What does your fig­ure say about you? Emma For­rest takes a closer look

ELLE (Malaysia) - - CALENDAR -

Not long after we broke up, my ex-boyfriend marched me into Alexan­der McQueen, call­ing cheer­fully to the shop clerk: “Have you got any­thing that can cope with her tits?” His voice ric­o­cheted off the walls. He was buy­ing me a dress to cel­e­brate a script we’d sold, him as di­rec­tor, me as screen­writer. The clerk pulled a skin-tight red minidress with strate­gic slashes at the cleav­age. “We also do it in black,” she of­fered. “Yes, I’d… ” “No!” said my ex. “Red is more you.” By now I had ac­cepted it: if you get in­volved with a di­rec­tor, you’re go­ing to be di­rected. As I stepped out of the dress­ing room, he clapped. “Oh yes, that’s bril­liant.”

It’s fas­ci­nat­ing, or de­press­ing, to be ap­pre­ci­ated phys­i­cally by some­one who no longer de­sires you. My ex was madly in love with his new girl­friend.

“We should buy a dress for her,” he de­clared. “Oth­er­wise I can’t tell her I bought you one.”

Across the street, the Chloé store was like an­gels singing. An airy space stocked with peach, pale blue and chif­fon. Two bou­tiques on op­po­site sides of the street, un­der­scor­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween sa­cred and pro­fane love.

“Is your girl­friend the same shape?” the girl asked my ex, point­ing to­wards me. “Slim­mer,” he said. “More del­i­cate.”

I’d known my place in the scheme of things ever since I’d first started ob­ses­sively watch­ing movies as a young girl. Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe and Liz Tay­lor are the bad girls, Au­drey Hep­burn and Grace Kelly the good; Raquel Welch bad, Mia Far­row good; J.Lo bad, Gwyneth good. In 2010’s Last Night, Eva Men­des is the temptress to Keira Knight­ley’s good girl. Though Tru­man Capote had wanted Mon­roe for Break­fast at Tif­fany’s, Hep­burn was cast, specif­i­cally to help cover the fact the story is about a call girl. (If they had cast Mar­i­lyn, peo­ple would know.) This stark dis­tinc­tion ap­plies to male ac­tors to a lesser ex­tent; Joseph Gor­don-Le­vitt and Ryan Gosling are con­sid­ered in­tel­lec­tual, based on their skin­ni­ness, as was James Dean be­fore them. Seth Ro­gen and Jonah Hill were lov­able fat guys. (Now both have slimmed down, they’re more, well, sex­u­ally vi­able.) From Sly Stal­lone to Chris Hemsworth, there have al­ways been beef­cake ac­tors. But th­ese archetypes aren’t traps the way they are for women; men are as mal­leable as their bod­ies.

At 17, on hol­i­day in Bar­ba­dos (wear­ing a white one-piece I’d copied from Liz Tay­lor in Sud­denly, Last Sum­mer), my friend was ap­palled when I screamed after see­ing a jel­ly­fish. “Would Lau­ren Ba­call scream at the sight of a jel­ly­fish?” she de­manded. No, of course not; in her films Ba­call was in con­trol, slim and brave. Flat-chested, slen­der women aren’t emo­tional on­screen; they’re cool, stylish and treated with def­er­ence. Even los­ing their minds in Rose­mary’s Baby and Re­pul­sion, Mia Far­row and Cather­ine Deneuve re­mained chic. Los­ing her mind in Don’t Bother to Knock, Mon­roe just kept los­ing her clothes.

I felt I had no choice but to de­fine my­self by my body. I looked dif­fer­ent from the other girls at school, for whom Kate Moss was not just an ideal but an echo. I was a walk­ing anachro­nism with a tiny waist, ex­pan­sive bo­som and child-bear­ing hips. As an un­con­trol­lable teen, un­ap­proached by boys and with ev­ery­thing spilling — es­pe­cially my fears — my body seemed to be a cheer­leader for my anx­i­ety.

Dur­ing my ado­les­cence, there had been a stretch of hunched shoul­ders and over­sized T-shirts. That was be­fore I’d seen Philippe Hals­man’s photo of teen Liz Tay­lor wear­ing a tight gown the green of dol­lar bills. I stud­ied her jour­ney from child star to in­génue. She had no awk­ward pe­riod — when Liz got breasts, the stu­dio couldn’t get her into low-cut dresses fast enough. Her be­hav­iour in love struck me, too, so much so that I car­ried it with me when, aged 20, I moved to New York.

One of the things I did there was buy an all-new wardrobe at Pa­tri­cia Field — a body-con ex­plo­sion of span­dex, bondage black and chee­tah print. My walls were plas­tered with Sophia Loren, Jane Rus­sell, Béa­trice Dalle in Betty Blue. Far from fam­ily and alone, decked in my sin­ful clothes, my shape dic­tated my be­hav­iour with men. Yet deep down I knew: no ro­mance ever ended well for the bad girl.

It’s not that I was pro­mis­cu­ous, more that my body pro­vided a rea­son not to be kind to my­self. I dated an ac­tor who fell in love with me, I think partly be­cause he was starv­ing him­self for a role (I had bite marks all over my body). I dated a co­me­dian who told me, “I’d rather be seen with Kate Moss, but I’d rather go to bed with you”.

I took the shabby treat­ment as my due; my curves were a road map. Did I re­ally march up to a man and tell him I was his girl­friend, de­spite his protes­ta­tions that he al­ready had one? Yes. Well, what do you ex­pect from Jessica Rab­bit? Deco­rum?

After enough re­la­tion­ships where I came away de­flated, I went to a psy­chi­a­trist who loos­ened my at­tach­ment to my out­line and who forced me to look in­ward. Even­tu­ally, with my doc­tor’s in­sis­tence that “there is noth­ing and no­body, no weight gain or loss, that can change who you au­then­ti­cally are,” I be­gan to see my­self re­flected not in the un­du­la­tions of Liz, but as some­one whose body didn’t have to be the sum of me.

But then, a funny thing hap­pened — my shape changed com­pletely. I went from an F cup to a C. My limbs seemed to lengthen and slim. Weight fell off my bum and hips. Alarmed, I went to see my doc­tor, who ex­plained that this wasn’t an un­known hor­monal event in fe­male 30-some­things.

Sud­denly, I had to re­cal­i­brate my sense of self. Pounded by a jet­lag of the ego, my iden­tity still lin­ger­ing in another time zone, I’d wait for men to com­pli­ment me on things that were no longer no­tice­able. But I was at­tract­ing fewer trou­bled (and trou­ble­some) paramours: men who grav­i­tate to­wards one ‘type’ tend not to be good news. Yes, I’d helped to cre­ate the ‘character’, ful­fill­ing its cin­e­matic prom­ises along the way. But now, I was no spe­cific type. I was me.

On the day the news broke of Alexan­der McQueen’s sui­cide, I took out the dress my ex had bought me. As good as it still looked, it made my stom­ach lurch. I’d spent so much time both tor­mented by and em­brac­ing the idea of be­ing the des­ig­nated whore. What I’d re­ally feared all along was what be­comes of the whore — how she ends up sad and alone with her thoughts at 3am. But, of course, that has lit­tle to do with be­ing a bad or good girl, hav­ing hips or be­ing flat-chested. It’s noth­ing but the shape of our thoughts.

The last time I sold a script, I skipped McQueen and Chloé and went to Marni. The clothes sug­gest not sex, but the pla­tonic ab­sence of it. The shape leaves much to the imag­i­na­tion and in them, I can­not be cat­e­gorised. I’m some­thing else: In­grid Bergman, Greta Garbo, Katharine Hep­burn — those rare women who tran­scend in­dus­try pi­geon­hol­ing and who are about their faces, their voices.

There was a kind of ro­man­tic end-times glory in what Liz Tay­lor rep­re­sented to her­self and oth­ers, or so it seems from afar. Ul­ti­mately, I didn’t have it in me to live that large, amass­ing col­lat­eral dam­age along the way. I’m more com­fort­able in my Marni, though I must con­fess: my most press­ing or­der of business when I bought my first dress there was to have it made tighter.

Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe

El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor

Kate Moss

Raquel Welch

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