It isn’t easy being a plus size supermodel. Just ask Emme.
Many icons only need one name. Curve supermodel Emme is no exception.
Emme has been at the forefront of every aspect of body politics for over two decades – a model, a mentor to design students, and an activist as an ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). In 1994, People magazine named her on their “50 Most Beautiful People” list, becoming the first plus size woman to make the cut. Glamour magazine (US) has since honoured Emme as “Woman of the Year” and she is still frequently the woman stealing the show on the runways of New York Fashion Week. She uses her notoriety as a platform to push the fashion industry forward and raise awareness on this issues of body dysmorphia and eating disorders. And, if you follow her on Instagram, you know that @supermodelemme is always trying to bring optimism, education and change to the public discourse.
So, of course, Emme had some insight for us about society’s perpetual obsession with so-called “perfection.”
“Beauty is a history lesson in and of itself. Throughout the ages humans have been chasing this beauty ideal and doing almost anything to obtain it,” she tells us. “The mean trick is that it always changes. But why, you ask, is (beauty) so important? Well, today when commerce comes into play and millions each year are put into marketing…
“Beauty is big business. Bottom line.”
Amen. Here is everything Emme had to say on the realities of being a #bodypos icon…
Can you break down the economics behind beauty and body image?
If money can be made on the ever-changing ideals of beauty, industries built upon a woman’s innate need to fit in and feel included, will continue to thrive. No ideal of beauty would make me want to bind my feet, take out a rib, or otherwise, but with the sliding scale of procedures today that seem ‘less invasive’, the beauty bug can become contagious leaving us unrecognisable to even ourselves. We perpetuate the beauty myth by continually spending money to support it. When we choose where we want to spend our money, instead of feeling we have to catch up or look like someone else, our money is our power.
If the idea of an “ideal beauty” is ever-changing, could we ever go back to the days of Rubenesque bodies being the most desirable?
We can never go back, only forward, which in my opinion is very bright. Never before have we had an environment where so many voices are being heard in the digital space about inclusivity. The high-end magazines are beginning to include more women (albeit slowly) but I have always said, “slow change is lasting change”. We’ve been waiting FOREVER for reflections of our images to meld together with what has classically been deemed beautiful, but you know the old saying “nothing good ever comes easy”? Change takes time, and the good thing is change is the only thing we can rely upon. It keeps coming. So if you see a company extending their sizes, including more women of colour/size/gender in their campaigns, reflecting text that drops the mic on empowerment and so on, be sure to let them know. Applaud them. If we only have things to pick at and shed a negative light on, that energy doesn’t grow – it shuts down suggestions, conversations, and new ideas. That’s not to say to remain silent, but use data in all your requests for change. Data is queen and takes away decisions based on emotions.
A tricky subject is when plus size influencers post a lot about being an athlete or happen to lose a lot of weight, and some can view that as a betrayal of the body positive movement or promotion of dieting. Is there a delicate balance between promoting fitness/athletics and body positivity?
It’s important to ask yourself if you need anyone else’s approval to improve (your) health, which you obviously don’t. Not to say someone who prefers to remain where they are are less than, which they’re not. Personal health choices are real, important and no one ever knows what’s going on in a person’s life. But I do have to say, to see the way we as a community speak to each other sometimes makes me not want to participate/play/or be associated. Newsflash: a body pos diva comes in all shapes and sizes. Be a sister and spread love not hate. As humans, we need more lifting up and less of the opposite, especially from the community we lean upon for support.
True that people are quick to tear each other down because of something as superficial as size. Do you ever deal with online body shaming and what can others do who are experiencing the same thing?
Sing Ariana Grande’s Thank U, Next… I repeat it with a little snap. “Not my world”, I say to myself… and thank goodness! I figure it takes more for someone to say something negative than positive, yet (it’s) easier to someone they don’t know… online conversations have created a boundary where the bullies come out. When we react to this vitriol we get sucked in and then we’re in their world. No need. Forgive, release and move on, as simple as that.
What are the downsides that come with being a trailblazer?
If being an advocate is what you strive to be, get used to having what I call the windshield effect happen in your life. Which is: when driving new ideas and conversations into the public realm, it’s almost like being a windshield where all the bugs, gnats and other flying things get stuck on the windshield, it’s unavoidable. If you put yourself and your ideas out there to be loved or accepted, get off Instagram, Facebook and all social media. It’s just not going to happen.
What is your final piece of advice to anyone who has been subjected to body shaming on social media?
Take pride in being a thought maker, rebel rouser, but take care of your energy. Recharge, get time in nature, silence, get massages, and add in lots of forgiveness. Dive deep into why you react to so intensely to stranger’s remarks, when you could pat yourself on the back for stirring the pot and opening the conversation wider than it ever has been on beauty, self, value, and self-acceptance. The world is your oyster. Get out and away from your devices and enjoy!
For far too long, the representation of women by both mainstream and social media has failed to reflect who we see in the mirror, and its impact on our mental health is worrying. Stylist’s Love Women initiative promises to change that. As well as the launch of our Body Politics series, we’ve partnered with Dove, whose latest project (in conjunction with photo library Getty Images) aims to increase the supply of diverse pictures of women – which we will be using going forward.
Our editor-in-chief Lisa Smosarski has also made five pledges to Stylist readers:
- We will ensure the women you see on our pages represent all women – inclusive of ethnicity, body shape, sexuality, age and disability. When we create content and ideas, we will ensure that all women are represented at the table. We commit to featuring one fashion or beauty photoshoot a month that uses real, diverse women.
- We will ensure that we never sell an impossible dream. We believe in aspiration, but not in selling a lie. We will work with influencers, celebrities and other partners to encourage them to reveal their truths, too.
- We will celebrate the so-called flaws of women to prove the normality in all of our bodies. We will run videos, photoshoots and honest accounts of our bodies and how they behave.
- We will hold regular huddles with our advertisers and brand partners to challenge the way they portray and reflect women in their branding and advertising. We will call out and challenge brands, media and people who refuse to represent women with respect and truth. We will call on the government to support our goals.
- Through insight and anecdote, we will teach everyone about the issues facing women, what needs to be done and how we can all work together to resolve this self-esteem crisis.
Find out more about Stylist’s Love Women initiative here.
Renee Cafaro is a freelance writer and US editor of SLiNK magazine, a fashion and lifestyle magazine aimed at plus size women.
Main image: Chromat