I’ll admit that I spend a small fortune on clothes for my daughter, because like most teen girls, she enjoys shopping, getting dressed, playing around with outfits, and taking photos. But that didn’t happen for me when I was her age.
When I look back on photos of myself from high school, I cringe. Finding cute clothes for a plus-size teen was next to impossible in those days, especially in my small town. My friends would ask why I never wore jeans, opting for long elastic waist circle skirts instead; but I never told them the real reason why. Inside, I was so jealous they didn’t know how difficult it was to find size 22 jeans — let alone ones I could afford. (And don’t even get me started on the black, faux-velvet monstrosity that was my prom dress.)
No one on TV, in the movies, or in the magazines I coveted looked like me. And certainly no one made clothes for a body like mine. I was ashamed, and suffered from self-esteem so low that it kept me from participating in life.
Fast-forward to 2017, and I’m amazed at how far we’ve come. I recently took my daughter and her friends to a trendy store in a nearby mall, and was honestly floored to see half the racks devoted to plus-size offerings. Now we have entire stores like Torrid devoted to carrying trendy plus-size options. And even Walmart offers junior options up to size 19.
While there’s still so much more work to be done, I’m grateful that mainstream brands are finally becoming inclusive of a wider range of body types. And I’m ecstatic that one of my favorite shows, Project Runway, is doing the same. Season 16, which kicked off just last week, features permanent plus-size models working the runway for the first time ever. (My little teenage-self would be so proud.)
While past seasons have had a token plus-size body or two in certain design competitions, plus-size models have never been a staple of the show. Back in Season 10, contestant Ven Budhu even referred to the body of his size 14 model as “shocking” and “disgusting” during one episode, and said that “working with a plus-size is very, very challenging.” He even went so far as to complain to mentor Tim Gunn, saying, “My client doesn’t really have a shape. She doesn’t have any sense of style whatsoever.”
I remember that episode like it was yesterday — I was at home, screaming at my TV. Size 14 is barely plus sized! I thought to myself. And she’d probably have a lot more style if designers made clothes for her body. DUH!
A couple of seasons later, though, Ashley Nell Tipton came along. The plus-size designer featured all plus size models in the final runway show that year — and took home the win. I have never clapped harder.
And now, just two seasons later, the show has made even more progress: The Season 16 models range from size 2 to size 22, and truly represent the bodies of women everywhere. In the first episode, some of the designers panicked when they heard this news. But others were excited and discussed the language that would be used. (Curvy? Full figured? Plus-size?) Contestant Ayana Ife summed it up best when she said the language didn’t matter, as long as no one thought of these models as “problem sized.” (YES!)
By the end of the episode, two of the curvy models were in the top three looks, and I couldn’t help but think, How’s that for representation? But I really beamed when I looked over at my daughter, who said the ladies were “slaying” it.
Back when I was her age, the only curvy women on TV were purposely made to look frumpy and then mocked for “letting themselves go.” But in 2017, it’s so much easier for girls to find someone who looks like them in the media. This season of Project Runway even features a model with a face full of freckles — something else that always made me feel different.
Hopefully this season will not only inspire the competitors on the show, but also more designers throughout the fashion world, to start making clothes for a wider variety of women. Because we all deserve to feel stylish and represented. (Yes, even if that means wearing a crop top as a size 3X, Tim Gunn.)
You can catch more episodes of Project Runway every Thursday at 9/8 central on Lifetime.