In the plus size fashion industry, there is just as much colorism, size exclusion and body type preference as there is in straight size fashion. Has the plus size industry diversified fashion? In some ways they have, but the plus size fashion industry mirrors its parent world of the mainstream fashion world. Our most successful models are either white, white passing or racially ambiguous, with only a few exceptions to this rule. Our models are a size 14 at close to 6 feet tall, have hourglass figures and, most of the time, are barely recognizable as plus size.
You can also look at the influencers that fuel the industry. Our most successful influencers mirror the models, except they are slightly bigger and have a coveted, curvy body type. I wish I could say I was exempt from the privileges that my light skin affords me; I’m not. I often question: would I be as successful if I didn’t have a biracial background that has given me the European-influenced hair and skin color that is valued in western society? I won’t deny that I’ve worked hard, but I know women in this space that have worked just as hard and have equally amazing platforms, yet have only received half the success I have. I’d be in denial if I pretended not to see this.
The true pioneers
This situation is unfair and unbalanced, especially as we see women of various shades and body types lead the way in body acceptance. Ten to fifteen years ago, when this movement was still underground, the women charging the way were browner and of all body types. We owe so much to them. Now, with the shield of the mainstream, you can witness the same discrimination geared towards non-curvy bodies. The plus size industry has its version of “acceptable fat.” This woman is curvy — most times an hourglass, sometimes a pear shape, with the same small waist and curvy hip visual — and usually no bigger than a size 18. Rarely celebrated is the woman with a non-defined waist or rectangular body shape. If this is a movement of acceptance, that woman deserves to be seen and celebrated just like her curvy counterpart.
More work to do
As cliché as it sounds, this industry was created to make the world better — to be better than the narrow definition of beauty that mainstream fashion has created. I can proudly say that we have widened that narrow definition of beauty, but it’s still too restrictive. Representation matters. I applaud the brands, influencers and celebrities that expanded their image of the plus size woman to include different shapes and colors. But, in the same breath, to those who are using those “accepted” standards of plus beauty, I challenge you to widen your definition of beauty.
Chastity Garner Valentine, Founder of Garnerstyle.com and co-creator of thecurvycon, [email protected]