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Like most women, I don’t fit into the fashion industry — physically, I mean. I’m not straight-size or plus-size. I call myself an in betweeny, someone who falls in the middle of the spectrum: My breasts are big, and my hip bones are too.
Every time I walk into a store, I feel the pressure: Men should be more muscular, women should be slim. I understand that some physical appearances are genetically conceived as more or less attractive to the opposite sex (and therefore pushed into the public eye), but we have to start thinking about the consequences of our actions. In the United States alone, at least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder, and what we perceive to be “beautiful” and “healthy” more often than not translates to worthiness, or consequentially, the feeling that we’re not enough. And the fashion industry plays a role in that.
Last year, I walked the spring 2018 Alexander McQueen show. It was my first runway show, and being one of the only curvy models at Paris Fashion Week was a blast. But it took a long time to get there. Two years prior, I was scouted by a pretty well-known agency (which I will keep nameless): “Your face is, like, so amazing, babe,” they said to me. But then they touched the sides of my hips: “But, your body…you have to lose 10 cm. It’s too big.” To this day, I don’t get it and I don’t think I ever will. At the time, I was still recovering from years of fighting with my eating disorder. The weight I was then was not even my natural, healthy weight; I wasn’t eating enough. Still, this person told me to lose four inches in three months time, without any help. I didn’t look unhealthy, but I was.
Luckily for my own mental wellbeing, I chose to go to the curvy board — even though I’m not ‘plus-size’ by conventional standards. I chose to find a mother agency in the Netherlands that wanted to represent me at my normal size. Soon, I was doing a shoot for American Vogue. It was there I met Camilla Anderson, who works with Sarah Burton at McQueen. A week later, there I was — excited and scared, walking in a beautiful floral dress, in Paris. Since then, I’ve gotten more attention from designers, and my career hasn’t been the same.
The thing is, fashion just doesn’t add up with the rest of the world, especially when it comes to women’s sizing. In a real, healthy world, we don’t starve ourselves so we can fit into one dress. We don’t exercise for hours every day to get a beautiful “beach body,” whatever that is. From personal experience, I see my model friends being told to lose more and more weight. I was also guilty of this when I had my own problems eating. Now, I see the people that I thought were perfect were hurting their bodies. Your body is your vehicle in life, right? If you don’t put fuel in the gas tank of your car, it won’t run for long — it just doesn’t work that way.
Opposite of the straight-size, or “thin,” market, where girls are being sent away if they are ‘out of shape,’ the plus-size market tells their inbetweeny girls that more is better. Fun fact: We have to use padding to increase our sizes. As a model, I understand why that’s sometimes the case, but when I look at the bigger picture (pun intended), I worry that it sends the wrong message. Do I have to gain weight to be beautiful? To work? I’m not sure I want to know. When it comes to the requests of clients, one day you’re too big, and the next, not big enough. It isn’t as bad as it is for straight-sized girls, of course, who take permanent action to change their bodies, while I just put on some padding that makes my butt look a little bigger.
While people on the outside of the industry says it’s progressing, I think the modeling business is stagnated. Some fashion houses are still very strict with their sizing, and girls can still be sent home right before a fashion show because they aren’t ‘in-shape.’ And don’t even get me started on diversity. But slowly — as most things in fashion go — I do see designers adding more sizes to their show and campaign rosters (just look at McQueen). I applaud those — designersmodels, and otherwise — who are brave enough to go against the grain.
But the most important thing I’ve learned is this: Know your body from the inside out. It’s okay to demand your own representation.
Welcome to MyIdentity. The road to owning your identity is rarely easy. In this yearlong program, we will celebrate that journey and explore how the choices we make on the outside reflect what we’re feeling on the inside — and the important role fashion and beauty play in helping people find and express who they are.
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