The fashion design world has decided I am to be labeled “plus-size.” This kernel of wisdom was bestowed upon me at quite a young, impressionable age, and as a woman, fashion designer and feminist I have always struggled with it. For a while I felt it was my mission to change this label, which I see as a lazy choice on the part of the fashion industry. But for a while now I have seen many girls and women embracing it in the same powerful way that many have reclaimed the terms “curvy,” “bigger,” “gordita,” “sturdy,” “Victorian,” and my personal favorites “queen-size” and “Amazonian.”
I discovered my instinct for body-positive fashion in my customers’ eyes and reactions.
While I grew up queen-size—an Amazonian tree-grazing, wide hip-having, size 12.5 shoe-wearing gal—I have never identified with the fashion industry’s response to my body and other bodies of varying shapes and sizes. Mainstream fashion’s approach toward design, production and marketing of larger sizes just makes people feel excluded and bad about themselves. And it pushes people to spend more money on garment choices that don’t and never will fit right.
I transitioned from making life-size figurative sculpture to designing with fabric in 2009. I made my first upcycled T-shirt dress on a road trip from New Mexico to Seattle to wear to an art opening and received so many compliments on the dress that, upon my return home, I decided to put all my creative energy into designing clothing. Shortly after, I was in my first fashion show and began my work with women’s bodies.
I discovered my instinct for body-positive fashion in my customers’ eyes and reactions. Women of varying ages and sizes responded strongly to the cut, comfort and uniqueness of my pieces. This is from a repeat customer on Etsy: “Something about this piece makes me embrace every curve, even those I’d normally work to de-emphasize.” This compliment on my work really speaks to my vision for my company.
My heart breaks when my customers say things about their bodies such as “I hate my big hips” or “I just shouldn’t have any fat on my arms,” reflecting this constructed ideal of acceptable body shapes. I want them instead to see their strong, supportive beauty and not feel shame.
For me, providing an alternative reality through my work designing and making clothes sometimes takes a bit more time and consideration. But it’s my way of answering the question, “What can I make that will help a person feel powerful, regardless of size?”
Current and past trends show that the fashion industry is not asking this question. Its focus remains on continuing to produce fast fashion choices with little thought other than a “fat/not fat” checkbox. That’s why I am paying attention to the dialogue going on among women of all sizes claiming their space in the marketplace. This dialogue is powerfully positive. It translates into more people feeling good about themselves. This is never a bad thing.
Body acceptance by more people for more people is the path to create a more inclusive and less judgmental environment for people of all ages. This translates into a healthier community at large and works toward busting up this hierarchy of “acceptable” shapes and misguided norms about what shapes are considered beautiful. I’m hopeful that the shifts we’re seeing toward more people and companies viewing all sizes through the same lens isn’t just a trend, but will be our new reality.