A Dupont Circle fashion show takes on the beauty myth.
On any given summer Saturday, Dupont Circle is the scene of multiple crimes. Not robberies and assaults, mind you, though these incidents do occur with some frequency after dark. No, Dupont Circle and D.C.’s hazy summer sun instead create fertile ground for an entirely different type of crime against humanity: the fashion crime.
Like the arresting cartel of sweaty, hairy, bare-chested men who monopolize the circle’s park benches. Their get-up is a misdemeanor at the very least. And then there are some outright felonies, like the guy in Nair-wear spandex short-shorts who lies spread-eagle on the grass near a walkway.
On this Saturday, Aug. 5, though, passers-by in the center of the city’s most popular traffic circle learn that National Organization for Women (NOW) staffer Anita Murano has issued a pardon to all Dupont denizens. “Hello, and welcome to our Love Your Body Day fashion show,” Murano announces to the circle’s assorted sunbathers, strollers, and spectators.
Sporting a casual ensemble of denim shorts and a loose-fitting white T-shirt accented by a steamed-on photo of “Anita’s Super Interns,” Murano doesn’t quite cut the figure of your average fashion-show MC. But that—and here comes a heavy dose of symbolism, folks—is just the point. “This is an event organized to promote awareness of the media’s negative portrayal of women’s bodies,” Murano tells the crowd, as the Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian” provides a peppy soundtrack.
By 2 p.m., approximately 15 women and a few men have lined up single-file to “stop oppressive beauty standards.” And the way to do so, apparently, is to strut their stuff willy-nilly on the northeastern side of Dupont Circle’s fountain. “Today you will see real bodies in a range of shapes and sizes,” explains Murano. By which she means to say that Miss D.C. will not be making an appearance.
Holly Fodge, on the other hand, will. Waiting for her moment in the sun, Fodge sports spunky capri pants, a sassy crossing-guard-orange vest, and a sign stating that “People come in all shapes and sizes.”
Maybe. But most Love Your Body Day models seem to come in Fodge’s shape and size: petite, slender, and fit. As the show proceeds, each model bounds up the steps of the fountain, walks a few yards across, and heads quickly back down. Very few express exhibitionist tendencies, though some cause quite a stir. Like Min Kim. With her stiletto heels accentuating a chest- and derriere-hugging black nightie number, Kim displays fashion sensibilities right from the cover of Cosmo. She follows Kate Weseman, who takes the stage in a slimming black men’s suit that complements her short, dark hair.
Kim and Weseman, though, are the more elaborately costumed minority of the day’s models. Others show up in whatever seemed clean that morning, and still others say they’ve chosen outfits deliberately to make a point—whatever that is. Lesley Ramsey walks up the steps, gives her long blond hair a gentle flip, and positively sparkles in a silver dress that looks more like a negligee. According to the introduction Murano reads for Ramsey, the outfit makes her feel fun and sexy. And with her white cowboy hat and sunglasses, Ramsey looks it, too. Murano tells the audience that when Ramsey wanted to wear the dress for her birthday, her date thought it was “too revealing and too wrinkly.” She never wore it, Murano adds with a sad, victimized tone in her voice.
A few moments later, Valerie Hennings struts up in an anti-corporate-themed “This is what Barbie ought to look like” black T-shirt with pink lettering. Also sporting a tiara with cutoff jeans and black sneakers, Hennings makes one of the biggest splashes as she sashays down the steps.
A few men join in as well. A guy named T.C. shows off his Margaret Cho T-shirt, reminding the crowd that the Asian comedian is both “a woman of size and a woman of color.” Vladimir, who’s thin with short blond hair, even gets a few hoots from the ladies.
As the afternoon wears on, the fashion show that set out to dismantle stereotypes winds up reinforcing a few of them. Such as the one that holds that the women’s movement is dominated by white, well-educated women. Still, some important points seem to filter from the runway out to the circle. In between fountain-step runs, Murano sprinkles in factoids and editorial comments. Such as that an astounding 80 percent of fourth-grade girls are dieting.
“Dieting is bad,” Murano tells the audience. “You get sick.” The day’s last model, with straight shoulder-length brown hair, black pants, and a “Well-behaved women rarely make history” T-shirt, rushes onto the stage, bypassing the formality of waiting in line. “Patricia worked out this morning and loves her body this afternoon,” Murano explains.
Then NOW President Patricia Ireland sheds her white T-shirt and exposes a ’60s-style blue knit tank top, black bra—and dragon tattoo. A handful of models swoon and take photos.
An hour later, they’re all gone. The hairy guys on the bench, though, are still there. In this cruel, corporate world, at least some people don’t need to be reminded to love their bodies. CP