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Rants

I am Fine.

On Monday I will be 31 years old, and it has taken me this long to realise one simple thing. I am fine.

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I may never be a supermodel, I may never be a millionaire, I may never work out how to stop my hair from frizzing, or write the Great British Novel, or learn how to eat carrots like a grown-up rather than picking them out of every meal. I may never have a 26 inch waist. But I am safe, I am happy, I am fine.

To some extent, I’ve spent my whole life wishing I was something different. More confident, more vivacious, more tanned. Better at driving, less anxious, able to leave the house for a trip without checking every plug socket twice. Less prone to sticking myself to the walls at press events because I’m not one of the cool kids. Able to have a conversation with someone I admire without worrying that they think I’m a total bore (more importantly, not caring if they do). Able to participate in a pub quiz without coming across as an insufferable know-it-all. Able to live my life so I don’t feel like I’m faking it half of the time. Thinner, without the chubby ankles, the short torso and the dot-to-dot moles. With higher boobs, bigger lips, slimmer hips.

This level of self-obsession is not a good thing. Yes, we should always strive to be the best we can be. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to be a better person. But so many of my hang-ups have to do with my body. That is ridiculous. I am more than that, and my body really isn’t that bad. Yeah, I have wobbly bits. I’ll never look like Miranda Kerr in a bikini. Sometimes, depending on which way my weight is fluctuating at the time, I step on the scales and the number tells me that (by someone’s fairly random calculations) I’m a bit overweight. That doesn’t suddenly make me a worse person. I am fine.

Partially, I blame fashion for my terrible body image. Fashion has made me feel left out my entire life. I don’t say that to elicit pity. Quite the opposite, in fact. I say it because you’ve probably felt the same way. After all, it’s what large parts of the industry thrive on. The only difference is I’m the idiot who decided to pursue a career in the exact industry that made me feel inferior at every turn. Well, I do love a challenge.

It’s easy to feel like fashion designers, retailers and the media don’t cater to your specific needs. Fashion thrives on aspiration and making women feel like they’re not good enough without the must have item. Whether you’re tall, short, plus size, slim, big busted, small busted, have a big waist, or a small waist, or a big bum, or no bum, or short legs or long legs…whatever. If you’re any woman I’ve spoken to in my entire adult life, you’ve struggled with fashion sometimes. When you go shopping, you have to dig and hunt to find the things that work for you. All clothes don’t work for all women. It’s rare that you see an ad campaign and think “I’d totally wear that, just like she does right there.” You’re more likely to read articles in magazines or on websites and think “well, this is all well and good, but what about women like me?” The fact that I’ve felt like that over and over again doesn’t make me special. It makes me exactly like everyone else.

I think it’s important to say at this point that I don’t hate my job. I love it. My decision to become a fashion writer was always more about clothes than it was about ‘fashion’. I have always been obsessed with clothing. Even before I really knew what ‘fashion’ was, I liked dressing up, and most of my strongest memories focus around items of clothing or outfits I had as a child. Trends were fun, but I loved clothes because they were the tool I used to make myself feel better, or become a different person, or make a statement. That’s the irony. Fashion made me feel bad and clothes made me feel better. Like most people, my teenage years were full of awkward moments. The right clothes could change and mould me into the girl I wanted to be. They were my armour. I have never really been bullied, but there have always been comments. Stupid people go for the easiest insults and “fat” is a pretty safe bet for me. I’ve been around a size 14 since I was about 15 years old, and it’s taken me half a lifetime to realise that doesn’t make me some kind of failure. My body is fine. I am fine. In fact, just as I look at other women and wish I had what they have, I now realise that others do that with me.

I write this now because I’m finally getting to a place where I don’t look at photos of myself and immediately pick out all the flaws. I still see my body as a work in progress, but I’m striving to ensure that anything I do to change it has to be about being healthy and happy, not necessarily about being a certain dress size. I hate that I put my weight above so many other things, but it’s a daily struggle not to. I am obsessed. And it’s not an easy job to reverse twenty-something years of habit and learned behaviour.

But I’m trying, and I want you to try too. Stop beating yourself up, stop tearing yourself down. Leave that to the trolls. I’m not saying give up, we should all strive to be our best, fittest, happiest and healthiest selves. But the best and most long-lasting changes (if they are needed or desired by you and you alone) can only be made when you’re starting from a good place. Next time you look in the mirror, instead of focusing on the things you hate, pick out one thing you love. The next time, pick out something else. If you’re struggling to find anything, keep looking and really force yourself to consider all the amazing things that make up you.

Because you are fine. And fine is good enough for now.

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Rants

The Campaign for Clearer Clothing Sizes

Forgive me for constantly banging on about dress sizes and sticking up headless photos all the time, but when I saw the campaign that Gemma at Retro Chick had set up, I knew it was something I had to get behind. As well as sharing a first name, Gemma and I share very similar views when it comes to UK clothing sizes. We’re fed up of the huge variations, vanity sizing, and obsession with numbers. And what is even worse than obsessing over the label in your clothes is walking into a shop and having absolutely no idea which size to try on in the first place.

I’m pretty sure all of us have a variety of sizes in our wardrobes. That’s just how it goes. Different shops cut in different ways. We’ve all been in the fitting rooms, trying on our usual size only to find it either hangs off our body or won’t even get close to zipping up. And the guesswork that comes with buying clothing drives me mad. It makes shopping online a virtual lottery. Will that size 14 fit? Does the size chart actually represent the measurements of the finished garment?

I’ve tried to illustrate this above with a few of the dresses I’ve featured on this site before. I weigh pretty much the same in all the photos above, give or the odd pound here or there. I think of myself as about a size 14, but I have everything from a 10 to a 16. I know that Peacocks, New Look and Debenhams cut big, I know that in H&M I should try the 16 first and work down from there. But I go into a new or unfamiliar shop, and I often have no idea where to begin.

The sizing charts for the major high street stores show that one size can vary by up to a couple of inches depending on which shop you’re in. As a rule, younger stores size down, more ‘mature’ stores size up (both for reasons of vanity sizing). Gemma’s campaign is for clearer clothing sizes on the high street. Not so much for a ‘one size everywhere’ policy, which is probably a bit too much to ask.

But pushing brands to actually stick to their sizing charts, and publish them on clothing labels rather than just on their websites so we have something to go on, is a good start.

She’s also encouraging bloggers to ‘fess up, share their exact measurements, and talk about their struggles with finding the perfect fit. So, on that note…

My current measurements are 37.5 – 29.5 – 39 inches. This makes me a size 14 in most shops, according to size charts. But I’ve recently found that, due to vanity sizing, size 12s often fit me better, especially in shops prone to adding ease. I own one size 10, from the ridiculously generous Pearl Lowe collection at Peacocks. How any woman more than an inch or two smaller than me manages to find anything from that range to fit them is beyond me. Talk about adding ease!

There is nothing wrong with shops cutting their clothes to cater to a specific audience. I realise, for example, that though I get angry with H&M sizing, there are plenty of A-cup girls who absolutely love the fact they can go in there and buy something that doesn’t feel baggy up top like in every other shop. But I agree with Gemma that there needs to be some clarity. Nobody should be wearing three different sizes from the same shop, which has happened to me in the past.

So, to high street stores we say this: establish some rules, let your suppliers and factories know exactly what size chart they’re working to and what ease they should be adding. Stick to these rules so the consumer knows where she stands. And stop making one range big and one range small within the same store.

In short, throw us a frickin’ bone!

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Rants

Why it’s time to throw out those incentive jeans!

I recently did some talks on the Ideal Woman catwalk at the Ideal Home show about dressing to make the most of your body. It was in a similar vein to what I did at BNTM Live – I concentrated on my belief that we need to stop looking at our bodies and seeing a series of flaws and ‘problem areas’, but we should pick out the good bits instead, in order to start on a positive note. It sounds obvious, but I’ve met plenty of women who struggle to pick even one thing they really like about themselves, and I think that’s a terrible shame.

I think so often we’re raised to think being happy and confident in ourselves (even if we don’t look like models) is somehow arrogant, egotistical or just plan wrong. We’re constantly talking ourselves down. When you’re a teenager, no matter what your body is like, you end up believing it could be improved upon. Remember the Mean Girls scene where the impossibly gorgeous Amanda Seyfried moans about how her nail beds are ‘icky’?

There you are, at an impressionable age, believing you’re too fat or too skinny or too tall or too short or your boobs aren’t big / small / perky enough. And as much as we think we’ve grown up, I’ve seen so many examples of these fixations continuing into adulthood. I still hate my ankles because I developed a fixation on them as a teen. Who looks at people’s ankles, anyway?

A few years ago I was exactly the kind of girl who would put pictures of slim celebrities on my fridge as if it would be some kind of incentive for me to not fill said fridge with wine and pizza. I was also the kind of girl who’d buy a pair of jeans a size (or two sizes) smaller than I actually needed, hoping that having them hanging in the wardrobe would help me ‘make better choices’.

The better choice, of course, would have been to just not buy things that are too small for me in the first place. Those jeans (yes, I really did buy them) hung in my wardrobe for years, taunting me. What I learned was that with all the will in the world you can promise yourself you’ll fit into those ‘incentive’ items one day, but keeping them and seeing them every day will just make you miserable. Eventually you have to accept that your body has changed (and that is okbetter even) and go and buy something lovely that fits you NOW that you can enjoy.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying everyone should wave goodbye to the idea of losing weight if they want to (or need to for some reason). It goes without saying that we should all strive to live as healthy a lifestyle as possible. But health and weight are not intrinsically linked! You’re not a bad person because the things that fit you at 18 don’t fit you 10 years later. Punishing ourselves unnecessarily to fit an ideal that is ridiculous for most average people is just as bad as eating our way to an early grave.

It’s taken me a long time to come to the realisation that the people who have the best relationship with their bodies are the ones who don’t worry about them too much. Tall or short, slim or voluptuous, they just don’t stress out about it.

Why am I saying all of this now?

Because those jeans? They fit. Six years after I bought them. And the irony, of course, is that they’re not even that nice. I probably won’t even wear them.

I really shouldn’t have bought them all those years ago. ‘Incentive’ clothing ends up being a noose around your neck. Those jeans were my holy grail. I thought once I fit into them, I’d somehow be a better person; slimmer, happier, more confident, more loved.

The truth is, the only way I could ever GET myself into those jeans was by getting all those things first. By realising that the only person I have to answer to is myself, and by learning to have a slightly better relationship with my body in the process.

We need to stop fooling ourselves into thinking that being a certain size and fitting into certain items of clothing will make us ‘better’. We are wonderful already. It’s easy to fixate on the past, when we used to be size X, Y or Z, and idealise that time. But the truth is, we were the same person then as we are now.

It doesn’t matter what you were, or what you may be in the future. The important thing is to start living for the NOW.

So throw out the incentive jeans and go out and buy something that fits now, looks wonderful and makes you feel like a million quid!

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In The News, Rants, Uncategorized

On size 14 as the ‘ideal’ and other revolutionary ideas…

Earlier this week the Daily Mail published an article about our new Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone. She made some comments over the weekend about the media’s portrayal of women, the ridiculous ideals that young women have to live up to, and the amount of tiny, airbrushed models we see in publications every day. She even suggested some kind of kitemark system for images that have been digitally altered. “Advertisers and magazine editors have a right to publish what they choose, but women and girls also have a right to feel comfortable in their own bodies.” She said.

So far, so good. But she then suggested that girls would be better to aspire to the curvaceous figure of my current girl crush, Christina Hendricks, rather than the impossibly thin models on the catwalk. “Christina Hendricks is absolutely fabulous. We need more of these role models.”

This, of course, led the Mail run with the shock headline “All women should aspire for hourglass size 14 figures, claims new equalities minister.” Talk about paraphrasing!

Nowhere, as far as I could see, was size 14 being held up as some kind of ideal. Featherstone was simply saying more curvaceous women in the media would be a good move – which I agree with.

But we do not need a country where all women strive to be a size 14. And I say that as a size 14 myself. Picking a size out of thin air and saying ‘be like this’ is not the way to make changes! Not everyone is meant to be a 14. Not because it’s too big, or too small or too anything, but simply because, as many other great people have already said, there is no ‘one size fits all’.

Hendricks, according to the measurements of the dress she wore to the SAG awards, has a 40-28-40 figure, so it’s pushing it for The Daily Mail to even call her a 14! She probably has a myriad of sizes in her wardrobe depending on the cut. That kind of waist-to-hip ratio is uncommon, difficult to achieve without a lot of help from mother nature (or surgery) and probably just as hard to achieve as size zero. She is a beautiful woman, but she is not the only woman who’s the right size. And Featherstone never actually said she was.

Luckily, while the DM website is full of all the usual “size 14 is fat” bullshit, others have chosen to read the real story beneath the stupid headline. And it’s started a really interesting conversation (on blogs, twitter and so on) amongst women of all shapes and sizes.

Even Lynne Featherstone was quick to clarify herself after the publication of the Mail story. She commented on Amber’s brilliant post to argue how her comments had been skewed.

Going on to call slim women ‘stick insects’ on her own blog wasn’t particularly clever (just as some of us are naturally curvy, some are naturally slight) but enough people have commented on that for her to have learned her lesson. Hopefully.

A few mistakes aside, what has been lost in all the size 14 hysteria is that what Featherstone is saying in broader terms is definitely a step in the right direction. We do need to continue to encourage diversity in advertising and publications. Some of us are thin, some of us are fat, some of us are somewhere in between. We need to stop promoting this ideal of the super-slim body as the only acceptable one and we need to stop seeing excessive airbrushing as ‘normal’.

But what is clear is that we don’t want to go too far in the opposite direction. Just as size 6 is not the ideal, neither is size 14. In truth, they both can be, along with many other sizes above, below and in-between. It just depends on the woman!

Click here to buy plus size clothing from Curvissa

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In The News, Rants

Zzzzz! Julien Macdonald picks on plus sizes.

I remember writing a review of Project Catwalk during its first season and jokingly photoshopping a pair of devil horns onto Julien Macdonald’s head after he made one too many nasty comments about the contestants.

In early episodes of the show, it quickly became obvious that the Welsh designer was filling the Simon Cowell role in the show, a comedy villain who loved nothing more than tearing the contestants to shreds.

And it seems nothing changes. Madonald will soon return to our screens, this time judging models, not clothes, in a new series of Britain’s Next Top Model. And whilst the show has a new look and a new face at the helm – Elle Macpherson – one thing it will no doubt be recycling is Julien’s tendency to spout unnecessary vitriol.

This week’s gem? Well, apparently, “If you’re a size 14 in room full of size eights – you’re in the wrong room.”

It seems ‘larger’ women are the current target of the man behind many a skimpy little party dress. Wales Online spoke to the designer about the new series of Britain’s Next Top Model and asked him if plus size models would be given the opportunity to compete (following a win for a US size 12 model the American version of the show). His response?

“This is a serious show. You can’t have a plus size girl winning – it makes it a joke.”

Indeed. I know I laugh frequently at Crystal Renn, Hayley Morley and co. They’re just frickin’ hilarious. Also, I’ve seen BNTM and the one thing it’s not is serious!

Macdonald goes on to justify his comments by explaining that being a plus size girl in a skinny girl’s world is difficult. So we’re to believe he’s trying to save wannabe plus size models the embarassment and humiliation? I’m not convinced.

“It’s not fair on them – you’re setting them up for a fall – I know what would happen to them afterwards. They are looked down on, they’re frowned upon.”

Frowned upon by who? Not by the editors of US Glamour, French Vogue, Tush, V or any of the other magazines that have featured curvier girls in recent issues. Not by Mark Fast or Jean Paul Gaultier. Even Karl Lagerfeld, known for his hatred of ‘big’ girls, has begun to realise just how stunning more voluptuous women can be, using Crystal Renn as a model for Chanel and working on a plus size shoot for V.

Macdonald may pretend he’s doing girls a favour by sparing them the ‘pain’ later on. But what he’s really doing is pandering to a terrible part of the industry that makes any girl above a size 6 or 8 feel inferior and overweight. He’s making nasty, hurtful comments about women who don’t deserve it. By all means say “plus size girls have a tough time in an industry that traditionally favours slim models”, but to call the inclusion of a plus girl on BNTM a ‘joke’? To say they have no right to be in the same room as straight-sized models? For me, that’s taking it too far.

Surely a man who’s been vocal about banning women who’re underweight from the catwalk should know better than to attack the alternative – curvier, healthier women who look like they enjoy life. Most plus sized models aren’t even classified as overweight due to their height, so you can’t even use the ‘health’ argument. Bashing plus size models is just an easy bandwagon to jump on to get a few column inches.

When I read Macdonald’s comments, my thoughts soon turned to Debenhams, for whom he designs clothing, accessories and homeware under the ‘Star by Julien Macdonald’ label (see pictures).

Debenhams have – up until this point – really impressed me with their move towards a more inclusive approach to fashion. As a high street store, they cater to the size 14-16 average British woman, so it’s been a great initiative to trial size 16 mannequins in some stores, cut down on airbrushing and use models of all shapes and sizes in advertising campaigns. Making fashion accessible to the average shopper is a great move, and Debenhams are trailblazers.

So how would they react to one of their designers making such ill-advised comments about size 14 women (who, might I add, are not really plus size). I approached Debenhams for a comment, and sadly what I got was a bit of a cop-out.

“Julien Macdonald’s comments related to the fact that most sample sizes within the industry are a size 6 or 8 making it more difficult for plus size models. In fact, the Star by Julien Macdonald collection at Debenhams ranges from a size eight to size 20,” said Ruth Attridge, spokesperson for Debenhams.

Well, Macdonald may be happy to pocket the cash from sales of his high street range to larger women, but I refuse to believe he was just talking about sample sizes in those quotes. He was talking about there being no room for larger models next to slimmer ones – the exact thing Debenhams is working so hard to ensure!

However, “Debenhams continues to lead the way for inclusivity in fashion with our size 16 mannequin campaign and commitment to only using size eight and above models.” Attridge continues.

Perhaps they should start by giving Julien Macdonald a massive public slap on the wrists?

[via Fabsugar]

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Featured, Rants

Size ain’t nothin’ but a label

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I was overwhelmed by the amazing response to my recent guest curator post on Etsy. Before listing my picks from the site, the team very kindly let me wax lyrical about Big Girls Browse and why I started it, and it was lovely to see some of the reactions from the Etsy community.

One comment in particular really stood out to me. Niftyknits said “I’ve been trying to pretend I’m still a UK14, not 16…but this gives me the courage to say heck – I’m a 16!!!”

I was so touched when I read that, because it sums up the exact reason I started this site. We live in a world where there’s so much stigma attached to a stupid number printed on a clothes label, and there shouldn’t be! Your dress size does not define who you are.

In my experience UK 16 (and sometimes even 14) seems to be a real trigger point for a lot of women. For many of my slimmer friends, it seems to be the unspoken barrier between being ok and being ‘fat’ (and I mean ‘fat’ the way an obviously not fat girl does when she turns to her friend and yelps “OMG I’m soooooo fat”). I don’t really know why this particular size has such bad connotations. Perhaps it’s because, for a long time, 16 was the biggest size a lot of shops sold, and the crossover to the plus size market.

Now that’s not so true. As a nation, we’re getting bigger. Size 16 is now the average. The likes of New Look, M&S, Next and George stock larger sizes as standard. Evans, meanwhile, starts at 14, not the 16 that most people assume.

My dress size has yo-yo’d between a 12 and 16 for all of my adult life. Over that time my body mass index (BMI) has been everywhere from 22 (healthy) to just under 28 (overweight). I have never been obese (a BMI of 30+) though I’m sure a fair few internet trolls would tell you otherwise if they saw a picture of me in a bikini.

My comfy weight (what model Crystal Renn refers to as the ‘set point’ in her book) is around a size 14, with a BMI of 24. This is on the high end of the healthy range, but healthy all the same. At that weight, I can enjoy myself, have the odd treat and resist becoming the Crazy Diet Girl that I was at my slimmest. But I frequently go above that weight, and it really doesn’t make much of a difference. I don’t morph into a different person when I put on 5lbs.

I once put a picture of myself on a blog and stated my dress size in the accompanying post. I was a size 14 max at the time. One woman took no time in getting her claws out to comment “Size 18 more like!”

I was livid. How dare she? I was proud at that time to be maintaining a so-called healthy weight. The last thing I needed when I was actually making an effort was for some nasty little witch I’d never met to make me feel bad about myself.

But then I thought about it, and I decided that by being pissed off, I was just as bad as this woman. I was letting dress size rule my life. Who cares if I was a size 18? IT REALLY DOESN’T MATTER. The only thing I had any right to be upset about was the fact she thought I’d felt the need to lie about it!

The label in your clothing means nothing. It’s taken me a long time to realise that. There’s no magic change when you go up a size. You don’t suddenly become a heifer overnight. It’s just a number.

Two women can wear the same dress size and look completely different. Height, body shape, muscle mass, waist-to-hip ratio, even the size of your boobs can contribute to what dress size you wear. The BMI scale (which dictates that a woman of average height, were she a size 16, would probably be slightly overweight) doesn’t take into account the fact muscle weighs more than fat, or the fact that big breasts aren’t a choice. It also doesn’t take into account the reasons women are the size they are; from lifestyle to genetics to the medication they’re on (including, of course, the contraceptive pill). One woman’s 12 is another’s 22. It doesn’t matter what the label says as long as you’re happy.

More importantly, and the point I was trying to make when mentioning the comment that woman made, is that size is in the eye of the beholder. Unfortunately, there are some people who will always look at women and see fatties, whether they’re size 12, 16 or 26. But there are just as many others who’ll look at a size 16+ and see a voluptuous, sexy woman who’s got better things to do than obsess over the label in her jeans. And that is a very attractive thing indeed.

If, with this site, I can make just one or two women of a similar size to me feel better about their bodies, then I’m happy. I’ve come to terms with the fact I wasn’t built to be super-slim, and I’m concentrating on being happy and having a healthy attitude towards my size instead.

And the happiest, healthiest people are the ones who don’t obsess, or care, what a label says!

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News, Rants

Once-fat Karl Lagerfeld has another anti-fat rant.

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Karl Lagerfeld has once again conveniently forgotten that he used to be fat and decided to moan about the use of normal women in magazines. “No one wants to see curvy women,” said the designer, on hearing the news that Brigitte, one of Germany’s top-selling magazines, was making a move to include ‘real’ women on its pages rather than professional models. This isn’t the first time the Kaiser has whined about bigger women, either. When he created a line for H&M, he complained about his clothes being made up to a size 16, stating he designed only for slim women. Well, Karl, we seem to remember you cosying up to Beth Ditto at one of your shows not so long ago…

So where to begin addressing this pile of nonsense?

Firstly, and most importantly, people do want to see curvy women. This website – started up after I worked on a mainstream fashion website and was constantly approached for help for dressing curves – proves that. And as I have said time and time again, curvy does not always mean fat. It definitely doesn’t mean ugly. It means natural, shapely, normal. Curvy can just as easily be attributed to a UK size 12 as a UK size 22. Nobody’s suggesting that Brigitte are suddenly going to fill their pages with obese housewives in high fashion (though if they did, good on ’em), despite Largerfeld moaning that “You’ve got fat mothers with their bags of chips sitting in front of the television and saying that thin models are ugly.” The magazine is simply taking a stand against the impossible ideal that the fashion press has promoted up to this point. Brigitte’s editor-in-chief told The Guardian, “For years we have had to use Photoshop to fatten the girls up, especially their thighs and decolletage. But this is disturbing and perverse, and what has it got to do with our real reader?”

I think this is a fantastic step forward, hot on the heels of Glamour US’s use of a plus size model in an article about body confidence. These magazines are recognising their audience and targeting them (something that will undoubtedly shift more copies in a recession, and who can blame them for that). If just a handful of magazines started using healthy UK size 10 – 16 models on their pages instead of emaciated size 4 ones, the world would be a better place. If we start seeing some more women in magazines who look like the women we see in real life on a daily basis, perhaps all of us will get a much-needed confidence boost and be inspired to live a healthier life. As someone who is only slightly overweight, I look at women in magazines now and think “I could never look like that”. I would love to look at them and think “Hmmm, maybe one day!”

Lagerfeld argues that people don’t want to see curvy women because fashion should be about “dreams and illusions”. Fair enough, I’m not going to pretend I don’t love a catwalk show full of ethereally beautiful women in frocks that could never be worn in real life. But I can safely say that this is not my dream, nor will it ever be. My dream looks a hell of a lot more like this; someone who is curvy, healthy and beautiful inside and out.

Unlike Karl Lagerfeld.

[Lagerfeld doll via Dazed Digital]