‘Femininity’ vs. Art

L’art pour l’art. When I burst (quite literally) out of my high fashion shell and became a ‘curvy’ model, I thought freedom of portrayal would come along with my new body freedom. Naive, you could say. Hopeful, I would say. But no: modelling likes its boxes, and those with lanky limbs are granted arty fashion, whereas those with hourglass shapes receive femininity. I recently wrote a piece on the first plus size fashion show gracing the runways of New York Fashion Week, and I noticed immediately that it wasn’t picked up by big fashion websites like Style.com (usually covering all the shows). In their defense: the plus size collection looked more wearable than what any of the high fashion houses would ever show on the Fashion Week runway. Pretty dresses: perfect for curvy bodies, yes, but perhaps not art.

Arty restrictions

Art is what makes Fashion Weeks tick. It’s why fashionistas attending the shows dress crazily over-the-top and say “fashion, baby.” It’s about creating your own identity in terms of colours, shapes, and emotions — just as it is during a high fashion photoshoot. No one can convince me that ladies with breasts or a big bum don’t like creating their own fashionable identity, because I do. The moment I entered the world of the curvy, I was expected to look all luscious lips, big breasts, natural hairdo, to be bright and smiley. Womanly. Where the world of fashion granted me endless possibilities of stepping into countless characters’ minds (but not with my actual body), I am now expected to grow more fat, more breasts, and pose like I’m Jennifer Lopez. Classy of course, never too sexual, and ‘dress for your body type.’

There are two types of creatures representing our one sex in the modelling world: young, innocent-looking girls, and ultra-feminine hourglass-shaped women. I do not feel okay about this. I don’t feel like I’m in either group. I also think it’s a disgrace we’re shaming the thin women for being ‘unfeminine’ and the plus-sized women for being ‘unfashionable’ creatures, destined to only wear one dress type for life. Where’s the mix-up? Where’s the adventure? And can someone please stop shoots where the plus-sized models have to pose with food?

Art

‘Curvy’

I am supposed to be a curvy model. ‘Curvy’ in this industry apparently just means anything above 80-60-88 cm* (the new fashion measurements) and anything below the plus size measurements (starting at a Dutch size 42 or UK size 14). These curvy gals are not yet in season because they do not belong to a ‘body extreme.’

This bugs me: agencies looking for curvy models. When I reply with “How curvy?” they respond, “Hips 90 plus.” What they really mean is this: hips about 93 centimeters, for anything even remotely above the high fashion ideal is an extreme curve to these people. How in the world are we to present ‘normal’ or a variety of different body images with people like this ruling the fashion industry?

I like being a ‘curvy’ model. For me, it means that I can be myself while still being a professional model, and no one tries to force me to change anything about my appearance. Also, I am still allowed to make art and do not always have to conform to the big, smiling, German jumper kind of plus-size ideal shoot. I don’t officially belong to either group. But ‘curvy’ does not need to be a label — and neither do the others.

Why isn’t the fashion industry opening up to this in-between size more? This “size of no size,” but hard work, lots of initiative, strong character, a good face, and a healthy body? It seems that this kind of girl could still be projected onto awesome Photoshop, cool scenes, and a great storyline. Here’s the catch: she doesn’t fit into the sample sizes. I don’t mean the sample sizes of regular clothing, or clothing sizes that can be found in any clothing shop. Nope, sample sizes are created for the less than 1% of bodies that are allowed to create editorial art (in haute couture), or for the friendly faces of the plus size community.

I am not buying these kind of clothes, nor are many girls my age. When I look at art, I look at the whole photo, not at how thin the model is — because it doesn’t matter. I get that labels are handy. I agree that not anyone can model; it takes hard work and a photogenic face. I actually love that the fashion industry is opening up, a tiny bit, to varieties of bodies and people, but we’re not nearly done yet.

Wakey wakey

All good models should be able to make art in their own expressive ways.

Stop living in extremes, in boring boxes, and calling everyone in between ‘curvy’ — because 90+ centimeters is not ‘curvy.’ Robyn Lawley — most well-known ‘plus’ model — is not ‘curvy.’ Grant all models the experience of creating art, feeling like a different character — whether this is feminine or masculine or anything else. Dare to do something different. Fashion, baby!

First photo by Melissa Houben
Second photo by Sandor Lubbe, for Zoo Magazine
Last photo by Bradford Willcox

*Breast-waist-hips.

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