Art critique

Jordan Peterson’s criticism of voluptuous women is misplaced, by Laura Hollis

Sports Illustrated is making headlines again for its annual swimwear issue. This year, the magazine featured Yumi Nu, described as “the first plus-size Asian-American model” to grace the cover of the swimsuit edition. The decision garnered a lot of positive press for both Nu and Sports Illustrated.

However, not everyone was impressed. Dr. Jordan Peterson is a clinical psychologist, YouTube personality, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, and best-selling author of several books.

Peterson is a complex character – brilliant and unafraid to stand up to the worst excesses of contemporary culture, a trait that has earned him both widespread respect and equally vehement hatred. (He also suffered from depression and crippling anxiety — no doubt exacerbated by his frequent forays into contentious debates on the most burning issues of our time.)

Peterson’s tweet on this year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover sparked another of his famous firestorms. He wrote: “Sorry. Not pretty. And no amount of authoritarian tolerance will change that.” The backlash was immediate. In response to her detractors, Peterson explained in a later tweet: “This is a conscious progressive attempt to manipulate and reorganize the notion of beauty, relying on the silly philosophy that such preferences are learned and properly changed. by those who know better.”

Peterson is entitled to his opinion, of course. In my opinion, his criticism is misplaced.

Despite her protests, there is plenty of evidence that historical “notions of beauty” included plumper, plumper women, and that men found these women very attractive. Artifacts from antiquity, such as the Venus of Willendorf and countless Greek and Roman statues, often depicted goddesses and other female ideals in their own right. The 17th century Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens painted voluptuous women so often that the word “Rubenesque” was coined to describe them – flatteringly. Even as recently as the 1950s and early 1960s, Marilyn Monroe’s rounded hourglass figure was considered a standard of female beauty.

There are probably evolutionary reasons behind the preference for plumper females; females with a higher percentage of body fat would be better able to bear and nurse their offspring (which would then be more likely to survive) even during periods of food deprivation.

The problem is not a complete model. Ms. Nu is adorable. But the swimsuit she’s wearing on the cover is ugly and unflattering. A well-designed swimsuit would capitalize on its beauty and its construction. But a suit that’s both undersized and flattens a woman’s breasts isn’t flattering.

Why is this important? Because it reflects a growing cultural trend towards the ugly and the vulgar.

Top designers (Charles Worth, Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Oscar de la Renta) used to create beautiful and flattering clothes for the female (and male, for that matter) form, whether the wearer was big or small, thinner or heavier. But many of today’s famous designers are talentless hacks competing in an enticing circus of sadism and starvation, ghastly ugliness and absurdity. (And if womenswear designers are bad, menswear designers are worse. If that’s possible.) Yet the elites of the media and entertainment industries rave about their “genius” and “art.” . The result is a race to the bottom – literally.

Even with an ill-fitting costume, the SI cover is modest compared to some of the vulgar extremes our artists indulge in. Take Lizzo, for example, a very pretty but morbidly obese singer who likes to appear in public wearing little more than sheer mesh dresses or fabric thread between the halves of her impossibly large posterior. (Including doing pedestrian things like attending a gala or climbing the stairs to his private jet. Right? everything flip flops – and nothing else – while riding in our Lears, Gulfstreams and Bombardiers to attend (ahem) climate change events?)

Inevitably, any criticism brings strong accusations of “fat shaming”. Absurdity. The objection to this behavior is not based on a “lack of body positivity”; it is a rejection of unnecessary vulgarity. Again, there is plenty of evidence that audiences can and do appreciate the talent and contributions of female performers, for example, regardless of their height or body shape: Consider “Radio First Lady” Kate Smith , opera divas Montserrat Caballe and Deborah Voigt, soul legends Aretha Franklin and Jill Scott, hip-hop stars like Queen Latifah and Missy Elliott and pop crooner Adele.

Some of these artists decided to lose weight. Others stayed “well in their own skin”, so to speak. The thing is, they are (or were) able to appear in public sporting their individual style, but properly dressed.

It is not differently shaped bodies that the cultural elites want us to “celebrate”. This, within reason, would have social value. (To ignore the serious health consequences of obesity, which the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified, is irresponsible.) Rather, it is about the complete collapse of standards of decency in public behavior. And it’s just as crude and naive and inappropriate when it’s done by perfectly toned Madonna as it is when Lizzo does it.

Peterson says he “quit Twitter” following outrage over his latest tweet. We will see. Peterson’s personal taste may go towards trimming females, and that’s his right, but if he weighs in again, his wrath should focus on the fashion, publishing and entertainment industries, not a woman with – yes – a perfectly normal figure.

To learn more about Laura Hollis and read articles by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at