Wednesday, August 26, 2009

just dahl-ing.

I have always had a thing for Sophie Dahl. True, i was barely shy of 10 years old when she first erupted onto the fashion scene, and true at that tender age i was barely able to appreciate her blissful nakedness in the opium ads nor her space age weirdness on the cover of Vogue Italia and UK, but once i mellowed into a fashion appreciation she was always the model i had an unequivocal, unabashed love for. 

Why is this? Because of her oh-so-womanly body that seemed made for sin. I don't care what anyone said about it, to me, it was practically perfect. She had gorgeous long limbs, a full-fleshed figure, and the bone structure of a Raphael masterpiece. Her big blue eyes stared out at you with incredible intensity and her honey-blonde hair was as thick as straw and so lovely in that country-grown english kind of way. Even though I still to this day have immense amounts of love for that heroin chic doyenne, Kate Moss, she was never going to be my hero. For what teenage girl with healthy amounts of self-consciousness and a body far too round for skinny jeans (although at the time i was unaware of that fact) could worship her as an idol? A more realistic role model was necessary. 

And then, all of a sudden, i became aware of a shift. She was no longer this fabulous figure of female nubility, but rather... well... thin. 

And not in shape, fit or slim, but svelte, bony and wasting away before my eyes. Although those of you who have followed Sophie Dahl's career will note that her current figure is the healthy medium between the over-indulging excess of her modelling heyday and her worryingly bony years after that, at the time this was a shock for me. My body inspiration, my heroine had suddenly conformed. 

Those of you who have lived through the shocking years of teenage body-consciousness will know how troubling that would have been for me. Surrounding yourself with fashion will always run the occupational hazard of causing you to become desensitized to realistic shapes and sizes, but for the most part i've never been phased by that. Fashion is not realism, and never will be. Why would we love it if it was? We have fashion because it is beautiful, just as how we have art and music and literature. 

But still, there was this little voice in side of me that watched Sophie Dahl shrinking before my eyes and wonder if this was what was expected of me, and every other girl that wasn't stick thin and bared the semblance of curves. I remember reading a rather horrible article in a 'health' magazine that said words to the effect of 'curves are not beautiful, they are a euphemism for fat, and therefore must be shed'. Whilst it is true that people will use any means possible to shy away from the reality of their bodies it is also true that curves are a natural part of every woman's body, thin or large. It comes with the territory of breasts, hips and thighs, unfortunately, and has taken a little while for me to come to terms with. 

It seems like it has taken Sophie a little while to come to terms with this, too. In her cookbook, a divine collection of pescatarian recipes (my favourite kind!) photographed to magical perfection and accompanied with her positively mitford-esque writing voice, Sophie writes about her battle with weight and her body. She writes about how the press never understood how her weight ballooned during her modelling years, not because she was a compulsive over-eater or a 'fatty' but because she felt the pressure of a hardened industry where she did not fit in. She ate for comfort, she ate for sadness, she ate because she felt the expectations of everyone telling her 'you are an inspiration for everyone normal and large', she ate because it seemed like she had to be big, otherwise what was she doing in this glamourous world? 

And then later, when she lost the weight, how she had to deal with people all over the world 'weighing' (no pun intended, of course) in on her shape, telling her that she had sold out, that she had lost her confidence, that she was much better when she was full-figured. Sophie's frank analysis of her body over her 30 something life shows considerable and commendable hindsight, and she writes with such poignancy and pathos that it is hard not to feel sorry for her. 'I have been as round as a Rubens and as skinny as a twig' she writes in the introduction, and ultimately this cook book is less about food and more about eating, if that makes sense. The happy medium where she finds herself now, slim and fit, leaves her in a healthy position. 

But the thing is that it wasn't that she wasn't healthy before. I mean, yes, her weight did balloon considerably during her modelling years, but when she started, as she admits, she was a healthy full-figured 19 year old with a chain-smoking habit and a best friend of Isabella Blow. She wasn't model-size (thank god) but she wasn't plus sized either. What was wrong with that? Nothing, but this fickle world of fashion wreaks havoc on us all. 

As Sophie writes, we have to change our understanding of what is beautiful and what is sexy. She finished her book saying that she has seen and been that woman who is 'reed-thin and creamily voluptuous'. The woman who is truly sexy are those who eat sensibly, but don't count calories or stuff their faces. They exercise, but in a way that they enjoy. 'They are not prisoners to their body'. 

'Sexy,' Sophie writes,  'is inherent in a healthy appreciation for food, in having the energy to romp with your beloved, pick up your baby, cook dinner for your friends... it is feeling sated, having opinions and feeling alive.' 

Sometimes, after rejections from boys or particularly bad days at uni, or from spending too much time with my terribly trim and svelte good friends life can get you down about your body and it's all too easy to wallow in self pity. What these formative past few years have taught me is an appreciation for who I am, warts and all.  And though i wouldn't go so far as to call myself sexy, i do think there are things about me that could be considered beautiful. After years of worrying and tears and hating it all i'm comfortable in my skin. And i have energy, so much energy, to spend lazy days leafing through fashion and cooking magazines with my mum, to run around our garden playing 3 man cricket with my brothers, to spend hours rushing through the library stacks searching for obscure books on Moliere's 'le bourgeois gentilhomme', to prepare a 3 course meal and then to eat it, to dance the night away with best friends. 

And reading Sophie's reaisation of this made me feel a little bit more confident. Even though she is a great deal thinner than myself, and hardly the girl i idealised for bucking trends and embodying voluptuous sexiness - who could forget Tom Ford's comments on that YSL opium ad 'she looks like she's had too much food, too much sex, too much love...' - I admire her for being comfortable in her own skin, at last. I wish there were more women like her in fashion and the media who are truly comfortable with who they are. 


Iphone snapshots of Miss Dahl's Voluptuous Delights

it is a truly delightful book, split up into seasons and then further into breakfasts, lunches and suppers, filled with organic and interesting food, comfort meals, sumptuous photography and witty, incredibly endearing introductions. If you love cooking beautiful, hearty food then this is the book for you. If you love gorgeous photos teeming with vibrant life, this is the book for you. If you love all things beautiful, then this is the book for you. Seriously, I cannot give enough praise for this cookbook, the recipes are easy to follow and scrumptious ( i made the eton mess as soon as i got home) and Miss Dahl herself is a fascination writer with a powerful voice. Lovely. 


Brigadeiro said...


little shadow said...

Incredible insights.
It's so interesting reading about the amount of critique she faced and of course the very obvious difference in opinions of her.

That cook book looks utterly irresistable, I shall have to search for it in my local Borders.

Nath said...

The cook book is fantastic! i would love to get at least one recipe! :)


brooke said...

love the little bits of your nails we can see in the photos :)

your thoughts are so profound... I've thought about weight a lot, but never like this. It's unfair that the media (us in the future, oops!) always has to comment on celebrity's weights... it's awful! I'm thrilled that both she and you are comfortable in your skin, though...

oh and I completely, totally and fully agree with you on this: "The woman who is truly sexy are those who eat sensibly, but don't count calories or stuff their faces. They exercise, but in a way that they enjoy. They are not prisoners to their body."

smartest thing a woman has ever said! Love it.

well done, lovely post :)


theesilkworm said...

I find Sophie really fascinating, she is so pure, sweet & elegant and the sort of person who I would love to have as an older sister! I love that picture of her with the strawberry jellies, she always seems to be able to co-ordinate her clothes to look great with the food...she has such an angelic face-thanks for the nigella tip, I'm off to the kitchen to find the recipe!!! :D

hrose said...

glad you like the look of it, the cook book is seriously wonderful, as is miss dahl herself! i love her at all sizes, from her largesse up the top of the post to her figure now. Her face is truly magical.

brooke - thanks, i've been cycling through different colours after sea green, i find one can't be that colour all the time. the one i have on now is lipstick at sportsgirl, sooo good (sportsgirls colours are great and they chip hardly at all!) it's a sort of pinky-red and so fantastic!


Harlow said...

Some good food porn there, I shall have to see if I can get my hands on the book! It's almost strange you posted this today because on the news tonight was a thing on how plus size models are becoming more recognised.

Personally I don't find size 6 girls attractive, a woman is meant to look like a woman, not like a 12 year old boy with long hair. And I'm not even saying this out of spite due to being a "bigger (which by my terms means not anorexic)" girl. I went through a phase where I used to keep a picture of Kiera Knighly in my makeup box to remind me to starve myself. But I got over it and replaced the picture of Kiera with a picture of Kate Winslet to remind me that you don't have to be androgynous to be beautiful.

Two and a Half Ribbons said...

Such a lovely, insightful post! There really can't be enough discussion about this issue, it can cause so much long-term damage. Personally I think the most beautiful a woman can be is when she is healthy and retains the natural shape her body would be with the perfect natural balance of diet and exercise. Something I've struggled with for years, that a lot of people dont tend to see as a problem, is being underweight. I am and always have been a size zero, and I've always been very uncomfortable with that. I find it hard to put on weight, but I feel very self-conscious mentioning it because people tend to have this attitude that I have no right to be insecure about my weight because I'm thin. I get really upset about that attitude in society, that being unhealthily underweight - like I have been - is desirable, and not enjoying or admiring it is abnormal. Well done for highlighting both sides of the coin here!

joy said...

This is definitely going on my wishlist for my birthday!

hrose said...

Two and a Half Ribbons - I hate how body talk always falls to one side of the spectrum and ideas of being underweight are not always addressed. Sophie Dahl is almost the perfect embodiment of society's obsessions and fears, this fat/thin dichotomy. And i am truly fascinated by her story and what she concludes after all. Being comfortable is more important than what any scale says.


Paper Heart Girl said...

I love her! She's so great! This is such a lovely post. xxxx

Anonymous said...

Just stumbled across this while going through your blog. This is an amazing piece. I love food but I'm always the one eating it and never cooking it. You and your food adventures have inspired me to cook and I definitely have to get this book! I adore your blog!