Boss Up with Bevin Your dream life is at the end of your comfort zone

2015-01-28

Why Plus Model Tess Holliday’s Media Blitz is an Important Moment for Fat People Everywhere

So the other day I got a phone call from a reporter friend of mine at the New York Daily News (one of the big dailies in NYC) doing an article about plus size model Tess Holliday (formerly known as Tess Munster) being signed to a modeling agency. Tess is unusual because she’s only 5’4″ and a size 22–much different proportions than the standard for plus size models. By the way, even though plus size models are modeling clothing worn by women of lots of different shapes and sizes, the “industry standard” is under size 14 and 5’8″ or taller.

tessCNNTess Holliday on TV! Source: Tess Holliday Facebook.

I did the interview with the New York Daily News and my quote is good and meaty. Here it is.

“It’s astounding the reach she has and how many people respond to her,” said QueerFatFemme blogger Bevin Branlandingham. “She created a movement around being a plus-size model.

“It’s radical to have an agency willing to stand behind someone and push the envelope about what way models have to look. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes. A good model has more to do with how she works in front of a camera then what her height and weight proportions are.”

Since that article came out on Saturday the media has been blowing up about Tess getting signed! I got an excited text from the reporter, Pearl Gabel, that it was the third most popular article on the Daily News’ website! Since the Daily News article came out I’ve seen Tess in People Magazine, Buzzfeed, CNN and just learned she was on Inside Edition!

During my brief interview with the Daily News I had a lot more to say than what my quote could fit, so here are my thoughts on why it’s important that Tess was signed by an agency and the resulting media storm.

tesscuteShe’s so cute! Source: Tess Holliday facebook page.

Fat comes in lots of shapes, and my fat looks really different than someone else who may be the same size as me. And it definitely looks different than a standard plus size model. It’s really refreshing to hear of a modeling agency willing to take a chance on a model who doesn’t fit into the industry standard.

So why does the modeling industry matter in all of this? Shouldn’t we be moving away from more superficial representations of bodies?

I was steeped in this issue when I was working at Re/Dress in its Brooklyn incarnation, 2008-2011. Then-owner Deb partnered with Plus Model Magazine to do a model search for a size 18+ model. I resisted at first, not feeling great about modeling as an industry and Re/Dress as an indie store helping supporting it. I remember a long conversation with Deb while we were sorting clothing on the racks talking about this. (Plus size processing was one of the best things about being a Shop Girl at Re/Dress.)

I came around 180 degrees watching the model contest unfold. There was of course an essay contest in addition to the photos for the entries. As folks who love people who love their bodies we really looked for people who had body positivity as part of their ethic. Seeing how excited people get about modeling and models, I thought it was a great way to use that excitement to feed in messages of body positivity. Additionally, it’s really fun to dress up and look pretty, especially if you’re in a non-normative body that is historically marginalized.

We ended up selecting a regular customer of ours who was so glamorous and gorgeous and, like Tess Holiday, gives amazing face in front of the camera. Audrey Lea Curry, who later went on to co-star in the erstwhile awesome show Big Sexy with my friend and fellow Re/Dress shop girl Leslie Medlik, was the model and won cash and prizes, including a spread in Plus Model Magazine featuring Re/Dress clothing and shot by amazing plus size model and photographer Velvet D’Amour.

audreyplusmodelmagA page from the Plus Model Magazine spread. Photos by Velvet D’Amour.

The plus model industry and size positive movement has been pushing the issue of representation in the fashion industry for a long time and it’s really heartwarming to see a shift happening in this moment. I remember ten years ago mainstream plus brands were barely starting to use standard size plus size models in their advertising. And today mostly you get the really pretty, “curvy” models. I love brands, like Domino Dollhouse, that have been using bigger plus size models all along and work to support them.

I first heard about Tess Holliday when she was modeling for Domino Dollhouse. I got to meet the designer, Tracy Broxterman, at an indie trunk show at the closing of the Re/Dress Brooklyn incarnation. (Re/Dress has since retained an online store and has a storefront in Cleveland, and is now owned by the fabulous indie designer Rachel Kacenjar of Cupcake and Cuddlebunny fame.*)

tess-holliday-anthonyevansPhoto by Anthony Evans.

What I love most about Tess’s media blitz is that not only is there a non-standard plus model in the industry making huge waves, she’s also tattooed and pierced! Tess has been staying on message about believing in herself in spite of what people told her. This quote from the People Magazine online article is really inspirational:

“I’ve just kept doing this stuff recently, thinking, ‘Thank God I didn’t give up,’ ” says the Los Angeles-based Holliday, who had to overcome many detractors to get where she is today.

“I found out about plus-size modeling when I was 15, and I went to an audition in Atlanta. They told me that I was too short and I was too big, and I would never model. But I’m very hardheaded!”

I can definitely relate to being bullied and using that spitfire to rise above the lies people told me about my body and loving myself anyway. Tess didn’t just stick to plus modeling in spite of being told no at that audition, she also began a movement called Eff Your Beauty Standards in order to empower other fat folks. I think it’s amazing when plus models, who could just stay a pretty face in front of the camera, get political with size activism and empower others.

The modeling agency (MiLk Model Management) said that they were driven to sign Tess because of her social media following. I think it was Tess’s inspirational movement that has been a big part of her prolific social media presence that helped get her that deal.

Tess Holliday’s Instagram is a very satisfying feed to follow. Lots of gorgeous Tess shots, of course, but also glamorous behind the scenes of a modeling career and regular every day stuff like hanging out with her babetown Australian fiance and her son. And it’s always a good moment for me when Tess is in her underwear. Swoon!!

tesshollidayforpowdermagazineHeidi CalvertI adore Tess’s vintage aesthetic and her fatshions. Photo by Heidi Calvert for Powder Magazine.

Our society’s ridiculous notions of beauty are being thwarted a bit right now, because of this event and the media avalanche. This is a big story. People who read it who haven’t heard about size activism might have their minds stretched. The modeling industry is seeing that people respond well to non-normative body shapes.

The more people who share about Tess and talk about how great it is to have actual plus size diversity in modeling the more we can catalyze a bigger societal shift towards body acceptance. So share this blog post, or a media piece you appreciate about it. (I’m especially fond of the Buzzfeed article because it shows lots of Tess’s followers using the #effyourbeautystandards hashtag being empowered!)

Fat allies, this is your time, too, tell your people about Tess and let them know that it matters to you that this is representing change in an industry that oppresses bodies. Remember my mantra, All bodies are worthy of love exactly as they are!

And be sure to write your favorite plus size manufacturers to ask them to use models of all plus sizes so we can be sure that MiLK model management and other agencies that follow suit have jobs to send these models on! And support the indie designers that have been using plus models of all sizes all along!

I would love to see this change mean more gateways for other non-normative bodies, ages, ethnicities, genders, body hair status, etc…

20150117_182554-MOTIONI also want to give a shout out to my bestie Mackenzi’s new women’s clothing boutique in Astoria, Queens, Lockwood Style, carrying sizes 0-24! The inventory is really diverse and there’s a lot of turnover in styles. It just opened as the sister store to her Lockwood home and gift store next door. It’s worth a trip to Astoria if you find yourself in NYC shopping while fat! The dress I was trying on was from Cabiria Style, an indie local plus size designer carried at Lockwood.

*If you’re suffering from cold this winter I highly recommend fleece lined leggings, and Re/Dress online is having a Winter layers sale right now. I just bought some in pink and black. Use code LAYERUP for $5 off each piece. I secretly wanted to buy this $98 vintage nightie but for now just practical layers, I will when I am a rich lesbian.

**PS. Be sure to check out Domino Dollhouse’s Valentine’s lingerie line featuring Tess Holliday!

***PPS. Read this article from Huffington Post last week about my friend Sophie Spinelle’s body positive feminist pin-up photography business. I love the title of the article so much! These Pin-Up Photos From ‘Shameless Photography’ Show That Every Body Is Gorgeous. Congratulations Sophie!

o-SHAMELESS-PHOTOGRAPHY-900Bra burning pin-ups is the way to go!

2011-09-30

Consolation Cupcakes

Hi friends. It’s been a weird few months here at QFF headquarters. First there were three deaths right in a row this Spring, last month a sudden accident in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene claimed the life of a close family friend of mine. On top of this, the closing of Re/Dress NYC, my workplace and home to much of my politics and community.

Yesterday our pals around the corner from One Girl Cookies brought us consolation cupcakes.

Me and Leslie
Like I said to Leslie after we heard the news, “At least Re/Dress gave us each other.”

The announcement was made yesterday but I’ve already known for a bit and had to keep it under my hat, which has been hard since right now I’m dealing with the eventual loss of health insurance and the only steady income I have. (The rest of my income comes from my sometimes flagging solo law practice, speaking gigs, and performance opportunities, all of which provide sporadic income and require an intense hustle that actually takes away from my productivity and artistic energy.)

So it is a shock and brings up a lot of fear and first chakra stuff. But luckily fear is just a feeling, it’s not reality. I’m at a place personally where I know that. I’ve been laid off once before, almost three years ago to the day. This year has provided me lots of opportunities to deepen my spiritual practice and a friend mentioned yesterday “Wow, you’re talking a lot more about the Goddess lately.” My response? I don’t see much of a choice. Not to get too woo, but honestly the only security I’ve ever found in my complicated life is my choice to believe in a loving higher power.

Feelings of grief and loss bring up for me the desire to focus more on the right now of life. So I’ve had this Everyday Glitter post brewing and share it with you as a celebration of the gorgeous everyday-ness that even a steady monthly beat of sad news can’t take away.

Everyday Glitter #1: Artist Dates
One of the things The Artist’s Way teaches is to take yourself on a weekly artist date. I slacked off over the summer and just started again with a vengeance. (I highly suggest doing the 12 week Arist’s Way program to anyone, BTW.)

Sunday found me roaming Cobble Hill on my artist’s date and I remembered bookmarking a soda fountain the charming and articulate plus fashion blogger Nicolette Mason talked about on her blog, the Brooklyn Farmacy. A quick mobile phone google of Nicolette’s site found the address on her write-up and I popped in with a copy of Oprah magazine and settled in for a treat.

It’s a legit old school soda fountain with waitresses in vintage frocks and scarves in their hair and a really nice Brooklynite dude serving up old fashioned treats.

Purple cow
My mom used to make me Purple Cows when I was a little kid, this one is grape soda and I subbed coconut ice cream for vanilla. It was really delicious.

Everyday Glitter #2: Puppy Watch

One of the coolest things about living in a densely populated area is that puppy watching is a daily thing. All number of adorable pooches are walked regularly. I’ve started parking myself on this bench near Re/Dress on my lunch walks to puppy watch. Sometimes when I’m working from home I take a break and sit on my stoop with Macy

Macy stoop

I mean, cute puppies make me feel better about pretty much everything.

Everyday Glitter #3: Style Emails!

Ever since Big Sexy premiered the Re/Dress NYC Tumblr Ask Box has been blowing up. I’ve actually really enjoyed answering people’s questions, especially this one about hiding a fat stomach. You can check my advicelets out over there!

Everyday Glitter #4: New! Big! Projects!
On Sunday I went over to Governor’s Island to discuss my curating an area as part of a big free art festival on Governor’s Island next May. I’m super excited about it. It’s going to be a body liberation / size acceptance interactive & multi-artist installation. I’m really excited to take my existing performance curatorial skills and do something bigger.

Governor’s Island is a great place to go chill out during the summer. It’s huge, there are bike rentals, parks, lots of grass, the ferries run frequently and are free. I had a lot of fun exploring everything and Danielle, my tour guide (and the person who recruited me to curate) knows the nooks and crannies of the island.

Governor's Island
Photo by Danny McL.

And Leslie and myself are tossing around ideas about how we can take her expertise in wardrobe and styling, my event planning experience and mash them up to a resale shopping experience. I’ll of course keep my readers updated, and you can keep tabs on Double Chin Win on the website.

Everyday Glitter #5: Fall Layers
Crisp Autumn air means more opportunities to wear weird rock vests and stifling stretch polyester vintage dresses. I found a brown fur rock vest at Re/Dress yesterday. I can’t wait to kick leaves and buy a new pair of Ariat Fatbaby Boots for the winter.

Everyday Glitter #6: Suri’s Burn Book
Hysterical fashion commentary told from the point of view of Suri Cruise on the fashions of celebrity babies.

Everyday Glitter #7: You!
As though on cue from the universe, the last week while I’ve been privately stewing on this news and brewing the what nexts for my life, I’ve gotten an influx of fan mail, had some really meaningful interactions with fans at the store, and other synchronous events to remind me that making my art is super important and is a two-way street. I create because I feel compelled to create, but it really does mean a lot to me that it means a lot to you.

Here’s to moving ahead in faith that what I’m meant to be doing next enables me to keep doing what I’m passionate about, helping the world become safe for folks to love themselves, regardless of their differences.

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The sky is not the clouds.

2011-08-31

Fatting Around The Premier Party for TLC’s “Big Sexy”

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My dear friend Leslie is on a new show on TLC called Big Sexy*. It follows the lives of five New York City women aged 24-30something who are all plus size and work in the thin-centric fashion industry. Big Sexy premiered last night and has two more episodes that air on Tuesday nights at 10PM. I’m sure the first episode will re-run a few times this week.

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Me and Big Sexy star Audrey.

Leslie and her fellow cast mates organized a viewing party for their friends and family at a big sports bar in Times Square.

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It was studded with the NYC plus size fashion glitterati. From my perch on the third floor I spied Monif C. (whose fashions were all over the fashion show and Nikki’s photos on the show), GabiFresh

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Wilbur of SK Wilbur Designs. (and his mom!)

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Plus size stylist Steffany Bready Edwards.

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Local celebrity Glenn Marla kept screaming “Curvy girls rock! Big is beautiful!” In the spirit of the evening. Glenn didn’t think the show was “overwhelmingly offensive.”

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Mackenzi, who shares a name with a lot of the stars of Toddlers and Tiaras.

It was also very Times Square realness, which is a different experience from typical Manhattan nightlife for those of us who live in NYC and rarely go near tourist-packed Times Square. This German tourist told me that she wouldn’t know I was a lesbian if she just looked at me. Mackenzi told her “She even goes to Michfest!” Femme invisibility strikes again!

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This other tourist wanted me and Audrey to pose in a photo with him so I asked Audrey to act like a tourist with me, thumbs-up style.

The cast worked hard to make the party happen, getting various sponsors including this vodka. We had $5 drinks all night (I enjoyed the Big Sexy Tini) and while outside on a smoke break with Mac I noticed that the vodka was low calorie via this giant billboard. Not that you could tell in the beverages, or that it really mattered since each drink was made with sugary mixers.

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It supposedly has electrolytes.

I brought my girlfriend Cougar, and it was really fun to point out all of the outfits the girls on the show were wearing that they bought from Re/Dress. Three of the five cast members got their New York Fashion Week outfits from our store.

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After being single for so long it’s fun to have a plus one who really likes going out.

I was excited to finally see the show, having heard about the concept since Summer 2010. I was impressed at how it turned out. I was especially happy to see all of the fat positivity that managed to seep through the editing for TV/entertainment process. They made the cast seem very relatable.

Big Sexy Premiere

Things I loved about the show:

Seeing Re/Dress (the store Leslie and I work at)–it looked great, fun and huge, which is hard to convey to folks when they haven’t been to our warehouse-sized store in real life.

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Tiffany asked her ex-boyfriend whether he dumped her because she was fat and he said “No, it was because you’re crazy.”

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Tiffany.

Tiffany dressing down a boy who said he only did it to fat girls when he’s drunk.

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Heather making fun of self-identified wizards who want to date fat girls.

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Leslie delivering clever lines like “Double chin win.”

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Leslie and Audrey shopping at Pat Fields and discussing using dresses made for thin women as accessories.

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Nikki and her BF.

Audrey admitting to being a 24 year old virgin, which I thought was a brave choice, especially contrasted to many other reality shows that make it seem like everyone is having sex by high school in our society. I didn’t lose my virginity until I was 21 and had graduated from college and I think being a late bloomer was a good choice for me, but something I had a lot of shame about when I was living it.

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I wasn’t thrilled with the show’s depiction of the BBW party the cast attended. I thought they portrayed the women who attended as dowdy and desperate, which I didn’t think was fair. I also thought they were policing the sexuality of the women participating in the thunder thighs contest–sure it’s not the classiest portrayal of sexuality but I think policing bodies of any kind is disempowering to everyone involved. Body shaming is certainly more degrading than participating in something sexual and fun that might be bringing a lot of empowerment to the women who are involved.

In that same vein, I think all bodies should be celebrated and my body liberation politics cringe when I hear the show’s tag line “Once you go big you never go twig.” Everyone deserves love and dignity, no matter their size.

Of course since this is a queer blog I have to comment on the lack of queer content in the show so far. I did offer to be Leslie’s gay bestie on the show, but so far the production company hasn’t taken me up on the offer. I imagine myself to be like NeNe’s friend Dwight, but stealth queer in appearance, at least to German tourists.

And you have to talk about commercials. As someone who has considered a couple of different reality show projects, one of the concerns that is always brought up is “Will all of the commercials be weight loss commercials juxtaposing our fat positive message with interests capitalizing on insecurity?” I noted in the first commercial break a long commercial for Weight Watchers.

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But then the next break had a commercial (that elicited cheers from the crowd) for Lane Bryant/Cacique.

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And later on there was a pizza rolls commercial. So I think it really spanned the weight-related commercial spectrum.

Overall, though, I love the show and I can’t wait to see the next two episodes. I hope it continues to talk about the real frustrations and triumphs of living big and sexy in New York City!

*The name stumped me for awhile until I was told that Big Sexy is something that fat girls get cat-called with. Here’s hoping we can reclaim that from cat calls by saying Hey Big Sexy to each other.

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