I Was Also Mistaken For Plus-Size at Size 6*
In their recent plus-size issue, Glamour Magazine lumped Amy Schumer in with several other beautiful, talented, ubiquitous women who also happened to be plus-sized. Gorgeous, talented, massively successful women like Melissa McCarthy and Ashley Graham. Amy wasn't having any of it and took exception with being categorized as plus-size at a "size 6 or 8". (And also, incidentally, with the term "plus-size" itself.) Glamour #sorry/ not-sorry-ed her with a weird lawyerly apology, claiming they never specifically called Amy plus-sized.
Glamour's response was more or less the equivalent of "sorry you're so sensitive."
It's an awful way to apologize.
Like most reasonable human beings in this country, I'm a huge fan of Amy Schumer's. Her tweets about Glamour featuring her in a category she doesn't feel she fits in, and without notifying her first, particularly struck me, not only because they revealed how painful women continue to feel it is being labeled "plus-size", but also because of her innocence about an industry she's been dabbling in. And by dabbling I mean shooting magazine covers and her semi-nude shoot for the Pirelli Calendar. It's fair to say those shoots could be considered modeling, and modeling has its own set of terms and mores that maybe Ms. Schumer wasn't familiar with.
What this incident has made clear, is that Amy, with her unique beauty and voice, doesn't really understand the fashion industry, which deals in a mostly anonymous flesh trade. It was almost inevitable that the two worlds— her powerfully vocal one and their nakedly objectifying one—would finally collide. At least, that collision is now creating some dialogue-inducing friction, because, in this case, somehow both sides are right.
Amy is plus-size, because in the fashion industry plus-size starts at size 8.
Or maybe even a 6.
When I started modeling in New York, I was a solid size 6 and happy with it. I hadn't planned on modeling; it just happened. When I got my actor's headshots, the photographer asked me to model. I posted those pics on one of those sites always casting for misogynistic (but paying) jobs calling for "model types" and from there continued to work regularly. At first, I preferred modeling to temping or waitressing and learned about posing and printing out images for a modeling book as I went along, never really thinking of myself as a model, but always like a latter-day Gloria Steinem pulling one over on Playboy. However, in my undercover capacity as an actress dabbling in modeling myself, I learned something surprising at New York Bridal Fashion Week: in the fashion industry, a size 6 was borderline to maybe plus-size.
I'd booked a runway show at the famous Algonquin Hotel for Marimo Bridal, a show that combined what the modeling industry calls "straight" size models with plus-size models. Plus or straight, we all traipsed down the runway wearing flowing white dresses, or in my case, tripped. (They had to edit one of my gowns out for that reason, which is why I only model two versus the other models' three in the youtube video.) I imagined what the ghost of Dorothy Parker, no doubt still lurking around the Algonquin, and like Amy Schumer another generation's acid-tongued feminist wit, would have had to say about my fish-out-of-water performance in her famous lair, and I laughed off my graceless stumble.
After the show, industry people weren't concerned with my walk, though. Instead, they weren't sure which side of the show's line I fell on—was I plus or straight-size? I was surprised but not offended. Later, both camps (straight and plus-size models) ended up spending the weekend bonding between the smaller shows we gave in a hotel suite for private boutique orders, and I learned a lot about the plus-size modeling world from those gorgeous girls, several of whom have continued to be good friends to this day. Hearing my complaints about being pressured to diet and whittle myself down to an impossible size 2, the plus-size girls encouraged me to gain a little extra weight instead.
"The size 8 plus-size models get all the work," they told me, wistfully. "They just add a little padding to their hips."
In the fashion industry, plus-size starts at a size 8.
At that time in my life, I still wanted to be an actor, and I was often rehearsing plays no one came to see. Certainly, no one was paying me to be in them. I was living on twenty bucks a day in New York City. Eating more was actually outside my purview unless I started scarfing down McDonald's, a plan that didn't appeal. Plus, I'd always been a 6. Even after two kids (see below), I went back to that size within six months. It's where my body wants to be. So I didn't follow their suggestion, but I also wasn't offended.
I grew up with a Haitian stepmother who, in that inimitable manner of all immigrants to our PC shores, once bluntly asked me at 12-years-old why it was white women aged so badly. I thought about it a lot, but all I could ever deduce was that most of the white women I knew, barring my second-wave feminist mother, were always dieting to a ridiculous degree.
"Avoid pineapple; it can be very fattening." "Careful of apples! They're full of calories." These are the kind of things I've only ever heard white women say. Of course my Black friends and family care about fitness and healthy-eating, too. In fact, my stepmother went back to school to study nutrition, but I've never heard any of them take it to that extreme place, or act as if that extreme place is totally normal.
As for me, I continued modeling, until I booked a campaign at a hair salon so famous you've definitely heard of it. The photographer booked me, but the salon coordinator immediately made it clear I wouldn't have made the cut had she done the selecting.
"Do you think you can fit into this skirt? It's our biggest one, " she asked me at the shoot, her voice dripping with disdain. It was a 4, and unfortunately, at that time, I'd begun to diet non-stop. I could easily fit into a 4, just as Anti whittles herself down in a now cringeworthy bit from The Devil Wears Prada. I put it on, but she didn't look pleased at the way my hips flared the turquoise pencil skirt's fit. Still, I also have quite a head of hair on me. I could see her making the calculation before she said it aloud, as if her cruelty had given me access to her inner thoughts.
"Don't bother putting makeup on her; we'll just shoot the back of her head," she quipped. Even though I'd shrunk down to a size 2/4, it still wasn't enough.
I realized then nothing would ever be enough.
That's the pool of fashion industry sharks Amy Schumer has been dipping her toe into with her modeling shoots. No wonder she finally got bitten. As for me, at one time, modeling might have seemed preferable to collating pages under florescent lights or tumbling down a flight of stairs while carrying seven empty plates of veal parmigiana. (That really happened; I have the moves of a heroine from a bad romantic comedy.) But the pressure to erase myself finally became too unbearable and invaded other endeavors. It's pretty hard to create art when you're physically and spiritually starving.
Ultimately, I hope this incident reveals how far the fashion industry has to go, even with their recent, sickening pretense of pandering to the concept of pretending to appreciate women of all sizes. Or even better, maybe one day, they'll actually realize how ridiculous, subjective, and meaningless these labels are.
Also, apples are delicious.
*Previously published at XO Jane before they sadly vanished from the internet and probably the most popular thing I've ever written. Also, I love Amy Schumer. The comments were harsh, but this was not meant as a takedown of her whatsoever but rather a way to encourage her, myself, other women to not care what category other people lump you in, because it's going to happen-- "The world still dearly loves a cage."-- and it doesn't matter what other people think of your body. It really doesn't matter. Vocalizing their opinions says more about them than it does about you.