There’s an America’s Next Top Model marathon on today, and it’s a holiday weekend, so I’m sitting on the couch with the Sunday crossword and some craft stuff and watching. Usually I don’t really watch the TV when I’m doing something else, but I love this show so I’m paying an unprecedented amount of attention. Plus, this season features the lovely Toccara Jones, who I believe was the longest-lasting plus-size model in the show’s history. So this is a great opportunity to notice how the show distills and concentrates cultural attitudes towards bodies.

Toccara just got eliminated, and I’m sorry if that’s a spoiler but this season is three years old so deal with it. Why did she get eliminated? Well, Janice Dickinson, who is of course a fantastic role model for how to treat your body, was against her from the beginning. Maybe not quite from the beginning — I saw a flashback where she said “you could be the first plus-size model to win this” — but every week she seemed to wake from her stupor and go “whoa, this girl’s fat! Who ever heard of a fat model?” (At one point she suggested that Toccara lose “150 pounds.” Tyra said “then she’d weigh 30”; Janice responded with “that would be fine.”) But Tyra backed her up, so that week after week she was allowed to get back out there and do her best while she was ridiculed by designers, squeezed into ill-fitting clothes, pigeonholed, and told over and over that the world wasn’t ready for a model her size. The judges were even magnanimous enough to do the “such a pretty face” and “good personality” routines every week, while reminding her that high-fashion clothes would never be cut to fit her, and that there really wasn’t a place in the fashion world for someone with her body. She seems to have tried to stay positive, and even reacted incredulously when a designer yelled at her for not fitting in the clothes — “I’m supposed to feel bad because you can’t find clothes that fit me?” But it was obvious that being forced to remember how out-of-place she was became a wearisome task.

After two months of this, in show time, Toccara “checked out,” according to judges. She “lost her confidence.” “Where’s Toccara’s vibrant personality?” they asked each other, simply gaping in surprise. She seemed to have lost her spark! How disappointing! Of course she had to be eliminated!

Like most reality TV, this show is fucking far from being reality, but it reflects reality in a concentrated and heightened form. Toccara’s experience is one that we’ve all had, albeit not on national television: we are told that we need to look beautiful by typical cultural standards, but we’re denied clothing that fits. We’re told that we need to be twice as confident, twice as vibrant, twice as pulled-together as a smaller woman — that we need to apologize for being large by being larger-than-life. That we need to make up for our failure to be thin by being outrageous successes in every other aspect of life. That it’s on us to counteract the perception that fat people are sloppy or ugly. Then we have our confidence systematically broken down.

That’s what I see happening in this show. Toccara is told explicitly that she has to work many times harder than the other girls, and look many times better. At the same time, she’s mocked for imagining that high-end clothes might fit her, and told over and over again that there’s no room for her fat ass. Then when she loses confidence, she’s let everyone down — where, oh where, did that sassy personality go? Well, you beat it out of her, asshats.

Let me tell you, guys, every DAY that you avoid this catch-22 is a fucking triumph. People are going to tell you that you have to be better than everyone else, while simultaneously insisting that you’re worse. They’re going to tell you that you need to improve yourself, and that you’re terminally unsalvageable. There’s nothing to do about this except just continuing to be yourself — not a fat stereotype, and not a walking challenge to fat stereotypes, but just a fat person. Do the amount of exercise that makes you feel good; don’t try to prove yourself as the toughest or the buffest or the most resilient. Rock the aesthetic that’s comfortable for you — perform glamor if you want it, but wear a T-shirt if you’d rather. Give in when you have to; if you’ve been to five malls looking for a party dress, try sitting around in jeans and a thermal all day. Fake it when you have to; get angry out loud, when you’re angry. Be the center of attention; let someone else be the center of attention. Consider yourself to have cosmic permission to impress nobody, to do only and exactly what makes you comfortable. It’s the simplest and the hardest thing in the world.

22 thoughts on “Fat-22

  1. I watched that today as well. I loved Toccara, and I actually think she’s turned out to be one of the more successful people to come out of the show. Or at least, she’s one of the only ones I’ve ever seen since the show. What I found so funny was that she was the most comfortable with her body, out of all those skinny “ideal” girls, until she finally got beaten down by all the bs.

  2. I watched that show today, too. You took the words right out of my mouth. How could the judges not see they were the ones who beat Toccara down and killed her vibrancy?

  3. This is absolutely the way the world functions. And, in the midst of everything, it’s sometimes really hard to remember. It feeds into the way we’re all our own worst critics.

    I haven’t seen much of cycle 3, which is the cycle I believe Toccara was on, but I watched all of the cycle with Diana and Whitney – and even though Whitney didn’t allow them to beat down her personality, they still pulled the same stunts (though I agree that her posing just was NOT fierce – there was something too restrained in her eyes).

    I fall into performance a lot. Not as much as I used to but definitely more often than not. Learning to respect my own desires when it came to situations was a huge thing – like not dressing to the glam extreme when I just wasn’t feeling like even leaving the house. I not afraid of not looking perfect and I’m okay with knowing that some people think I look a mess and other people think I’m letting fat girls down.

    Because, when we’re doing what is right for us as individuals, we are so NOT letting the fat person community down.

  4. Because, when we’re doing what is right for us as individuals, we are so NOT letting the fat person community down.

    Yes. Nicely put.

    I was never terribly impressed with Diana or Whitney — pretty girls, didn’t photograph well, and shit, if you’re going to get a fat model who can’t model, at least get one who’s actually fat. In fact, when I watched some shows from that episode, I found myself thinking “what, they couldn’t find some aspiring plus-size models with killer confidence and attitude?” Then I realized that fat girls with confidence and attitude are rare commodities. Christ, you could have a whole “America’s Next Confident Fat Girl” competition. Leave out the challenges and pitfalls; they’ll fall all over each other to eliminate themselves every week.

  5. Christ, you could have a whole “America’s Next Confident Fat Girl” competition.

    I would so watch that.

  6. Fat Chance is pretty good. I saw the first two (They’re both at walmart too). I hope to see the other one: Velvet is in it. ^_^
    So what is your opinion of Toccara after she lost weight?

  7. I guess I didn’t know she lost weight, though I can’t say I’m surprised. Assuming that she did it in order to be more “marketable,” my reaction would be the same as it is every other time this happens… that I understand the pressure, and that it’s disappointing to see people giving in in a high-profile way, but that in the current climate it’s a lot to expect of someone to do anything else.

  8. I forgot to add that I was so frustrated when the one judge said, “America just isn’t ready for a plus-size America’s Top Model.” Uh, yes, we are! I think America is long overdue for plus-size representation in fashion and film. It was so obvious that it is the forces that run the fashion industry, like those judges, that aren’t “ready” for plus-size as mainstream. They are the ones who can lead the changes, but it’s clear they do not want to.

    After I read The Obesity Myth by Campos, I read The Beauty Myth by Wolf. She raises an excellent point about how fashion, advertising, cosmetics, and the like are fueled by women’s self-hatred. I’m not sure if the fashion industry would ever let plus-sizes become acceptable because where would the self-hatred go? Would it hurt their business?

    Ugh. I only need to think of Anna Wintour to be reminded why I don’t trust the fashion industry. Not only does she refuse to feature plus-size anything in Vogue, but she will not hire fat people to work behind the scenes either.

  9. Amen!!
    btw Tyra Banks has had a couple of fat model competitions on her talk show..
    I think there was America’s Next Top Plus Model.. and there was something about Thick and Sexy Models …
    It is kind of weird that she’s creating a whole separate category there.. but I do like to see the fat girls. I don’t know…

  10. Lucy, plus-size model Crystal Renn has been featured in Vogue magazine a few times. Maybe Wintour is coming around a bit?

  11. Wintour must have been asleep at the wheel to let Renn somehow slip by…..That woman is pure evil. She’s a true enemy to women everywhere.

    As is Janice Dickinson, aka, the crypt keeper. I’m so surprised Tyra has her on the show. I’ve personally never watched it, as I suspected there was a lot of fat hatred afoot, (regardless if there were any plus size models on the show or not). I’m so not surprised to hear that Toccara was eliminated, but i am surprised to hear that she’s subsequently lost weight. what a shame. I wonder if jordan sparks (was that her name.. the AI winner?) will soon follow suit and lose weight to conform.

  12. It’s funny that fashion models are supposed to be all “editorial,” yet when there’s one who really does fall outside the conventions of model beauty, it’s just all too shocking. Funny-looking models are avant garde; non-skinny models, on the other hand, couldn’t possibly be making some kind of larger point, they merely lack willpower!

  13. Sarah, I did not know that Crystal Renn was in Vogue, but then again I don’t really consider her a plus-size model at size 14. That’s the size of the average woman in the U.S. In my mind, “plus” denotes more than average. *Sigh* No wonder Wintour let her in.

    I remember when size 8 and size 10 were the coveted sizes, not 4/2/0.

    It’s hard to express the profound pain I feel to know that even behind the scenes, regardless of talent/sense of style/qualification/intelligence/education/etc. I would never be hired at Vogue until I lost weight. I don’t aspire to work at Vogue, but just feeling so markedly barred from anywhere is deeply dispiriting.

  14. I watched the fiasco with Tocorra on that show. It pissed me off . I also watched as Tyra later tried to defend herself against being called fat by the media. Hmmm, it makes you think. I do not trust this show to lift up larger women past a size 4. I really do not. What I have never understood about the fashion industry is how in the heck is it representative of all of us if only a very small percentage of us can wear it well? I have heard women who wear 8-12 bemoan their behind, their hips, their breast. They TOO do not feel beautiful enough, pretty enough etc. That is what the fashion industry does to us, when we allow them too. Bigger more realistic models WERE the standard at one time, but Twiggy took care of that. LOL. I look at Tyra, and I know in her mind allowing the beautiful, vivacious big girl back on the stage just simply seems right to her. I understand that she knows it is right. But, looking at her response when she was accused of being a big girl, I do not think she gets it, not really, so NO I am not surprised about Tocorra’s treatment, or Diane’s the other full figured girl on that “competition”. I personally think it was done only because they want to prove that the show is not conforming only to the fashion industry’s standard, but in the end, they are just the same.

  15. This was excellent. I especially liked the part about having to be better while being told you’re worse.

    I feel like every time I (or any other zaftig woman I know) succeed or am popular or pretty, it’s seen as a “Bully for you, you did it in spite of your dress size!” thing. These things are only natural if you’re a size 2, but if you’re a 22, it’s like you’re in the Special Olympics of life and somehow wondrous that you can even function. Such utter stupidity and bias. The only thing worse is how insidious it is, creeping in and making me doubt my ability to do something.

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