Join Date: July 2005
Charlotte Coyle (major article)
I just found a really significant article in a newspaper called The Scotsman
about Charlottes show, which is airing tomorrow (tomorrow - already! - for those lucky Brits!). The link is here:
but below is all of the important text.
Its sad and frustrating to think that things are even worse
for plus sizes in the U.K. Even sadder is that fact that many of the shortcomings of the full-figure fashion industry in Britain are just as applicable to the U.S. industry.
Size always matters
Thu 10 Aug 2006
CHARLOTTE Coyle is gorgeous: 5ft 10in, all glossy golden hair and aquamarine eyes, and she's got the kind of cheekbones that Kate Moss would crawl through a mile of mud just to stand next to, plus a wide smile which has helped make her a successful model in America. So it seems strange that she can't find modelling work in the UK. But then, Coyle is a size 18.
This 24-year-old from Derry in Northern Ireland represents the growing number of plus-size women who are fed up with a perceived bias in the fashion industry against what she calls "bigger girls". So fed up, in fact, that earlier this year Coyle organised her own beauty contest, exclusively for size 16 and up, called Beauty Reborn.
The fruits of Coyle's labours will be shown tonight in Channel 4's F** Beauty Contest, part of its Shap[e of] the Nation series. What started out as an attempt to "make a documentary about seeing curves in a positive way," as Coyle puts it, soon became a revealing exposť on just how resistant the British fashion industry seems to be about embracing the idea that anyone over a size 12 could possibly want to dress fashionably. She is speaking to me from Derry, where she is currently awaiting the renewal of her American work visa, having given up trying to find modelling jobs in the UK because, it seems, her size is unacceptable - even to modelling agents who cast for plus-size fashion retailers.
"I was prepared for the rejection," she says, referring to the initial response she got when trying to rally commercial support for Beauty Reborn. "I knew [a top designer] wasn't going to ring me and say, 'darling, of course you can have 12 dresses for your contestants,' but after a few weeks of constantly phoning people in the industry, looking for sponsorship for the contest and getting nowhere, it became really disheartening and upsetting."
In one scene from the documentary, Coyle pays a visit to her London agent, who produces a tape measure and tells her off for gaining weight, informing her that if she remains a size 18, she won't get work as a plus-size model, as the clothes will be too small. Evidently plus-size can mean no bigger than size 16 in the modelling world, whereas the real women who buy these clothes go up to size 34.
"It affected my confidence," she says now. "It was really hurtful. The thing is, when you actually see the plus-size models in the UK they're not big at all: they're slim. None of them have bigger-than-average hips. It's hard for a young woman to walk into a store that sells bigger clothes and see images of girls that aren't even a size 14 advertising them."
So what of the "bigger girls" who auditioned for Coyle's beauty contest? She was quite overwhelmed by their enthusiasm. Ranging from size 14 to size 34, some 200 women turned up at the open auditions, all of them keen to stalk down the catwalk and feel beautiful, and also, perhaps more importantly, to be heard.
As one girl in the documentary says: "I'm 5ft 7in, I'm a size 16 and I've got red hair. To the fashion industry, I seem to be invisible." Criticised by one contest organiser (and several unsuccessful candidates) for leaving out some of the largest women, Coyle eventually whittles the original number down to 12, most of whom are sized between 16 and 24. As part of their journey to the contest, many of the women have to confront personal issues regarding their size.
"Some of the girls, [although they] didn't have low self-esteem, were self-conscious," Coyle says. "And I put them on a stage. A lot of them freaked out. Some didn't care, they were like, 'I like my body.' But there were a few who were really self-conscious, and that comes from years of abuse. It also comes from magazines, it comes from ad campaigns, from being constantly told you're never good enough."...
Let's look at the statistics: the average dress size in the UK is a 14-16, with almost half of British women a size 16 or over, a fact that non-specialist high-street fashion stores are having to accommodate. Most routinely now go up to a size 18, and some - such as M&S - beyond that. Top designers, however, have been slower off the mark.
"It really is quite staggering," says Coyle. "I love looking at fashion magazines and seeing all the models - I think they're beautiful - but I also want to open a magazine and see someone bigger who is a positive role model, such as Sophie Dahl [used to be]." Dahl started her catwalk career as a voluptuous size 16, but has since lost weight and is now as slender as most models. "There's no one out there any more," Coyle laments....
"Look at Kate Moss, despite everything, she's still been on loads of magazine covers this year."
But there is a growing voice of dissent...Curvy celebrities have been landing some lucrative advertising contracts, too: Kelly Osbourne is the face of Accessorize, while Charlotte Church munches Walkers crisps in their current ad campaign. The latest wristband craze is one that comes with the positive message "LOVE YOUR BODY!"...
In the US, things work rather differently...plus-size models and beauty contests, are becoming the norm. Miss Plus America, which runs on the slogan, "The Robe. The Crowns. The Integrity", is a nationwide event attracting TV coverage, big-name sponsors, and celebrity endorsement.
"People don't care in America," says Coyle. "When I lived there I always felt good about my body."
Coyle borrowed a number of ideas from the US pageant system for her own contest - even participating in a Miss Plus International to pick up tips - including the moment when the girls have to describe their own feelings about entering the competition. There is no swimsuit section, but that doesn't mean the clothes are frumpy old sacks: a range of stunning corsets make a memorable appearance.
"With a lot of plus-size campaigns, it's women in 'older' clothes," Coyle says. "But I'm young, I wear nice clothes, and I don't want to be represented by someone who's wearing a woolly jumper."...
For Coyle, however, who as a professional model with an impressive overseas portfolio can't easily find work in the UK, that day is a long way off.
"The contest isn't going to change the fashion industry," Coyle admits. "But I just wanted [to tell women] that if you are over a size 16, it's OK, as long as you feel good about yourself."