Why Everyone is Talking About Glamour's "Plus"-Sized Model

It's a three-by-three inch image that shows an stunningmodel, blond and smiling, photographed for a story about feelingcomfortable in your skin. The girl is naked save for a thongbikini, juxtaposed against tips like "focus on the parts you love"and "your body doesn't deserve to be bashed!" The spread is typical of the women's magazines I normally roll my eyes at: "self esteem"squeezed between pages of emaciated cheekbones, jutting shoulder bladesand gangly arms.

Except that this time, I do a double-take. The girl on page 194 of the September issue of Glamour is Lizzi Miller, a 20-year-old model with—get ready—a roll in her stomach. Yes, Ireally wrote that: she has a roll of fat, as well as some faint stretchmarks and sturdy looking thighs. And the moment her photo hitnewsstands, Glamour readers noticed. "Finally! A picture of a REALwoman!" proclaimed one online commenter. "This photo made me want toshout from the rooftops," wrote another. "I really hope this starts arevolution," someone chimed in. As Glamour Editor Cindi Leive toldNEWSWEEK, "I knew readers would like this, but I have to admit I wasfloored by the intensity of the reaction." (You can read more aboutwhat Leive had to say about "The Woman on P. 194" on her blog.)

Lizzi Miller is a pretty girl with a prettyordinary body—the kind most of us see daily when we look in themirror. At 5'11 and 180 pounds, she has a body mass index (aweight-for-height formula used to measure obesity) of 25.1, which istwo-tenths of a point above what the National Institute of Health deems"normal." The average American female, meanwhile, has a BMI of 26.5,according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Miller is more like most of us than the emaciated models we're used toseeing. So why has her image hit such a nerve?

Because, well, the fatter we get, the more obsessed we are with being thin. And as the bloggers over at Jezebelpoint out, seeing a regular-sized woman in a magazine like Glamour is,today, a radical departure from the norm. We are a culture where theKarl Lagerfelds of the world proclaim Kate Moss too fat; where thelatest fashions and weight-loss products are circulated by the mediawith a speed and fury unique to this millennium. We are spoon-fed hundreds of advertisements each day—the majority ofthem nipped, tucked and airbrushed to perfection. And what we're leftwith is a culture of women who are socialized to unrealisticimages—and "hungry," says Glamour's Leive, "for reality."

Acknowledging that point is certainly a step in theright direction--except that I can't help but feel like we've been herebefore. More than a decade ago, Seventeen used a "fat" girl in a bikinion its cover and people threatened to cancel their subscriptions [Editor's note: right? Or was it YM? I remember the model, standing knee deep in the ocean, the bikini (a green floral thing with a skirt/wrap at the bottom), but can't recall the magazine. Internet, help!—KD]; Dovestirred controversy more recently when the company began using"regular" sized women to sell beauty products in 2005. And while thespecter of regular-sized models is less of a stretch than it was backthen, studies show that Americans continue to grow wider while theaverage model gets thinner.

Every so often, it feels as if an oversized girl getsnaked so we can rave about how beautiful she is, only to go back toworshiping the uber-thin. (And we should note that even Miller's photolooks as if it was airbrushed—at least according to my photo editorhere at Newsweek, herself a former model.) So the question is: is this really change? Or just a blip on theso-called weight scale?

"This definitely underlines our commitment to showing women of different sizes," says Leive. Miller, who works for the Wilhelmina Agency in NewYork, hopes that's true—and that it's a trend that extends beyond the pages of just Glamour. This is her second appearance in that magazine, andshe says that showing young women that there's variety to our bodies is"why I got into this industry." "I've been that girl looking throughthe magazines and not seeing anyone that looked remotely like me, andbeing completely depressed about it," she says. "So it's great if I canmake others feel a little bit better about themselves."

She's succeeding so far. Though it would be nice,every so often, to see a "normal"-sized model in something other than astory about how it's OK to be fat—er, comfortable in your own skin.