So here’s the thing. Apparently there are a few people out there saying they are tired of women commenting about how good it is to see someone like them represented on Instagram. Like it’s somehow insulting. Interestingly enough, the women I’ve seen complaining are all in their early twenties. Ladies, young ladies, let me tell you a thing or two about why some ladies from a few generations before yours might be writing such words, and mean them as the ultimate compliment. I want to write this because I truly believe you don’t understand the history behind it.
I’m a woman born in 1980. When I was a teenager, Instagram didn’t exist. Hell, the internet didn’t exist. Can you believe I used to have to write papers in a library, where I actually had to go and get books to find references? Shock horror! Well, back in the day without Instagram and the internet, we all got our fashion fixes from the glossy magazines. My mom subscribed me to two monthlies when I turned 13, as a celebration of becoming a teen. I started receiving Glamour and Seventeen and I instantly fell in love with the new world presented. But, there were absolutely no women that looked like me, not a one. It didn’t really bother me that much. I still tried to emulate the styles presented (and more than once walked out of the house looking absolutely ridiculous). But that’s all I got to see. Then came Emme, the plus sized supermodel. She was the first in America, the original, and she was named in People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful in 1994. I was 14. For 14 years I had existed on the planet seeing only adverts and magazines featured women that were a size eight and below. I thought this was the norm. I thought I was supposed to look like that, that I had to look like that to work in the world of fashion.
So Emme. She was the first and the last for a while. I don’t remember seeing too much else and I certainly don’t recall a name that was that much more significant in my teenage years. When I was fifteen, I did go to a model scouting and was told of a new agency in New York called Wilhelmina 10/20 that was set up for a “bigger model.” The way the agency reps phrased it sounded humiliating and horrifying as girls next to me were told they could go to any number of agencies. I remember looking at their arms and then looking at my arms and wondering if we were different species. How were my limbs so massive by comparison? But still, I just kept thinking that maybe I would shrink down to that size and it would be ok.
I spent the next 15 years either on a diet or considering a diet. I’ve spoken about this before, so I don’t feel the need to go into detail. But, I did it because I thought that was how you had to look – to be a model, to be successful, to wear nice clothes, to be loved romantically. This was my view of the world. If you could fit into a size 8, nothing could go wrong. That was because every woman I saw, again and again in magazines, that was popular or a success was a size 8. No need to explain how my views came to be.
But then an incredible thing happened in my late twenties. The internet provided an open door to the entire world and the entire world was screaming back with “look at me.” And the “look at me” came in every size, shape, ethnicity and gender. All of the sudden you could see women, all over the place that did look more like you. You could see them experimenting with their clothing and makeup, offering advice on where to shop and sharing how they felt about the fashion world we’d all grown up with. It was a liberating moment.
I can fully understand that if you’ve grown up in the world as it is today, you might get annoyed at people shouting out at you for presenting an image of “a real woman” or “someone just like them,” but you need to take this as a compliment, please. What we are saying is that we are oh so thankful things have changed. We’re grateful that we don’t have to rely on glossy magazines (who are still lightyears behind on featuring curves… which are still just highlighted as “special features”), but can get our fashion fix, seen on similar body types, on social media right here and right now.
Be thankful this is all you know. Be thankful we live in a world where a woman that is beautiful, successful and truly charming, can also be a size 26 and feature on the cover of Cosmopolitan (thank you Farrah Storr for Tess Holliday). Count yourself lucky that no matter what your size, we are living in a world that is working on acceptance and inclusivity. Both retailers and magazines are, admittedly, working hard to keep up with the changing pace of consumers. But, at least they’re trying. It’s in the works.
So, next time someone comments “I’m so glad to see someone like me,” maybe say thank you. Maybe say, “I’m sorry it’s taken this long for you to find me, but I’m glad you’re here.” That’s what I think, and try to say, every time a reader says that to me. And 90% of the reason I’m still around at all is because my heart absolutely soars every time I read a message that says “thank you, you give me body confidence.”
I don’t feel the need to talk about size often, so you gotta know this one is near and dear to my heart. And for those of you that wonder why I don’t talk about size, being someone that is absolutely all about body confidence…. well, it’s because I don’t want to shine a light on me being different. I just want to stand out for my style, just the way it is. There doesn’t need to be any more said, unless someone reaches out and needs to hear it.
And I’ll end it here. Just be thankful…. times, they are a’changing. And I, for one, couldn’t be more grateful.