50 Shades of White

(This piece was commissioned for #BigBodyPosi. It was written by @ChocCurvesModel.)

Woman: Where are you from?

Me: England

Woman: Yeah, but originally?

Me: Still England

Woman: Yeah, but y’know, where do you COME from?

It’s 2016 and yet I still get this. I still get stared at walking down the street too. Apparently I am a mythical creature, and not simply a woman of colour. There are so many beautiful blends of race these days, yet anything that deviates even slightly from white still seems to bring wonder and bewilderment to the faces of many.

I think media has a lot to answer for this. It’s like they know and love white bread, but they also know that brown bread is good for them, so every now and then they have a few slices of it. Then they pat themselves on the back for doing such a good deed, before scurrying back to comfort and safety.

But we have plus size models, so the fashion world is clearly starting to branch out, right? Wrong. Plus size in the modelling world in considered anything over a size 12, and, although there are models who wear a size 16 or 18, they do so only because of stature - when you look at them they simply look like a slightly fuller version of a size 12 model. In reality, plus size is just a term to make the fashion industry appear diverse and inclusive.

Fat women of colour in the fashion industry are even more of a novelty factor. We are used as pawns to stroke the egos of big brands and companies, and to enable them to tick off the diversity box.

I’ve been in the modelling game for a year or so now and people don’t know how to take me. They quite like the idea of having a plus size model, and they quite like the idea of having a mixed race model, but the two together seems to be a mountain they find almost impossible to climb. This seems to be the case across the board. When it comes to diversity in the modelling world, you can be fat, or a person of colour, or disabled, or anything else that deviates from the norm, but you can only be one of them.

It has been my experience that, on approaching photographers for shoots I’ve not been taken seriously because of my size. As far as they’re concerned I’m fat, and therefore invalid. It is impossible for them to even entertain the idea that a fat person could create something beautiful. The majority of photographers have instantly dismissed me on that basis.

Nine times out of ten when I have been selected by a photographer, it is because they have a fetish for fat and/or women of colour. Apparently I am meant to be grateful for this. I should be flattered that someone has been valiant enough to deem me suitable for satisfying their sexual desires. I can be a novelty factor or I can be a sex object, but I definitely can’t have beauty and worth in my own right.

Fat people and people of colour are not here for your whim and fancy. We are not ‘other’. We are not lesser or undeserving. We are allowed to love ourselves and celebrate ourselves without it meaning we are being racist or glorifying obesity. We simply want the same acknowledgement, respect as everyone else.

I am fat, I am mixed race, I have hidden disabilities, I am queer, and I am here to try and make a difference. I am here to try and shatter preconceptions of beauty. I am here to represent all the underrepresented.  I want brands to choose me, and others like me, and be proud of it. Not because they HAVE to, or think they SHOULD, but because they recognise that all forms of beauty need and deserve to be reflected in the modelling industry.

It should be that you can go online, or pick up a magazine, or watch a film, and for there to always be a mix of body types and races portrayed, and for that to be the norm; not a radical statement. I want people to be able to turn to media and be able to relate to the models and characters they see, not feel alienated and unworthy because of them.

Skin colour, size, gender, sexuality, they all come on a spectrum. In media and the modelling world they like to stick to a very definite safe section of that spectrum. Every once in a while they will widen those parameters by an inch or two and make it seem like they are doing something very bold and daring, whereas in reality it is just pushing mainstream to its limit.

In this day and age the entire spectrum should represented. The stereotypical model still has its place in media, but the rest of the spectrum needs to be represented too. We no longer live in an age where we only want to see somebody’s depiction of ‘The Ideal’; we want to see ourselves, our neighbours, our friends. We want to see flaws, imperfections, and wobbly bits. It is time for brands to redefine their portrayal of what it is to be beautiful. We are fat, we are of colour, and we are beautiful too. Hear our roar and realise that beauty comes in all forms, not just one.

Michelle Marie is a plus-sized model and writer. You can find her on twitter @ChocCurvesModel

Michelle Marie is a plus-sized model and writer. You can find her on twitter @ChocCurvesModel