“The tyranny of the emaciated frame is over!” proclaims Isaac Mizrahi. Okay, so designers tend to hyperbole. As any star who has had to squeeze into a minuscule Marc Jacobs on Oscar night can tell you, thin is still in when it comes to looking sexy in Hollywood. Thin with curves? Even better.
But there is a whiff of change in the air, a subtle shift presaged by such phenomena as the big-girl-gets-cute-guy blockbuster My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the stunningly sculpted physique flaunted by Serena Williams on center court and the whistles that greet the full-bodied lingerie models on Lane Bryant’s catwalk.
“It doesn’t matter what size you are,” says Constantine Valhouli, coproducer and director of Curve, a documentary about plus-size models. “That magic ingredient isn’t how well does a woman fit into society’s picture of what a woman should be, but how well does she like herself.” In other words, she says, “confident women are sexy.”
Yet even women who seem to have it all battle the pressure to fit an unrealistic ideal. “Every day I look in the mirror and find something wrong,” Beyoncé Knowles told PEOPLE last year. “My legs could be more muscular, my waist just a little smaller and my boobs could be a little bigger.” But, she adds, “I would never have surgery.”
Instead, she, like the other celebs on these pages (dazzlers who come in all shapes and sizes) are working what they’ve got—with sensational results. As plus-size fashion designer Richard Metzger puts it: “Every woman wants fashion, and every woman wants to feel sexy and good about herself.” More and more these days, they are.
Making it BIG
At last, pop culture is recognizing that its heroines can come in more than one size. When Marissa Jaret Winokur moved to L.A. in 1998, she kept getting offered the role of “the girl who was getting picked on because she was heavy, or the poor pathetic girl that got no breaks,” says the actress, who always passed on such parts. Now she stars—and gets the hunky guy—in one of Broadway’s top-grossing musicals, Hairspray. Nia Vardalos gained 30 lbs. for her semiautobiographical film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which has grossed almost $150 million. On TV, curvy Kelly Osbourne reigned last season, and ABC’s new sitcom Less Than Perfect, starring size-12 actress Sara Rue, is holding its own. Yet “Hollywood still adheres to serious stereotypes,” says David De Benedetto, co-director of the documentary Curve. “No one wants to take the first step.” Well, these five women are off and running.
Sexy, slinky, supersized, they ruled the runway in Lane Bryant’s February plus-size fashion show. Says 175-lb., size-14 model Kate Dillon: “I want to be an inspiration.” Among the inspired, Barneys New York creative director Simon Doonan: “Men I know like something to grab hold of.”
Trying to thrive in the late ’80s as a size-12 model made her feel like “a sore thumb sticking out,” says Emme, host of E!’s Fashion Emergency. “Finally, I got sick and tired of being told to conform my body to a standard it didn’t fit.” She embraced her size—now a 16—and, along with women like Camryn Manheim, is making Hollywood take note that sex appeal can come in large packages.
The full-figured woman, says designer Richard Metzger, “wants the same thing as any other consumer: to be trendy, luxurious.” Most important: “Clothes should fit her curves, not cover them up.”
Standing head and shoulders over one’s peers is a daunting task. As a child, Nicole Kidman was often called a colt by her mother because she “didn’t know quite what to do” with her long legs. “People say, ‘You should embrace it,'” she told PEOPLE in March, “but it’s a hard thing when you’re growing up, because you feel strange.” Now, Kidman, along with long-limbed celebs like Uma Thurman and Cameron Diaz, proudly walks tall in Hollywood. “Sometimes I wish I had a little less, but here am,” says Allison Janney. “I feel sexy in a long dress and high heels.”
“Tall women have the option to wear anything,” says stylist Rachel Zoe Rosenzweig. “Pencil skirts or miniskirts with a pair of flats.”
“I used to be obsessed about my height,” 5’1″ singer Shakira admitted to PEOPLE last December. When Paula Abdul started dancing lessons at age 8, she says, “I didn’t look like a dancer should. All I heard was that there was something wrong with me.” Not anymore, says Isaac Mizrahi, who points out that shorter women, like Ming-Na, Natalie Portman and Kylie Minogue, can “work the diminutive thing in a sexy way.”
“Stick to one color” to emphasize length, Mizrahi says. “Extreme things, like very short and very long skirts, look best on short women. And, of course, high heels.”
Proud of her gifts, including nature’s bounty, Jennifer Lopez has always flaunted her bum. “She’s got that butt thing going on,” says Los Angeles celebrity trainer (to Katie Couric and Beverly Johnson) High Voltage. “She’s like, ‘I love my butt,’ and women love her for that.” So much so that these days, says Manhattan trainer Antonio Sini, “I actually get a lot of women coming to me and saying, I want a bigger butt!'” Confidence is key. Salma Hayek once said she likes to wear her body “like a good dress.” Serena Williams likes to strut her buff stuff, period. “It’s definitely this feminine aura I have about myself,” says the statuesque tennis star, “from the way I walk to the way I carry myself.”
Accentuate the positive could be the curvaceous woman’s style mantra, says stylist Rachel Zoe Rosenzweig. “If a woman has a tiny waist or a nice bust line,” she says, “she should wear form-fitting clothes. That’s the best secret for curvy women: Wear things that hug you in the places you want to highlight.”
With Hollywood’s gold-standard body type, slender stars monopolize the eye of the camera—and the eye of the storm. Some come by their looks naturally, insists stylist Brenda Cooper. “They absolutely pay attention to their health,” she says. Most, though, are thin by design (in other words, diet and discipline) but find the rewards worth the effort. “It was easier for me to dress,” Debra Messing says of the mid-’90s weight loss that took her from an off-the-rack size 8 to a designer’s size 4. Yet even slim celebs aren’t always content. An L.A. saleswoman who has fitted Jennifer Aniston says the Friends star “feels like her butt is a little big.”
A little light on top? “Get a padded bra,” advises Cooper. “Clothes hang better on a bust line.”
After Ally: Two Stars Flesh Out
Ally McBeal, stars Calista Flockhart and Portia de Rossi drew gasps (and got grief) for their shockingly thin frames. Now, five months after the show’s demise, both women are looking fuller, fitter and sexier. Stylist Phillip Bloch attributes the change to the actresses’ more relaxed post-Ally lives. Working on a hit series “there’s a lot of pressure, and you’re not eating because you’re stressed,” says Bloch, who has dressed both women. “Today they aren’t under the everyday scrutiny of the camera.”