In Part I of “Size of the Times,” we examined one of the most hotly debated portrayals of plus size women today — V magazine’s “The Size Issue” — and deliberated whether or not a size spectrum exists in the fashion world. Today, we’ll continue to explore the great body debate by taking a look at the issues through the eyes of ModCloth’s plus size model: Mandy Fierens. Here’s how she sizes up the situation…
Mandy Fierens was a typical teen — occasionally awkward, often self-conscious. Her best friend was thin, pretty, and received a lot of attention, which left Mandy feeling less than confident. However, during a stop into the Swarovski store at the local mall one day, a store employee/Art Institute student approached Mandy and asked if she’d model for an upcoming project.
Understandably, Mandy had reservations. She’d never wanted to be a model. As a girl, she wanted to sing and act, but lost the confidence required to pursue those dreams somewhere along the way. But, after much encouragement and support from both her best friend and boyfriend, she decided to try it. After that first shoot, Mandy began to see herself a little differently. The shift in perspective was small, but it was positive.
Today, Mandy is a plus size model and proud of it (check out her blog, Curvy Couture). I sat down with her to discuss what’s happening in the modeling world, as well as the questions and criticisms that you posted on Monday. One of the most-scrutinized issues, pointed out again and again, was the fact that “real life” plus size is not the same as the modeling world’s plus size. In response to this, Mandy posed another, very valid, question, “Look at the size zeroes that are modeling clothing for the whole world right now — is that the real life average? No. Sure, plus size models aren’t always real life plus sizes, but it is a step in the right direction. I wish we would stop criticizing and start accepting each other, if not ourselves. What is average, anyway? Plus sized? Full-figured? Straight sized? So many labels, so many women, so much variety!”
Mandy hit the nail on the head, and judging by your comments, I think you’ll agree. When it all comes down to it, it’s not really all about size, is it? One size 2 body may look very different from another size 2 body, just as one size 20 can look very different from another. When we read many mainstream women’s magazines, we’re often presented with guides on how to dress our “body types.” There’s always a myriad of terms thrown around — petite, busty, plus size, pear shaped, boyish, and, as Ellie cited on Monday, Seventeen magazine’s PC “curvy all over” — and these words and phrases are all meant to describe our bodies.
With the vast assortment of shapes and sizes, and the fact that the fashion industry depicts so few of them, in mind (including the fact that different heights, along with weights, are not represented, as Steph pointed out in her comment Monday), Mandy wanted to make sure that everyone understood one point: “One big thing for me is that I am not out to get the straight size models. I think we should share the runway. If I was a designer in this day and age, I would want a variety of women in my show, because people want to know what they would look like in the clothes. The true test of a great designer should be the ability to make every body look good.”
In that same vein, as Mandy read through the reactions to Monday’s post, she bristled at one particular theme of critique — the idea that plus size models may not be healthy and Pittsburgh Perambulations’ comment, “I don’t know about you, but that is NOT a real depiction of plus size to me. It’s just as fake as the super skinny models on the runway.” Mandy’s defense? “I have played sports my entire life, and was on the division 1 rowing team last year in college – it’s a physically tough sport! I lost maybe 15 pounds. I was still a size 14, it was just muscle. My body pretty much stays the same. I’m not lazy.” And as for the assertion that the plus size models in V were fake? “They’re real. Everyone’s body is different! I’m smaller on top, but bigger on the bottom. Those models work their butts off to be more muscular because it’s what the fashion industry mandates, and this is their job, after all… We have to work for our bodies, too.”
Frankly, I was a little taken aback by Mandy’s über positivity. If modeling is an industry that’s strongly centered on image, and plus size models are still not widely accepted, how does one gain confidence while constantly criticized? When I posed this question to Mandy, she matter-of-factly responded, “I have to look at myself in the mirror and remind myself that this is me. I only get one body, one life so why concentrate on the bad things some people say? But then, I also have to know how to decipher between things I should fix, and things I should not, such as a pose I should do differently, compared to a nose job.”
If this girl can maintain such a strong, positive sense of self, even under duress, where does our uncertainty and discomfort, often with our own bodies, come from? Like many women, quite a few commenters Monday expressed a sentiment conveying that they’re not-exactly-at-peace with their size. Kaleah’s comment conveyed a common dieting dilemma — the idea that once you lose a little weight, the happiness is but a “honeymoon.” Are we simply students of the grass-is-always-greener school of thought? Do the thin desire curves, and the curvy long for slenderness?
Of the few that had reached body enlightenment, Ellie’s statement seemed to come closer to the core of the issue: “I would never really consider myself a ‘body conscious’ person, but that is probably a unique combination of excellent parenting, good friends, and a generally healthy lifestyle.” It is, of course, a medley of things within our culture and society that lead to such size angst. When Mandy and I tried to determine the root of the problem, we could only conclude that it was virtually impossible to say, given the pervasiveness of body-bashing in virtually every facet of life nowadays. However, she did have this to add, “My parents are wonderful. But, my mom is not super affectionate, and my dad would criticize overweight people on TV. I was always bigger, so that stung. I think, though, if my mom had looked me in the eye one day – just a regular day when I wasn’t all dressed up for prom or something – and she’d just said, ‘You are beautiful,’ and meant it… that would have helped.”
This is the “sorta fairytale” of one model. I’d like to tell you that she’s now signed with an amazing agency and has work out the wazoo, but that’s simply not the case. Mandy is signed with two agencies — one in Ohio and one in Pennsylvania — but she has yet to get any actual modeling gigs from either. That is not to say that she hasn’t had opportunities, but she has found every job thus far herself, including her work us at ModCloth, and she’s learned a lot along the way. When she’s met with tough situations — photographers that don’t want to work with her because she’s too “curvy” — she takes it as a challenge. “It just makes me want to prove them wrong. It makes me push myself so much harder, which usually ends in even better results, because I’m inspired. And that leads to higher confidence in myself.” If only we could all operate on such self-affirming logic, perhaps the discussion at hand would never need to happen.
Where do you think the root of the problem lies? How can we change it? Oh, and one last thing: I promise that your biggest criticism of all will be addressed Friday — ModCloth’s own stance, role, and plan for “plus size.” Rest assured, we are listening.