How Joan Holloway’s ass brought the world to its senses

I am a ‘late adopter’, otherwise known as ‘post-cool’ – in other words I watch a trend coming, see the bandwagon rolling into the distance and then finally get into whatever cool thing it is in my own leisurely time. This is why I have only just started watching the first series of Mad Men on DVD and at last I can say, I get it!

I didn’t see why everyone was going on about how Joan Holloway, or the actress who plays her – Christina Hendricks – had single-handedly managed to influence designers and lead to the Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone, hailing her bod as the ideal for women to aspire to. How can one woman’s figure make such a difference?

But now it makes sense. We have been slowly growing used to a very thin woman being the epitome of beauty. 15 years ago things weren’t that bad – watch seminal teen movie Clueless and you will see Cher and Dionne strutting about in mini skirts and crop tops revealing ‘chunky’ thighs and ‘chubby’ tummies. Except they’re not really chunky and chubby, it’s just our eyes are accustomed to jutting bones, legs that are thinner at the top than the knees and concave stomachs. I hadn’t realised it until I re-watched Clueless and caught myself thinking ‘woah look at those chunky legs’ – a horrifying knee-jerk reaction and so sad, considering that when I was 15, those girls were my idols.

This insidious adjustment to what we consider ‘slim’ would surely have continued, unchecked, if it hadn’t been for a TV show that is set at the end of the 50s and the beginning of the 60s – when, apparently, women came in all glorious shapes and sizes. Mad Men portrays that period unflinchingly – there’s sexism, casual racism and pregnant woman drinking and smoking a-plenty. BUT there is also the most wonderful attitude towards the female form. And having watched a few episodes, I can already feel my shrunken definition of beauty stretching back out to where it was years ago, as I admire the pneumatic bosoms and glorious rump that belong to Joan Holloway.

It’s extraordinary – she has this marvellous figure and the male characters are literally drooling over her. That might not seem so groundbreaking, but compared to the skinny minnies we’ve got used to, she’s… big! And while as good feminists we hate to admit that it matters to us what men think of our bodies, I think to many women, it does. It shouldn’t, but it does. So that’s why this is so exciting. After years of very thin women being the only ones classified as ‘hot’ on films and tv shows, here’s something so different it takes a while to get used to.

At last I get why Mad Men and Christina Hendricks have been such a significant influence on the world’s biggest designers – from Marc Jacobs to Miuccia Prada. They’ve all embraced a new sillouhette that hugs a woman’s figure, allows room for boobs and butts and covers enough flesh to preserve a tantalising balance between sexy and ladylike. Because opening up fashion to different figures means just that – we’re not saying ‘skinny is bad, fat is good’ – far from it. The point is clothes should be made to look good on all kinds of bodies and no one should feel excluded. So Betty Draper looks just as gorgeous in her capri pants, or full-skirted dresses as Joan does in her wiggle frocks and tight sweaters. Two bodies that couldn’t be more different, but are equally beautiful.

I read an article in Grazia by a girl who said she’d spent years loathing her diminuitive, curvaceous figure, but watching Joan Holloway working her assets to the max had made her see her own body with fresh eyes. I didn’t get what she meant, until I saw the show for myself.

Some people are complaining that we should stop going on about Christina’s body, it’s just as unattainable as size zero because it’s a perfect hourglass and women are going to beat themselves up even more if they can’t achieve it. But let’s be honest – we’re human, we’re curious and speaking for myself, I like looking at beautiful women in beautiful clothes and thinking ‘ooh i’d like to look like that’ and maybe having a go and if not achieving it 100%, feeling good because at least I’ve tried.

It doesn’t mean I’m stupid, or shallow, or I think Christina Hendricks has nothing more to offer the world than her body. I won’t feel guilty for admitting that I care about the way I look and the way the world perceives me, and for feeling grateful that at long last there’s someone out there working the red carpet, with men (and women) admitting they fancy her, when before all we had was Kate Moss=good, Bridget-fat-pants-Jones=bad.

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