I had a few Aerie / American Eagle gift cards languishing and I thought, why not put them out of their misery. I opened up the AE website and started shopping for bras. But it was so distracting! A strange shadow here, a fat roll there, and not at all model-sized models sprinkled throughout. It drew my attention from the clothes to the bodies. If Aerie is trying to sell clothes, not the trivially true idea that many body types exist, this is not a good thing: I was unable to concentrate enough on the actual clothes to choose something I liked.*
Confession: I like watching obese bodies move. Have you ever seen those videos where dogs with curtains of hanging skin run in slow motion and all of their skin undulates and flaps with such joyous absurdity? It’s art. Just like how obese bodies move. Think of the fluid dynamics! Some have so much fat on their thighs they have to improvise a waddle. It’s so interesting to watch. It’s nothing sexual, just one of the small pleasures of life like flossing or plunging your hand into a cool sack of dry beans.
I guess what I’m getting at is that model-thin bodies make good models precisely because there are not many ways to be model-thin. There’s a certain uniformity achieved there (for example, look at a Victoria’s Secret catalogue). After a few pages, one automatically starts ignoring the bodies and focusing on the clothes because the bodies are an unchanging stimulus in the environment which naturally fades into the background. On the other hand, there are many different ways to hang an obese amount of fat onto a body. It’s a combinatorics problem: there are n different places on the body to grow fat, and there are k pounds of added fat, so how many ways can we distribute that fat over the body? The variety of fat bodies is probably why most clothing manufacturers don’t bother with that range despite the sizable (no pun intended) market share.
Why use model-thin bodies? Then the observer can concentrate on the clothing and not be distracted by the diversity of ways in which one can carry fat. We can admit that there is a diversity of intelligence levels without insisting that people of all intelligence levels be represented as neurosurgeons or janitors. Surely we can do the same with fat bodies and modeling.
* Yes, one may argue that in the case of gift cards this is great for business, but I just bought accessories to zero out my gift cards and in general, it’s not great to distract your customer from buying your products.