be something of a positive nature in the very fact of fleshly existence? What, we say? Woman's abundance, her fullness of body, her potbelly and . . . her big thighs regarded as beauty? Somehow it remains very hard for us to imagine women fashioning an ideal image for ourselves that required us to be grand and voluptuous.
-- Kim Chernin, "The Obsession, Reflections on the Tyranny of Slenderness"
For more evidence that fat is back, consider the following:
Oprah Winfrey, talk show host and Academy Award nominee for "The Color Purple," is thinking about developing a line of "Oprah" clothing for "the larger lady."
"W" just proclaimed diets "out" and meat loaf "in."
"Sugarbaby" was hot. "Perfect" was not.
"The Refrigerettes" -- Chicago Bears cheerleaders all tipping the Toledos at 200 pounds -- were the toast of Super Bowl XX.
Is this the dawn of Stout Clout? "I think it's a movement," says Nancy Roberts, British radio show host and author of "Breaking All the Rules," a new book celebrating the voluptuous woman. "Big women are beginning to get angry."
Roberts, sister of actor Tony Roberts, is a self-styled leader of the diet backlash. "I don't want to tell anybody to be fat," she says. "I just want to allow women the freedom to not worry about dieting. It's become a very destructive influence in women's lives."
Indeed, some women's magazines -- concerned with the proliferation of eating disorders among young women -- are telling their readers to relax. Last month's Mademoiselle, in a report headlined "Skinny Girls Ain't Sexy," even offered advice about how to keep on those extra five pounds. The story, quoting a recent study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, found that "men consider women with a little extra padding much sexier than women with stick thin figures." The article also notes that fat gives skin a more youthful appearance, prevents premature wrinkling, helps fight disease and is essential for healthy skin and hair.
Of course, it's still not healthy to look like Ling-Ling. But the trend is definitely away from the emaciated look of recent decades.
Designers like Laura Biagiotti, Givenchy, Gloria Vanderbilt, Albert Nipon and Belle France have tapped into the much larger-sized market. Even Diane von Furstenberg, famous for her tight wrap dresses, is reportedly considering expanding her line to include larger sizes.
Heavyset women no longer have to settle for what one fashion buyer calls polyester "hefty bags," thanks to the exclusive boutiques that have sprung up catering to the fat pack: "La Grande Dame," "Designer's Largesse," "More to Love," "Rubenesque."
Barbara Bush shops at "The Forgotten Woman," a Manhattan-based chain with 16 outlets nationwide. So does City Councilwoman Charlene Drew Jarvis. Until recently, so did Karol Levitt -- wife of former Old Court Savings & Loan president Jeffrey Levitt -- who went to jail for violating a court order that she and her husband live on no more than $1,000 a week. A study of her finances revealed a $454 payment to the boutique. A spokesman said that Levitt, a Size 22, purchased "casual wear."
And the over 14-size has begun showing up in advertisements and catalogues.
"For the last six years, there's been a consistently growing demand for models that are representative of the more general population," says T. Zazzera, director of the 12 Plus Division of the Ford Agency in New York, which has a stable of stately women, some weighing up to 200 pounds. "We're not really pushing fat," she says, "we're saying be the best you can no matter what size you are."
Marci Rochkind fingers the tiny colored balls on her buttercup yellow sweater and grins.
"I figure when you're fat, you're fat. You might as well flaunt it."
Rochkind is the manager of "The Plus Woman," a clothing store in Falls Church where the average customer is a Size 18 to 20, weighing from 180 to 250 pounds.
She shows off her formal gowns, cabbage rose blazers the size of slipcovers, bathing suits with flounce skirts and jogging suits. Jogging suits? The Plus Woman "may not go jogging in them," Rochkind says, "but it's something to go to the grocery store in."
She is 5 feet tall and does not divulge her weight. "I've been heavy since I was 11. Ever since those hormones took over." She says she eats practically anything she wants. "I have sausage biscuits and cola for breakfast, McNuggets for lunch. I don't exercise. I don't eat healthy foods."
She cruises the racks, pointing out the labels: Harve Bernard, Givenchy, Club de France. "We even have Jordache jeans." It's perfectly fine, Rochkind says, for fat women to wear plaids and stripes. Indeed, the clothes bear little resemblance to the ones she says she grew up with. "For some reason they (manufacturers) had an impulse to throw polka dots on clothes."
Back in the dressing room, several women are trying on pantsuits. "I can't believe I got into a small," says one. "I'm short-waisted," says another.
"It's nice in here," says Polly Muzik, a housewife from Arlington, eyeing manager Rochkind. "You don't have any scrawny people waiting on you. There's nothing worse than going into a fat store and having everyone wear a Size 2."
Muzik's friend, who prefers to remain anonymous, cannot decide between the navy blue jogging suit with the sailboat or the windsor blue with the teddy bears.
She pats the waistline. "Do you think the other is more slimming?"
Fashion lets us know what our culture expects us to be, or to become or to struggle to become, in order to be acceptable to it, thereby exercising a devastating power over our lives on a daily basis. The image of women that appears in the advertisement of a daily newspaper has the power to damage a woman's health, destroy her sense of well-being, break her pride in herself, and subvert her ability to accept herself as a woman. -- Kim Chernin
Hara Marano says she conceived of the Vogue Fashion Plus supplement because there was no attractive reflection of the larger woman in the media.
"From a number of directions, including the scientific one, there is a more comfortable attitude toward bodies. If only women could relax more about their size and love their bodies," says Marano. "Did you know that 20 percent of college students suffer from some form of bulimia? I'm not saying that, researchers are saying that. We have to learn that slimness is unattainable and dangerous for a large segment of women.
"People are beginning to realize it's driving us crazy."
Not that crazy. No one is advocating the return of force feeding, and no one sees Miss Piggy as a serious threat to Miss America. But times have changed -- and for once, the ample woman may have a certain edge.
Says designer Bill Blass, "The derriere may well become the erotic zone again."