Although body positivity and plus-sized women are becoming more mainstream, there is a shockingly low number of plus-sized women of color being represented in the fashion industry. Michelle Elman and Linda Blacker teamed up to bring attention to this major fashion fail by doing a photoshoot featuring Asian women of different colors, sizes and ages. The Instagram post showcasing the images from the shoot now has over 23,000 views.
Michelle Elman is a body positive activist and an accredited body confidence coach in London. She is known most for her campaign Scarred not Scared, which she started in 2015 after noticing there wasn’t enough representation for scars. Due to a strong media presence, she has been featured on many news channels and gave a TEDx talk in London, which has been viewed over 40,000 times. She is a Be Real Ambassador, which is a charity that addresses body positivity issues, especially for young people. She was awarded body positive activist of the year and recently released her debut memoir, “Am I Ugly?”
Linda Blacker is a London-based photographer, set designer and creative director. She has nine years of experience, having worked with clients such as Google and 20th Century Fox. Outside of work she does for clients, she creates her own shoots, which usually have a fantastical theme. She self-funds these projects and has a Patreon account where fans can donate.
According to the Fall 2018 Runway Diversity Report, 32.5% of the 7,608 models who walked the runways in New York, London, Milan and Paris were women of color, which was a 2.3% increase from spring 2018.
However, statistics in size demographics have dropped from 38 curve models in spring 2018 to 30 curve models this season, which is on par with fall 2017’s statistics. The three seasons each made up about 0.4% of castings, showing no growth. Out of the curve models who were casted, only three were cast in Paris and none in London or Milan.
Women in their 50s and 60s was the lowest demographic represented, also suffering a steep decline from 27 in spring 2018 to 13 in fall 2018.
As a body positivity coach and an Asian woman herself, Elman pays particular attention to the types of people and women that are being represented in the media and fashion industry. She has been waiting to see Asian women that are not stereotypically petite and thin in fashion but was becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of diverse representation. During a conversation with Linda Blacker, she expressed this frustration and the two decided to begin this project. Elman and Blacker gathered other women who represent body positivity and diversity on social media and set up the shoot.
Clothed in beautiful ballgowns and makeup done by Umber Ghauri and Hannah Shaikh, the women showcased all of the different body types and skin colors found in Asia. As Elman said in her Instagram post: “Being Asian is not one look. Being Asian is not one culture.”
Kat Henry is a lifestyle blogger and curve model based in London. She is an ambassador for Ms. Curvaceous U.K., the 2015 Miss British Beauty Curve and a founder of the Rubenesque Effect. The Rubenesque Effect is a project that aims to change the “media’s perception of what a model should look like.” They believe every body is beautiful and their Instagram account, full of curvaceous women, proves it. Henry takes this stance in her own blog and life as well, stating that she is “a big advocate of the fact that every body is beautiful regardless of their shape, size, weight, skin tone, sexual orientation, ability or anything else that makes us unique.” She encourages women to accept themselves and to be happy and healthy.
Bishamber Das is the first British Asian plus-sized model. Her parents migrated from Punjabi and Malaysia and worked hard to provide for their children, emphasizing the importance of education. Das struggled in school though, realizing only after reaching university and attaining a degree in law and criminology that she had dyslexia and dyspraxia. However, she did not let this stop her, eventually becoming the youngest Asian magistrate at the age of 21. Das’ journey was long and hard, and she faced a lot of scrutiny and criticism but eventually she learned to love her plus-sized body and wants the same for other women. She is the founder of GirlLikeMe, a fashion website for plus-sized women. The goal of the company is to provide well-fitting, fashionable pieces for women who, in the past, used clothing to try and cover up, rather than stand out.
Saalene Sivaprasad, pronounced Sha-la-knee, writes a lifestyle blog that documents her life — the things she has done, worn, ate and/or tried. She covers topics from product reviews to rants about everyday frustrations, all very relatable. Her day job is working as an Internal Communications Officer at Optivo, one of the largest housing providers in the U.K.
Simsimma Sandhu describes herself as “just a brown gal after some representation.” She is the literature coordinator for the Asian Woman Festival and the editorial assistant for Macmillan Kids UK. The Asian Woman Festival is “smashing stereotypes & stigmas to empower and celebrate Asian women.” In March 2019, they held their first ever festival which included panel talks, workshops, art exhibitions, live performances and a festival bazaar, all focusing on identity.
Mina Kumari is a personal stylist and body confidence coach in the U.K. and was the 50-plus model for Elman and Blacker’s photoshoot. According to Kumari’s Instagram account, she is an advocate for loving who you are and self-care and her posts include tips on how to live life as an “empty nester.”
Elman and Blacker and the women of their photoshoot all encourage self-love and call for more representation and diversity, whether it be through their work or through living their lives as proud, beautiful and curvy Asian women. They hope that this project will call out the fashion industry, forcing them to cast more Asian curve models for runways and photoshoots.