Join Date: July 2005
The State of the Curvy Community
During L.A.'s inaugural Full-Figured Fashion Week, it was our privilege to participate in the "State of the Curvy Community" panel. We saw this as an opportunity to communicate directly with the writers who comprise an interesting fashion phenomenon that has emerged over the past two or three years: the "plus-size 'bloggers." Many young curvy women now have their own personal Web logs where they discuss full-figured fashion. Moreover, the industry appears to be taking note of them, even going so far as to invite them to business conferences and product launches.
We were not initially sure whether the seminar would feature short speeches by each panelist, or be structured as a question-and-answer session. Just in case, we prepared a talk in advance (which we will post presently), but it turned out that the panel adopted a Q&A format. Nevertheless, the topics that came up allowed us to make many of the points that we had initially intended to address in our talk.
All in all, the panel went surprisingly well, and received positive feedback. Afterwards, the moderator asked us to encapsulate the points that we had made, and to send them to her, to be used in a general summation of the panel.
We divided our rundown into two sections, "Attitude" and "Actions," suggesting opportunities for change in each sphere. Here is the text that we submitted:
* * *
ATTITUDE:* * *
1. We should not be overly concerned with "taking the high ground" in any dispute with curve-o-phobic bigots. If a writer attacks full-figured women, or if a company behaves disrespectfully against them, we have the right to fight the battle by whatever means necessary
2. We should never be afraid of being too aggressive, or angry, or negative. Expressing anger at an outrage against full-figured women is fully justified, and reflects the anger that the general public feels and expresses. This is righteous indignation.
3. While we need to respond to outrages against full-figured women, we should be wary of giving the offenders the publicity that they undoubtedly crave. The controversy could simply play into their hands and satisfy their desire for public notoriety and attention.
4. Full-figured women too often suffer from diminished expectations, which leads them to accept television shows or fashion advertising that is of an anti-plus nature, so long as it includes plus-size actresses. But "any" representation is not better than no representation at all, because negative portrayals do more harm than good. Hold out for better. Hold out for truly pro-curvy media with clear pro-plus messages, or at the very least media that is free of negativity towards larger bodies.
5. We should not blithely celebrate the appearance of mere size-8 models on the runway as being a victory for plus-size women, as that is not anywhere near a plus size. Accepting this tokenism can also do more harm than good, as it signals to the fashion industry that full-figured women will be content with a model of any size, however thin, so long as she is merely labelled plus size. Our loyalty must be to the plus-size body, not merely to the plus-size label. If the label is falsely applied, this must be changed.
6. Do not buy into the excuses that the fashion industry offers for its size-discriminatory practices. For example, do not accept the myth that smaller models sell products better than larger models. No one knows which models were compared in such surveys, how they were styled, etc. All real-life feedback proves the opposite--that women do wish to see true plus-size models (over a size 14 at least).
7. Stop focussing on the straight-size industry, which is anti-plus, and which always demands compromises and concessions (e.g., diminishing the size of plus-size models until they are not plus-size at all). Rather, we should focus all of our efforts on improving the plus-specific full-figured fashion industry. Do not be concerned that this is fashion "segregation." Instead, think of it as fashion independence.
8. In terms of models' sizes, do not be put off by questions such as "Well, where do we draw the line? What's big enough?" It is possible to draw a bottom line. Plus-size models should at least be the size of the clothing that they're modelling--and without padding. Plus-size fashion begins at size 14W and up, sometimes size 16 and up. That must be the bottom line, the absolute smallest acceptable size for plus-size models.
9. Remember that the fashion itself is secondary, as all of the problems in fashion are merely consequences of the true problem in the industry, which is aesthetic prejudice against fuller female bodies. The primary goal must always be the promotion of larger bodies, and expanding the aesthetic appreciation of the fuller female figure. Everything flows from that.
10. There must be no line separating plus-size fashion and size advocacy. The industry is an advocacy industry by its very nature. (If it weren't, it wouldn't exist at all, and everyone would simply discuss straight-size fashion.) Moreover, advocacy sells, because plus-size women who feel better about themselves will spend money on fashion to beautifully dress the full-figured body that they have right now, rather than skimping on mere "temporary/disposable" clothing and spending the bulk of their money on diet-starvation or gym-torture to diminish their figures.
1. Focus your primary efforts on the plus-size fashion industry, not the straight-size fashion industry. Even the most powerful plus-size bloggers will only ever have a limited influence on straight-size fashion, because that industry can always write off such criticism as coming from a voice that is "not their constituency." But plus-size fashion bloggers do have an influence on plus-size fashion. Therefore they can combat size discrimination within the plus-size segment of the industry.
2. When discussing a fashion item that a plus-size retailer or label is promoting on a smaller model, give an honest appraisal of the piece, but also always include a firm and unambiguous statement that you would prefer to see it on a larger plus-size model, and express disappointment that the advert didn't include a bigger model in the first place. Present this to the company as an easy opportunity for improvement.
3. When participating in blogger conferences organized by plus-size companies or labels, encourage these labels to use larger plus-size models. Encourage the industry professionals to get into a more size-positive mindset.
4. When labels claim that they use the models they have because "That's what the agencies are sending them," remind these labels that the agencies do have bigger girls on their books. And if those particular agencies don't, then others do. The labels make the model choices. The agencies do not make these choices for them. The labels have the power. Encourage these labels to use their power to feature the larger plus-size models whom the blogger and her readers want to see.
5. When working on mutual projects (e.g. lookbooks) with plus-size agencies, and the agencies wish to promote their barely full-figured models, tell them that you would much rather work with the larger plus-size models whom the agencies represent, because this is what the public wishes to see. Engage in a give-and-take. Nudge your professional partners in a more size-positive direction.
6. Unreservedly denounce the plus-size fashion industry's obscene betrayals of full-figured women, e.g., if a plus-size model appears in a diet ad--an affront for which there can be no excuse.
7. Loudly praise retailers or labels that do feature fuller-figured models. Also, make it a point to praise their use of models who are not "toned" or "proportionate" (which are merely code words for "thin looking"), but who have visibly fuller features and variously proportioned physiques (e.g., fuller waists, or shorter heights). Many current "rules" for plus-size models are size-discriminatory in nature, which is unacceptable in the plus-size industry.
8. If it comes down to a choice between your principles and your professional contacts, you must put principle first and promote the interest of full-figured women and size celebration. By that, you set the example that companies and other bloggers should follow.
In addition to these points, we feel it worth mentioning that one specific model's name came up during the panel discussion--twice, in fact. Among the audience members was former Torrid photographer Michael Anthony Hermogeno, and we singled his work with size-16 goddess Kelsey Olson as an example of the kind of imagery that actually could make full-figured women feel better about themselves and envision themselves as being worthy of quality fashion with the body that they currently posses, rather than a hypothetical diminished version of that body.* * *
Later, at the very end of the panel, Michael Anthony himself spoke up and mentioned how public feedback actually had made an impact at Torrid--that it was the messages that the company had received in praise of its fuller-figured models that had let it to abandon using agency size 10/12 girls, and to feature the size 16, 18, etc. models whom Michael and his team were booking. Michael too mentioned Kelsey by name, saying how inspirational her lingerie campaigns had been to the Torrid audience.
We were honoured to participate in this panel, and we enthusiastically thank Gwen DeVoe for organizing it, along with the rest of the FFFWeek events (about which more later). Let us hope that the audience who attended will be inspired by what they heard, and will adopt the panel's suggestions in their own writing.
This is what we are all fighting for--the return of timeless beauty:
Kelsey Olson (Dorothy Combs, Miami / Heffner, Seattle), photographed by Elke van der Welde.