One of these women is not like the others

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The photo is from the Lane Bryant site today. They are having a sale on underwear so I went to look. As I scrolled through, something jumped out at me -  while most of the models shown were like the one on the left, the heavier looking models were all shown without heads. 

Now showing fat women without heads is not a new phenomenon. You have seen her, or others like her, many times, the "headless fatty", a term coined by Charlotte Cooper in 2007. When journalists run stories on television and in print about the evils of obesity, there she is, a fat, usually a very fat woman on the street or the beach or in some other public place. In such stories fat people are almost without exception shown without heads. Why are they headless? Because anyone who looks like this would/should be ashamed to have her face show? Because it allows the viewer to see her as an object and not a person?  

We see photos all the time of people in public spaces such as athletic events, political rallies, or street scenes. But when the goal is to show a fat person, what we are shown is a person with no head.  Curious about this phenomenon, I contacted a photographer who had taken headless fatty photos used in a  newspaper. I asked him about this practice of omitting heads of fat people in news stories. He replied that it is a "sensitivity thing...Not showing heads gives the generic overweight person's look but is not showing, that X specifically, is a fat person. If there was a story about one specific person being fat, that would be different.”. Well who really is this sensitivity for? The fat person in the photo, who is deprived of her individuality by removing her head? She already knows she is fat as she lives with that reality every day. Or is it to allow the viewer to see that person as an object rather than a human being? Perform a Google image search using search terms like “obese” or “fat” or “fat person” and you will see among the images at least a few that you have seen before in newspapers and magazines. These familiar images show fat people, often in ill-fitting clothes that reveal their rolls of fat and make them look awkward. They are rarely shown participating in active movement or doing anything that might show grace or ease. What you see in the headless people are bodies out of control for there is no head, no brain to take charge and reign in appetite. The Headless Fatty is without voice, without mind, able only to demonstrate the assumed consequences of appetite and gluttony. 

Lane Bryant specializes in so-called plus size clothes, clothes for women who fall outside of the range of “normal”, in other words for fat women. It has only been in recent years that they even used larger sized models - and keep in mind that plus sized in the modeling world is anyone over a size 8, hardly what most of us would consider large or fat. 

So Lane Bryant, why on earth did you cut off the heads of these models? Why can’t we see their faces? Or are we not to see women with visibly zaftig bodies as attractive, as whole women?


PS - I passed on the sale.




© Cheryl Fuller, 2018. All  rights reserved.