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We like big bums - an article on Kristi Kuudisiim, size 14 model, and changing Irish attitudes to Plus Size Models

© April 7th 2009
Suddenly, there’s something terribly vulgar about being too thin, says Sarah Caden, our staff writer, as she meets Kristi, the face, and bum, of the new reality, where we no longer worship, or weigh ourselves against, the super-skinny false idols of the boom years.

When Kristi Kuudisiim pats her bottom and explains her plans to improve upon it, you realise how unusual it is for a woman to draw attention to that part of her body. If one draws attention to her derriere, it is generally with a view to bemoaning its size or shape, not to showing it off. “Mine hasn’t dropped or anything,” Kristi assures, as if that wasn’t entirely obvious, “but I want to make it round and full and smooth.” Which is to say that the 25-year-old Estonian, Ireland’s only plus-size model, has plans to make her bottom bigger. Personally, she wants it, and professionally, she believes it will do her no harm. Skinny, Kristi feels certain, has had its day. And she’s not the only one.

Suddenly, there’s something terribly vulgar about being too thin. It’s a combination of things: a heightened awareness that there are bigger things to worry about than your thighs, or Angelina Jolie’s thighs; a growing resentment of celebrities and their sense of entitlement in a world that is patently unfair; a grasp of the fact that life is fundamentally about survival and that to thwart the body’s natural need of food as fuel is somehow unnatural and in need of correction. It’s about addressing our attitude to consumption, perhaps.

Gone are the days of thoughtless material overconsumption which, conversely and bizarrely, bred an underconsumption of food. Which is to say that as designer handbags got bigger, the shoulders forced to carry them got scrawnier, a fact that seems oddly disgusting now. In this time of new uncertainty, the last thing we need is our bodies to let us down along with everything else. Further, we now need new heroes and, chances are, they are not going to be weedy ones.

Kristi Kuudisiim is a size 14 who admits that, in the past, she slimmed to a size 12 in order to get work.“

In Estonia, I did some work as a model,”she says today, seven years after her move to Ireland. “People in Estonia are taller than in Ireland, but not bigger, and the models were all much smaller than me. Here, at first, I tried to be a smaller model, but I was fighting my true size and it wasn’t good and it didn’t work for me. Now, I have made peace with my true size, I think. I can see that I can still wear all the nice clothes and do the nice jobs and I don’t have to be that thin.“

I like the idea of slim and I can admire people who are slim,” she adds, “but if they are healthy, too. But I think all people areg etting over the idea that the only way to look good is to be skinny. And all those skinny stars, they can’t be eating, they just can’t.”

That last pronouncement, made with some passion, is a conclusion at which many people are finally arriving. Once, we were prepared to suspend disbelief at claims of fast metabolisms and enjoyment of cream cakes from size-zero celebs, but we don’t have the time or patience for that any more.

After a year in which all bets are off with banks, with property, with job security and pensions, we aren’t buying what is patently untrue. In 2006, when Angelina had her first baby, Shiloh, we might have accepted that it was the superhuman in her that meant not an ounce of weight deposited itself on her in pregnancy and hung around for months after, but by the time she had twins Knox and Vivienne last summer, we were over that illusion.

We had stopped worshipping false gods by then, revering an ability for weight loss as if it were a talent. We understood that such slimness was more to be pitied than admired, and wondered at the mindset of someonew ho set themselves about achieving it. Because anyone who has ever dieted —most women, that is — understands the degree of single-minded dedication and self-absorption slimming requires. And perhaps that is why we have now withdrawn from worshipping those who practise it. We have, perhaps, given up on idolising the apparently exceptional individual and turned our attention instead on people to whom we can actually relate. People who are not just skin and bone, but made of fat, too.

And let’s be clear on one thing, Kristi Kuudisiim is not fat. At 5ft 11in, she’s tall and she’s slim. When she moved to Ireland at the age of 19, she settled first in Ennis, Co Clare, where she was spotted by the mid-west’s premiere manager of models, Celia Holman-Lee. Celia recognised Kristi’s beauty, but also the need for runway models to whom women could actually relate.

Most of us don’t have Kristi’s looks, height or perfect proportions, but her presence in a fashion show assures us the clothes come in normal sizes and that we could wear them, too. After several years in Ennis, Kristi moved to Dublin, where she is on the books of Assets, getting catwalk and photo work, and working one night a week as hostess in the VIP suite of Krystle.

“I do all the fashion shows, all the jobs the other models do,” Kristi says, “and just as much as them, I must look after myself. My skin must be good, my health must be good,I must eat well and be healthy. I can’t be fat;I’m a model.

“And the reaction I get from women is very positive,” she continues. “They give me very positive comment. Women can relate to me more, I think.

”Their reaction is less out of relief that‘bigger’ women are being represented by size-14 Kristi — in a world where, let’s face it, size 14 is the average — than from a sense that we currently crave a bit of reality. In recent times, the realities we held dear have been shattered. This time last year, after all, we were all notional millionaires thanks to the value of our homes, while this year we couldn’t move house if we wanted to. Last year, pensions based on bank shares were rock solid; now, they’re puffs of smoke. Last year, you probably didn’t know a recent emigrant and you thought that bankers knew what they were doing. Last year, we believed other people when they told usw hat was what.

This year, we’re demanding proof and making the decisions for ourselves based on real evidence. So, while Victoria Beckham continues to insist she has a great appetite,we look for evidence in the form of body fat and don’t just take her word for it.

And when Nicole Kidman claims to snapback into her pre-baby body within three weeks of childbirth, we suddenly like her less than we like Halle Berry, who also had a baby last year and only seemed to fit into her clothes comfortably again around Christmas.

That’s not an example of lack of willpower on Berry’s part, however, or some sort of failure. You need every bit of strength you can muster with a newborn baby: you need to eat, to sleep, to function efficiently, particularly when, in the real world, you probably have to return to work and don’t have a live-in nanny. That’s reality, that’s what women know happens after pregnancy and with a small child, and reality is what we are comfortable with today.

Of course, in the past decade there was an extraordinary idolising of success and an equation of success with slimness. Never before had Wallis Simpson’s motto that you can “never be too rich or too thin” been so taken to heart by so many, it seemed.

There is a theory that women’s weight began to drop when they began joining the workforce in greater numbers in the Sixties and Seventies, when being overweight began to be associated with laziness and a weak will, while slimness conveyed competitiveness and an edge. And the mean mood of hunger didn’t hurt.

In celebrity circles, then, this was exaggerated. It was the case across the board that the more successful an actress or performer became, the skinnier she grew. Take Nicole Richie, for example, who started out as Paris Hilton’s fuller-figured sidekick in their TV series The Simple Life, and slimmed down to a bony, different person as her celebrity grew. This is true also of the female Friends, who got thinner and thinner as they got more and more successful. And as celebrity women such as these got thinner as they grew more famous — see Katie Holmes — they also became more and more encumbered by stuff such as the best clothes, the best shoes, the best bags. You know, all that stuff we became convinced for a while that we needed, too.

And when we could afford the stuff, we also thought we needed the zero-fat bodies to make it look good and felt bad abouto urselves for not being able to achieve what the stars did, with their personal trainers and home deliveries of no-fat, no-carb meals. Funnily enough, however, now we’re trimming back on buying all that stuff we don’t need, we’re also realising something else — that there’s no intrinsic value in being skinny. It doesn’t make you a better person, doesn’t make you more successful and doesn’t mean you will weather the storm any better. In fact, in terms of the latter,you may do better with a bit of meat on your bones. Survival is, after all, the reward of the fittest.

Kristi Kuudisiim reckons her bum lift —the first stage of which she underwent late last month — might give her a head start, so to speak, in the shift in mood away from skinny. Ribbons of thread, she explains, will be inserted into her bottom — “four of them, two on each side,” she says, gesturing at her bum — and then after a month of allowing the flesh attach to the ribbons, they will be pulled upwards, bringing the flesh with them. “Woop!” Kristi exclaims, acting out the upward movement of her bottom. It will be a more pert bottom, she says — bigger, some might say, and they’d possibly be right. But it says a lot for the success this woman enjoys as a plus-size model that she has no fear of filling out a little further.

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