Kate Upton “Fat” Controversy Threatens to Undo Teen Magazine Body Image Changes

Seventeen magazineYoung readers encouraged teen magazines to review photo editing and body image portrayals just as a blogger calls Kate Upton “fat.” Can all types of beauty ever be accepted?

Just when one side of the controversial body image debate claims a victory—even a moral one—another ugly situation comes along that seems to set it back.

Recently teens have petitioned Seventeen and Teen Vogue magazines to feature photos of “real girls.” Last month, Seventeen sort of agreed. For the most part, it stood behind its photo editing policies, saying excessive Photoshopping was never used to alter a girl’s body or face shape.

Though she’s featured on a different genre of magazines, enter Kate Upton, the new “it” girl who’s been featured on the 2012 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition and recently GQ’s July cover. She’s curvier and thicker and closer to being a “real girl” than most who grace magazines these days.

And you’d think the average woman, had she seen it, would feel a little vindicated that another woman with a little extra was being celebrated on a magazine cover. At least it’s better than seeing depressing images of impossibly thin size 0’s and 2’s for most, you’d think.

But the anonymous blogger behind Skinny Gossip, a “pro-skinny” site, instead blasted Upton on a recent post, calling her “fat,” “lardy” and “vulgar,” among other things. The reaction was such—including death threats—that it was removed.

In her defense, the blogger claims that she was merely highlighting the double-standard that exists between skinny women and curvier women and how people treat them. She cites the example of people who are quick to tell a skinny woman what to eat or point out that she should, while the same would not be said to a curvier one.

For years, the fashion industry has been derided for its role in perpetuating the notion that being super-skinny is the key to being beautiful. But ironically, industry insiders, including a magazine editor and a supermodel, jumped to Upton’s defense, even before she eventually did.

The Skinny Gossip blogger offered something of an apology when announcing some forthcoming changes to the site: “In closing, there’s nothing wrong with saying skinny is beautiful, just like there’s nothing wrong with saying curvy is beautiful, or red hair is beautiful, or anything else someone happens to find appealing. It’s an opinion, and we’re all entitled to them.”

The problem is she didn’t just say “skinny is beautiful.” It was at the expense of saying “curvy is not” while using Upton as her example. Which goes back to the teen-led petition with Seventeen and Teen Vogue, which was borne of 13- and 14-year-olds complaining about their bodies or their skin.

Teen body image issues—or those of women period—go well beyond what’s in magazines. And any controversy over Upton or any curvier woman being labeled “fat” or “lardy” is just undoing what teen activists are trying to do.

So if—or when—more than one notion of beauty is portrayed in Seventeen or any other magazine, it’s about time that it’s just accepted without the name calling.