Bigotry against curvy women ‘as bad as racism’

When fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld blamed France’s healthcare deficit on "fat people" this month, it was the final straw for French activist Betty Aubrière. She tells us why her group is suing Lagerfeld, and how bigotry against curvy women is as bad as racism and homophobia.

Bigotry against curvy women 'as bad as racism'
19-year-old Marion Bogaert (L) takes to the catwalk with another competitor, Isabelle, before winning the 2011 Miss Curvy France competition. Photo: Philippe Huguen

In a TV broadcast earlier this month, Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld blamed the deficit in France’s healthcare system on “all the diseases caught by people who are too fat,” and repeated his view that “nobody wants to see curvy women on the catwalk.”

A group representing curvy French women,“Belle, ronde, sexy et je m’assume” (Beautiful, curvy, sexy and ok with it) reacted angrily and announced this week it was suing him for defamation and discrimination.

The group’s president, Betty Aubrière, tells The Local why France must change its law to recognize that prejudice against curvy women is as serious as racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism.

What Karl Lagerfeld said is disgraceful. In front of millions of people, on TV, he insulted fat people and especially curvy and full-figured women.

If he had attacked gay people or black people in the same way, would it have been acceptable for the three women on the panel that evening, who said nothing to intervene after his comments? Of course not.

But the effects of discrimination and insults like that are very serious. There would have been many young girls in France watching [TV channel] D8 that night, and many of them already don’t feel comfortable in their own skin.

And we see the consequences of public figures like Lagerfeld saying what he said, when we hear about young girls who have had to leave school because they were being bullied about their weight.

Insults and discrimination like this contribute to anorexia, which is a serious problem in France.

People like Karl Lagerfeld are seen as authority figures. They benefit a lot from their status and their fame, and we want an end to insults from figures like him, against larger men and women.

France needs to realise that prejudice against full-figured women is as bad as racism or homophobia or anti-Semitism, and we need a change in the law which makes statements like Karl Lagerfeld’s punishable as incitement to hatred.

We also need to get rid of the myth that being bigger is always a choice, and that it’s just down to bad diet. It’s not. In many cases it’s a disease, and for some people it’s genetically inherited.

Lagerfeld’s comments about “curvy women on catwalks” also raised an important point about beauty.

Something that would give young girls more confidence and feelings of security about their bodies would be if the world of fashion, which has always been so important in France, acknowledged the fact that full-figured women can be beautiful, too.

We need more curvy models, and we need couturiers like Karl Lagerfeld to design clothes that can be worn by women of all sizes.

A major problem is that it’s often just too much hassle for curvy women to find clothes and outfits that make them feel pretty, or if they do, they can be far too expensive.

France needs a cultural change, and the fashion world could play a leading role in that. 

What do you make of what Lagerfeld said? Do you agree with Aubrière's opinion that bigotry against large women should be punished with the same severity as racism and homophobia?

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Paris exhibition celebrates 100 years of French Vogue

A new exhibition in Paris will tell the story of 100 years of French Vogue - from the post-war 'New Look' of Christian Dior through the sexual liberation of the 1960s to the dangling-cigarette waifs of the 2000s.

French Vogue celebrates 100 years
French Vogue celebrates 100 years. Photo: Thomas Olva/AFP

But as well as celebrating the magazine’s storied history, the exhibit comes at a time of turbulence for the publication.

Just last month, it was confirmed that its editor of 10 years, Emmanuelle Alt, was out and wouldn’t be replaced.

She was not alone.

Looking to cut costs, owner Conde Nast International has axed editors across Europe over the past year, and put international Vogue editions under the direct control of global editorial director, Anna Wintour, in New York.

New York-based Anna Wintour now has overall control of French Vogue. Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP

Like much of the media industry, Vogue is struggling with tumbling sales and ad revenue in the digital era.

But the latest twist is also part of the endless push and pull between New York and Paris going back to its early days.

“The whole history of French Vogue is one of back-and-forth with Conde Nast in New York – growing more independent for a while, then being reined back in,” said Sylvie Lecallier, curator of the new exhibition, “Vogue Paris 1920-2020″, which opened this weekend after a year’s delay due to the pandemic.

The Paris edition was often the loftier, more bohemian sibling to its more hard-nosed New York version.

But it was also the hotbed in which much of 20th century style and womenhood came to be defined.

“Paris was the place to hunt out talent and content and bring it to New York,” said Lecallier.

The exhibition charts the evolution from art deco drawings of the 1920s through the erotic image-making of photographers like Helmut Newton in the 1960s and 1970s.

Its last peak was under editor Carine Roitfeld in the 2000s, who brought back a provocative Gallic identity by ridding the newsroom of foreign staff and becoming a fashion icon in her own right.

Her successor, Alt, was a quieter presence, though she still oversaw key moments including its first transgender cover star, Brazilian Valentina Sampaio, in 2017.

But internet culture has created “a perfect storm” for Vogue, says media expert Douglas McCabe of Enders Analysis.

“The first 80 years of Vogue’s life, it had the market to itself, it was the bible for fashion,” McCabe told AFP.

“But online today, there are so many other ways to get your information. Influencers, Instagram, YouTube — everyone’s a threat.”

In a world where new fashion trends can blow up around the world in seconds, it has become much harder for a monthly magazine to set the pace.

“It’s not that they can’t survive for another 100 years — but they will be differently sized,” McCabe said.

Vogue has tried to branch out into different areas, including events.

“I used to work for a magazine, and today I work for a brand,” Alt said on the eve of French Vogue’s 1,000th issue in 2019.

But the big money was always in print, and Vogue Paris sales are dropping steadily from 98,345 in 2017 to 81,962 to 2020, according to data site ACPM.

It is perhaps unsurprising that the new top job in Paris, redefined as “head of editorial content”, went to Eugenie Trochu, who was key to building the magazine’s online presence.

She declared herself “thrilled to be part of Vogue’s international transformation”.

For the curator of the exhibition, it is ironic timing.

“We had no idea it would end like this when we started work on the exhibition,” said Lecallier.

“Who knows where it will go from here.”

The exhibition Vogue Paris 1920-2020 is at the Palais Galliera in Paris’ 16th arrondissement. The gallery is open 10am to 6pm Tuesday to Sunday and is closed on Mondays. Tickets for the exhibition are €14 (€12 for concessions and under 18s go free) and must be reserved online in advance.