In a recession it’s not just our bank balances that are affected. As our whole world is turned upside down there is a domino effect and we adopt a whole new set of rules. When a recession or downturn strikes as swiftly as the current wave seems to have done, the changes are much more obvious. Consumption is definitely out. Growing your own vegetables and choice of compost has (thankfully) taken the place of the price of property conversation and, joy of joys, big girls are back! Now the thing is that we never really went away. We were always lurking around in the background trying to blend our girth into the wallpaper while our skinnier, celery chomping size 6 sisters with their Bambi like figures hogged the limelight. These days we have some real issues to think and talk about and suddenly Victoria Beckham’s weight neurosis seems ridiculously silly.
So why is the fuller figure suddenly popular? There are a number of reasons. Obviously in a recession we have more things to occupy our minds than ‘how we look’. This would also account for the downturn in celebrity interest. When things are good and we have little to bother us we are happy to muse over the minutiae of stars’ lives; their rows, their weight issues, their shoplifting and excesses. When your own mortgage falls into arrears or your spouse looses a job then the problems of spoiled footballers and singers become highly insignificant and appear distasteful to say the least. In a climate like this, instead of feeling sympathy for a celebrity who has lost all their money, one has a sneaking suspicion that they must have been careless or a special kind of stupid to have blown it all. Essentially we don’t really care and our appetite for celebrity gossip is waning.
Scientists have also argued that during a recession men actually ‘desire’ fuller figured women. (Pass the chocolates around freely girls!) Studies suggest that changes in the state of the economy can actually influence what men find sexually attractive in women. Funnily enough it doesn’t work the other way around. What women find attractive in men is not influenced by the economic climate. There have been several studies carried out, but one researcher looked at popular female movie stars from 1932 to 1995 and Playmates of the Year from 1960 to 2000. (A Playmate is a model featured in the centerfold of the monthly Playboy magazine.) This psychologist found that during rocky economic and social times, the most popular actresses appeared more mature, with smaller eyes, and stronger chins; likewise, Playmate of the Year during these tumultuous periods were slightly taller and heavier, and also tended to have smaller eyes. By contrast, when things were good, the popular actresses had more baby-faced qualities-bigger eyes, chubbier cheeks-and the playmates tended to be shorter and lighter.
Other exhaustive studies around this subject suggested that with plunging bank accounts and less economic confidence men wanted something ‘stronger’ and more substantial to hold onto at home. Bigger suggested some form of stability and also, strangely enough, independence. In a time of difficulty men found it hard enough to keep them selves afloat, let alone have some weak, malnourished dependent to look after as well. A bigger girl would fare better in the self preserving stakes. (I’m only telling you the findings of the studies, these are not my opinions.)
All of this is being transferred into the media at large. Condenast, the global magazine publisher and parent of titles such as Vogue, Glamour and GQ recently published a new title called Love; a magazine about fashion and fame. On the first issue they featured a naked size 28 model on the cover, practically unheard of outside fetish titles. We’ve also seen the comeback of models such as Claudia Schiffer and Linda Evangelista; neither is overweight but they do possess a more athletic shape than the recent slew of disturbingly anorexic, limb-y catwalk models.
There are other factors during times of ‘resource scarcity’ that make us all a little heavier. While we forego luxuries like holidays we replace them with smaller treats such as chocolate, deserts and general comfort food. Apparently Marks and Spencer in the UK has seen a huge rise in sales of comfort foods such as Lancashire hot pots and sticky toffee puddings. Gym memberships are considered a bit of an extravagance and because of the need for escapism we indulge more in entertainment such as television, DVDs and cinema, all of which are sedentary activities.
Now of course all this is indeed relative and let’s not lose the run of ourselves completely. Before you head up the queue at the fish and chip shop or throw away your trainers, let’s be honest. Anyone who becomes a Playboy Playmate of the Year could never be considered ‘fat’. Equally, while Beyonce and Mariah Carey are held up as fuller figured those of us who actually possess a fuller figure laugh at the absurdity of it. However, it does give those who have struggled with weight issues a little breathing room; a metaphorical letting of the belt out a notch or two. While we don’t want to pack on the pounds and risk our health, we can relax a little as the undernourished aren’t interesting any more. They’re just depressing because very lean bodies are perhaps too stark a reminder of a hard, lean economy. Bigger girls on the other hand suggest abundance, luxury, softness, cheerfulness, strength and stability. Maybe Freddie Mercury of Queen was right when he sang “Fat bottomed girls make the world go around”, he was just ahead of his time. Now where did I put that tub of Häagen-Dazs?