New York Fashion Week (NYFW) has come and gone but the sting of what happened during this year’s fall-winter season, much like a good fashion trend, still lingers.
“I don’t understand why they are taking her picture, she’s a fat girl.”
One girl audibly whispered this to another. Both were standing behind me in line. Both were White.
We were waiting in the rain for the Christopher John Rogers show. Everyone was looking forward to it. Rogers was one of the most diverse designers to present a collection at this month’s fashion week.
At the exact moment I heard the short, yet piercing mean girl conversation, I didn’t react. I was too busy posing for photographers and living my best life. I had paired a colorful vintage two-piece skirt suit with a long zebra coat and Fendi-inspired powder pink glasses. If I wrote an Instagram caption about this interaction, I’d probably post something like “My outfit was so loud I couldn’t hear the haters around me.”
That caption would have been only partly true, however. Yes, my outfit was loud and created to make a statement. But it didn’t drown out what was obviously uttered for me to hear. I heard each of the twelve or so words – and for a quick second – wished I hadn’t.
Growing up I never had an issue with self-esteem. While I’ve been plus size and tall since I was about three—trust me I was told I was “big as a house” when I was younger—I never had a big enough issue that caused me to doubt who I was and what I presented to the world. I wasn’t wired to care about what others thought and I’m grateful.
But adulthood often tests the truths of our adolescence. Reality sets in, we start comparing ourselves to others, attention from the opposite sex becomes a thing and a measurement of our self-worth and haters either become our motivators or the reason why we cried that one time at night.
There is no other time when these feelings of doubt start rearing their ugly head than when we step out and take a risk. A risk for me, every year, is attending fashion week. But I do it anyway – I’ve loved the fantasy and grandeur of fashion for as long as I can remember. It was never a matter of size and availability for me, that’s a different conversation for another op-ed. But it was always more about art and expression, textiles, details and fabric, and being on the cusp of trends. All of this is what NYFW is all about.
When I started attending, I was just going it to see what would happen and basically be a walking representation of what #MondayMotivation memes tell us to do. I was exploring my personal interests and didn’t know my participation would grow.
I’m not classically trained in fashion and the arts. I live more than 220 miles away from New York in Washington, D.C. making connections sparse. And, like what these two girls reminded me, some people thought I didn’t belong.
Even worse, some people were and, still are, threatened by my presence.
For these reasons, I now look at attending fashion week a different way. Still a risk – just more calculated because I know more of what to expect and do – I see it as an obligation wrapped in purpose. These feelings often help push away self-doubt and uncertainty. Especially when it’s delivered by two inconsequential White women.
By definition, I am a triple minority: Black, fat, and a woman. Fashion sense or not, “I’d vote for Obama for a third time” or not, size diversity or not, there are still several spaces where I am not embraced with open arms. Anyone working to attend fashion week will tell you: There are a lot of closed doors. And the ones that open tend not to have many people with even one part of my holy individual trifecta.
Let alone two or all three.
But, whether the two girls behind me in line like it or not – times are changing. The American fashion industry is adapting – and at moments – it is so good. This fact not only helps redefine how I feel when participating in fashion week but it forecasts a more inclusive future. Just two weeks ago in NYC, Tadashi Shoji, Laquan Smith, Kim Shui, Chromat, Oxford Fashion Show, and Christian Siriano are just some of the few designers that had plus models in their clothes. Further, models of color were on nearly every runway and in every presentation I saw. Skin colors ranged from olives to light caramel to milk and dark chocolate and everything in between. Our hair was displayed in several ways: bouncy and kinky, natural and FRO’ed out, braided, pressed, and enhanced with extensions.
I didn’t always see myself reflected on the runway, but when I did, I smiled. Much like I did while standing in the rain outside Spring Studios.
But back to those girls who had all the time worrying about me. Guess what happened to them? Turns out they didn’t have seated tickets and security told them to go to the back of the general standing line. But guess who did?
Long runway to go or not – Black, fat, female beautiful fashionistas like me are standing at the front of the line, attending shows and being seen.
That, and we’re also being photographed.