Michelle Elman, a body confidence coach based in the U.K., said she has felt excluded from the fashion industry as an Asian woman who identifies as "plus-size."
The author of the memoir, "Am I Ugly," set out to change that, organizing a photo shoot where she posed alongside six other Asian women of different sizes and skin tones. Her goal: to break stereotypes of Asian women in the U.K. "plus-size community" and fashion overall.
Elman teamed up with photographer Linda Blacker on the passion project and posted the photos on her Instagram account, @scarrednotscared, where it immediately sparked a conversation on social media about the inclusion of Asian women in media, advertisements and fashion.
Read on for Elman's essay on the inspiration behind the shoot and why she wants others to see that "plus-size Asian women exist."
Having worked as a body confidence coach, I have noticed that there is so much of a focus on size diversity that often race diversity gets left behind.
Even in adverts which are praised for being inclusive and diverse, it is often only one person of color to count for multiple continents.
Particularly within plus-size, the lack of Asian representation is noticeable and I believe it is due to the stereotype of Asian women being petite and of course, if that’s the only Asians we see, this stereotype is perpetuated and the pressure of Asian women to conform to the beauty ideal is greater.
Although I have been talking about this for years online, in March I started making a conscious decision to try to actually make some progress in the industry and started having conversations with the brands I work with as an influencer. Unfortunately, despite a lot of agreement on the surface that this was a problem, there was little change to be seen. That’s when I took it into my own hands.
Linda Blacker and I had previously worked together on a photo shoot last summer, and when she saw my posts, she reached out to suggest creating a campaign to show people the diverse range of beauty they were missing out on.
Our idea was simple: we wanted to create a fashion shoot that deserved a place in magazines and the mainstream media.
We could have never prepared for the amount of attention this has received. The fact that the image has gone around the world amazes us, but just goes to show that the need for representation is there. The sentiments from the model on the day of the photo shoot mirrored this.
Every woman had stories of being previously body shamed and being taught that to be Asian meant a certain size. All races have this pressure to be thin, but when it becomes cultural as well, the pressure is only enhanced.
The other issue we wanted to acknowledge with this photo was the fact that the lack of Asian representation has meant that Asia is lumped together as one category when actually every country in Asia has its own culture. It would be very unusual for a German person to be asked to represent French people, yet Asian people are asked to do this all the time and speak on behalf of an entire continent.
We hope this photo demonstrates that "Asian" is not one appearance.
People want to feel included and ultimately brands have a responsibility to acknowledge that their customers want to feel seen.
Having a more diverse idea of beauty benefits and empowers everyone.
Body positivity is for all marginalized bodies and we need to make sure that when we talk about being inclusive, we are being intersectional across ability, age, gender and sexuality.