You spot them across a crowded sales floor, or maybe a congested thrift store rack. Denim works of art. The perfect pair of jeans, if such a thing even exists. Beautiful cut, lovely wash—even the little rivets have panache. You swoop down on them, terrified another stylish shopper will make eye contact with them first, and scuttle them back to the fitting room, ready to make love to your mirrored image from the waist down.
Except they won’t come up past the middle of your thighs. Or they do this weird creasey thing across your hips. Or they pucker out so far at the waist, you look like you’re a little tea pot, short and stout. There is your handle and there is your spout.
If I never had to shop for another pair of jeans, I’d do two cartwheels, a round-off and a Tae-Bo kick across the mall parking lot. Jeans are a fashion staple, but next to bras (which belong in the seventh ring of hell), they’re my least favorite thing to look for, and sometimes, my least favorite thing to wear. I’ve broken nails trying to zip them up. Flopped back on my bed wrestling into them. Analyzed my hindquarters from every possible angle under the unkind glare of department store fluorescent lighting trying to buy them. Liked the way they fit my legs but hated the way they rode up in the crotch. Liked the way they fit around the waist but hated the way they flattened my rump. Squatted down in them to manufacture some give when they’ve been damn-girl-can-you-breathe? tight.
If you’re a Black woman, you probably have curves. And when you’re a Black woman with curves, you’ve probably experienced the deflating realization that most designers have visions of Angelina Jolie or Kate Hudson dancing through their heads when they strike out to create a new line. But newsflash: for at least the last five years, and probably longer than that, the average American woman has been rocking a size 14. But you wouldn’t be able to tell by the waif-like sizing of most jeans or the obvious lack of models with meat on their bones.
So when Levi’s introduced Curve ID, I snickered. Levi’s? The same brand the white girls in my high school poured their stick figures into? Seems as though the company is having a hard time breaking with their own stereotype. Their most recent ads for the line purportedly for thicker girls only proves their definition of shapeliness is a few stick-thin chicks with gams the size of my forearms. They defended themselves by saying they do celebrate different body types. Alas, those images, few and far between as they are, were relegated to a Facebook page with some 3,000 fans, a far cry from the pages of the print magazines that reach millions of readers. Pity.
Just because you drizzle syrup on boo-boo don’t make it hot cakes (I don’t know. Just roll with me.) And just because you feign respect for the shape of “real women” doesn’t make it the dawning of a new day. Levi’s may know denim and they may know capitalism, but they wouldn’t know a real womanly curve if it dropped it like it’s hot on their conference room table.
Someday soon, as Americans get bigger and more women fall into that “full-figured” category, which, at this point, is more the average than the exception, designers are going to have to kick that old school thinking to the curb that consumers want to see beautiful, but bony models wearing clothes they’re hoping will sell. Marketing studies have shown that women are overwhelmingly more likely to purchase a product if the gal pushing it looks more like them in age, race and, yes, weight. That includes jeans, Levi’s. Then you wonder why the clearance rack is clogged up with so many overstocked size 2s.
Curve ID let me down, and not just because of the ads. I bought two styles online, sight unseen, because they were on sale but they didn’t come close to the one-stop, don’t-look-no-further discovery I’d hoped for. The fit wasn’t all that impressive. So the love/hate relationship with denim marches on and my two little trusty pairs will remain on call indefinitely until I either whittle myself down to an itty bitty number in the lower single digits or stumble on a brand that can accentuate all that I got going on. Since Mitt Romney has a better chance of leading a conga line at the DNC than I do of being a waif size 4, my money’s on the former, not the latter. Then again, there’s always sweatpants.