There is a question that often crosses my mind when I am heading to castings in all the New York City boroughs. As I’m walking, I recall a statistic I picked up in one of my sociology courses at Columbia… I consciously soak up my daily dose of 5,000+ advertisements as I’m maneuvering my next move. Treading streets in my favorite pair of worn Stan Smith originals (heels tucked into backpack for increased mobility,) I can’t help but to then wonder what effect these ads have on me.
As a curvy model, my goal – to be in an advertisement that women my size are never in – is seemingly impossible. Having big goals is a good thing, however, it is also essential to initiate a gameplan for them. And this is where I get a little stuck. What IS the next move for a curvy model like me? It’s actually your move, fashion industry.
It seems obvious that young girls, who are exposed to the countless posterboards, customized pop-up ads, and taxi cab Guess images, actually look up to the young girls gracing these images. So when the girls in the ads all seem to blend into one category, then we try to blend into one category.
As a sociology major, I’m hyperaware of when I, myself, try to blend in with the crowd. Nobody likes to admit it, but we all do it. For me, I’ve always loved the most avant-garde form of fashion. The artistry of the couture gowns and the anticipation of traveling the world to wear them, even if it’s only for a few minutes. I know I am not in the category of the models who wear these gowns. I am constantly reminded of that by the social world around me, and yet I can’t blend where I belong because I feel I am an in a different category. Not “plus,” not “straight”…just curvy. Although all women have beautiful curves, we need to assign a term for women with “curvier” curves. So as long as society loves labeling things, my category is “curvy” and I, as well as the fashion industry, are still figuring out what that means.
My next question is, then why is it when a curvier girl is in an ad, the ad is more than likely revolving around this category of “curvy”. Curvy models are more often featured in ad campaigns that seem to call attention to size itself. The Lane Bryant campaign of #PlusIsEqual or even the Vogue Italia cover of June 2011, when three gorgeous curvy models were featured were all about curvy. That was 2011 and that was groundbreaking. What is different today? Where are the curves in couture? And why are ad campaigns still segregated in terms of size? While “top” models are pouting behind marble Dior shades on the inside of Vogue, curvy models are hard to find if you continue flipping the pages. And when they do get into Vogue, they’re in the “curvy category”.
Now, I would like to take a moment to commend a few brands that do embrace the beauty of diversity in this industry. For one, Dear Kate, an underwear company, did an amazing job responding to a Victoria Secret campaign for “ The Perfect Body”. While the Victoria’s Secret Perfect Body campaign chose to feature a row of models of very similar body types, under the words “The Perfect Body”— Dear Kate responded by including models of various sizes banding together under that very same label. More brands have started promising to stop retouching their models— among some of these outspoken, there’s Modcloth and Aerie.
I’m proud of the steps we’ve made, but who is “we”? Most of the time, I feel like I’m fighting to work. I feel alone because I am an “in-between” size, excluded from countless casting opportunities. Many of the models I follow, who are of similar measurements to me, have become popular through social media. I think this is amazing, however that shouldn’t be the only way to get your foot in the door of quite literally, the room for a job. So you see, it’s quite a silent fight. There is no one person to blame. So yes, I could quote you a couple of passive aggressive things agents have said to me in the past, but I want to focus on the root of the issue. The castings for major designers are already restricted to very specific body types, so no matter how good an agent is— they can’t get you into that room if you don’t have some sort of precedent.
I recently had a conversation with a successful male model, who happens to be a good friend of mine.
He told me, (very matter of factly), that getting cast in the Victoria Secret fashion show is what makes a female model’s career. The same Victoria Secret that tells us the perfect body is the slim body?
Who is creating these standards? Because that definition of success is what is giving the fashion industry its superficial stereotype. I’m writing this as a call to riot, because it’s your move, industry. I’m doing the best I can!
Valeriya Tyurina (goes by V) is a Ukraine-born, New York City-raised student at Columbia University. She is a curve model and a soul singer who has written for C-heads magazine.