‘Tis the season of lingerie and, sadly, not everyone is skipping around proclaiming that it is the most wonderful time of year. It isn’t just Valentine’s Day that brings out these anxieties and insecurities though, is it? Oh, how I wish it were, but the fear of our own bodies is actually a year round phenomenon. Why do we think that is? I can tell you why — it is because, in the most general terms, the collective American woman still holds herself to unrealistic beauty standards and wrestles with a negative body image. Even in 2015, a year hot on the heels of a feminist infiltration that boasted girl power with every headline and positive recognition for plus-size fashion, we continue to struggle to make an important cultural and personal shift. Old habits die hard.
I do believe, though, that you absolutely can teach an old dog new tricks. If you choose to focus on the wins, both big and small, and continue to educate through resistance and relapse, thinking can be rewired and new lessons will be learned. Last year, we saw a great many women doing just that. The world watched as Ashley Graham launched an insanely beautiful and highly praised plus-size lingerie collection; the media lost their collective mind, spouting adoration when Candice Huffine became the first plus-size model photographed for the famed Pirelli calendar, The Cal; and Whitney Thompson, the first plus-size woman to ever win America’s Next Top Model, became the face of Panache’s lingerie line, making it her personal mission to encourage the notion that you don’t have to be a size 0 to embrace your body. Beautiful and bold, these women should be celebrated, not only now, but the whole year through — for both embracing and showing off their bodies in an effort to promote individual and cultural size acceptance. Plus, they look damn good.
Even industry giant Vogue, the ultimate tastemaker, made the decision to showcase five game-changing plus-size models in a spread that declared "The Best Lingerie Comes in All Sizes," sending a message that high-fashion and plus-size can be synonymous.
Celebrating these women and the strides we are making on our way to winning an uphill battle for the greater good seems only natural, right? Unfortunately, with even the best intentions, there is always a critic. In a Huffington Post article entitled, "Pus-Size Models: Why Are They Always Naked," Chastity Garner Valentine argues that mainstream magazines tend to deliver fully nude layouts of plus-size women in order to gain attention. In one of her three theories as to why there is no "head-to-toe styling" of plus-size models, she even goes so far as to say, "Magazines don't care about plus-size fashion and they just want to gain attention from the naked fat girls in their magazine. Clothes just get in the way of that agenda."
While I firmly believe everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I must disagree with Ms. Valentine and, for the sake of and hope for cultural progress, provide the glass-half-full counter argument. First thing's first, from where I sit, plus-size models are no more scantily clad than the balance of the modeling industry (or the general public for that matter). Like it or not, we have become a shock and awe tribe of people, and naked seems to be the new black. In review, three of the biggest fashion news stories this year centered on supermodel Kendall Jenner's lack of clothing when she went topless for Interview Magazine, stripped down to her skivvies for LOVE and wore the sheerest of shirts on the Marc Jacobs runway. Not that she wasn't stunning on each occasion in her own right. Seriously, you go girl. Also, Abercrombie & Fitch has been using butt-naked ladies and gents with below average body fat percentages to sell jeans, of all things, for about a decade, and the most-watched runway show in the world boasts a roster of, you guessed it, half-naked talent. Clearly, the fashion world is equal opportunity when it comes to nudity, making plus-size models no more naked than their straight-size counterparts. Perhaps then, the amount of plus-size nudity we see is a win for size equality? I'll take it.
Let's talk about this business of garnering attention now, shall we? Isn't that the full name of the fashion game? Magazines spend gazillions of dollars a year on photo shoots, while the editorial staff burns the midnight oil in order to land the most attention grabbing, of-the-moment cover star and it isn't all for sport: It is to grab the reader's attention! An editorial staff has done their job if they have engaged the general public, forced people to sit up, pay attention and take notice of whatever message they are sending that month. There is no doubt that there are a number of ways to go about this very task, so shouldn't we put a tally mark in the win column when the messaging is "beauty beyond size?" Again, the optimist in me believes that many people in the fashion industry are ready for a change — a more diverse standard of beauty, and that is the reason they stand behind these editorials. But whether we can prove altruistic motive or not (I am still on team good intentions over here), at the end of the day, every time plus-size models are given exposure in an artful way, we gain ground in the fight for size acceptance and a more positive body image for all.
Lastly, Ms. Valentine asks, "Why are we so obsessed with underdressed plus-size women?" Her theories vary, from, "The world is a really cruel place," so we like to see someone, "Karate chop through self-hate and enjoy their lives," to, "People are taught that overweight people are a sideshow," and, "It's shocking to see someone over a size 14 like themselves." What is not shocking is that I must disagree again. We aren't obsessed with underdressed plus-size women; we are obsessed with plus-size women in mainstream media. Period. We are obsessed with the idea that these women are beautiful and strong and stand for something, clothed or not, that we can get behind. We are obsessed with a type of diversity that allows women, size 0 to 20 and beyond, the ability to open a magazine and not feel like a complete outsider. I like to think we are obsessed with progress and that currently plus-size women, perhaps underdressed ones, are the transportation moving us forward. Not to mention, obsession could be viewed as an appropriate compliment for any model of any size who is confident enough to strip down in the name of fashion for the world to see. These ladies represents a type of confidence I wish upon each of us.
So what do you say, in the name of beauty beyond size, we set aside any nay-saying and celebrate some beautiful plus-size ladies in empowering lingerie? Because, in addition to the aforementioned super trio of Huffine, Graham and Thompson, there are a quite a few other plus-size women that have been making waves in the modeling industry.
1. TARA LYNN
2. MARQUITA PRING
3. TESS MUNSTER
4. BRITTNEE BLAIR
5. FLUVIA LACERDA
The best part? Each of these plus-size ladies in lingerie has, in their own way, inspired women all over the world to embrace their curves and love their bodies. It only takes a quick scroll of the hashtag #beautybeyond size or #lovetheskinyourein to find proof. Their scantily-clad existence is a physical representation of the new standard of beauty we are marching towards — a gorgeous embodiment of beauty at any size.
Image: Brittnee Blair; Instagram