Size of the Times: Part II

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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.

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39 Responses to Size of the Times: Part II

  1. Jen L. 01/27/2010 at 3:47 pm #

    Mandy’s story, along with everything she’s said here, is so inspiring. Intelligent women like her (and so many of the readers who commented on Monday) are the women who are going to make change!

    While this post does a really great job of getting down and dirty with the way the plus sized modeling industry works, it also gives me a lot of hope for the future! Thank you for such an insightful, thoughtful, poignant post!

  2. nina 01/27/2010 at 3:53 pm #

    thank you for talking about shape, not just size. i’m shaped oddly, with a larger belly and tiny legs and weird, sort of upside down hips. ive always been so self-concious because i’ve never seen a woman on screen or in a magazine shaped anything like me. it can be hard to find clothes that fit and don’t make me look absurd. i envy other women’s hips and larger legs and bottoms, something many women want to get rid of. there’s always someone who wants what you have.

    sorry for sharing my life story, but thank you for adressing the issue of shape. i would love to hear more about it as none of the shapes listed above cover me. it’s difficult to feel not only unattractive, but weird. and it’s my bone structure so there’s nothing i can do, no matter how much i work out or diet. it took 20 years, but i’m finally coming to terms with it. again, thank you for dealing with this issue. i don’t now a single woman who doesn’t have problems with how she’s shaped, and that’s so sad.

  3. crystal 01/27/2010 at 4:08 pm #

    great post, natalie & mandy!!

  4. Alyson 01/27/2010 at 4:22 pm #

    Thank you for addressing the constant “grass is greener” mentality of women when it comes to their bodies. We constantly compare and berrate our bodies! There are a myriad of different factors that go into why we perceive our bodies the way that we do from parenting to the treatment of the opposite sex… Once we realize that these women that we idolize are not real, they are air brushed, and pulled, and tightened, and work out 4 hours a day, and eat wheatgrass sandwiches on low fat triscuits. They have a whole team of people around them MAKING THEM LOOK GOOD.

    I consider it a miracle to remember to put on mascara in the morning. I encourage my friends and family to stand in front of the mirror in their underwear. To look at their bodies and to love their bodies. We are all different and that is what true beauty is!! I do hope that designers and magazines will stop airbrushing and over working their subjects.

  5. sari 01/27/2010 at 4:32 pm #

    lookin good (as always!)

  6. Tracy J 01/27/2010 at 4:50 pm #

    Mandy’s positivity is invigorating. Too much emphasis can be placed on the negativity in the modeling world.

    The media essentially is telling us that being beautiful is simply unattainable, except for a select few. Beauty should be found within yourself and not how others define ‘beauty’. I think this blog series has done a remarkable job so far in presenting this train of thought to its readers.

  7. Zoe' 01/27/2010 at 5:29 pm #

    brava! BRAVISSIMA!!!
    just wonderful–thank you so much

  8. Leah 01/27/2010 at 5:41 pm #

    I think Mandy is a gorgeous healthy looking woman and a great model. The comment on how magazines try to classify and pigeonhole figures and sizes struck something that has always been on my mind. How do you compare a “busty” woman who is 5’3” with a “pear shaped” woman who is 5’10″? The concept of a healthy weight or size is only one that a doctor or health professional should be commenting upon, because it’s different for every woman! And super-skinny models are certainly not fighters in the war on obesity, they are just another side of the problem.

  9. Rebecca 01/27/2010 at 6:13 pm #

    Leah, it’s funny you say only a doctor can determine who’s healthy and who isn’t yet you use the term “healthy looking” to describe Mandy. Just sayin.

  10. Sarah 01/27/2010 at 7:43 pm #

    Beautiful!
    Great article Modcloth!

  11. Katie 01/27/2010 at 8:34 pm #

    I totally agree with the “grass is always greener” thing. I think part of it is also that our culture is so impatient. We’ve grown up in a time of instant gratification, and we want to be thin NOW, or we want to be curvy NOW. A lot of people last time criticized modcloth, saying that they were a size 10, 12, whatever, and couldn’t find clothes that fit. Well.. I have! I’m hippy, and I know it (so I clap my hands…jk), so I just buy stuff that has a flowy bottom. It’s not a big deal. Every single pattern, cut, and garment is not made for every single figure. Part of the reason magazines do those “how to dress your figure” things is because different silhouettes flatter different figures! We can’t all wear super-slim-fitting stuff, or really flowy, loose stuff. I think maybe some people just don’t want to take the time to figure out what fits their figure! But, I will admit… I do sometimes get upset when I can’t fit my butt into a L or XL here. Instead of it being all modcloth’s fault, how about, the designers? Who the heck are they basing their measurements off of?!

  12. Brit 01/27/2010 at 8:40 pm #

    Mandy does look truly beautiful. And it is about variety like you say. Often I get frustrated that there is no in between. I am a size 6 (or 10 as I am British)… this is not a size you see so often. We see the 0s or the plus sizes. I always wanted to model but was never thin/ large enough. Oh the irony. x

  13. Ana 01/27/2010 at 9:35 pm #

    I love reading things that plus-sized models who are gorgeous and self-confident say. I’m only a size 8, but I see the other girls who are presented to me as what I’m supposed to look like, and I feel like a freak. And then there’s this amazing sexy model who’s a size 14…and I realize the reason she looks good is because of makeup and lighting, sure, but more than anything it’s because she knows she’s beautiful. I hope someday I can look in the mirror and see that confidence, because it really is the biggest difference between models and the rest of us, I think.

  14. Catherine 01/27/2010 at 9:45 pm #

    I loved reading this. I’m short – but I don’t have the “petite” body type that magazines show. I’m not tiny or stick thin… I have a butt! But does that make me pear shaped?!

    Honestly, confidence like Mandy’s is inspiring. And that she pointed out that dressing all body types equally well should be a goal of designers – awesome.

  15. Sarah 01/27/2010 at 10:18 pm #

    Great interview and gorgeous photos! So great to hear things from Mandy’s perspective. I hope to one day see her on many a magazine cover!

  16. Christina 01/27/2010 at 10:25 pm #

    Wow, Mandy is an admirable young woman! She’s made me realize, though I’m not plus-size nor slender, but average, how lucky I am to have such wonderful parents who tell me they love and that I’m beautiful just the way I am. I didn’t agree with them, but because of their work in instilling such a pretty grounded self-confidence in me, I accept, and even like sometimes, the way I look– because it is me, and no one else!

  17. Leasha 01/27/2010 at 11:22 pm #

    It annoys me how plus sized models are healthy,normal people but super sknniy models are everywhere. Not many people are naturally that skinny and tall, and so many girls aspire to be like those super skinny models. They aren’t real people like mandy; yet its real people wearing the clothes they model and the real people wearing them arent super skinny or tall.

    good on you mandy :D

  18. melanie 01/28/2010 at 12:47 am #

    ModCloth,
    Thank you so much for this post. I am beyond thrilled that you would blog about such an important but often never discussed issue. I have been dealing with an eating disorder for almost seven years of my life. It has taken me months and maybe even years of soul searching to figure out some of things you had mentioned in this blog. I am so happy to see that you are helping girls embrace their body no matter what size and I highly look forward to the next enstalment. Its writers like the ones at mod cloth that are going to help girls all over this country be more confident in themselves. Thank you so much for putting this subject out into the open, you gals(and guys :]) at ModCloth are going to help open the doors for exceptance and honesty.

  19. Emily 01/28/2010 at 1:36 am #

    Never in my life have I looked at a model and then at myself and felt beautiful. I am a size 14 (in Australia), so mostly a Large on Modcloth, and today I felt a sudden sense of overwhelming pride at my shape. Seeing Mandy and then looking at myself, I am not so different. If Mandy can look and feel beautiful why can’t I?
    Thank you Modcloth and thank you Mandy.

  20. Karlee Mae 01/28/2010 at 2:56 am #

    Embrace your curves, or lack of. Embrace the diversity it is to be a woman!

  21. Kate 01/28/2010 at 4:55 am #

    Nice article ModCloth, I jus wonder how hard it is to realise that when so many of these ideas of “beautiful” or even “normal” are presented to us, someone is trying to sell us something. It’s so much easier to sell a solution if you convince someone there’s a problem. Thankfully, more people are realising it doesn’t have to be that way.

  22. Sarah 01/28/2010 at 1:06 pm #

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! To ModCloth, Mandy and all the comments. It’s good to see so many women feeling the same way. I always feel so alone, being barely 5′ tall, constantly fluctuating between 112-118 pounds and having what is considered an “apple” shape, yet I’m in the gym constantly (5 times a week at least) trying to improve myself. I’m always looking around, trying to find someone who looks like me, and I come up short. Like Katie said, I know what looks good for my shape and what doesn’t, so I stick to things that have worked for me. It doesn’t keep me from wishing I could wear tight tops that my 5’10″ pear shaped friend wears, but I bet she wishes she could rock the shorts and short dresses that I pull off. Whenever I feel down about how I look, I force myself to pick the thing about me that I like that day.

    It’s great that the next post will be about how ModCloth will address this issue, but I already think it’s great that they offer a variety of styles so that any woman with any body type can come here and find something perfect for their shape. This was, and is, a really great topic and the discussion has been wonderful.

  23. aire 01/28/2010 at 1:51 pm #

    Thank you Mandy for being so honest and open with Natalie. You are truly inspiring. :)

  24. Mandy 01/28/2010 at 5:04 pm #

    Wow, you are all being so supportive! Thank you!
    <3

  25. Brittney M. 01/28/2010 at 6:16 pm #

    Great blog post! It was great to hear about this issue from a different pov. Mandy is beautiful and her confidence is inspiring. And I must say that black dress is extremely awesome. haha. Thanks again ModCloth for tackling this issue. I really can’t wait to read Friday’s post.

  26. Heather C 01/28/2010 at 8:31 pm #

    Thank you for bringing this to light! I’m a size 14/16, with a definete hour-glass shape, and (get this) I’m proud of my curves. However, it is sometime hard to feel that way due to the lack of cute clothes available in my size!

  27. Krystle C. 01/28/2010 at 11:41 pm #

    I am her best friend!! and Im also curvy and she makes me feel beautiful everyday about the confidence she puts into her work and gives me great encouragement when I dont feel the most beautiful. :0) Love you Manders! :)

  28. JayLynn 01/29/2010 at 12:01 am #

    i think the problem is that plus size women arent generally given the opportunity to express themselves in the fashions that smaller girls are allowed. a girl who is a size 4 can walk into pretty much ANY store and find something to wear. i know as a plus sized young women that i’ll never be able to wear abercrombie or bebe or guess. and i think as long as there are stores that discriminate based on size we wiull never be comfortable… why does there have to be a plus size section in any store??? why cant all the clothes be in the same place? when you seperate ppl its not hard to agree with it. iespecially if its all you;ve ever seen

  29. jill 01/29/2010 at 9:08 am #

    Mandy, you are gorgeous and so articulate! This is one of the best articles on size in the fashion world I’ve ever read. Keep it up and stay positive and beautiful!

  30. KTpink 01/29/2010 at 9:22 am #

    such a great article!

  31. Parry 01/29/2010 at 10:06 pm #

    There are so few articles on promoting god self image that it’s very easy to forget how much it affects every part of our personality. Sometimes, individuals just need to be reminded that thinking positively can have a positive effect on one’s day. I will make it a goal to remind myself every day that I’m beautiful.

  32. leona 02/02/2010 at 10:22 pm #

    Gosh I am so tired of “feeling sorry for the plus sized models.” Why is it that the skinny girls don’t get this support and love that “plus size girls do?”. Skinny seems to be labled as “unhealthy” and “bad”. But being big is okay apparently. IT’s not good to be skinny either. I’m 5’9, 120 pounds. I look liko a pencil and I get accused of having eating disorders.. thin and pretty is actually NOT considered pretty. This article shows that. Because people are wayyyy more apt to support big ladies.

    Seriously.I really dont understand plus sized women. They just whine for no reason. they’re the ones getting all the support and being told its okay to be that size. and I, the thin girl get no support and get critisized for being the way I am… SO STOP WHINING.

  33. Emily 02/05/2010 at 4:55 pm #

    Hey Leona – stop talking. You’re just coming off as a jerk.

    Here’s why us bigger girls (and I’m not even plus sized, but I’m bigger) can whine. Can you find clothes that fit? Easily? Can you pull something right off the rack and have it fit?

    Guess who can’t. Us.

    So stop. Just stop.

  34. Kate 02/05/2010 at 5:52 pm #

    I totally agree with Emily.

  35. Sarah 02/06/2010 at 4:26 pm #

    Leona,

    It’s understandable to feel as though you’re not getting anywhere with your career, if it deals with fashion and what not, but I don’t think that criticizing other people will get you anywhere fast.

    You rarely hear in the fashion industry that being skinny is “unhealthy,” especially when in fact that is what they prefer. It is the plus sized women/men that are being scrutinized for how they appear.

    This blog was supposed to help plus sized people, or anyone for that matter who is self conscious, realize it’s all merely skin deep and that the bigger picture to all of this is self acceptance and appreciating yourself. Everyone made a positive comment to this, why can’t you?

    Please realize that you’re hurting someone’s feelings when you say things like that.

  36. Emily 02/08/2010 at 4:48 pm #

    Sarah! That’s exactly right. When I wrote my first response to Leona, I was angry, because it was Mandy who sent me here. She interviewed with Modcloth and put herself out there, and Leona’s comment hurt her deeply.

    Leona – All of us have our body issues, and no one should feel like they’re not treated fairly because of it. But you have to remember that while you feel that way, so do the rest of us.

    I hate to say it again, but think about the last time you went bathing suit shopping. Was it easy? The last time I went, I almost cried. My best friend is a size 12, barely considered plus size, and last time she tried to find a bathing suit that fit, she found herself crying because the plus sized bathing suits were too small. I can’t wear jeans because all pants are slim legged and made for girls without booties.

    I’m sorry that people think you’re ill for being skinny. But every day I have to look at myself in the mirror and remind myself that I am beautiful. Even when my jeans don’t fit. Even when I can’t zip up a knee high boot. As I said, I am not plus sized, but I’m bigger than the fashion industry likes to style clothing for. It’s rough.

  37. Sarah 02/25/2010 at 5:29 pm #

    Wow! This is quite refreshing!
    I toatally agree with Emily’s comment about being bigger than the fashion industry styles clothing for. I am on the small end of the average weight and size for people my height, and I still end up getting everything in large sizes. Finding things that fit can be very, very frustrating. I do feel like we are presented with unrealistic standards, and to see normal, beautiful women like Mandy in the modeling industry is exciting.

  38. Deanna 05/31/2010 at 9:22 pm #

    I love this blog ! It’s inspiration like this that makes me so fashionable and confident today ! I am plus size and i love it ! Thanks to all those women pushing forward each and everyday showing plus size is Beauty too !

  39. anna 06/01/2010 at 10:20 pm #

    I myself am 90lbs and 5’5 I think you should focus on the diversity of all sizes not just big ones, I hate it when I can’t even fit in 00. I feel for those who are plus sized (my mum, sis, and best friend all are) but I hate it when people automatically assume I am anorexic even though I have tryed to put on weight and my doctor says I am perfectly fine I just have an abnormally high metabolism.

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