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Dawn French on Big Women - Part 2

Regardless of the image of fat in today’s society, it is a fact that just under 
half of women in Britain are a size 16+.  But where are they represented?  

Large women are never seen looking glamorous and beautiful on magazine covers 
or on the catwalk, which could give young women the impression that being big is wrong.

Dawn explains;  “It should be balanced, teenage girls have no role models... 
We’re only used to seeing high fashion on stick insects.  Why aren’t they [fashion 
designers] interested in the challenge of designing things that would only look 
good on big women?  

Proper grown-up fashion doesn’t seem to be available for big women. Why not?”


Originally broadcast as part of ‘The South Bank Show’ series, this video provides 
a documentary style look at the lack of representation given to fuller figured 
women in the contemporary media and arts. According to Dawn “The South Bank Show 
was meant to be a celebration of big women”.  However this aim was not entirely 

Yes, Dawn posed for a variety of photographs and paintings, but no modern images of 
big meaning beautiful were created. The photographs were mostly reinactments of 
old-fashioned paintings from Rubens’ era.  As a result of this programme, the 
conclusion was drawn that images of fat in the 1990’s took two forms; parody or 

“Most photographers have had no experience of photographing big women, especially 
in an appreciative, celebratory or even modern way.  They have nothing to emulate, 
so they take the safe route and parody the past.”   

To investigate this idea further, Dawn French volunteered to pose nude for 
Esquire magazine, an offer which they immediately took up.  

But where is the 90s’ image of bigger women?  In some other art forms such as sculpture 
and modern art, new images are being created, but this not as influential
as photography. Women today need to retake control over the image of fat and tell 
the photographers what to shoot, rather than it being the opposite.

“If I was alive in Rubens’ time I wouldn’t have to be a comedienne for a living. 
I’d be celebrated as a beautiful model.  In those days Kate Moss would only have 
one use, as a paintbrush.  He’d be painting me and I’d say ‘what’s that in your hand 
Rubens?’ He’d say ‘It’s Kate Moss. I’m using her as a paintbrush.”

However successful large women such as Dawn French are, we have a long way to go 
before some people will accept that we are all individual shapes and sizes.  Although 
Dawn has proved that big is beautiful, is it still a thin girl's world?

                                              PART THREE ->

© Copyright 2000 Caroline Marshall The Dawn French Website