In the mainstream media, when we usually see a plus size woman, unfortunately we ONLY see one dimension, one voice, one side of the community. While gorgeous and beautiful, I have always noticed a difference how the individual plus sized woman treats her ample cushions, and I have also noticed the disparity amongst racial lines when it comes to celebrating the curves.
Do black and Latina women embrace their curves more than white women, or is it in our heads? Well, imagine my surprise when Cassy of Daily Venus Divas and Elisa of Mad Fashionista sit down to talk about the race issue and the plus size woman. As part of a series, these women will chat about their personal experiences, observations, and ideals within their own communities.
Please read on!
An honest conversation addressing diversity and cultural differences in the fight For Plus Size Acceptance.
I had the extreme pleasure of attending Full Figured Fashion Weekâ„¢ (FFF Week) again this year in New York. FFF Week and positive events of its kind clearly are never solely about fashion. With the fact that the United States is predominately plus and still under served, not represented and often times disrespected, the need exists to create events that would cultivate the overall discussion of size acceptance from the inside out. This was well achieved by FFF Week with the addition of panel discussions that took the cause off the runway and brought to relevance the full plight of the plus size woman.
As I glanced around the room during the opening night fashion showcase , I was excited to see so many people in attendance. What surprised me was that there wasn’t a larger cultural mix of plus sized women in attendance. We are all beautiful at any size, any race and the message of size acceptance is universal. I glanced around the room and noticed Elisa DeCarlo, creator of Diary of a Mad Fashionista, a blog where Elisa honestly details her perspective on life as a confident and stylish fashionista. She was the only Caucasian that was part of the Curvy Collective, a group of bloggers that report on the events surrounding FFF Week. Elisa sat beautiful and proud, visibly excited about the fashion show she was witnessing unfold.
What I didn’t know was while I was pleased to see women at the event that looked like me-plus sized and African American, Elisa was pondering, why wasn’t there more women that looked like her- plus-sized and Caucasian? Are there truly cultural differences when it comes to size acceptance? Is just being plus sized enough to unify us? To examine these questions, I invited Elisa to a candid conversation about cultural diversity in the fight for size acceptance, the perceived historical shift in the size debate and what we can do to bridge the gap. *Please keep in mind these are the perceptions of 2 women, we are not professing to speak for any one race as a whole.
Cassy: OK so lets get started!! How did you feel about The State of the Curvy Community panel discussion that you were apart of?
Elisa: I felt pretty good about it. My only wish is that we had concentrated less on fashion and more on what IS the curvy community?
I saw at FFF Week that the ratio of black women to white women was about 80/20%. That puzzled me. It raises a host of issues.
Cassy: That was how it was last year too! I don’t know why that is. Why do you think that it wasn’t more white people involved as participants?
Elisa: There is a LOT of shame about weight in the white world. Being 25 pounds overweight is a terrible thing. I found that some people I told about it thought it was a joke. The idea of celebrating your body as it is, which I found so joyous and liberating, is not encouraged in white culture. There are a lot of activists out there, but they aren’t heard they’re looked at and judged. Our role models are unrealistic when JLo is considered curvy, you know you’re in trouble.
Cassy: That is really shocking to me. There are powerhouse organizations that are ran by predominately white people that touch on issues of size acceptance. I wonder if mixing fashion and activism is the issue?
Elisa: You have a point there. Traditional fashion means stick thin, anorexic, whatever the color of the model. I’ve seen many of these models while working NY Fashion Week, and believe me, they are scary! But they’re held up as role models to women. The traditional fashion world thinks size 6 is a plus size!
Cassy: It is very true to an extent. In my community, hips, thighs, curves are generally celebrated! I remember my mother told me when she was young that she couldn’t wait to grow up to have big legs like everybody else. I do have a hard time understanding why the white community looks down on having curves or am I assuming wrong?
Elisa: No, you’re not. Women with virtually no body fat say, I need to lose weight. I have yet to meet a white woman who doesn’t think she needs to lose weight. And often it’s so far from the reality it is shocking. You mention plus size and you get the same damn argument thrown back at you: fat is unhealthy, fat people are a drag on the health care industry, fat people are disgusting. Particularly fat women.
Cassy: and the argument that it is easier for a designer to dress a hanger than a woman of size. Like Yuliya of IGIGI said on the panel, it does cost more to create garments for a larger frame.
Elisa: I interviewed the fashion designer Vassilios Kostetsos (it’s on my blog) at NY Fashion Week, and he said plus size women should not be allowed to wear his clothes! Most of the designers are disgusted by larger women he just said what many of them think. Believe me, I’ve seen the looks on their faces when I ask, Would you ever design for a woman my size? Too bad, because we have the money to spend on clothing! I don’t want to let designers off the hook (this rant doesn’t include Yuliya). Mid-price designers are perfectly capable of designing clothes for larger bodies. If you look at small-size websites like Newport News, or Spiegel, or Talbots, you’ll see that their clothes are made cheaply with a one-size-fits-all mentality. To say it drives up the cost is pure BS. Manufacturers know that plus-sized women will pay more for the same clothes in a larger size because they have fewer choices.
Cassy: Where did the perception of thin is better begin I wonder? In the 20s and 30s curves were considered sexy. In the 50s, Marilyn Monroe was a size 14 and she is considered the sexiest, most alluring woman of all time. Then in the 60s and 70s Twiggy emerged and the super model began to take shape. It seems that the white community has been driven by the medias portrayal of beauty. Since blacks rarely saw many people of color in the media, we were not fully swayed by what we saw to a large extent.
Elisa:You make a very good point. I think your community should be proud of not trying to imitate the media images.
Cassy: It has not always been a easy journey to size acceptance for those in the black community either. We
didn’t see anyone of color in mainstream media unless we were in service to someone else or performing. Many felt they had no chance of being whatever was portrayed positively in the media because we didn’t look like that image. I am Black and Curvy? I might as well not even try.
Elisa: Women talk about the diet culture. Let me ask you, besides Queen Latifah, who DID NOT specify how much weight she lost, how many celebrities of color have you seen on those countless diet commercials? No, it’s Valerie Bertinelli, Marie Osmond, and all of the testimonials, if you look at it, are white women. I never thought about that before. Huh.
There is also the economic point of view that, in cultures where scarcity is the norm, weight is a status symbol. It’s no coincidence that Twiggy became a star in the 1960s, a period of tremendous economic prosperity. When prosperity is the norm, being thin is a status symbol.
Cassy: Maybe that is where the difference lies. Status or lifestyle choice.
Elisa: Yes, the thinner, the better. There’s the old Duchess of Windsor line: you can never be too rich or too thin. Now THAT’s a white point of view! In order to imitate the movie stars, models, rich women, we have to be THIN. Really thin.
Cassy: In the black community we celebrate, grieve and sometimes communicate by feeding each other, that closeness feeds the soul.
Elisa: God, I envy that. These days, most white people don’t cook! I cook, and people think I’m strange for actually making my own food. But my Italian parents did it, and to my father, spaghetti and meatballs equaled love. What you are describing is a beautiful thing, and definitely something missing in the white culture. If we all started cooking, Marie Callender and Healthy Choice would go out of business!
Cassy: I have always felt that white people have had more power to effect change when it comes to size acceptance than anyone in the black community. By power I mean since white people are perceived to have control over mainstream media, they have power to change the worlds view of size acceptance.
Elisa: I don’t think that’s quite true, but it’s probably mostly true. Sometimes I think Christina Hendricks is our token curvy woman. She has an amazing 1950s body, but for magazine covers and photo shoots they Photoshop her into being thinner. You can contrast and compare by looking at runway candids. I mean, look at those tabloids that have best and worst beach bodies! Who cares if Jennifer Aniston has cellulite? She’s middle-aged, for God’s sake! Demi Moore had her KNEES lipo suctioned!
True story: I had a breast reduction. I was a GG/H. The plastic surgeon brought out an album, then looked and said, this is the wrong album. He got another album of before and afters, and every woman in it was either black and hispanic. When I asked him why, he said, white women don’t have breasts like yours. WHAT??? This white woman did! Lots of white women have naturally really big breasts! The doctors I saw all advised me to go down to a C cup, but you’ve seen me. That was ridiculous. I went for DD. I mean, I’m big, I’m tall, I need big breasts!
Cassy: That is crazy!!! And that was a doctor??
Elisa: Totally serious!! I don’t tell that story too often because I don’t want to be misunderstood, but it was utterly shocking.
Cassy: There are thinner black stars that we aspire to be like also. Music videos didn’t show women with curves until the late 90s but it is a particular curve that is featured. As long as you had hips you were good but you couldn’t be sizable all over. You only saw women of size in parody for a long time. Thank goodness that is changing!
Coming soon Part 2 with Elisa DeCarlo: What is culture of plus activism? What is the plan of action to unify all of us? You can catch more of this discussion and more here, at the Plus Size Digital Magazine, Daily Venus Divas
What do you think? Do you see race differences when it comes to accepting your curves? I would love to hear your thoughts!