From the archive: big girls are back

It’s 1986 and the Observer is wondering if we will ever escape our fixation with thin women

As I write, the city is in the sweaty grip of an unprecedented April heatwave. ‘To the beer garden!’ I hear everyone I have ever met cry. The initial alcohol-induced euphoria rapidly gives way to an all-consuming feeling of panic: how the hell does one dress for this weather when one’s body resembles that of an anaemic seal? When the sun comes out, the pressure to look like a Victoria’s Secret model at Coachella is somewhat amplified, but not so in 1986, it seems. ‘Lean times have gone, big girls bite back,’ proclaims this week’s archive Observer Magazine.

‘I’ve been waiting for this moment since the week back in 1984, when I was first aware of the return of the big girls,’ writes journalist Veronica Horwell. ‘I saw Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone and realised she weighed in at equal to the villain, though more curvilinear.’

I can confirm, after a swift Google, that the villain in question was of particularly petite stature. However, Horwell notes, Turner is an example of a return to vogue of the fuller female body.

The dames of Edwardian times, who were thought slender at size 14, were the last heiresses of the aesthetic of the solid woman which dominated most of the 18th and 19th centuries. The great photographer of the Edwardian period Cecil Beaton wrote that goddesses were 6ft, size 16 and in the possession of ‘prognathous jaws’.

But, alas, the popularity of cinema in the 20th century created a demand for a more bony aesthetic, the camera registering best skull and skeleton rather than bounteous flesh – and things haven’t really changed. Apart from a brief period when the buxom Marilyn Monroe prototype ruled the screen. ‘The fashion was for a comfortingly maternal bosom suggesting momma,’ says Horwell. ‘The bust has never been re-admitted to couture, that’s for sure,’ she adds, but the fashion for a 36in hip ‘will surely seem Martian in our granddaughter’s time, to change the body to align with the current line rather than reject any fashion.’

Three decades on, I wonder what Horwell would think of our attitude to women’s bodies now? Perhaps this summer we’ll embrace the body in all its sizes, lumps, bumps and manifestations. I for one, will be rocking the anaemic seal look with aplomb.


Juliana Piskorz

The GuardianTramp

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