When the words fashion industry are mentioned, seldom are the words black and plus sized uttered in the same sentence. This notion has changed somewhat over the last two to three years, in that plus sized womxn have become visible…I don’t mean plus sized black womxn though of course. For reasons unbeknown to me, the fashion industry has taken steps forward in regard to including plus sized womxn in general, but have forgotten about the black plus sized womxn with bigger bodies like myself.
I am a black plus sized model and mental health advocate and I use my social media and modelling jobs to shed light on less accepted bodies within the fashion and media industry.
Representation and visibility only goes so far it would seem that within the fashion industry and bigger corporate brands, the most important thing is to be seen as being “inclusive” without actually having to do the work. By this I mean being ”inclusive” by way of only featuring womxn with hourglass shapes and having a token plus sized black womxn within a campaign. This notion does not reflect society or the beautiful and wonderfully varied body types black plus sized womxn have. If you are a black womxn with a visibly bigger body you are overlooked, even if you are creating and doing amazing work.
I only realised this recently after doing some research and finding out that the body positive movement was created by black womxn for black womxn but specifically black fat bodies to be shown and represented correctly within the media.
If you were to search “who started the body positive movement”? on Google or use the hashtag #bodypositive on Instagram you will be presented with an overwhelming number of white able-bodied womxn with acceptable fat bodies. You will also be presented with the names of models like Tess Holliday and Ashley Graham, as being the plus sized models that spearheaded the movement – this information is incorrect. The movement was created by plus sized black womxn so that there would be a space for bigger/fat black bodies to be seen, respected, recognised and accepted. What I find perplexing is that despite this, there is not a single name of a plus sized womxn/model of color that you can attribute to having started the body positivity movement or having brought the movement into the fashion industry yet there are countless numbers of white plus sized womxn with hourglass and “palatable” bodies whose names are synonymous with the body positivity movement.
“Donyae Coles” of wearyourvoicemag.com states that:
“There is a persistent belief that when thin and/or white people enter the body positive realm and begin to repeat the messages that Black women have been saying for years in some cases, when they imitate the labour that Black women have already put in that we should be thankful that they are “boosting” our message. This completely ignores the fact that in doing so they are profiting off of that labour. They are gaining the notoriety, the mark of an expert in something they learned from an ignored Black woman. “
There was never a real space for black womxn in the fashion industry but when you add plus sized the window becomes even smaller.
I believe the erasure of black plus sized bodies in the industry and the body positivity movement has happened because black womxn were historically ridiculed for having (bigger bodies, larger hips, bigger bums), until white pop culture turned it into the latest trend. This trend has now become the norm because it has the stamp of approval from celebrities, like Kim Kardashian, who have somehow normalized having a somewhat plus sized body and curves “in all the right places”.
Sarah Bartman was an example of this in the early 19th century – she was put into a freak show and paraded around due to her African features. Her body was made fun of and now here we are in the 21st century and black plus sized bodies resembling Sarah Bartman’s are pushed aside as white plus sized bodies are created to resemble the likeness of the black form; but without giving any recognition of where it was all started from BLACK PLUS SIZED WOMXN!!!
There have been many times where I have been on set and I’ve had snide remarks made about my weight or have been looked at whilst I’m eating lunch and just felt like I shouldn’t be in the space. I have every right to be in spaces where my smaller white plus sized counterparts are so openly welcomed, and I deserve to have a space within the fashion industry as a bigger bodied black womxn – I am creating the content I did not see when I was a child and aiming to open doors that are otherwise shut for plus sized black womxn.
I believe that to have black plus sized womxn brought back into the fold of a movement started by us for us. This won’t happen over night. The voices of the black influencers, models and creatives with the biggest followings must all stand up and use their voices, the ripple effect works. If more of us used our voice to charter change and to speak about the blatant dismissal of bigger plus sized bodies in the fashion industry and the body positivity movement we would be heard and listened to. Unfortunately, I have found that those who believe that they are unaffected by these issue do not speak up and stay silent in situations where their thoughts would be appreciated and much needed. There is no quick solution or a way to get black plus sized womxn into the industry a bit more.
The only way is to keep creating content, networking and elevating the words of those silenced. I use my platform (of a little over 6,000 followers) to speak upon the blatant dismissal of plus sized womxn with bigger bodies. I have been on the BBC, speaking about the dismissal of bigger bodies and, even more recently, took part in a round table discussion speaking on the complete erasure of fat black womxn within the body positivity movement so please keep any eye out for that. I take part in discussions with like minded people whenever I can as well as with those who need to be educated. I am not afraid to speak up if I see problematic accounts or calling out people for using or spreading harmful agendas.
The body positive movement is helpful in some aspects as it has put bigger bodies on the map but the bodies of those who started the movement are still pushed out. I am on the fence with how I feel about the movement as it stands today. There are still so few black fat womxn within the plus sized community willing to speak up on how the movement has been highjacked.
These are the names/Instagram’s of some of the amazing womxn trying to make a change and bring bigger black bodies into the fold and are all SO beautiful inside and out and are doing amazing work.