As a model, I’ve been subjected to 12 years of body scrutiny from the fashion industry. It has taken me the last few years to recover from feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem, and now I’m in a place where I am confident in my body. It’s led me to become the managing editor of RunwayRiot, a new fashion-focused website dedicated to serving and amplifying the (often underrepresented and overlooked) voices of curvier women. It’s also why I’m so happy to be included in the upcoming documentary Straight/Curve, produced by Jessica Lewis, who has herself worked as a model.
The documentary is unique in that it highlights a diversity of voices that, until now, have been absent from the fashion industry. These include models who are challenging society’s perception of beauty, along with designers, stylists, agents, and political figures.
I was able to speak with Jessica, who has worked as a model for 15 years in both plus- and straight-size markets, about Straight/Curve (out this fall) and her hope for the documentary. Read our conversation below.
ISKRA LAWRENCE: What motivated you to create this film?
JESSICA LEWIS: Continually seeing women set the bar for the “best version of themselves” at one body type. There is so much beauty in our differences! If only we could embrace that and nurture it through the media, instead of continuing to manifest insecurities by showcasing only one type of beauty. It’s my hope that we can showcase the need and want for a more diverse ideal of beauty all around.
How has your personal journey influenced the film?
I had been a straight-size model for so many years and was influenced by the global stigmas surrounding women and size. So I was admittedly apprehensive when my agent suggested I try plus-size modeling after I’d gained some weight while taking time away from the industry. I was concerned not so much about the glamour aspect — because to me, these women are undoubtedly beautiful — but [I was concerned about] the health aspect and what promoting this curvier body type was saying to society. I honestly wasn’t even sure at the time that my own body was in peak health. Upon getting to know the plus-size models of the industry and seeing how full of life and energy they were — how they had clear skin and full hair and, above all that, just oozed confidence — I really began to second-guess the current size-beauty equation.
I also happened to be in the midst of going to school to earn a degree in nutrition. From everything I was learning, I found it hard to support the argument that it’s irresponsible from a health perspective to use these women to market beauty to society. These women are healthy, confident, and beautiful — all things I believe every woman strives to be. So why aren’t we using them as the defining image of beauty for the next generation?
Straight/Curve producer Jessica Lewis. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Lewis)
From your 15 years in the modeling/fashion industry, what changes have you seen in the discussion of body image?
This is going to sound awful, seeing as I’ve worked in so many areas of fashion throughout so many markets globally … but not much! I really feel like over the last five years or so, the media has picked up on the diversity-in-fashion debate exponentially and given it the steam it needs to progress to the next level. In turn, stakeholders in the industry are feeling encouraged to be proactive about making change. I think many people in the industry are ready to see diversity normalized, where designers aren’t using a token plus-size woman or ethnicity in their campaigns or shows just to say they did. Once there isn’t discussion surrounding diversity anymore — and it’s just there in all its beauty — we’ll know we’ve made it.
Related: How I Became Confident
You are interviewing a variety of people for the documentary. What new viewpoints should we expect to glean?
We’re going to be speaking to many members of the straight-size fashion community about their view on diversity — which may not be what everyone thinks it is. We are also working with a number of organizations to do social-science studies on how media/fashion-industry images impact society on a grander scale. We’re speaking with a number of health care professionals about diversity in health and how this speaks so wonderfully to the health/size debate. Ultimately, the imagery we feature in the documentary poses grander questions around mental and physical health.
Do you believe social media has affected the conversations around body image?
Absolutely. Social media has enabled the imagery I was talking about [showing diversity in size in the fashion industry] to spread unbridled. It’s allowed people to look at these images and empowered them to come to their own conclusions of what beauty is.
Have you learned anything about yourself from filming the documentary?
Oh, yes. The most profound thing I’ve learned is that to truly feel content and confident in your beauty, you need to come to that place as you are right now. You have cellulite or stretch marks? Great, embrace them. Only then will you have the respect for yourself, and your body, to become the happiest, fittest, most beautiful, and essentially the best version of yourself. We need to stop putting the cart before the horse.
Ironically, I feel like I’m back at ground zero, constantly relearning beauty beyond the physical through the women and men we are speaking to. I thought after having been straight-size and then plus-size, I could say, “OK, I’ve had my body go through a journey, I feel like I understand all this size/beauty talk.” But really, continuing to explore the topic from so many aspects has opened the doors to many other questions for me. Is it OK for a company to market exclusively to one size category? Should we be regulating the health of talent the way athletes have their health regulated? How are children interpreting this imagery, and how can we use it to influence a generation of physically, emotionally, and mentally confident individuals?
How do you hope people will feel after watching Straight/Curve?
In a couple of words, enlightened and inspired. Truthfully, though, I just want to introduce people to a new beauty ideal supported by informed opinion. I’m happy to have them take from it what they will … any opinion is fine, as it only progresses the conversation that will hopefully lead to diversity being the norm.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
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