For years, women have been asked the question: Does size really matter? Naturally, they were referring to men.
But there's another question that has long been on everyone's mind: What is the "correct" size for a woman? I laugh when I see people get upset by such talk, or make cruel comments that can hurt girls' and women's self-images.
Perhaps it sounds heartless when I say, "I laugh," but I do so because it seems to me that this topic has always been an issue -- dating to the beginning of time. And that we, as women, shouldn't let anyone dictate what is "the right size," for us, unless, of course, it's a health issue.
Times change, and the standard of beauty changes with them. The Rubenesque physique was all the rage in the 17th century, and we all know it thanks to the man behind the adjective, artist Peter Paul Rubens.
Rubens was known for his portraits of nude and nearly nude women that were not only realistic but also depicted a tangible sensuality, a ripeness -- insight into what he found attractive in a woman, that's for sure. This voluptuousness was considered the standard of beauty. At that time in history, being waiflike meant, well, being like a waif. As in a street urchin. Having a full figure was a sign of wealth, health and happiness.
I was thrilled to interview the creator of Cherished-Woman.com, a company devoted to dressing the plus-size woman. Nancy Baum is (a) a smart woman who's appealing to a growing population, and b) so comfortable with herself, and that's what it's all about. You can bet Jane Mansfield wasn't ashamed of her bodacious bod. No one should be.
There is a trend in America toward larger-size women. In fact, the plus-size clothing market is now -- excuse the pun -- big business. Over the past 40 years, the average size of a woman has increased steadily. There are variances related to the fact that average height has also increased, which has affected average weight.
A French designer overheard backstage at Fashion Week spouted "had I known that these plump delicacies would pay for high fashion, I would have catered to them years ago." A bit pretentious, but he's right.
The average woman's measurements in 1960 were 34B bust with a 24-inch waist and 33-inch hips. Today the average woman's measurements are 36C bust with a 28-inch waist and 38-inch hips.
That doesn't sound like that big of a change, but 62 percent of American women are now wearing a size 14 or larger. Women in their 40s and 50s contribute to this number, and the part of America that is not considered "average" does, too.
Many American women are looking to see a different type of model sporting the latest fashions. Nancy Baum caters to this clientele. All her fashions are modeled by plus-size professionals. And the clothes are trendy and cute, a far cry from what I see when I go to department stores with friends and relatives who are a size 14 or over.
When I heard about Baum's designer line for plus-size women, I went straight to Cherished-woman.com. Baum is smart, gorgeous, sexy, has an original sense of style and just happens to not be a size 2. God forbid, right?
Jessica Svoboda, founder and designer of Svoboda, a clothing line for "confident, curvy fashionistas" laments: "I've been plus-size most of my life and was frustrated by the lack of options for young, full-figured women. Most garments were dowdy and out of date. Just plain ugly. We go for flirty and fab, while downplaying problem areas."
Plus-size women want to know that they, too, can wear the latest in trendy clothing, and Baum is giving them that option. Rachel Herrera, a well-known Hollywood makeup artist, says of Jessica Biel -- who is not by any means plus-size, by the way -- "Jessica's about my size, just more toned and fit, but an average, beautiful woman. It made me like her more. It's refreshing to see women in Hollywood admit they have to work hard for their figures. I hate it when they say it's genetics, and that they eat what they want and never exercise. Most of them are totally lying!!!"
Thank God Rachel recognizes that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and that often, as we girls know, it requires quite a bit of work. Baum is a style guru to the growing plus-size population, and what a great job she has done.
An appreciative plus size supermodel told it like it is: "I have more junk in my trunk than all of the models in the Victoria's Secret catalog combined, and I am a lot richer and happier than those girls"
The standard of beauty changes year to year, decade to decade, century to century, and that has always been and always will be the case. Audrey Hepburn is considered one of the greatest beauties of all time -- today. But when Billy Wilder was casting the role of Holly Golightly in "Breakfast at Tiffanys" he did not want to hire her. She was rail thin and had a nose that was hardly what one would call a "button." Billy wanted Marilyn Monroe.
Hepburn became a legend after that film. To me, she is the original gamine. She, too, was not "the norm."
Being on the thin side myself, I sometimes disagree with articles that tout fuller figures and call all thin people anorexic. I have heard comments like Herrera's all my life. And I am naturally small. But this does not make me the enemy.
Herrera counters: "I think the women I work on are way too small. When I meet some female celebrities, I find their bodies are tiny but so is their bone structure. That's just the way they are. But it's unrealistic for the average woman to compare themselves to that because most women just aren't built that way.
Candace Werginz, editor of Bombshell Magazine told me, "Throughout history voluptuous women were considered the ideal. Then came the 1960s and the Twiggy era of thin is in," she said. "After 40 years of being ridiculed and shunned by society's beauty standards, the revolution has begun to reclaim our title of curvy is chic."
Behavioral consultant Ashley Curiel said, "Even though I'm petite, I've spent most of my life hating my butt, hips and thighs. Shopping for pants is a stressful, depressing event. The American culture has made a business out of encouraging women to be dissatisfied with their bodies. It is time for every woman in America to take back her power, her dignity and her curves! Designers who create clothing for real women's bodies, rather than idealized stereotypes, empower women to love their bodies."
I share Herrera and Curiel's opinion that the average woman is not a size 2, and that the media make them feel that they should be. I have always understood the plight of the larger woman. Neither I, nor her, is considered to have the body of our times.
But I remind my pals who want to change their natural beauty that when breast implants became the rage in the '80s (and we were kids), I said that just like with everything else, the trend would reverse itself and everyone would want to have their implants removed. Guess what many are demanding now from their plastic surgeons? Breast implant removal and reductions, and larger rear ends.
Not only can you can change your clothes to stay in the fashion mix, but you can change your body, too. Getting in shape is one thing, but trying to change your basic body type is just too time consuming.
Check out Baum's Web site, Cherished-woman.com. The models are gorgeous, including Baum herself. And she has found the answer to the larger girl's plight: ruching. It's a full-figured gal's dream (like the mini-dress is for us petites). Just look at the clothes her models are wearing -- you won't find a muumuu or a tent dress. What you'll find is, in a word, trendy.