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I'm Tired Of Not Seeing Women Like Me In The Media

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Photographed by Aaron Vazquez.

Coming home from a long day of work, I go to check the mailbox at my new apartment. What do I
spy with my little eye? A fashion magazine. (Whoever lived in my apartment before me forgot to update their subscription address, so I’ve been getting their magazines for free. Lucky me!) First thing I do when I get inside is drop all my bags and get ready to explore it page for page. Why am I so excited, you ask? Because Michelle Obama is this month’s cover girl. Yes. #BlackGirlMagic. Two snaps. Say what?!

But as I come to the end, I find myself baffled. My brain is in shock, and my heart a bit heavy. In the entire 330-page issue, there are only two women whose bodies look like mine. Less than 1%. That’s it. At most, plus-size women make up 2% of media images, when in America, those above a size 14 make up 67% of women. In what world is that diversity? I’m not even speaking about the lack of skin-colour diversity in this publication (and how they thought they’d filled that quota by having Michelle on the cover — cue eye-roll). I just can’t believe that in all 330 pages, there was only room for two plus-size women.

Let’s try an exercise: Imagine that every page in that 330-page magazine is a day in which you spend time with a different person. Now, imagine that in that entire time — almost a full year — you only see two plus-size women on two days out. Better yet, imagine those two people are your mama and your sister. You could only see your mama and your sister two days a year. It sounds silly, but that’s how invisible this industry has made 67% — the majority — of women. Looking at media (and we are all looking at media via everything from TV shows and movies to music videos and advertisements, whether we like it or not), that’s how the world appears. Reading that magazine sent yet another message to my brain that society doesn’t deem me — or your mother, your sister, your daughter, maybe you — as worthy of being seen.

As I became more curious about this disconnect, I realised that all the editors-in-chief of these major magazines — Vogue, Elle, Glamour, InStyle — are women. Let’s get this straight: We can all agree on an issue like equal pay, right? Most of these publications and their readers would argue that women should be paid the same as their male counterparts. We’re allowed to make noise about that. But when it comes to equal representation in these pages, we go quiet. We simply aren’t supporting one another like we should.
We all know the power of visuals; they influence how we shop, what we desire, and most importantly, how we see ourselves. When a person doesn’t see herself reflected 98% of the time, it has an undeniable effect on her psyche. The inverse is true as well. I remember the day Lane Bryant launched its I’m No Angel campaign, blasting images of plus women across TV screens, billboards, even subway cars. I walked around with my head held a little higher, my strut a little firmer, and my smile a little brighter. I saw myself in those women. As arbitrary as it may seem, it gave me permission to be proud of my body. It reminded me that there are so many other women out there with bodies like my own. It was an ad campaign, but to me it meant so much more. (And, considering the backlash the company received over these “shocking” ads, it had an impact on others, too.) It gave me hope that other brands might follow suit and be a part of something bigger.

There’s this crazy myth that plus-size women prefer to shop online because it’s too uncomfortable to shop in stores. Lies. The primary reason most plus-size women shop online is because online retailers are the only ones with trendier clothing options in our sizes (like ASOS Curve or boutique outlets). We have to shop “virtually” because the real world seems to be saying, “Don’t come out of your house. We don’t want to see you. Put on your invisible cloak and do your shopping on the internet.”

I say: How dare you. This is 67% of the women who have birthed your children. They are your daughters. They work for you, or you work for them. They belong in this society just as much as you do.

Speaking of trendiness, it’s really these high-end designers who are falling behind. Why do so many believe they’ll lose their air of exclusivity by being inclusive? Christian Siriano has disproven this time and again with his work, along with Michael Costello and Carmen Marc Valvo. I read in a recent Hollywood Reporter article that retail revenue for luxury brands has been spiralling, with a 48% decrease in sales of full-priced online items (in store, the dip is even more dramatic). Come on, designers. How much you wanna bet that if you start pitching to a new market by putting Precious Lee or Tess Holliday in your clothes, that you’ll see your sales increase and become a hotter brand? Get with the times, old people. You can still be considered a luxury brand — just a cooler one.

There is value in the plus-size dollar. In 2014, the plus-size apparel market generated over £14.35 billion. Both the fashion and media industries are missing out, big time. We want to shop ‘til we drop, be on trend, feel hot and sexy. We want to see ourselves in magazines — not as a quota, but on covers. I especially challenge you female leaders: Be a woman who stands for all women.

Editors, we want to be seen. Designers, we want to be dressed. Retailers, we want options. Women, we must do this together.
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