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25 Women Of Color Who Paved The Way for Body Positivity & Plus Size Fashion

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If you haven’t rolled your eyes at a mainstream news outlets’ list of body positive icons, then consider yourself lucky that you missed the frustration of seeing one of these stories come across your feed. 

Every few weeks it seems like another one pops up and not only are the majority of these icons barely above a size 8, but these lists usually include just one woman of color or sometimes none at all. I am so in favor of drawing attention to women who are challenging beauty standards but not if that list features women who all look the same.

It all begs the question:

Is a list like that actually challenging beauty standards or is it simply continuing to reinforce them?

In the press, the body positive conversation is being dominated by smaller white voices. When only certain bodies and voices are celebrated, this does a huge disservice to the community of individuals who worked so hard to get us here.

When Marie approached me to write this piece, we both agreed that a list focused specifically on women of color was necessary given the makeup of other such lists already published.

And we also both agreed that this list wouldn’t just include the women that you may know today as leaders, but also focus on the accomplishments of the past that truly paved the way.

I will note, now that plus sizes are cool and on-trend, mainstream media has failed to acknowledge a lot of those who have been grinding and making waves in plus size fashion for it to be HERE today.

While we may have lacked access to funds and to commercialize properly (like any other situation), our voices have become erased and minimized in this game.

Marie Denee

Marie and I formulated the list together. I also reached out to Plus Model Magazine Editor-in-Chief Madeline Figueroa-Jones and plus model, host, and spokesperson Chenese Lewis for their input.

When asked about the subject of a lack of inclusion, Figueroa-Jones called for a more unified and inclusive message.

Body positivity is a lifestyle and much more than what you see on social media,” shares Figueroa-Jones. “There are many ways that we could all promote a body-positive lifestyle for ourselves and those around us. I never want people to think that they are not able to participate simply because they are not bloggers or have a platform.”

Unity is the key to furthering this movement!”

Madeline Figueroa Jones

The reason why the movement has thrived is because every day, women and men are supporting those of us that are putting ourselves out there. We have been able to create change because of the support from the community“, Figueroa-Jones adds.

Chenese Lewis shares that this issue is sadly nothing new in the plus size fashion industry.

women of color
Chenese Lewis

“Every decade in the plus size fashion movement has had key influencers with defining moments, and women of color have always been in the forefront of the community.

However, there are very few (if any) women of color in top leadership positions on the corporate level with companies whose brands directly affect the plus size industry, and that reflects in the imagery celebrated in mainstream media.

I came into the community in 2000, and as long as I can remember, lack of diversity has been an on-going issue, but it is reflective of our society as a whole because women of color make up a third of all working women, but they are scarce in corporate America.

For many women of color that have outstanding accomplishments in the body positive, plus size fashion, or any industry, in general, had to go above and beyond what is expected and sometimes still get overlooked for someone more privileged.

Even though plus size fashion is getting more mainstream media attention, the exposure is less frequent for women of color than their white counterparts.”

And in the vein of celebrating that greatness, this is our list of 25 women of color who paved the way for body positivity and plus size fashion (in no particular order).

25 Women Of Color Who Paved The Way for Body Positivity & Plus Size Fashion

 

These are only 25 Women of Color who have positively impacted plus size fashion, and there are so many more!

One way in which this issue has been amplified in recent years is through social media. Lewis calls attention to social media’s impact on the voices. Those who are considered to be most influential in mainstream body positivity and plus size fashion.

“The biggest change in the body positivity and plus size fashion industry has been the overwhelming importance of social media,” says Lewis. “This can also be problematic when a white blogger or social media influencer publicly posts racially insensitive things with little or no consequence to their brand and still receives mainstream opportunities, while a woman of color is not even considered.

Even though there are women of color in the plus community that are immensely popular, in many instances, they do not receive equal opportunities or support. Despite all of this, there are women of color who somehow break through the hurdles and achieve greatness, whether its grassroots activism or mainstream success, our contributions to the progression of this movement are significant.”

It’s impossible to really do the 25 women of color justice, and this list is by no means exhaustive. But, hopefully, it’s a start to a more inclusive look at body positivity and plus size fashion. Join the conversation by sharing the women of color that have impacted your own body positive journey.

Who has inspired you? We want to hear of those who have knocked down walls and barriers in plus size fashion! Sound off! 

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Written by Alysse Dalessandro Santiago

Alysse Dalessandro Santiago is a plus size fashion blogger, writer, social influencer, designer, and professional speaker. After graduating with a double-major in Journalism and Gender Studies from Loyola University Chicago, this entrepreneur is best known as the owner/designer for body positive fashion brand and personal style blog Ready to Stare. Her brand has become a haven for those whom fashion has otherwise ignored. It's a space where individual style is celebrated and breaking the rules is encouraged.

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  1. Thank you Marie Leggette Alysse Dalessandro for including me. Love seeing faces like Lisa, Jordan and Sharon who are legends in our industry. We have to know our history to be able to appreciate our present and future. Thank you for including Mia. I often think about all the contributions she made to this industry and how she helped me personally. She will never be forgotten. This was such a great read. ❤️❤️❤️

  2. THANK YOU. as a middle eastern woman who has seen so many WOC create this entire world of body positivity, i get so frustrated when i see listicles that ONLY center white women in the body positive movement. so grateful to the women on this list for knocking down barriers.

  3. Honored to be mentioned!! I try to do my best to represent for the black models in the market place! Thanks Marie & Alissa!!! Make this post public if u can please! #RepresentationMatters

  4. Great Article!!! In Toronto Canada where I am from, I have to acknowledge Georgia Greenwood-Duncan from the The Fuller Woman Expo. She created the FIRST ever plus size fashion and beauty expo in Toronto Canada in 2008!!. The brand then expanded to Detroit Michigan and Africa. Like mentioned in this article Georgia Greenwood-Duncan may not receive mainstreem support from major brands but her work, and effort to bring about change in Canada regarding plus size fashion and size acceptance lives on as she hosts the 2016 Fuller woman expo featuring Whitney Way Thore: No Body Shame Campaign!! I also want to acknowlege Jill Andrew and her partner in love and crime Aisha Fairclough. Jill Andrew is an activist against body shame and equal rights. She was the founder of the first ever curvy catwalk event held in 2006 and now she and aisha have created the Body Confidence Canada Awards – BCCAs.

  5. Sorry, but how can you forget Ms. Theresa “Sparkle ” Randolph who started the Ms. FULL-FIGURED USA PAGEANT 27 years ago (BTW in which Gwen DeVoe participated & won prior to her launching the Plus Academy and future well deserved plus size fashion/modeling industry success)? Countless plus size models, designers, MUAs, event promoters, fashion industry experts & consultants have either been featured, got their start, continue their livelyhood and promote plus size acceptance/beauty through pageantry. And YES, rare and exceptional is the curvaceous Queen who can master true, industry standard high fashion modeling (editorial, print, runway, commercial, fit, etc…) and do pageantry; which is just as hard, respected and requires specific skills and a knowledge base as fashion. Ms. FULL-FIGURED USA has expanded throughout the nation; giving plus size women inspiration, encouragement, training, coaching, to be everything there beautiful selves desire in the face of societal unforgiving norms of beauty. With respect, I humbly submit that she be considered to be including in this article or interviewed or featured in an article all her own. Keep up the good work, love the writing!

  6. I think this list is a great example of how strong black women can be. However, you missed a huge opportunity to talk about Toccara Jones. Toccara broke major barriers by being the first black plus size model on America’s Next Top Model and making it decently far. She would use her success to speak to young black girls about what it means to be body positive and being the first black plus size model in Italian Vogue, she knows what it takes to own their curves she has and that many young black girls can really relate and resonate with. Just figured I’d give her a shout-out because I know that as a kid, watching her impact on the young black girls around me shows me how much of an impact she made in this industry.

    • YES! So glad to see Toccara acknowledged. I’m a white woman, but I found her unbelievably inspiring myself and was so thrilled when she got that gorgeous spread in Italian Vogue shot by Steven Meisel.

  7. Great post—but you didn’t go back far enough. There were several of us who were truly at the forefront as working plus size models in the 1980’s. There weren’t a lot of us but we were there and working. These include Phyllis Cuington, Jerusha MacDonald, Donna Grant and me. We were repped by early agencies like Plus Model Management, Big Beauties/Little Women and Ford 12+. All of us were featured regularly in ads, catalogs, magazines like the now defunct BBW Magazine, the short lived Maxima (which was started by Donna Grant and me) and Essence. We did fashion shows in stores, modeled on tv shows and strutted our stuff during NY Fashion Week, in the first collection for full figured women by a couture designer – Hubert de Givenchy called Givenchy en Plus. I know the 80’s seems like ancient history –but ancient or not, we are still part of the of the plus model history!

    • Ohhhh this is soooo valid!

      And you are right. But also, Heyyyyyyyy Miss Virginia! I am very familiar with you, through Gwen DeVoe!
      I appreciate this feedback and I want to dig a bit deeper here… I have a few ideas swirling! We may be in touch sooner than later!

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