As Kate Upton graces Vogue UK’s June cover, we look at fashion’s relationship with breasts
Large breasted women and fashion have been always somewhat at odds. Photographs of Kate Upton gracing the June cover of Vogue UK have been appearing over the past week, showing the Sports Illustrated model in all her generous glory, heralding in the season of beach frolics. Scantily clad and as hot as a pistol, the photos have been causing a little ripple of controversy as once again we thresh out the issue of curves and high fashion.
Hadley Freeman in The Guardian cuts to the chase and states, “Upton’s shoots for fashion magazines are increasingly becoming indistinguishable from the ones she has done in men’s magazines and Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues.” The feeling on this side of the camp is that, although Kate Upton is being upheld as one of the rare models to straddle the world of curves and high fashion, the reality is that this is far from being the case. What instead is happening is that the world of high fashion is objectifying Upton and her generous décolletage in much the same way GQ or Esquire might do – tasteful but sexual. The style of Upton’s shoot (see above) would seem to suggest that fashion and fashion editorials led by a team of women in the case of Vogue, have learned to view curvaceous women through the male gaze, and that they are inherently objectifying them in the way they frame and style their shoots. For instance in this case, Upton is depicted clutching a breast after her over-vexed bikini top has given up the game and popped open. It is very sexy, no doubt about it.
High fashion is arguably far from incorporating curves in spite of having made significant progress in that direction. Clothes are still designed and made around a body that is a size 6-8, and that rarely sports more than a B cup. Androgyny and slimness are the holy grail of high fashion – clothes hang well off these frames that is uncontested, albeit not proclaimed too loudly either. But they’re also almost seen as being vulgar. As Freeman notes, the famous example is Victoria Beckham, now a household name in Brit fashion, but once the proud owner of a boob job, which she had to get rid of in order to be taken seriously in the world of high fashion.
Louise O’Reilly of Style Me Curvy is an Irish plus-size model as well as a blogger and advocate for better representation of curves in the fashion industry. Of Kate Upton’s Vogue shoot Louise has only praise, finding her 2013 June cover to have been “styled and directed in a way of that shifted her from her Sports Illustrated background.” Louise knows that “fuller busts” are not looked upon kindly by the fashion industry, often relegated either to catalogue modeling or men’s magazines. And with this in mind Louise is inclined to commend Vogue for its latest cover and shoot– “Kate Upton has the face and qualities of a 1990’s supermodel, which comes across in the June issue. It is wonderful to see that Alexandra Shulman and a magazine as prestigious as Vogue are helping to alter people’s perception of both a bigger bust and curves in fashion.”
And yet the battle of the bosom rages on. Are we being called upon to wert whirl women with bounteous breasts by the way they are being represented in magazines that are for women, by women? Or are we being a little over sensitive and nitpicky? Kate Upton’s shoot is sizzling, but it is also undoubtedly high fashion and at times hyper feminine. What’s more, to take offence would seem to deny that women have a fascination with other women’s bodies, that we don’t all, to a woman and to a man, appreciate a hefty cleavage on different levels. Cinema, cartoons, dolls, porn, they have all impacted on our relationship with breasts, and not necessarily negatively. Large breasts raise the image of classic sex symbols and femininity as much as they suggest explicit and hyper sexualized exploitative images of women. Arguably they are a healthy alternative to the obsessively thin images of female beauty we are presented 90% of the time.
Kate Upton’s shoot for Vogue if feminine, high fashion and extremely sexy. To take offense seems heavy-handed and prudish. After all this is high fashion, where exploitation is a regular currency. So enjoy her feminine wiles and commend her for it say us.
All photos by Mario Testino for Vogue UK June 2014
Roisin Agnew @Roxeenna