OPINION

Opinion: Dear Media, Can you treat us plus-size models as normal, please?

These past days have brought nothing but good news to the fashion world and plus-size industry. Bloggers launching clothing collections, plus-size models landing contracts with top agencies. Here, there and everywhere something positive keeps popping up about the industry I proudly represent on behalf of Latinos for 20 years now.

Every time something related to us plus-size models becomes news, it comes with a bittersweet taste – suddenly we are not sure of what we are and how much we love ourselves. It can actually get very bitter.

We are all normal, but the media keeps sending the message that only an insanely tall and skinny girl is pretty and has the right to be on the spotlight.

- Jennifer Barreto-Leyva

The latest news in the plus-size industry is the inclusion of my dear Ashley Graham in an advertisement of the upcoming issue of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, making history for being the very first plus model to adorn this publication.  

The Swimsuit Edition is considered a “reference of what beauty is,” where nothing but very unrealistic size zero models are shown as a unique type of beauty. No wonder why my sweet Ashley being advertised in Sports Illustrated has gone viral…

Ashley is a size 16 woman, a size that fits more than 60 percent (if not more) of women worldwide. Nothing that we should be impressed of, yet a fact the media likes to omit or shows as something uncommon and extraordinary when it is not.

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As it often happens in the plus industry, the feedback has been interesting and, in my opinion, this time it’s been better than before. Most comments, blog entries and media reports have been very positive and nothing but constructive criticism.

But there is the negative side too, from the kind of people who seems incapable of seeing the good in just about anything. We have them everywhere: “She [Ashley] is not plus enough” or “Since when size 16 is a plus size?” These are the same people who criticize someone like me or Tess Munster for being “too big,” the kind of people who no matter how hard we try it, how good things are going, it’s never good enough…

Robyn Lawley, the other plus-size model featured on the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, not on an ad but on the issue itself, is getting the hardest part. She is size 12 and yet not considered “big enough” – by far – for being a plus-size model. She is on the verge of what I´ve named a few years ago “the inbetweenie sizes”: never too thin, never too plus, never having a spot to fit in.

With all honesty, I get the SI news, as everything that comes from my pairs: with joy. Never in a million years would I have imagined 20 years ago, when I first started in this business, we will be talking of being on Sports Illustrated or having Full-Figured Fashion Weeks. With sweat, blood and tears, little by little, we have conquered.

Does this change the industry? For some it does, for some it doesn’t. For me it is the first step of a new era, an era of diversity we have been embracing, everyone on its own way.

However, I would agree with many others in that things will not really change if we keep portraying these developments as true miracles, because they are not. It is just a couple of models on the bigger side of the scale, which the industry forces us to think that are not normal. As it happens, they deserve the full right to be not on one, but on every issue of Sports Illustrated, Cosmopolitan; be models in the New York Fashion Week or star on a Super Bowl commercial. As simple as that.

Yes, we need to be critical — critics are necessary. But if we keep on bashing every single step we won’t be able to go as far and fast as we need to. Being more supportive, honestly supportive, as an industry is one of the keys to move forward.

It is not necessary to be a rocket scientist to understand all this fuss is a consequence of the lack of diversity in the media, in the fashion business and in the advertisement world. The type of comment you are likely to in social media about this is: “Finally a woman who looks real and normal in an advertisement.” We are all normal, but the media keeps sending the message that only an insanely tall and skinny girl is pretty and has the right to be on the spotlight.

Featuring a plus-size girl now and then on a magazine –never on the cover, though – is not being diverse or believing in diversity, and this is a mistake that 100 percent of the media makes over and over again. Get out of your comfort zone, use models of all sizes and races, explore all types of beauty. When you finally do that, this nonsense of being surprised because a gorgeous size 16 woman appears on an ad will not be news anymore, and real news will take its place.

Being said this, Dear Media: Can you treat us plus-size model as normal, please?

Jennifer Barreto-Leyva is a top model, the first Latina plus-size model and a plus-size advocate in Latin America.

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