This week Beth Ditto of The Gossip walked the runway for the Jean Paul Gaultier show. She is about as cool and truly"rock-chick" as we have in pop music right now. And this is how The Washington Post's Robin Givhan described the appearance in today's paper:
As for Gaultier... it wasn't the clothes that were particularly subversive. Instead Gaultier's transgression was using the obese singer Beth Ditto to lead off his show and then sprinkling his runway with larger models.Before I say anymore about the word "obese," know that I find Givhan increasingly loathsome. She's into "polemics," writing columns on how new Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan does not dress stylishly - should she have to? - and that Michelle Obama should never exit Air Force One in summer shorts. Blah blah blah. I don't even know if Givhan believes her own words... she clearly wants attention.
Ditto is low-hanging fruit for Givhan in that she is, I presume, technically obese. But that word has become synonymous with, well, death. Obese carries a load of judgment. It is understandable that one might look at Beth Ditto and think, "Is that weight good for your heart?" She manages to put on incredibly energetic shows that I could probably never do - clearly her blood and oxygen move quite well - but it gets harder and harder to sustain health with those pounds.
Don't be fooled by the fashion world's embrace of Beth Ditto. It's a smokescreen. They've taken an extreme case in Ditto - visually stunning / super talented / super large - and blown her up even bigger so that you'll think they are moving beyond anorexics. I don't doubt that Gaultier truly loves Beth Ditto - she's fucking awesome and JPG also used other large models - but it's a stretch to imagine most booking agents not saying "lose 5 pounds " to the emaciated girls who walk in shows. The underlying message: It's okay for Ditto, she fahhbulous, but it's not okay for you to be 20 pounds overweight.
Givhan herself may also feel snark toward Ditto because the latter has a clothing line that has been frequently atrocious and unflattering to anyone, thin or plumptious. Her collection this year is better, but it's fair for the fashion world to roll their eyes at the idea of celebs, like the cast members of The Hills, smugly declaring themselves designers. Simon Doonan did a wicked piece on this for Slate.
I have no idea how to square this off with any sort of resolution. It's complicated. In my experience, 1) most of the world looks somewhere in between Beth Ditto and Kate Moss, but 2) obese is not a nice word. Don't use obese.
What I can also do close this post by honoring what Beth Ditto does brilliantly: music. Here is The Gossip's video for their new single, the wry Men In Love...
photo via tifdb