Couture's new curvesSeptember 4, 2009Dave Feschuk
In the photo that has made plus-size model Lizzie Miller momentarily famous, her smile is radiant, her blonde hair elegantly pinned back. But the eyes drift to her midriff, where resides a deposit of fatty tissue that is undeniably foreign to a fashion magazine.
Pick up the September issue ofGlamour magazine and you'll see it: Tucked amongst the familiar images of stick-thin posture queens, there, on page 194, is Miller hunching and laughing in her underwear while forgetting to tuck in a charming little paunch.
"The reaction to that one picture – that one little, three inch by three inch picture – has been incredible," Miller said yesterday, speaking over the phone from her fourth-floor apartment in midtown Manhattan.
Miller's career might never be the same. The 20-year-old from San Jose, Calif. – a size 12 or 14 who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs between 175 and 180 pounds – said this month is shaping up to be the busiest of her seven-year career.
And there are those who are hoping the buzz surrounding Miller's belly might spur the fashion business – long criticized for its seemingly insatiable lust for pencil-limbed models of dubious dietary habits – to change for the better, too. One Glamour reader wrote in to call Miller's signature shot "the most amazing photograph I've ever seen in any women's magazine." Another urged the editors: "Put her on the cover."
"I think it's a sign of the times that women are looking for a little bit more authenticity, a little less artifice, in every part of their lives," Cindi Leive, editor of Glamour, said in an interview with the Today show. "Will (Miller's photo) change our approach (as a fashion magazine)? I think it will."
Miller said she has received emails and Facebook messages from hundreds of people, including a woman who said the picture inspired her to throw away her diet pills and laxatives; and from a man who claimed that only now, after Miller's un-self-conscious image hit newsstands, will his similarly proportioned girlfriend believe him when he tells her she's pretty.
"This whole frenzy has shown that people want to see these kinds of photos – of real women in real situations," she said. "So hopefully (the industry) will take notice and they'll say, `Okay, we should do this, too.'"
It's difficult not to be skeptical about the fashion industry's appetite for reimagining its place in the culture. It was only a few years ago that Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston died due to complications from anorexia, her 5-foot-8 frame weighing a mere 88 pounds, an event that spurred at least one runway show to institute minimum height-weight ratios for models. And earlier this month the editor of Self magazine defended the retouching of a cover photograph that made singer Kelly Clarkson look decidedly skinnier.
"(Self magazine is) meant to inspire women to want to be their best," Lucy Danziger, the editor, wrote on the magazine's website.
Miller, for her part, said she understands the inspirational aspect of what she calls fashion's "fantasy world."
"But the problem is, a lot of women are trying, but they can't look like a size-two model, and it's a horrible feeling when you don't see anyone else who looks like you (in magazines)," said Miller. "I've been that self-conscious girl."
Miller will not lie: At first, she didn't love her signature photo. And she hasn't always been the picture of plus-sized confidence. In grade school she says her diet veered between stuffings of McDonald's and Ferrero Rocher chocolates. A post-class bag of Doritos – "A big bag," she says – was a daily ritual.
"At the rate I was gaining weight, I was like, `Wow. I am going to be huge by the time I get to high school.' I was like, `I don't want to be the fat girl,'" said Miller.
In Grade 6 she joined Weight Watchers; she dropped 60 pounds. And by the time she was 13, she was 5-foot-11 and existing somewhere in the neighbourhood of her current body weight, which she now maintains playing co-ed softball in Central Park and belly dancing. Even then, she said, she didn't begin to feel good about her body until she saw herself in the silhouettes of entertainers Jennifer Lopez and Beyoncé.
"I'm a pear shape. I'm small at the top, but I'm thick on the bottom. I started seeing J-Lo and Beyoncé and saying, `They're curvy. They're sexy. If I get in shape, I could look like them.' If I can be the person that girls are looking at now and saying, `She's beautiful. I can look like her,' then I'll be doing my job. I think it's just something people have really, really wanted to see. Let's hope they'll see more of it."