Talks often revolve around the inclusion of plus-sized models at fashion week to show the progress made in this area. The most recent Fashion Spot report states that 48 plus-size models walked in New York Fashion Week Spring 2022. This is a significant increase from the six featured at Fashion Week Fall 2021. However, plus-size people working behind the scenes, such as fashion editors and photographers covering the shows, to make up artists to prepare the models for the runways, have yet to feel the benefits of this progress.
“As much representation is changing, it’s difficult to be in those spaces, and be aware what the [typical body] ideal is still,” states Tyler McCall, Fashionista.com editor-in-chief in “Fashion week has had a negative impact on my self-image and how I feel about myself.”
Fashion week is an obligation for these people and not a choice. When your job requires you to report across the board and get paid to photograph runways, there is little space for taking a major stance on issues like body diversity. This means that you have to attend shows that include inclusivity, as well as those without. For people who are plus-sized, it can be difficult to distinguish the work and the emotion.
“It’s very disheartening because it’s clear that the brand I’m writing about and covering is not catering to me,” says Kayla Boyd, a BuzzFeed shopping editor. “You find yourself in a strange position, where you are trying to judge the shows and the runway [collection], but also having this thought in your head that these clothes were not made for me, or anyone larger than me.”
Even before the shows take place, reminders are given that our bodies need more space. Larger figures cannot be accommodated on fashion week benches that are packed with people. Fashion week is not a place for fat people. If you are wearing a large size, the clothing available for loan or gifted is not very good.
McCall makes it a habit to be there early, even if shows start half an hour late. This allows others to sit beside her on the benches and she can get in among straight-sized peers. She says, “And I am aware of the fact that I’m a 14/16 and still have it better than some [larger] plus people.” (Statistically, the average American woman wears between a size 16 and 18.)
Model Hunter McGrady turned down more than 30 jobs at fashion week or shows in 2019. Inspired by Hunter McGrady’s public opposition to the industry’s exclusivity issue, I quit attending fashion writers events that were not inclusive. My life experience was of no value to a designer so I decided that my presence was unnecessary. Designers often feel the same way about editors.
McCall states that it almost feels like American designers are making it a point not to include plus-size models, especially in the US. McCall sees it as a “step backwards”, when brands show plus-size models in one season and then show none the next: “It feels intentional. It’s possible. The brand has shown it, but they don’t do it because it doesn’t matter to their best-care scenario. It’s also distasteful for them, in the worst case scenario. They are fatphobic.”
Fashion week can be a very triggering time for those with poor body image. Models, who typically range in size from 0 to 4, are a constant reminder of how your body is treated if it doesn’t fit within these sizes. “It’s interesting to have your presence sort of requested, but not actually catered to as a customer,” says photographer Anastasia Garcia. “It can feel very performative. Although designers may want to be seen as inclusive, they don’t really care about catering to fat people.”
There are also plus-size hair stylists and wardrobe assistants. These professionals feel out of place in the fashion industry. Renee Sanganoo, a makeup artist, says that she is there to perform her job and make people feel beautiful. “And it would be great if I saw people who look like me so I could feel as comfortable as I’m making my clients.” Sanganoo says that being the only plus-size person backstage has become so common that she rarely notices it anymore.
Photographers who are plus-sized have an interesting role in fashion photography, documenting the beauty and elegance of an industry that deliberately excludes anyone who isn’t conforming to its archaic standards. “You’re a part of the world in the fact that you’re there to document it and observe it, and in a way, celebrate it through images, but you kind of know you’re not part of it,” says photographer Hunter Abrams. “As a photographer I feel like an outsider. This is due to my body type.”
Photographers are often asked to blend in while working on assignments. Many choose to wear simple, black clothes or suits, but others may be asked to do so. Sometimes, the suggested dress code may not be an option for plus-sized people. While photographing for Vogue at the Met Gala this year, Abrams’ Willie Norris Outlier dress stole attention in the background of many celebrity photos. They say, “It’s hard to fit into and wear the uniform when it doesn’t come with your size.”
However, not all is bad. The above mentioned progress on runways – this season, Precious Lee won the Daily Front Row Breakthrough Model award and dominated Fashion Month from New York to Paris – and similar moments are community-driven celebrations that plus-size fashion insiders must continue to do their jobs.
“Despite his flaws and the inherent stress that all of our faces are under, I believe that there is something really wonderful about finding your [community] during NYFW,” says Kristin Corpuz, a freelance journalist and social media manager. “It makes a big difference in your life when you find people who support you, people who share your values, and who are willing to help minorities.”
Shows such as Chromat and Christian Siriano show the power of inclusive communities. “Everybody gets to come to the table and be exactly who they are, and it’s just very emotional,” says .Jordan Bogigian, who has worked alongside designer Becca McCharen-Tran to bring the Chromat show to life for two years now. When you’re introduced to fashion with a brand such as Chromat, it is easy to forget that not everyone is as inclusive or wonderful. It was a wonderful introduction to what the future fashion might look like. This industry long has rejected images that reflect the people it represents.
Although fashion week might not prioritize inclusivity, it is possible that they will. Those behind the scenes will continue to push for recognition of our lived experiences.
Garcia says that ten years ago, when I started fashion week, these realities [of inclusiveness at fashion week] were not even possible. It’s amazing to see. You can’t see yourself in a situation or in an important role until you have seen it done. When you see a runway show or a photo of someone who is larger than you, it allows you to feel good about yourself.