When we were invited to participate in the "State of the Curvy Community" panel at Full-Figured Fashion Week in L.A., we weren't sure how the seminar would be structured. Would each panelist deliver a brief talk, followed by a general conversation? Would the entire seminar follow a question-and-answer format?
In the end, the seminar took the form of a Q&A session, which was agreeable to all concerned. And as it turned out, we managed to roll out the majority of our talking points over the course of the discussion, as we noted in our recent post about the
However, we feel that it is also worth sharing the text of the address that we prepared for the occasion. Some of our proposed action items will become more comprehensible with the background of this talk in mind. The action items lay out the
important post from earlier this year, but then charted a more urgent direction.
Let's try a little thought experiment.
I am going to describe an industry to you, and you guess which industry it is.
This industry discriminates against larger models in favour of skinnier ones. It opposes fuller features in favour of narrow-looking features.
Its apologists try to justify this discriminatory practice by claiming that being thinner is "aspirational" for larger women.
These apologists therefore imply that women should stop asking to see their own, larger sizes represented in advertising directed towards them, and should mutely accept the exclusion of fuller bodies.
If you answered, "Oh, thatís the straight-size fashion industry," you would be right, of course.* * *
But tragically, and appallingly, if you answered "That's the plus-size fashion industry," then you would also be right.
As it stands today, much of the plus-size industry systematically discriminates against fuller-figured plus-size models in favour of skinnier ones. Many companies, especially the larger, better-known brands, only utilize models at the smallest end of the plus spectrum, models who are plus-size in name only.
And that is both disappointing and an outrage. Because if there is any part of the fashion industry that should stand against discrimination against larger bodies, it is the plus-size industry.
The very existence of plus-size modelling is predicated on combating exclusion from "mainstream" fashion. How nauseating, then, to see plus-size modelling perpetrating the same kind of exclusion itself.
In other words, the plus-size industry reproduces within itself the very same "thinner-is-better" discrimination that oppresses it from without.
And if it's wrong for the straight-size industry to say "thinner is better," then it is even worse for the plus-size industry to be operating according to the same mindset. If anything, this industry should embrace the opposite principle, where plus-size models are favoured for their fuller features, and where larger plus-size models are preferred.
Now, can anything be done about this discrimination against larger sizes in the full-figured industry? When I started the Judgment of Paris in 1998, and for many years thereafter, my answer would have been, "No."* * *
On all of the public message boards that I had ever seen, such as those of Mode and Lane Bryant, the most consistent complaint levelled by the public was always, "Why are your models so thin?" "Why aren't they plus-size?" and "Can't you use some fuller-figured models?" And seldom, if ever, did I see these companies even acknowledge those complaints, let alone respond to them.
Therefore, the fact that for many years the industry never made any change in the size of its models, despite this constant public criticism, would have previously led me to say, "No, nothing can be done about it. Companies are determined to use the thinner models that they prefer, and nothing will make them budge."
A part of me still dreads that this is the case, but now, there appears to be some reason for hope, because of the rise of plus-size fashion "blogging," and the industry's acknowledgment, acceptance, and cross-promotion with the blogging world.
For whatever reason, while the industry has historically ignored reactions from the general public, it actually seems to be listening to bloggers. Big-name companies regularly re-post their posts, re-tweet their tweets, and even invite them to conferences and meetings and so forth.
Therefore, my appeal to these plus-size fashion bloggers--and many of them are in this room today--is this: Use your newfound power. Don't just reflexively promote whatever the industry encourages you to promote. Take advantage of your platform. Engage in a give and take. Use your power to advance the cause of size celebration and to fight the size-discrimination within the plus-size fashion industry.
These companies are listening to you. Tell them what they need to hear. Be the intermediaries between the general public, who have no power, and whose complaints go unheeded, and the industry, which is listening to you, even as they ignore their customers.
Encourage these companies to use fuller-figured models. Encourage them not to favour plus-size models who look as close to straight-size as possible, but to use models with visibly full features. Encourage them not merely to select models who are "proportionate" (which is a mere code word for "thin-looking"), but models who carry their weight in many different ways. That reflects the public. These are the looks that are discriminated against.
And remember: you can actually do some good in this sphere. Ultimately, even the finest plus-size fashion bloggers will have only a minimal influence on straight-size fashion. Their effect will always be limited and circumscribed, because at some point, it is easy for straight-size fashion to simply write off criticism coming from fuller-figured customers as not being their constituency, not their target market.
However, you can have a significant influence on plus-size fashion. Here is an area where you really can combat size discrimination. The public will love you for it.
But what, you may contend, if all of the "big news" in fashion exclusively involves models who are size 8 and such?* * *
Well, ask yourselves this question: are you loyal to a label, or to a body? Is your goal to see a greater representation of visibly fuller bodies in the media? Or is your goal merely to promote the plus-size label, regardless of what it's attached to? Is it more important to see size 16s, 18s, 20s, visible curves, full features, everything that the industry currently excludes? Or are you content with having size 8s, so long as those models are merely called plus size?
If it's just about the label, then why not dub size 6s "plus-size"? Then you'll have even more to talk about. Every appearance by a size-6 model becomes a supposed "plus-size-on-the-catwalk" headline. Then, why not start calling size 4s "plus size"? Then you could talk about Coca Rocha and such; even more posts, even more hits. The temptation is always to publicize ever-smaller models, because obviously, the smaller the model, the more accepted she is by the blatantly discriminatory straight-size fashion industry.
But that simply rewards the industry's anti-plus prejudice! How can anyone, in good conscience, be a party to that?
And does the promotion of these skinny models actually benefit fuller-figured women? Does it do anything to get larger bodies in the media? No. If anything, it is a detriment, because it signals to the fashion industry that bigger customers will be satisfied with ever-smaller models, so long as those models are relabelled "plus size." That gives fashion even less incentive to include larger bodies.
It's not a matter of being against the size 6s or 8s. Better that than size 0s. But those sizes fall under the purview of straight-size fashion. Make a point of saying that when it comes to the plus-size industry, you want full-figured models, you want actual plus-size models, you want size 16s, 18s, 20s, and that you won't be satisfied with less.
Just because the straight-size industry excludes everyone over a size 2 doesn't mean that plus-size fashion has to become the dumping ground for every size that they have injustly kicked out. That's not fair to actual full-figured women, who deserve to see themselves, their body types, represented in the media, especially in media produced by an industry that exists on the basis of their dollars! The size 8s and 10s do have a place--in straight-size fashion, because those are straight sizes.
To get those faux-plus body types included in straight-size fashion is one goal, and a worthy one. But it is wrong to compound the injustice of having them excluded from straight-size fashion by falsely including them in plus-size fashion, where they push out models who do represent the actual body type of full-figured customers.
Some of you have connections to modelling agencies--many of which seem to have an agenda to promote the skinniest plus-size models over their curvier girls, if they even represent curvier girls at all. Don't just roll over for these agencies. Don't just curry favour by dutifully promoting whichever slim girls they're pushing. Nudge these agencies--gently, but firmly--to include bigger girls. Favour the fuller-figured models on their boards.* * *
Time and again, whenever I have interviewed someone representing a plus-size industry client, and asked why they select the skinniest plus-size models, I've been told, "That's what the agencies provide," or "Those are the 'top' girls in the industry." These companies act as if they're beholden to the agencies--which is bizarre, given that the clients are ultimately the ones paying for what the agencies are offering. Remind those companies that they can choose larger models. Inform them that the agencies do have bigger girls on their books. Encourage them to use those larger girls.
Don't worry--those skinny, smallest plus-size models will have no end of opportunities. There are countless clients that use them, and only them, and always exclude models size 16 or better. They will always have work. But fight for the inclusion of the larger models, especially the models who really look plus, because they represent the customers who never see themselves reflected in the media, who are made to feel as if their body type is objectionable.
Fight to expand the parameters. Promote these girls because they are bigger than a size 16. Insist that their larger proportions are precisely the key to their appeal. Get the rest of the plus-size industry into the headspace of celebrating genuinely full-figured bodies.
However it is rationalized or excused, the majority of size bigotry in society originates on a purely aesthetic level, and therefore it is most potently fought on an aesthetic level.
When the plus-size fashion industry produces images of gorgeous models who are genuinely and identifiably full-figured--who are visibly plus-size in all of their features--then it becomes a vehicle for cultural transformation, a means of combating and overturning thin-centric aesthetic prejudices, and a force for restoring a more positive ideal of beauty.
We should all do everything we can to help make this happen.
Because we knew that many full-figured fashion bloggers would attend the "State of the Curvy Community" panel, we felt it vital to indicate to them that while the straight-size industry is rampantly discriminatory, the plus-size industry currently exhibits exactly the same appalling prejudice. We wanted to remind them they have to power to fight this injustice.
If every writer on the topic of full-figured fashion were to attack this discrimination, then perhaps it could finally be ended, and larger women would at last receive the representation that they indisputably deserve.
Size-18 goddess Charlotte Coyle (Wilhelmina New York):
There is no justification whatsoever for the plus-size industry to be discriminating against gorgeous women who are this size--or larger.
- Charlotte Coyle gallery