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The Sum of Our Parts by Les Delano

The Sum of Our Parts by Les Delano

Modeling is one of the only professions based on physical beauty alone. Unless you are totally irresponsible, if you’ve got those stats and a good face, you can make millions of dollars without anyone knowing a thing about you.

I’m a photographer, and as such I’m excited aesthetically by physical beauty. And I have chosen a field where there are broader standards to the stats, the field of plus size models. They have the height and the face, but their stats can be bigger.

I’m forced to judge women by their parts and I think this is a big problem in society, which is why I did this project. I know we are all so much more than the sum of our stats.

Nine years ago I was looking for a career change and a friend suggested photography.

I had some plus model friends and so tried with them to start. I shot both straight and plus size, but soon specialized in plus models for several reasons; shooting a size 0 teenager is not rocket science, but shooting a size 18, 30 year old requires more skill and vision. And I was appalled how few photographers would shoot plus size models. One even called them “the mooses.” These are gorgeous, gorgeous women who just happen to be bigger than a size 2. So I shot these models the same way I shot straight size models, edgy, high fashion. The models loved it. The clients loved it. I made a career of it.

Only 1% of the population has those ideal stats, meet the brave women on the following pages who agreed to put their stats up for the world to see. Read their stories of what it’s like to live in those stats.

What matters, what’s real beauty, is how we relate to one another, how we help each other, how we stand up for our beliefs.

Here we are. Join us.

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Les Delano…

34-24-34. 5’10”.
Dress size 0-2
Weight 115lb.
The perfect stats in the modeling industry, yet physically atypical among the general female population.

I have always thought I was fat. I have been chubby, lanky, normal, but throughout all of it, I felt I was fat, wrong, unattractive; not right.

I grew up on the Upper East Side of NYC, attending a small private girl’s school. I was a normal sized kid, but when my parents divorced and I was approaching puberty, I began eating a lot in secret to soothe myself and as a result went from normal to fat—fat being fat for my school, which would be slightly overweight by today’s standards. I shunned gym because I felt too big to do sports. I ate tubs of frosting, entire containers of pudding, candy, and donuts, on the way home from school. Although I wasn’t unpopular, and the girls weren’t really mean, I felt like a big lug in a school that had a highly unusual number of budding teen models. I equated skinny with effortless, fun, happy, carefree, smart and popular.

My friends and I shoplifted as teenagers often do, but I got caught and my punishment was being sent to fat camp. I had gone to ballet camp and horseback riding camp for fun, but this was a punishment—I was bad, I was fat, it was the same thing, kill two birds with one stone, get thin and you emerge good. Looking at pictures of myself from that time, I was 13; I was chubby at best. But I felt like the ugliest thing around. Fat camp was actually great because I was one of the thinner girls there, for a change, instead of being the largest.

I grew taller and thinned out towards the end of high school, but I still wore bigger sizes than my super skinny, same height (5’9″) friends, so assumed I was a cow. They weighed 110, 115; I weighed 132. College was a relief, people were normal there and my metabolism had fired up to its blast furnace state where I could eat like a frat boy and stay reasonably thin—I never thought I was thin, though; it’s just in retrospect that I can see how deluded I was. I actually started modeling on the side and while this filled me with a certain amount of glee, (as in, all you girls in high school who thought I was fat, look at me now!) I also felt like an imposter, as I couldn’t understand why anyone would take pictures of me and give me money. I knew (because I was told) that I photographed well, which I translated into—you look like a woofer in person but you have a face the camera loves.

But no matter what, my self-esteem definitely revolves around my size, my looks. It has nothing to do with men, because I have only had good relationships with nice guys who certainly have been nothing but positive about my face and body. I think growing up in a society where beauty is everything has seeped into my consciousness at such a deep level that even though I know better, I’m still susceptible to fits of bad body image. What I see when I look in the mirror is a catalogue of flaws—and I KNOW the pictures in magazines are retouched images of genetically thin teenage girls with tons of make up and light up the wazoo. I KNOW there is an unreachable ideal for a reason—billions of advertising dollars are made off the fact women CAN’T achieve this one-size-fits-all look without THEIR products, creams, pills, surgeries, jeans. Yet even this knowledge can’t save me. I see my gushy belly and my flabby thighs and I think, GOD, is that gross.

I think, like many women, funnel my life dissatisfaction through what is socially acceptable—venting about the body and its issues. I don’t judge other women by the same standards I do myself, thank God, or no one would talk to me. Why do I judge myself so harshly yet not see the same ‘flaws’ in other women? I know I’m smart, I know I’m funny, I know I will help anyone who I can, yet I don’t know that I’m OK. What I look for in others—brains, sense of humor, open mindedness, kindness, and ways of seeing—has no value when applied to myself. I get the most satisfaction helping other people creatively, whether it is taking pictures of novice plus models and seeing how thrilled they are to have pictures that look like they came from a fashion magazine, or writing, or working with actors, or even acting myself, (which I do now and then, just for the sheer relief of getting to be someone else for awhile.)

Yet I still don’t like what I see in the mirror or on the scale. I know my life would be no different if I weighed 125 instead of 145 except my pants would fall down, but there is that lure of thinness, that thinness means you are in control and successful and have achieved what everyone in this society views as a great accomplishment—defying nature. Women have body fat, its how we are BUILT. So if we really try, ostensibly we can defy nature and all look like the one perfect body type we see in the media. Right. Where does that really get you at the end of the day?

And now I’m getting older and I live in Los Angeles, land of the Botox and boob jobs and tight, toned teenaged bodies no matter what your numerical age. Yet I’m slowly gaining strength from the sheer pervasiveness of this Hollywood image—I just don’t care enough to do what it takes to fight nature. I work out, not as much as I should, I eat healthy for the most part but am addicted to Oreos and pizza, cupcakes and bread, use sunscreen and self-tanner but eschew the rest of it. Maybe I’m just incredibly tired of my own stupid inner voice saying, you don’t look right. Maybe I’m finally, finally realizing that the surface don’t mean jack. That these numbers, these tools I’ve used to compare myself to every other woman, are a total waste of time.

I doubt I’ll ever like my cellulite, or belly, or sunspots, but considering, I look pretty decent with a minimum of effort and I’m far more grateful for that then I was in my teens and 20’s. Everybody has physical flaws, you can’t control nature, but you can choose what kind of person you want to be, what matters to you.  It’s not a victory, by any means, but it’s a start.

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Artemis…

My name is Artemis. I am a makeup artist and the Beauty Editor for Plus Model Mag.  I love what I do, and I love who I am.

Growing up, I did not feel like I was a large girl.  Somehow, I managed not to be preoccupied with THESE thoughts. I was fuller than other girls, but between sizes 10-14, I just felt normal. What was more interesting to me was that I actually weighed more than other girls who wore the same size as me.  And, I was considerably stronger than most of the girls and boys in my class. I could pick up almost anything heavy without much effort. I would arm-wrestle any boy in junior high, and beat him. I was strong, and I was also very flexible.

I have never believed that I was meant to be 125 lbs or something that small. I think that I would look hungry. In junior high, I was a size 12 at 187lbs.  When I was married in 2001, I had been 220lbs and a size 16.  I am a size 24 at 290 lbs now. I have always been fascinated by weight and how it looks different on people. I have known women who may weigh 50lbs less than me, but wear the same dress size.

What I now consider my excess weight began to creep on during college. My body changed. In my early 20’s, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and Insulin Resistance, which explained consistent weight gain, among other things that had been occurring to my body. Unfortunately, I was given no advice as to what to do about it. At 215 lbs, and a size 16, I had slightly high blood pressure, and therefore was not given any hormonal treatment. I was simply expected to lose weight. But alas, it is not always that simple. I felt beautiful regardless of “needing” to lose weight. I wore sexy dresses, high heels, and strutted my stuff like Mae West.
In my life I have dieted many times. And each time I joined Weight Watchers, I managed to gain more weight. I think the failure in that was the idea of a diet, as opposed to creating a healthier lifestyle which I have managed to create now in my thirties, and am still working on. I have never believed myself to be in need of losing weight, to look better, or to fit in. I belly dance, I climb stairs, I walk around my neighborhood for hours at times, I have an active sex life with my husband, I laugh all the time, I have many friends, and yes, I love myself. I believe in a healthy, well balanced diet, and always strive to achieve it.  The Greeks say “pan metron ariston”, “Everything in Moderation”.  This is sound advice.

Most of my family from my moms’ side has weight issues. Some are obese, while others have suffered eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia. The role of food in a Greek family is huge. It’s a time for everyone to gather and talk.  We have big dinner parties with our boisterous family, all centralized around eating meze and main courses, while talking. This is why I love to throw dinner parties. For me, there is joy connected to tasting good food. Unfortunately, some associate guilt with this too.

My confidence and attitude have always been admired. No one in my family ever dared call me fat. I may have blown a fuse! It’s that Aries temper of mine!  Sometimes my mom, dad, an aunt or uncle would ask me when I would lose some weight because I am such a beautiful girl. My mother, who has always been a larger woman, was more understanding of my being overweight. One time at the dinner table, my dad wondered, how my sister, who was thinner, could have an eating disorder, while the one who should have a problem with the way she looks was me (because I was bigger). Needless to say, my mother cut him off. Unfortunately, my dad has a habit of putting his foot in his mouth when it comes to subjects like these. He does not mean to be malicious, but rather he is trying to  state something that he thinks is true, and thinks others think is true as well.  In trying to make a point, his naïveté’ is sometimes hurtful- like a backwards compliment.

I find that images on television and in magazines send a false message to not only young girls, but grown women as well. Eating disorders have been on the rise among middle aged women, trying to fit into the ideals of Desperate Housewives.  A photographer I know was asked by a friend of hers, a teacher, to demonstrate how she “fixes up” a model using Photoshop. She received countless letters from the boys and girls in the class thanking her and telling her that they feel better about themselves, pledging that they would not idolize what they see in magazines because now they know that these are unrealistic images. I think a demonstration like this should be in the curriculum at the junior high school level because it is such an impressionable age. I applaud her for doing it.

I believe that the best way that I can promote size acceptance, is to be confident in myself. Being secure in yourself shows that you believe that you have value as a person. It means that people should hear what you have to say, because you are important to listen to. I have always strived to be an example of self confidence. I believe in me.

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Svaboda Sisters…

We stand next to our skinniest friend and feel equal.  Like any woman, we expect to be judged on our entire beings, not solely the size or shape of our bodies.

Although we have been plus size our entire life, it was never an issue we really dealt with until we started SVOBODA (www.SVOBODAStyle.com), a line of clothing for all women (including plus size women), and realized how large an issue it is for so many women out there.  The difference between our story and those that struggle with their body image is our parents (and entire family, really).  They played the key role, far more than the media ever could have played, in building healthy self-esteem.  Growing up, we were always told we were beautiful, and we were never pressured to lose weight.  We were raised to be charming, but tough – so even at school we didn’t get a lot of heat, and at 5’11 by about 8th grade, you could say there were easier targets for our peers.  We were given control of our lives.  We were encouraged to “create” ourselves and the life we desired through hard work and perseverance.  When we failed, which all kids do, it wasn’t because we were stupid, lazy or fat – but because someone else was better equipped, prepared or brought their “A” game, while we brought our “B” game.  Additionally, our parents were good role models.  Our mother is beautiful, smart, positive, powerful (and if you must know, plus size).  Our father loves and adores her!  Our parents accomplished a lot together – they have a successful marriage, business and family –  they have it all –so, we don’t expect anything less of ourselves.

We realize society is occasionally very cruel, but we also know we control our own minds, the contents of our minds and the perspectives of ourselves.  We find it crazy how many amazing women put their lives on hold or feel incomplete because of their weight.  Nothing is sadder than to see an amazing woman that doesn’t know she is amazing.  This is the woman that takes on all of these roles and responsibilities, but refuses to give herself any credit.  She is a wife and lover, a mother, sister, daughter, and friend to many, often she is someone’s boss or coworker, but all she thinks about is losing weight – and how much better her life will be when she is skinnier.  She chases some ideal that is in no way ideal – how many models have to die before we realize there is something wrong with their lifestyle?  Women want to be like Giselle, but don’t stop to think Giselle is worth millions and millions of dollars (pretty much for her looks alone), because she is extremely rare people.  Plus size women (and all women for that matter) need to treat ourselves a little better.  Every single day of our lives is a day we can’t get back.  We can use each day to see everything that we are, dream of everything we want to become and enjoy the journey; or we can use this day to focus on the one thing we aren’t – thin.

How do you get started? You create your own individual style. You invest in your appearance. Sometimes that’s investment is literal, but the major investment is emotional. It’s about attitude. It’s saying: “This is my body. And instead of trying to hide it, I am going to rock it.”  How often does the word “fat” flash in your mind when you see a kick-ass plus size woman dressed to the nines -a girl who has a true understanding of her beauty and value to society? Never! You think – DAMN RIGHT GIRL! WORK IT!

We really believe style gets a person a lot further than even we would like to admit.  Life is tough out there, but good clothes do ease the pain.

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Maggie…

As an Asian American, you rarely hear about girls who are “plus sized”… I really think it’s almost a matter of denial in our culture. Asian women are supposed to fit in the “cute china doll” stereotype and if you do not meet those standards you are ignored altogether. Growing up I never had an Asian American plus size role model to look to be an example of how to deal with size issues. So I’m here to say that we do exist and there are more of us than you might think.

Growing up Chinese-Japanese-Italian, I really didn’t have an issue with my body size until I hit Junior High. That is when I noticed that I was much taller than all the girls (not to mention boys) in my class. For P.E. one Friday afternoon our teacher took us to the pool and all the girls were talking about how much they weighed and my girlfriends were saying, “Oh my God, I’m so fat I weigh 90 lbs…” I knew full and well that at the time I weighed 136 lbs., and I thought to myself “well, if she is fat, then what the hell am I?” When they turned to me and asked how much I weighed, I realized I had to weigh more than 90 lbs because I was clearly taller than all of the girls so I came up with an arbitrary 115 lbs. This incident sticks out in my mind as a pivotal moment in my life as a plus size girl because this was really the first time that I was made to “feel bad” about my size.

My inner struggle was more to do with my cultural acceptance. When I was in 8th grade I was 5’7″ and size14. First of all, it is quite a freak of nature to see an Asian woman who is over 5’4″ let alone size a size 10+. I remember going to Japan with my parents and literally having people just stop and stare at me… making me feel very self-conscious about my size. I can also remember going to a department store in Japan to look for some pajamas and the sales person telling my mom “we don’t carry ANYTHING CLOSE to her size”. I was so humiliated.

At this point, my life took a turn for the worse. I would definitely say the pressures of the public conception of beauty got to me. I began to obsess over body image. I spent hours looking at magazines, MTV, soap operas, TV shows, etc. for examples of what I wanted to look like. My ideal was thin, light hair, anything but brown eyes; I went through the colored contacts phase. I started my horrific cycle of trying every diet on the market. I went from sucking down every diet shake known to man, to eating literally 10 soybeans for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I would still eat with my parents at normal meal times because I was so ashamed I needed to diet at all, and of course I didn’t lose any weight because of that.

It really didn’t help that my Grandfather took me aside and said, “Maggie, I’m not happy with your size, you are way too fat and you can’t have any more ice cream.” And he then proceeded to scoop out a big bowl of vanilla ice cream and ate it in front of me. Then there were the other family members who would verbally assess what was on my plate. When I would reach for another serving I would hear “Oh I wouldn’t do that if I were you”. The more I had limits put on me by either family members or myself, the more I would eat.

A lot of the pressure stemmed from my mom’s own issue with her weight, because she used to be small. She continuously gained weight though; I can remember times when she was talking to her friends and saying, “oh, I’m going to drop 30 pounds.” Subconsciously, it had an impact on me—” something’s wrong with the way mom looks, she’s not happy.” When she got up to a size 16 she was mortified. She would say. “Oh my God, a size 16, nobody should be a size 16”. Pretty much all my life after college I was a size 16. And in the back of my head, mom said nobody should be a size 16.

Then there was the shopping agony. When taking me shopping for clothes, my mom would literally not want to buy me anything unless I fit into a certain size. She would be mortified if she saw me walking over to the 14-16 rack of clothes. She would hiss at me, “why are you looking over there?”  She would pick cute clothing from an 8-10 rack.  She would literally buy me stuff that was much too small, saying, “Oh, you’ll fit in this soon.” The clothes just hung in my closet.

By the time I was a freshman in high school I was 5’8″ and a size 18. Everything I owned had elastic in the waistband or was some sort of spandex material. I always wore pantyhose to prevent chafing between my legs and NEVER wore jeans because they made me feel like I was stuffed into a wet suit. I enrolled in a boarding school in Northern California, which happened to double as a Health Institute. I chose to attend this school purely because I wanted to be independent and thought it would be fun.

The first year I was there I dropped about 30 lbs and grew about 2 inches. I felt better about myself but I was still dealing with the issue that I was the largest one at the school! I couldn’t seem to get myself any smaller than a size 14. I would compare myself to the 2 other Asian girls at the school who were 5’3″ and all of a size 2/4. It really didn’t help that the Asian boys were 5’6″ and about a 26 inch waist. I just never seemed to fit in. I remember going to the Gap during one of our town trips and fitting into a size 12. I was so excited and came out of the dressing room to tell my friend. She responded with “I got in these size 8 jeans!” So even my moment of personal glory was overshadowed by my friend’s smaller size.

When I got down to a size 12, I started dealing with the pressures of interest from the opposite sex. I remember not knowing how to deal with guys who were interested in me. It overwhelmed me because it was such a novelty and therefore I turned to food once again for comfort. After I put on some weight, the boys’ interest seemed to fade. I almost felt relieved not to have to deal with that pressure.

In college I finally seemed to bloom. I realized that what I had was actually special and not freakish, as I once thought. When I would meet other Asian Americans the first thing that would come out of their mouth was “Woah! What are you?” I was so tempted to respond ” homo sapien, female, what are YOU?” Although I learned to love my height in college, I still had issues with my body size and curves.

That all changed when I met Heather. I remember when she walked in I felt like the sun was following her. She was a fully size 18 and confidently curvy. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her and knew that I absolutely had to talk to her after class. I introduced myself to her and we pretty much have been best friends since. She played an invaluable role in my life, helping me gain acceptance of my body size. Before Heather, I had no idea there were clothing stores that catered to the plus size woman. I remember shopping for the first time in Lane Bryant with her and feeling so relieved because I now knew that there was life after Macy’s size 14.

I now know that my body was designed to be plus size. The smallest I have ever gotten down to was a 10 and that was literally for all of 30 min when I had food poisoning and the flu at the same time! There will always be something that I will want to improve upon as far as my body is concerned, but size will not be one of them. Exercise has become one of my daily routines and really “drug of choice”. After all the diets I’ve put myself through, I know nothing works like a little aerobic exercise to keep you healthy.

I feel that life is way too short to be caught up in keeping up with the stereotypes of the Asian OR American Joneses. Rather I’m choosing to focus on my individuality and say to myself, “how can I change these crazy mindsets?” I want to be a role model for those bigger Asian women who feel like a fish out of water in a culture that celebrates petite stature across the board.

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Chenese…

I am a plus size model and actress and I’m also a plus size beauty queen. The beauty pageant is Miss Plus America pageant which is like Miss America but for women sized 14 and up and in 2003 I was the first woman to hold that title. I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in entertainment in 2004. The idea came totally out of the blue, and was off the track of my original plan of becoming a lawyer. But I figured I wanted to live life with no regrets, so without any local family members, industry contacts, and the odds against me, I moved out on faith to Los Angeles to live my dreams. Everything I have accomplished is from my own self marketing and hard work. As a model that doesn’t fit the industry stats I’ve been able to model for Torrid and become a spokesperson for Sizeappeal. As an actress I appeared on a #1 show on BET “Hell Date” and gained an entire new following not related the plus industry. My career naturally evolved in to entrepreneurship, motivational speaking, and hosting, which were not part of the original plans. As a result I’ve produced an annual event for Hollywood NOW called “Love Your Body Day”. I have also produced the “Flawless” Calendar, spoken at several universities, and am the host of “PLUS Model Radio”.

I’m very confident with my body image, I’m not trying to lose weight or alter it in any way, I’m confident just the way I am and I attribute that to my parents, especially my mother. She never belittled me or made me feel that I was less than perfect and I think she instilled that in me and I carried it on to womanhood. I like myself as a compete package; I have nice legs, breast, face, smile, hair. My appearance is very important to me and I feel like I am a very attractive woman and I have no problems getting attention from the opposite sex. I keep my hair nice, wear figure flattering outfits, and I keep myself up really well, and am very confident.

In high school I was in the ‘in crowd’, I was popular, my boyfriend was on the football team, etc., so I didn’t have a reason to think there was anything wrong with me. I wore a size 18 my senior year, and now I wear a 20/22 so I haven’t changed that much. I personally think that kids are more discriminatory regarding class. I was an overweight teenager but I had all the latest fashion and name brand clothing. I went to the beauty salon every week and wore all the latest styles. I had a cool car, lived in a nice house were I could throw great parties and was outgoing and attractive. I had so many things in my favor that the size issue wasn’t that dramatic. I was still a socially acceptable plus size; if I was a size 30 maybe I would not have been accepted as easily, but it wouldn’t have been impossible. As a matter of fact I was the only plus size girl in the “in crowd” and I was the “leader” of my clique.

I think culture plays a big part into the way you perceive yourself—not only race, but also region, because I’m from the South where particularly with race, the European standard of beauty would be somebody really small and skinny but the African American standard of beauty would include somebody with a nice butt and nice breasts—curvier. Both race and region are more accepting to fuller figures because what is ideal to us are curves. In this entire culture, I think there is definitely more pressure for a white girl to be super skinny and have the “all-American” blonde hair, blue-eyed look. In the African American community, the perfect figure would be an hourglass or coke bottle with a large breast and behind, like Beyonce. Generally African American men don’t find thin girls more attractive then the “thick” ones. Now “thick” doesn’t necessarily mean overweight, but a voluptuous figure is appreciated and admired more. I personally don’t have any African American friends with eating disorders, though I do have lots of friends that yo-yo diet and take dangerous diet pills, but the ideal weight they are trying to get to is still healthier and more curvaceous than a size zero.

I will say, when I first tried to model it was kind of discouraging because I’m too big to be a plus size model. Just like straight size models are smaller than the average women, plus size models are smaller than the average plus size woman so sometimes they are kind of average, normal size more than true plus size. So when I first asked for advice how to get started, I was told maybe it’s not for you, maybe you should do commercial modeling instead because anyone of any size can do commercial modeling. That’s not what I wanted to do I didn’t let it discourage me, I just decided to market myself and carry myself just like an agency girl would. Today people always ask me “who is your agent” and I’m saying I’m self represented because I have the website, the pictures, the cards; I could just fool you by being so professional that you wouldn’t know I wasn’t signed by an agency.

It’s not always so easy, though. I never get anything like leading lady roles. They would never consider me for a character that is meant for Halle Berry; I don’t know why they wouldn’t but that’s just Hollywood for you so sometimes I just submit for stuff that’s not even my type anyway. Sometimes they don’t really know what they are looking for; I remember Whoopi Goldberg said somewhere that she has submitted for roles for Caucasian women and I guess that’s how somebody saw and cast her. This business is so stereotypical; they don’t even want to look at you, you just have to show them you can do it and prove yourself.

You know, to some men I have the “ideal” body. Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

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Mayra…

I used to weigh about 310lbs. To be honest with you I didn’t feel that big. It wasn’t a problem; I have way more of a problem with my weight now than I did when I was 300 pounds. Back then I wasn’t into guys, I was more about my family, more about my girlfriends and stuff until one day I looked at photos and I did a comparison with my body and my friends’ bodies and I was just like, oh my God, I am just too big! I decided to do something about it then. I had heard my whole life “oh you should lose weight you’re such a pretty girl.” So I stopped eating out, stopped drinking soda, stopped eating candy and junk for a whole year. I lost the most weight my first year and then after the first year I became a gym addict. It got a little out of hand, I was working out for hours a day and eating very little, so I had to drop back a bit and become more sensible. That last 20 lbs was murder to lose.

After I lost all that weight I started developing a sense of fashion and style. I became interested in modeling because I was tall and liked clothes. I started researching modeling agencies and I noticed that some of them were thin, but not super crazy thin and that’s when I learned there was such a thing as plus size modeling. Plus modeling is a weird name for it, because there are actually girls thinner than me and they make a living from plus size modeling at a size 8 or 10. To society, to people that aren’t in the industry, we look like normal girls, even a lot thinner than most women out there. Yet we’re considered plus size, not normal sized. I do think it’s a little ridiculous because straight size models are just too, too, too thin and I feel like it gives younger girls, even children, a bad perspective on what they should look like.

I have like a really close friend of mine that’s super skinny I mean this girl must weigh about like a 105 pounds and she’s about 5’8″ you know so she looks like runway material, and of course, I look at her and I’m like that looks so cute on her, her jeans, her legs are so much thinner her waist is tiny and I wish that I could be that thin. What’s funny is that SHE looks up to me, she tells me how great everything looks on me and I’m like, are you nuts, look at you, you’re so skinny everything looks perfect on you. She used to be even thinner and she’s trying to gain weight. You can’t win! She’s been really supportive of me, though. And I can’t hate her because she’s naturally skinny, you should see this girl hog down food like there’s no tomorrow. Three Big Macs in a row, I’m not kidding.

Depending on what mood I’m in, sometimes there’s times where I’ll look at myself and I feel normal and then there’s times when I looking the mirror and I’m like oh my God! I just feel so big! Maybe because I used to really BE big, I still feel that way, I don’t see myself as I am now, but still, most of the time, I feel fat. Honestly, if I wasn’t doing plus size I’d like to go down to about 135lbs. I like Mischa Barton, I think she has a killer body and I think she weighs about 135 at my height. It’s not even about being thin, because even though she is a beautiful girl she’s actually really skinny, even I can see that. Maybe she weighs less than 135?

I don’t know why I’d like to be that skinny. I can’t lose any more weight if I want to do the plus modeling, so I’m ok with what I weigh for now, pretty much. I must admit I do struggle with it a lot, though, like, telling myself every day “its ok, you don’t look that bad now”. For my ideal, though, I’d lose another 30 lbs from where I am now. I knew if I lost more weight I’d be right in the middle where I wouldn’t be thin enough for straight modeling or big enough for plus. It was either I lose 50+ pounds and become a straight size or pretty much stay at where I am at, though, ironically I had to actually gain 10 pounds to do the plus modeling so right now it’s rough for me because I was used to being a little bit thinner than what I am now. For me to have to gain some weight after working so hard to lose it was difficult; your jeans don’t fit and you feel fat and it’s not a good feeling.

I think the media has a lot to do with why I don’t like feeling fat. For instance, in magazine makeovers, on talk shows, on TV shows, if they want to bring someone who’s not a popular, cool girl, who’s not pretty and sexually attractive they’re going to bring out a big girl.  So that triggers in your mind she’s not cool, she’s not pretty, she’s not popular—why? Because she’s fat.  It’s so insidious, its everywhere.

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Tressa…

Being a plus size woman has helped me grow and shaped my worldview in many ways. I wouldn’t trade it for a size 4 in a million years… maybe a size 12… but never a size 4!

One of my fondest memories is laying in my mom’s lap after having eaten a great Thanksgiving dinner and passing out…but feeling the warmth of her skin and the softness of her squishy belly as I collapsed into dreamland. Had she been “skinny” would my experience have been the same? Who knows? My mom unfortunately passed away two years ago from breast cancer. She was a heavy lady but she was absolutely gorgeous and she was so beautiful inside and out that her weight had nothing to do with her appeal, her sex appeal, her aura, the way she carried herself, her confidence. She was my first example of just being comfortable as much as you can with who you are. Sure, there were things she wanted to change but she didn’t dwell on them.

In my in my circle there’s a term “kind of thick” or “like a brick house” and it’s like you can be heavy, you can be on the thick side if you still have some curves in you, you still have some definition to your body. Then you’re considered more “thick” than you are considered super fat. I think that all in all it’s very unfair to be labeled by just one word, because you can be a very, very, big, heavy women that society would consider morbidly obese but you’re a very beautiful women and if they look past all of that they will see the woman under there. Or you can be drop dead gorgeous brick house with the perfect body and you’re a terrible person inside so I don’t think a physical description should sum up someone’s character that way.

I think that personally the African American community probably accepts being thick a little more, because the food that we eat, it’s the style of clothes we wear. I am surrounded by men that like a ‘little extra meat’ on their woman’s bones. I know back in our African heritage there were women of all shapes and sizes; there were absolutely not all super thin women in Africa, there were a variety of sizes and that’s kind of trickled down through the ages. It’s still in our culture and in our blood. And food is important in our culture. If a woman is overweight, most men don’t judge as harshly as in white culture because they know what that means in terms of who she probably is.

Specifically in my community, in my household, food was a way to bring people together. It was a wonderful, joyous time where you had camaraderie and you could talk about all the things that were concerning you and you could joke and run around. It’s a beautiful thing and while you are doing all these things you are eating, and it’s not like you are nibbling on carrots like a rabbit. Your Grandmother made macaroni and cheese and turkey and ribs and all of these things and you’re not particularly thinking about your calorie intake at the time. All you know is you were surrounded by people that you love and love you and that you are having the time of your life. People, do that on a regular basis, they have Sunday barbecues, they have picnics out in the park, and they go over to Grandma’s house after church. Now, doing that continuously will put weight on you eventually but also doing that continuously forms your character; it makes you a loving person, it makes you a giving person, it teaches you how to cook, it teaches you how to reach out to people. So in judging a woman just because she is heavy, you don’t know all of the things that you are missing underneath, the unconditional love, the caring, giving that is underneath all of that fat.

Overall, I enjoy the skin I’m in. Somehow, being “heavy” adds a sensibility to your spirit. It humbles you… just as quickly as it cripples you. It serves as a constant reminder that your body isn’t what it should be, but also provides the reminder that you are not draw to the petty things around you. I think when you grow up and you’re not the cute beautiful girl that’s the head of the cheerleading team and all that other stuff you don’t have the arrogance that I think a real pretty girl growing up has. You start to appreciate different things around you and different aspects of people around you because you’re not constantly flooded with these compliments about your appearance, like, “ooh girl your body is fine.” It takes you to a different place. You start learning people internally, you start being more observant, you start listening and having more of that life experience other than just going through life knowing your looks are going to get you whatever you want. You have to start digging and finding other ways of making yourself happy, other ways of communication because society is so vain. I find that in a lot of heavy women there just genuinely wonderful and nice people because they haven’t had the advantages, they haven’t the leg up or the guy that will just buy them a car cause they’re hot; they’ve had to work, they’ve had to suffer, they’ve had to struggle and all of that builds character. When you have a strong, positive character, there’s usually humility behind that… a desire to help others and, and to please others. And that’s what’s really attractive.

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Wilmary…

I remember being about 7 years old when a friend of my mom asked me “how old are you? 10?” I said “no, I’m 8.” She replied “you’re a big girl to be only 8 years old.” At the time I felt confused.  Even as a child I wanted to let her know that I was just perfect for an 8 year old.

My name is Wilmary Rodriguez. I’m a 25 year old plus size woman, mom, daughter and friend.  I was born in New York. I come from a Spanish “Caribbean” family.  My mom is from the Dominican Republic; my dad is from Puerto Rico.  Great Caribbean mix huh? I grew up in the Bronx, went to school there, and still living there?.  I’ve always been a big girl ever since I was born at 8 lbs 9oz….

Growing up had its challenges.  In my teens I was very insecure about my body, to the point that I didn’t want to come out of my house because I felt everyone would stare at my shape.  I was getting comments/complements from men in the streets that I felt were unnecessary and made me uncomfortable. I was a size 18 back then; my thighs were and still are largest part of my body and boy were they annoying! Finding jeans that fit was tough, I always had to go up a size to make space for my “piggies” and trips to adventure parks were always a hassle, because I couldn’t squeeze my thighs into the rides!  I hated riding on the bus to school, riding on the train, walking to places…I didn’t want to be around people, period. I was terribly self-conscious.

Getting together at family events was sometimes uncomfortable; there was always that “tia” (Aunt) who recommended I should lose some weight and felt ‘sorry’ for me because I had a beautiful face but needed to shed some pounds…ugh!  My mom’s side of the family is Dominican; back on that beautiful island being big fat, plus-size– whatever you want to call it–is considered unattractive and unhealthy.  The majority of women there are very concerned about their weight and how they look so they are constantly on diets or struggling to maintain a desirable weight.  My family has adopted that mentality.  There is no “plus size” media representation at all in Dominican Republic, therefore women of all ages are forced to suffer with same the stereotypically thin media images as American women.

I became part of an internet social club a year ago whose main members are based in NY and The Dominican Republic.  From this social page a member based in The Dominican Republic created a group called Big Beautiful Woman which was inspired by me, my shape, look and attitude. The group grew so fast he decided to create a special social page which embraces women who are larger than the media norm and celebrates their beauty. It has created a community where women can support each other and are free to express their ideas and problems, while boosting each other’s self esteem. To be the inspiration of this page and see the outcome is awesome.  It has changed the lives of many women who were prisoners of the ideal body image and given them a place where they could not only be accepted, but celebrated, for their size.

I’m a proud mom of a 6 year old boy and being pregnant changed my body completely, I’m curvier, my shape is better defined—it’s a total change and I actually like it better than I did before.

I’m glad there are plus models to represent real women, but even within that industry it’s a little unrealistic at times. Some agencies want models who are no more that a size 10-12 for plus modeling. Size 10-12 on a 5’10” inch woman is actually pretty thin. It’s annoying when I open the mail and get the latest fashions from a plus size franchise with models who don’t fit in the clothes because they are too small for it. I prefer to see real plus size models—size 16, 18, etc if the clothes are made for plus size women.

I remember when I took hold of my first Plus Woman Magazine…WOW! Models were no less than a size 16, I was amazed and felt proud.  Then and there my inspiration of becoming a plus model began.  A few years after I bought my first plus size woman magazine I was making baby steps into the plus modeling world with an appearance in FIGURE magazine in 2005. The news was unbelievable; I went as a fill in for a shoot but was never told I would appear on the July Issue of that year! The experience was amazing and unforgettable. In 2007 I was the cover model for the June issue of SKORCH Magazine. To me it was a total honor; for them to give me the chance to appear on one of their covers even with my relative lack of experience was amazing.   Plus Model Magazine gave me the opportunity of experiencing my first editorial also in 2007, appearing in their August issue. Right now I’m working on my portfolio eager to create a good presentation of what I can do and who I am so that I can take part in future projects.

At this stage of my life, I feel motivated to start planting my ideas.  I’ve been working on creating a project that will encourage women of all shapes to love their bodies and feel sexy and secure about themselves.

So finally… I’m still “Gordita” (fat) and I sure don’t care what anyone thinks of my big thighs and my little roll of “chichos. I’ve been very grateful for what I’ve overcome thanks to my shape.  I love my body, am proud of my “Spanish curves”.   I’ve learned to love my body; it’s my flag of independence.

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Deb Malkin…

I grew up as a “fat” kid, although when I look back at pictures of myself as a child I see an average sized body. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to grow up without constant scrutiny about my body. I wonder if I would have ever yo-yo dieted in the extreme ways that I did. I wonder if I could have learned to dance without feeling self conscious all the time.

Sometimes I wish I could turn back the clock and get back all the time, money and emotional currency that I spent on dieting, but I can’t. I learned a lot about myself and the world through that kind of suffering. I want to live my life surrounded by people who are fierce and sexy and dare to live life without apologizing for their body. That is the world I want to be immersed in everyday. Thank goodness for the amazing and courageous people I’ve met in the size acceptance movement. I’ve learned how to say no to shame. I’ve learned to fight again systems that seek to humiliate and profit off of promoting self hatred. I was told and began to believe that I’m beautiful and deserving of love.

It’s taken me the majority of my life to 1. stop waiting to lose weight before following my dreams. 2. stop apologizing for being different from the dominant culture and 3. stop caring so much about what other people think about me or my size. I realize that I am the only one responsible for the happiness in my life and it’s not about the number on a scale, it’s about fighting to love myself and help spread these same messages. What does it mean to have love for ourselves in the face of so much pressure to lose weight? How can we give each other the essential message that it’s ok to be who we are, without feeling like we have to compete with or tear down other women?

Through Re/Dress NYC I have the amazing privilege to witness beautiful people all day long, having fun with fashion, pushing their own comfort zones, trying out new looks and feeling good about themselves. I’ve had women, who’ve stopped caring and stopped trying on clothing because it’s been so painful, be able to relax and become playful again. I would love Re/Dress NYC to not only be a place where you can find a great dress or top at a great price, but also a place of fun, social connection and harmony.

In a recently workshop called Body Love Wellness that we hosted in the store, we spoke about the ways we can honor our bodies, and find avenues to health and well-being that are contrary to the mainstream “diet + fail” methods that are all around us. Golda Poretsky, the workshop leader spoke about investigating what we find nourishing in not only food but in our lives. It was a wonderful conversation to be a part of and I’m excited to finally have a space to kick-start more of these type of conversations. Building and owning Re/Dress NYC feels like the next chapter in my story of healing and loving my body.

PHOTO CREDITS

All images by Les Delano except for Wilmary and Deb Malkin which are Luke Jones

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