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.