My mother, being a mother, shared this revelation with the purpose of encouraging me to look into plus-size modeling. Our exchange went - more or less - as follows...
- Mom: "...and then I thought, Mary is prettier than any of them! And we know how photogenic you are. Maybe you need a third career, darling."
- Me: (crazy, horrified laughter) "Mom, don't you think you're a little biased? Also, I'm pretty busy...you know...with the writing and medical school and all."
- Mom: "True. But women want to see models who are shaped like them in magazines and I thought you would just be perfect."
Even while shopping online, it's rare that I actually pay attention to the model wearing the outfit. I look at fabric, design shape, and price, because that's what will actually get me to buy something. Or, rather, that's how I used to feel.
Serendipitous to the timing of this conversation, I've been haunting the Talbots online store lately. Not because the clothes are great (which they are - I love the new direction they've taken), but because I was totally bowled over by one of their latest ad campaigns. They're in the process of revamping their "Talbots Woman" line of plus-sizes clothing and part of that has been hiring actual size 12+ models to display their clothes. As a cross-over size, I've never bought anything from the Woman line, but the front-page picture was enough for me to click through.
There was this gorgeous woman - tall, blonde, and totally bombshell curvy - wearing Talbots clothes. She looked like a goddess. It was a simple outfit: chambray Oxford shirt, brown belt, and a daisy lace white skirt. It was identical to an outfit I'd seen on the main Talbots site weeks before and dismissed, not thinking the straight skirt would flatter my hips. But modeled on a woman my shape? Totally changed my mind. I wanted the entire outfit and I wanted it right that second. What's more, I then clicked through every single outfit in the store, seeing if they had her wearing anything else I liked.
Thus is the magic of target marketing. When the average American woman is a size 14, doesn't it reason that the fashion industry would benefit by including models who are not so glaringly opposite of that size? This has been a bit of a hot topic in recent years, with the rising careers of models like Crystal Renn and Tara Lynn. These women have not been sidelined to the "plus-sized" stores, but featured in major runway shows and magazine spreads. Admittedly, a lot of the attention surrounding them has been precisely because they are so novel. Size 12 women rarely, if ever, walk major runway shows. In a fashion world where thin is so required that even traditional models are smoothed and shrunk through photo editing, average-sized women, no matter how stunningly gorgeous they may be, have become an aberration.
Honestly, this is part of the reason I started sewing. So many clothes I lust after are not only out of my price range, but out of my size range. Even at major retailers, like Anthropologie, it's not at all uncommon for sizing to stop at a 10. I can't tell you how many times I've fallen in love with a dress in-store, only to find out I've been sized out of purchasing it. All too many women take this occurrence as a sign that there is something wrong with their shapes. Frankly, that's crap. As someone in the medical field, I'm a big evangelist of the maxim that both health and beauty come in many sizes. Why should I have to crash diet just to shrink into someone else's view of normal? I'm a size 12/14. What's more, I'm totally okay with that.
So, I threw up my hands and decided that if designers weren't making the clothing I wanted, I'd have to do it myself. One of the things I've come to love about the online sewing community is that sewing bloggers do come in all shapes and sizes. You can see a new pattern on my 5'8'', curvy frame, but also on someone who's 4'10'' and delicately-formed. Because, fashion may have size expectations, but style does not. Here's hoping the former starts to take some cues from the latter, agreed?
Post Notes: It should be said that plus-sized fashion is similarly, if not as extremely, biased as well. Models do tend to be in the smaller range of plus sizes (and I would even argue that a 12 shouldn't be categorized as plus at all). What's more, there's not a place in the market for women of middle sizes - sixes, eights, and tens - to be featured. It's all-or-nothing with fashion, when it comes to highlighting larger sizes. But that's a post for another day, or else I'll ramble on longer, until this post becomes book length. No one wants that.
Also: The balloon picture? Credit to my wonderful, wildly talented friend Sarah Romohr of Sincerely Sarah Photography in Austin. I had fun playing dress-up for an hour last summer, so she could test out some techniques. She even managed to make me look not crazy ridiculous in front of a camera, which takes some skill. If you need photography in Austin, she's amazing! (And you may suspect me of a bias, as we've been friends for a decade, but I'm not alone. People go gaga over her work.)