We here at Olivia Waite enjoy Project Runway. It's fun to watch someone else struggle with the killer combination of creativity and deadlines, and it's equally fun whether a designer soars to the heights of fashion glory or crashes and burns in the Valley of Michael Kors' Caustic Semi-Wit. It's also fun to watch the normally hidden process of clothes being designed—at least, until it inevitably bumps up against the reality of women and the fashion industry's general attitude toward them.
Saying last night's episode bumped up against female body issues is like saying the Titanic bumped up against the iceberg.
Linda Holmes from NPR's Monkey See blog has written a brilliant piece about designer Olivier's glaringly antagonistic attitude toward female body size; I could say the article is written from a feminist perspective, but really it's written from a realist perspective:
This is partly just a guy who says dumb things on television without thinking, but it's also partly about a very real part of the fashion industry, which is how much it has to do with anything women would actually wear — and how much it's supposed to. Perhaps it's just art, and you might as well demand that all your models be seven feet tall, because when you make art, you can make it however you like.
This particular show, though, specializes in the idea that clothes are for wearing, not just for looking at. And in this strange little moment, Olivier suggested that they aren't for wearing or for looking at, at least if the person looking is a woman. They're for his expression only, and if you don't shut up and wear them quietly, he just doesn't know what to do with you.
Olivier's special target for rage is: his model's supposedly giant boobs. But once she showed up, her boobs looked pretty average-sized to me. But suddenly everything was about boobs. The A.V. Club noticed this as well:
The only significant change with the arrival of the wives is that now, EVERYONE is talking about boobs. No matter what the question is, “boobs” is the answer, like one of those Match Game ’74 episodes where everybody on the panel is all liquored up.
When I was growing up, I knew that bigger boobs were supposedly better from a cultural standpoint. I also read a lot of young-adult books and romance novels where the main characters were fairly flat-chested and learned to love their smaller size. We've all read historicals where the heroine's rival is a voluptuous Other Woman with prodigious cleavage and a way less virginal attitude.
It started to reach a point where being small of boob started to seem, well—classier. More educated. More refined. Audrey Hepburn helped, not to mention the ever-skinnier supermodel. Men like women with huge boobs, the story goes, but women like women with small ones. Big boobs are so—big, you know? They're too obviously sexy. Slutty, even.
Certainly the question of men liking larger boobs was not helped by one of our husbands on Project Runway, who must have spent fully five minutes acting like an overgrown frat boy and talking loudly about how much he enjoyed his wife's massive rack. And then motorboating one of the dress mannequins.
As though his wife's cup size were something he personally had the right to boast of. (Achievement unlocked!) On national television. And then to talk about how his wife's boobs were why he fell in love with her.
I found this appalling.
I've been on both sides of the Boob Divide: I was a B-cup for many years and am now, um, significantly more well-endowed. And it's true that now that my boobs are bigger, I feel less intelligent. Because growing larger boobs obviously means that my body spends less time building and repairing the cells and synapses of my brain. They'll probably be rescinding my masters degree any day now ...
Oh wait that's not even the slightest bit true.
And the one constant, on the spectrum between heroines are small and slender and real women have curves and this NYT trend piece on small cup sizes is this: your boobs define who you are.
And I for one say nuts to that. I've had different cup sizes in my lifetime, and so do my heroines. Some women are curvy and some are surfboards but all of us—all of us!—are real.