You have seen this plus size beauty in French Vogue (February 2006) and in the acclaimed Movie, AVIDA, but it was not until the media frenzy about the plus size model strutting her curves in lingerie on the catwalk that the entire world stopped and took notice.
Warning — If you are the type of person that becomes faint at heart at the mention of the word ‘FAT’ then this is not the interview for you. However, if you are open-minded, we welcome you to meet Velvet, a pioneer in the size acceptance movement. She’s a model, character, photographer and confident plus size woman that became a household name after walking for Jean Paul Gaultier in lingerie. Every news magazine, blog and forum had a topic dedicated to the “big woman” that commanded the catwalk.
Then came the backlash – the ridicule – and sometimes by the plus size industry! But through it all, Velvet continues to ‘represent.’ I wanted to sit down with this powerhouse for an in depth interview and what I received was a life long experience I will never forget.[Maddy] Are you a model? [Velvet] I think it depends on your definition of modeling. If you consider modeling as being paid and signing a contract then yes I have been modeling. I’ve been paid for shoots, shows and for magazine shoots. However, I don’t necessarily define myself as a model. [Maddy] So how do you define yourself? Who is Velvet? [Velvet] I’m trying to change the face of beauty and what is accepted as beautiful. I want to help change the way people think of beauty. I’m all about size acceptance and diversifying the definition of beauty. Full figured and FAT people need to be in the media like TV, radio, modeling, etc… we are part of this society. [Maddy] How do you feel about the skinny ban? [Velvet] Well I feel like this: what about the short ban? The age ban? The ethnic ban? It’s not really all about skinny – maybe two skinny models won’t make it on the runway this year but there are more models that won’t make it on the runway because they are not tall enough, small enough, young enough.
The skinny ban is just another prejudice so I don’t particular agree with it. I don’t believe you can judge people’s health on appearance. I think that models are perceived to be the “icons” of modern health. It’s insane… I think that what people see needs to change. Like who we see as newscasters, interviewers and people at large in media. They should have older people, fat people and not just include people that fit this certain criteria. No one talks abut this at all they just speak about the runway. The idea behind the skinny ban is good… they want models to be healthy but the reality of how that plays itself out we will have to see.[Maddy] Do you think that the powers that be will keep “Plus Size” models off the runway since they are supposed to be focused on health? [Velvet] Well it definitely did not stop them from putting me on a couple of runways. Ha! Ha! I think it depends on the individual. I think people (designers) don’t want to be dictated to and I feel like they see the skinny ban as a bit hypocritical. I would hope that it would not, but I’ve had people ask me “Do you think you are promoting obesity by you being on the runway?” I think it’s laughable. If what’s on the runway had anything to do with obesity then we would all be emaciated.
The reality is this ‘beauty ethic’ is so difficult and hard to achieve that women including non-models are making themselves sick over it. I don’t believe that people are fat because they are lazy and just eat tons of food. Some people are like me – they tried so hard to achieve this ideal beauty goal and rather than reaching it, you end up destroying your metabolism. I never decided, “Okay I’m going to be fat and not exercise and just eat.”[Maddy] Tell me abut the Galliano show and the Jean Paul Gaultier show. [Velvet] The first show I did was the Galliano show… it was an amazing show because you had tall people, short people, old people and you had regular models and the reaction was amazing. I remember reading that some people thought it was a “freak show”. If you compared the people from the Galliano show with the nearly 7 feet tall, emaciated 14 year old models on the runway we would see that we are much more like the people at large than the women on the runway. The fashion world’s perception of what a freak show is – is “common man”.
I do want to set the record straight about a few things that I have read about the Jean Paul Gauliter show.
I read that they wanted to use the fattest possible person on the runway and that this is why they used me. The truth is that he had a casting for his retrospective so I and a few other girls went for it. My book is strong and I have some cool imagery so I made it past a few castings and actually sat down with him. We got along really well and he liked what I had to say. So instead of having me in the retrospective which is the reason he was looking for a plus size model, he added me to the show.
People think that my being on the runway was an answer to the skinny model ban but in reality it had nothing to do with it. I was never brought in as an answer to the skinny model ban. In my book I have pictures that he really liked and he could see that I was not afraid to show my body. I really do like my body[Maddy] At 300 pounds and a size 28 do you consider yourself healthy? [Velvet] I do consider myself healthy. I’m an avid swimmer I do 100 laps a day when I can get to the pool. I love working-out in the outdoors as well. When I’m in NY I can work out 7 days a week but when I’m in Paris and working it’s hard to get the workout in my schedule. I’m not saying I eat healthy all the time and work out all the time but I’m just a regular person like everyone else. [Maddy] After the Jean Paul Gautier show there was positive feedback and there was negative feedback. There was serious controversy among the plus size industry and the models in particular. One model said to me, she makes plus models look bad. What is your response to this statement? [Velvet] Well I feel she is welcome to her opinion. I think that many feel this way and that is certainly their right. Do I value that opinion? Not when Galliano, French Vogue or Jean Paul Gautier may have a different opinion of me.
Fashion and the idea behind fashion is creativity and the difficulty with fashion is when it gets to be such a regulation that we have lost the essence of what fashion was supposed to be. Fashion should show diversity, uniqueness, creativity and always keeping in mind the beauty within everyone.
There are “Plus models” and there are BBW’s. I don’t consider myself a “plus model” I consider myself more of a character. My body fix was never made for ‘industry standard’ plus modeling, because there is a necessity to have certain measurements. I don’t put plus models down just like I don’t put skinny models down. I do want the plus size industry to know that everything I have done has been to promote “Plus”.[Maddy] Among your many talents, you are also a photographer. How long have you been shooting? [Velvet] Since 1986 — I got my start in Italy. I mostly shot plus models when I was living in NY. I shot Tracey Stern, Liis, Natalie McLaughlin, and Barbara Brickner. I was not afraid to shoot them sexy and edgy and I got some very great images. Not many photographers at the time were shooting “plus” so even back then I was supporting the plus size industry.
When I went back to Paris I kind of got away from models and started to shoot fine art nudes. I feel like everything I have done has been to uplift women in general.[Maddy] Was there a defining moment when you learned to love yourself? [Velvet] I was the last of five kids. I actually grew up being the fat kid in school. My identity as a fat person certainly began in elementary school. Then I was put on a swim team because my mom wanted me to lose some of the weight… As a child I was like “Thanks mom, fat kid in a swimsuit, great idea!” It was torture at first but I got used to it and then I joined track and lost tons of weight.
It was a difficult journey to learn to love me, I watched myself gain weight as a teen and into my young adult years. I would diet but nothing would come off. I would look at pictures at when I was thinner and I would be sad. I questioned myself – how can I learn to accept myself? The thing that I found – I did not appreciate the kudos of beauty when I was thinner. When I was the stunning skinny girl, I passed people waiting on lines at the club and stuff along those lines. I did not realize people were treating me solely on my looks. When I got fatter it was the opposite, I was rejected and lost that power. Having been on both sides of the fence I was able to see how shallow but powerful beauty is.
I searched for places where I could see and associate with other people like me. I wanted to find people who looked like me. BBW Magazine was one of the magazines I subscribed to as well as Dimensions magazine and Radiance. I also visited museums to feel better about my own body. I read books, searched the internet for groups and clubs and found a world of people out there that looked just like me and made me feel better about myself. It was work to accept myself and to learn to love me.[Maddy] What is your advice to women about accepting themselves, reaching their goals and loving their bodies? [Velvet] It’s a hard journey but once you get past it you will look back and look at all the hard work you have done – your great strides — and no one will be able to take that away. Associate yourself with positive people and join acceptance groups. Don’t be afraid to become active in the movement for size acceptance. Look for places where you feel you are being represented and support them. Good things will come your way once you learn to love yourself and not buy into society’s beauty ethic.