Part 2: Enormous Beauty

Anna Nicole Smith
It might happen almost overnight [under a worldwide food shortage] that the general perception of what is beautiful would all of a sudden change. Anna Nicole Smith would abruptly appear on the cover of Vogue. Her generous forms have already made her the pinup model of a current generation of chubby chasers. But the future may be hers. She's shown she has a gift for timing, and I'd bet on her chances of being the next Betty Grable for the boys in Bosnia.

— Richard Klein,
Eat Fat

All through my teens and my college years, I never really had a particular celebrity to focus on as my "fantasy woman." It seemed that all the other guys I knew could point to a certain contemporary sex symbol as their favorite, expressing their lustful enthusiasm for Farrah Fawcett or Bo Derek or Heather Locklear... but I had no one. It wasn't for lack of searching. I had my passing fascinations with Sybil Danning and Samantha Fox, but their curviness was unsatisfyingly confined to their abundant bustlines. With the advent of her notorious weight gain during the course of Designing Women, Delta Burke became rather attractive to me -- but her age and bearing made her a touch too matronly for a pimply teenager to idolize. The best celebrity babe I had back in those olden days was probably Belinda Carlisle. She was perfectly adorable until the Go-Go's broke up and she dieted her way down to perfectly generic.

This vacuum in my social integration really troubled me when I was a kid. There was a time when I was around 10 or 12 when I wondered if I might be gay, or somehow "asexual." Not that I ever felt interested in men, but the women in movies and girlie magazines generally didn't do much for me either. Fortunately, a certain plump brunette vision appeared in my seventh grade class, and she straightened me out on the subject of my heterosexuality in short order. But our society cruelly leaves us to figure these things out for ourselves. Basically, popular culture has always told those of us who like big, full-figured women that we were shit out of luck.

And then along came Anna Nicole Smith.

Anna Nicole Smith Anna Nicole's weight has been a contentious issue even since the beginning of her career, when she was relatively slim. Playboy felt compelled to justify their unorthodox Playmate of the Year as a throwback to the curvaceous glamour girls of yesteryear, like Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield. The comparison was valid, but it seemed more like an apology than a tribute. The media was tentatively willing to play along with this "new" standard of beauty for a while, praising Anna Nicole as a positive role model for real women. That all changed when she began gaining more weight (and engaging in outrageous behavior, which I'll discuss later), and got reduced to an object of tabloid ridicule. But the damage was already done.

No matter what her weight and appearance may be at any given time, Anna Nicole Smith has inextricably embedded herself in the popular consciousness as a sex symbol. Of all the qualities people associate with her, many of them quite unfavorable, one adjective near the top of the list will always be "sexy." Try as they might, the media could not so easily destroy this dangerous creation they had unleashed on the public. Even those who consider Anna Nicole a disgusting fat pig cannot deny that this woman is a tremendously sexual being, nor the sure fact that other people do find her desirable. In this respect Anna Nicole is a unique phenomenon. She is the only fat chick widely recognized in our society as an icon of feminine beauty.

And at last, in her I have found a sex symbol to call my own.

In other times and other cultures, a plush figure like Anna Nicole's at her heaviest would scarcely be considered an oddity or only marginally acceptable. Her full breasts, wide hips, rounded belly, large derriere and apple-cheeked face would be regarded as the very epitome of beauty during the Renaissance and among certain ethnic groups of today. But in the prevailing opinion of modern Western civilization, she is simply overweight and unattractive. Women whose body type would elsewhere have been cherished and glorified are marginalized in our world as sub-sexual rejects. And we men who, sensibly enough, respond to our natural attraction to these women are similarly cast out of the mainstream. Branded as "chubby chasers" or "fat admirers" (terms not universally embraced within our community), we are made to feel like weirdos for no other reason than being interested in beautiful women.

Obviously, there is something terribly wrong with all this. Theories abound as to why our society developed its bitter contempt for the classical feminine figure. Some say it's because of gay fashion designers sublimating their desires into styles that look best on androgynous frames. Some say it's feminist extremists fighting to suppress physical femininity to gain equality with men, and others say it's a ruling misogynist patriarchy coercing women to remain frail and easily controlled. Some blame Hollywood, fashion magazines, and the media-entertainment complex for projecting impossible and unrealistic standards of beauty. Others are convinced the weight-loss industry is conspiring to sabotage women's self-esteem to ensure their future profits. And others might suggest it's just another symptom of our collective spiritual bankruptcy as a hopelessly lost and empty people.

Myself, I think it's probably a combination of all those things, and more. I believe our pathological obsession with thinness is something that we are all responsible for, to one degree or other. But I don't have the wisdom to identify the reasons behind this situation, and I don't think it necessarily does a lot of good to point fingers. What I'm more interested in is our reactions to this nightmare world we are living in, and the changes that Anna Nicole Smith has made in it. Few people realize how tremendous her impact has been.

As I described at the end of Part 1, Anna Nicole made her official debut as the one and only full-figured sex goddess of modern times when she unapologetically wore that red dress to the 1994 Academy Awards. The media licked their chops at the prospect of this newest celebrity weight-gain scandal, anxious to vilify another "former" beauty queen for piling on the pounds, and ipso facto destroying her looks. The tabloids and the showbiz press seemingly love these celebrity lynchings because they offer the public an appealing illusion of superiority over the plumped-up star, but more importantly because they send dire warnings about the consequences of "letting oneself go." Even if (or especially when?) one is a powerful celebrity.

The Red Dress But this time, the media's vicious attack did not work. At least, not completely. They probably never even realized it in their editorial offices and news rooms, but their publication of those red dress images triggered an insurrection. A silent legion of us mutinied against the line of crap they were feeding us. No catty potshots could convince us that Anna Nicole Smith was a hideous cow in these pictures, as they had decreed -- our own eyes told us she was now more gorgeous than ever. She wasn't fat and ugly, she was fat and beautiful.

In response to her cover shot wearing the red dress, People magazine's letters to the editor reflected this little rebellion. One reader carped that Anna Nicole needed to lose 30 pounds, while another saw things much more perceptively: "Finally! At last! Bravo! Hooray! Your Oscar night cover strikes a killing blow to the 'waifs'! I refer, of course, to the voluptuous, anything-but-waiflike Anna Nicole Smith. I predict this picture will be affixed to refrigerators all across our country -- for some, as motivation; for others, as vindication!"

And as Heinrich Saint-Germain incisively observed, "Many still believe that her famous appearance at the Oscars wearing a defiantly form-fitting red dress, with her hair elaborately arranged in a luxurious coiffure, and preening for the cameras as if she were the most beautiful woman in the world (and perhaps she was, that night) represents the ne plus ultra of plus-size fashion, the absolute perfection of opulent voluptuousness, a look that no woman under a size 14 could ever ever duplicate."

Here Heinrich has hit upon the one of the most crucial aspects of Anna Nicole's indefatigable appeal: her self-assuredness. In front of a camera, she has always presented herself as if she knows she is desirable beyond all imagination, while somehow sidestepping any pretentious narcissism. Her very deliberate manner of bubbly-bombshell posing expresses sheer confidence and mastery over her immeasurable sexual power. We're accustomed to seeing starlets camouflage themselves or act sheepish when they gain a pound or two, so Anna Nicole's shameless flaunting of her decadent physique made her all the more delightfully subversive.

And thus began the strange cult of the post-Playboy Anna Nicole Smith, launching an underground enclave of we infidels who dared worship this forbidden idol in the dank shadows of pop culture. With her modeling days apparently over, and her brief acting career far from sating our appetites, the best way to enjoy Anna Nicole in those early years was through her appearances in the tabloid press. I developed a sad addiction to the Enquirer and the Star, hoping every week for just one blurry, out-of-register, pulp-paper reproduction of my goddess. Paparazzi pix of her at a movie premiere or partying at Planet Hollywood were cherished like manna from heaven. It's pathetic, but that's all we had. The "legitimate" media had cast her out, so we could only take what crumbs the trashy gossip rags had to offer.

German Marie Claire This was taking place in the mid-1990s, just as the World Wide Web was starting to blossom. After I got my first Mac in 1995, I was able to connect with other Anna Nicole fans around the globe, instead of relying exclusively on the mass media for access to her. The Internet's traffic in Anna Nicole images seemed primarily to consist of scans taken from Playboys, and folks online were more likely than not to think she was now too fat. But I discovered a loyal contingent of fellow admirers of the larger Anna Nicole, and we traded JPEGs of the red dress and rare shots from a German Marie Claire "XL-Starmodel" layout as if they were precious diamonds and gold. It was great to know I was not alone. In numbers there is strength.

In October 1995, I participated in a live chat event with Anna Nicole on America Online. Two of the many questions I submitted to the moderator were posed to her in the forum, and this is the closest I have yet come to direct interaction with my beloved. I got to ask her, "Why did you change your name from Vickie Smith? Do your friends call you Anna, or Anna Nicole, or Vickie?"

And she replied, "Everyboy calls me Anna. I prefer Anna Nicole. I changed my named to Anna Nicole from Vickie because I hate the name Vickie. I wanted a great professional name. What do you think?" Ever since that day, I have never called her Anna.

Another chat participant asked if Anna Nicole had any beauty secrets she might share. My darling offered an audacious and profoundly meaningful one-word response: "Eating."

In the tradition of Elizabeth Taylor and Oprah Winfrey, Anna Nicole's weight has fluctuated markedly over the years. In 1995 she had her own pay-per-view special as part of a series of softcore nudie programs entitled The Girls of EdenQuest, looking rather slimmed down (possibly with the aid of rumored liposuction treatments). Her return to a more marketable size was short-lived, though. The following year, after having suffered a brutal downward spiral of her personal fortunes (the nature of which I am reserving for later in this thesis), Anna Nicole returned to the public spotlight fatter than ever before.

The Blue Dress Stoned and incoherent, her hair and lipstick in a mess, her rotund figure draped by a shapeless blue dress slit up to her dimpled thighs, Anna Nicole made a sorry spectacle of herself at the 1996 Oscars. She had become a parody of her glamourous appearance in the red dress two years earlier. Seeing these images published was a bittersweet event. I was glad she had gained weight again, but I felt guilty for enjoying the results of her obvious depression. Anna Nicole's night out in the big blue dress had an ominous apocalyptic quality, as if these could be the final photos taken before her retirement from public life... or, God forbid, her tragic overdose. Or suicide.

Anna Nicole was definitely messed up. I felt so bad for her at that time, and I just wanted her to get herself together. Even though she was still physically attractive to me, I couldn't help feeling that she had lost that certain special magic that had shined so brightly in her glory days. Her pictures just didn't have that spark anymore. I was forced to confront the limits of my tastes even as a card-carrying fat admirer. Maybe Anna Nicole was becoming too much of a good thing.

But then something remarkable happened, something unexpected and unbelievable. Anna Nicole became a model again. Not after an intensive weight-loss and rehabilitation program, but at this precise point in her career. Plus-size clothing retailer Lane Bryant, long criticized for hypocritically using skinny models, hired Anna Nicole as one of their first models large enough to be a Lane Bryant customer. I saw an Inside Edition report showing Anna Nicole on a Lane Bryant photo shoot, and I practically fainted.

Lane Bryant 1996 Aside from that obscure German Marie Claire shoot, the only photos we had ever seen of the larger, post-Playboy Anna Nicole had been paparazzi candids at public events -- hardly ideal conditions for glamour photography. It's a testament to her supernatural beauty that those red dress photos came out looking as good as they did. But here, Lane Bryant was using a professional fashion photographer, proper set lighting, makeup artists, a well-chosen wardrobe, and the whole nine yards to capture the real beauty of the plus-size Anna Nicole on film in the the U.S. market for the very first time. And sweet holy living mother of fuck, did she ever look incredible. It was mind-blowing how beautiful she was. Anna Nicole decisively proved she still had the magic. In fact, she had never lost it. But since she had gained weight, no one had given her the chance to properly demonstrate it... until Lane Bryant did.

Thinking about it later, I realized I had let the media trick me into betraying my own devotion to Anna Nicole. The barrage of blue dress photos and other unflattering snapshots had convinced me to doubt her present-day beauty, almost to the point of writing her off as a has-been. But it's easy to persuade someone that a lie is the truth when all they have to base their decision on is the shitty evidence you provide. Candid photos can make any attractive star look like dog vomit, and it's the behind-the-scenes tricks and preparation that turn on the glamour. Lane Bryant gave Anna Nicole the opportunity to get back on a level playing field with the rest of the showbiz phonies, and the results blew me away.

Consider the two photos above, the blue dress candid and the Lane Bryant shot. The first shows a large woman looking pathetic and out of control. The second shows a large woman looking ravishing and completely in command of her situation. And yet these two photos were taken within months of each other, if not weeks. The question of which version of Anna Nicole is closer to reality is a fascinating conundrum that I will address in Part 3 of this thesis. But the important point here is that I was furious for letting the media cloud my judgment, just like any other simple-minded, fatphobic dupe. Anna Nicole had not grown one whit uglier with the pounds she'd added over the years -- it was only the media's presentation of her that did.

After seeing that television report I made a visit to the Lane Bryant store at my local mall, and it was plastered in gorgeous studio shots of Anna Nicole. It was like stepping into a temple devoted to my own mad religion. The most incredible sight was a huge wall banner of Anna Nicole in a red bra and panties, much larger than life size, standing in a semi-profile view with her bare tummy bulge (along with other protuberances) proudly presented for all the world to see. I got so swimmy-headed I don't know how I was able to walk out of there under my own power.

This could have been the dawning of a new golden age of size acceptance, a modern Renaissance of classical feminine beauty. But like so many grand events, it proved only to be an evanescent flash, a blinding explosion of infinite potential that rapidly burned away to nothing. My fear that we were approaching the end of Anna Nicole Smith turned out regrettably prophetic. The only good thing is that it wasn't drugs or despair that destroyed her -- it was a crash diet.

After dropping out of public life for several months, Anna Nicole reemerged in early 1997 as a mere shadow of her former self. She had decided to get back in shape, and claimed to have kicked her drug habits and gotten her act together. I happy to see her get her life straightened out, but her beauty was severely diminished. She ultimately dropped a reported 100 pounds, becoming thinner than she'd been in Playboy, and she also got her breast implants reduced. The voluptuous goddess I'd fallen in love with no longer existed. Like Belinda Carlisle before her, Anna Nicole had betrayed my devotion by becoming -- dare I say it? -- a skinny chick. These were the dark times.

FHM 1998 And it wasn't just a quickie Slim-Fast weight loss that lasted six weeks, either. Anna Nicole remained slim for three full years. And the funny thing is, her career never picked up steam during that time, as conventional wisdom would dictate. The lean & mean new Anna Nicole did not star in any movies, unless you count the execrable 1998 softcore porn video Anna Nicole Smith: Exposed. Nor did she make a return to straight-size modeling, unless you count the horrifying 1998 layout she did with fellow Playmate of the Year Victoria Silvstedt for FHM magazine. Those photos are such a total affront to my aesthetic standards that I refuse even to include the magazine in my otherwise comprehensive collection of Anna Nicole Smith memorabilia. The sort of assimilation and homogenization I had warily sniffed in Anna Nicole's Playboy work is brought to bear here in a full-on sickening stench. I mean, even I have to struggle to tell which of these scrawny blonde bimbos is which, for God's sake!

The other irony about Anna Nicole's weight loss is that it never seemed to register in the popular consciousness. News stories about her from 1997 to 1999 would run file photos from the red dress or blue dress eras, as if that were what she still looked like. And during that time I routinely encountered confused Internet denizens who complained that Anna Nicole used to be hot but now she was all fat and bloated. It's somehow fitting that society denied the existence of the thin Anna Nicole Smith, as if everyone instinctively agreed that such a thing was plain wrong and never meant to be.

My love affair with her languished in purgatory during this long ordeal, and I began to feel that it was over. We'd had some great times together, and our relationship had found its ultimate fulfillment the day I walked into that Lane Bryant store. Where did we have left to go from there, anyway? I knew I'd always have her old pictures, but it was time to let go and move on.

Lane Bryant 2000 And yet again, just when I thought we were through for good, Anna Nicole turned up at my doorstep out of the blue with a big fat make-up kiss.

She was back. In early 2000, Anna Nicole returned to modeling for Lane Bryant. Oprah's Law had prevailed at last, and she had gained back her weight. Unerringly guided by her remarkable genetics and metabolism, every ounce of flesh went right back where it was supposed to be. The Goddess Supreme had made her second coming. Anna Nicole Smith was fat again, God was in his heaven, and all was right with the world.

Can I get an amen, somebody?

Her second stint with Lane Bryant has been far more prolific than the first, with Anna Nicole walking the runway in three annual fashion shows to date and featuring in a major campaign for the company's Venezia Jeans. These projects merit further examination, but because they bring us up to the present day, I will defer that discussion to Part 5 of this thesis, in which I wrap everything up.

For now, I will return to my earlier claim that Anna Nicole has exerted an enormous influence for good in our society. Some may question what basis I have for such a proclamation, even though I have already laid out the explanation over the course of this chapter.

The Red Dress Anna Nicole has firmly established herself as a famous sex symbol, despite her size. In her various phases of heaviness, via sleaze media outlets as well as the respectable platform afforded by Lane Bryant, her striking images as a sexually desirable large woman have penetrated into the fabric of popular culture. This is great for guys like me, who now have our own popular beauty queen to lust over, for a change. And it's fantastic for plus-size women, who now have their own celebrity role model to identify with, for a change.

But the thing I believe matters most is what Anna Nicole represents for our young people. The next generation is growing up in a world where a full-figured sex symbol exists. This is going to make a wondrous difference as they grapple with their developing sexuality and learn to be comfortable and self-confident about who they are.

No, I'm not talking about girls. Maybe a few would find Anna Nicole a positive role model, but they're so brainwashed with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera that she would be a repulsive whale to the vast majority. I'd say mature women are the only females likely to embrace her. But Anna Nicole's effect on growing boys... now that's a different thing altogether.

I can only imagine how much happier my youth would have been if I'd had Anna Nicole's red dress photos or Lane Bryant runway shots to guide me on the path to manhood. Her wanton figure is so intensely appealing to the basic male sex drive that she's bound to stir interest among adolescents, even strongly enough for some to override the unwritten law of "no fat chicks." My own iconoclastic nature helped me embrace my preferences in women, but young men are too often willing to succumb to peer pressure and deny their true feelings. Maybe that can change a little bit now that fat chicks have their lone representative in the pantheon of hotties.

That's how Anna Nicole Smith has changed the world, and her lasting legacy may yet usher in a new enlightened age for size acceptance and the rebirth of timeless beauty.

She is the great wide hope.

Part 3: A Mythological Goddess
Understanding what separates the person from the persona.

My Love Affair with Anna Nicole Smith

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