Tears pricked my eyes, threatening to escape. I’d just watched Australian Fashion Week’s first ever Curve Edit show, where women in a range of everyday sizes, ages and colour walked in a show featuring size Australian labels which not only cater to women with curves, they celebrate them.
It’s been asked of me, why the need for a separate show? And I answer: why not? How absolutely bloody glorious to watch woman after woman come out owning the runway in a way they’ve never had a chance to before.
Yes, we should see a diverse range of body shapes in all shows and thankfully that was evident for the first time this year in other Fashion Week shows. To see labels which have long said they couldn’t get samples in anything other than a size 6 so couldn’t put other sizes in their clothes do so was groundbreaking for an industry which has long resisted body diversity.
The Curve Edit hosted by Australia’s first plus-size modelling agency, Bella Management, not only celebrated diverse bodies who love fashion on the runway, the before and after show action with influencers who own their style and their bodies was an absolute joy to behold.
The whole afternoon felt surreal.
Was I really seeing this at Australian Fashion Week – the industry’s equivalent of sporting national championships?
The last time I’d attended Australian Fashion Week in 2014, NOBODY (on the catwalk or outside Carriageworks) looked like me. And very few of the clothes shown would have been available in my size (14-16). Yet, here I was surrounded by designers who get it, fellow influencers, customers who want to see more and models who exuded pride – and joy.
I was messaging one of the designers on the morning of the Curve Edit show – Kerry from Harlow Australia, a label I’ve supported from day one. Kerry’s of a similar “vintage” to me and we both shared a hope that this one show might have a positive impact on future generations of fashion-loving people of all sizes.
It was the show I wish my 20-something self had seen. Maybe I’d not still be doing the work to undo decades of internalised body shame and diet culture. Maybe if I’d seen people like myself on a catwalk, I’d not think I had to change my body to fit it into fashion. Maybe I’d know there were clothes out there for me.
If even one person watched this show, felt empowered by what they saw and realised they didn’t have to change their bodies to fit fashion, then all the work that went into it would have been worth it.
My dysfunctional life-long relationship with fashion
As a kid, I’d always been what “well-meaning” relatives would call “plump”. The same well-meaning relatives would also dismiss my shape as “puppy fat”, something I’d apparently grow out of. Except I didn’t.
I remember noticing the difference between myself and classmates as early as Year 2. When I sat on the floor cross-legged in class, my thighs didn’t sit flat like the girl next to me. I didn’t just acknowledge our differences, I wanted what she had. I was seven.
Despite these early negative body image thoughts, I had a deep love of clothes. DEEP. My non-conformist parents didn’t believe in school uniforms – and they weren’t compulsory in QLD primary schools in the ‘70s – so I put a lot of thought into my outfits for the school week. As a nine-year-old, I would lay out my five outfits, so proud of what I’d created from a seriously limited wardrobe, mostly made up of dresses my Nan found at her local Vinnies. My first part-time job was at 15 in a small clothing store. Heaven. Every cent earned during the two weeks of that holiday job went back into buying clothes – from that store!
My fashion inspiration continued to come from magazines – first Dolly, graduating to Cleo and Cosmo by the time I went to uni. All the fashion in those mags in the 1980s was shown on size 6-8, super-tall women. Even if I could visualise a piece on me, most of it wasn’t even available in my size. Most retail chain stores only offered clothing up to a size 12 or 14.
I got smart. I learned which styles suited my shape and might work for me in a standard 14 and I made my own clothes! Not so smartly, I continued to think that I had to change my body to fit the clothes. The message I received from magazines and the people around me was that I was problem, not the clothes I was trying to fit into.
Diet culture was so deeply embedded in the psyche of my parents (to be fair it was embedded in most people’s parents in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s) and it was passed on to me. I “learned” to only feel better about my body when it was thinner. Spoiler alert: my body has never been thin.
Yet, I still coveted the clothes and fashion I’d see in magazines. Looking back, I liken my love of fashion to an abusive relationship I didn’t want to leave. I’d keep coming back for more/keep buying the mags only to have all the thoughts of shame about my body reinforced both overtly and subliminally on a regular basis.
Even in my work life, I couldn’t get enough. I weaselled my way into a fashion editor’s job at the newspaper I spent most of the first 20 years of my career working at. I went on to become a weekly lifestyle magazine editor at the same paper, booking cover shoots with models through a modelling agency. It was the early 2000s and there was only one model I ever wanted to book – because she was the only one not a school-aged size 6 or 8. Put simply, she was the only model who vaguely represented our magazine’s demographic. Despite wanting to show a diverse range of women on the cover of the magazine, the industry had me stumped. Again.
When I realised I could be a part of a much-needed industry shake up
When in 2008 at the age of 41, I jumped out of journalism into the then mostly unknown world of blogging and social media, I never would have imagined I’d end up publishing outfit photos of myself for anyone with a computer to see. And I would never have imagined creating a business dedicated to championing body diversity in fashion marketing. But here I am 14 years later.
Early on in my blogging days, I realised the vast disconnect between the fashion industry and the consumer. Women in my community simply couldn’t “see” themselves in the clothes featured on models in campaign images, in magazines and on runways.
Offering just one alternative body shape, I started a series called The Model and Me, where I’d show a model wearing the same outfit as me. Same but different; not better – just one alternative. Those posts sold a lot of clothes for the independent brands I featured.
Then Instagram arrived. HUZZAH! In 2013, I started the #everydaystyle community – women of all ages, shapes, sizes and backgrounds jumped on board and started sharing their daily outfits. The hashtag is now a beast unto itself but I still keenly follow the women who were part of this ground-breaking community. Their posting outfits on Instagram helped democratise fashion, to start an overdue shake up of the industry. No longer was fashion inspiration coming solely from one body type/age/colour on mainstream media. To this day, I curate my feed so that I’m inspired by fashion as seen on a diverse range of people. And I urge you to do the same. Not all I follow share the same personal style but how bloody boring would it be if we all dressed the same.
In starting my own label in 2019, I had the opportunity to lead by example with our marketing, becoming the first label globally to photograph all its designs on models in all sizes stocked (6-20 with an ongoing goal to increase that size range). It’s definitely a case of putting my money – a lot of money – where my mouth is but I couldn’t have not gone down this path.
I’m proud to play a small part in the change we’re now seeing on the catwalks and through brands doing their bit to shake up an industry long overdue for disruption. The end goal of all fashion brands should be to sell clothes. Market those clothes to us by giving us a diverse range of visual cues so we have some chance of imagining us wearing them. Make us feel a part of a community. Make us feel welcome.
Then shut up and take our money.
MORE BODY-LOVING READING
Why you need to stop worrying about what body shape you are
Body acceptance is a mental muscle best exercise daily
Outfit confidence: how to get it and feel good in what you wear
The Styling You Annual Swimsuit Edition 2021
What it was essential I changed what I thought about excercising