First Plus-Size Supermodel Emme Talks About the Evolution of the Body-Positive Movement

Emme, a pioneer in the plus-size supermodel domain, has been instrumental in shaping the body-positive movement. With the advent of social media, models like Emme are finding more opportunities now than ever before. Known for her remarkable career since the 90s, Emme has contributed immensely to the industry. Her achievements include five books, designing clothing lines, being listed twice among People's "50 Most Beautiful People", and even having a doll modelled after herself.

At 54, she confidently graced the New York Fashion Week runway again, showcasing Chromat's spring collection during the 2018 NYFW show. Even during her prime years, she had never thought such an experience would be possible. Apart from featuring in several spring campaigns recently, Emme uses her podcast to promote body positivity and collaborates with organizations such as the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).

She recently teamed up with Woman Within, a brand that prioritizes size inclusivity, for their #LoveWhatYouWear summer campaign. In our conversation, Emme discussed her journey in the industry, the reasons behind the progress trajectory, and what future holds. She is indeed an inspiration for today’s generation of models.

On getting her start in the modeling world:

"Being a size 14/16 in the fashion industry was certainly not the norm when I began my modeling career. The revelation of my body size often led to photographers abandoning job assignments. Once, a photographer even referred to me as 'fatty' and refused to capture my image. In another instance, someone asked where the model was even though I was right there, preparing for the shoot at the hair and makeup chair. As a sturdy, curvaceous woman, my presence in the industry sent shock waves because it diverged from the established norms. It felt really isolating because the opportunities were scarce, and only a few of us landed catalog jobs or other basic gigs worldwide. However, the scenario began to change when MODE magazine started featuring models of different sizes and ethnicities on their covers. Additionally, stylists such as Susan Moses and Kendall Farr began designing clothes specifically for us, which was a big relief since previously there were hardly any options available. Many designers didn't even acknowledge that plus-size modeling existed as a profession back then. Looking back, I sometimes wonder how I managed to stick around despite all the adversities. But deep down, I knew I had a bigger purpose – to broaden society's narrow perception of beauty."

Why it's so important to see plus-size women working out:

"

When it comes to fitness, one of the hashtags I frequently use on Instagram is #PlaySweatWin. The goal isn’t to show that body-positive individuals need to work out because they aren't satisfied with their bodies. On the contrary, it’s about celebrating the body you have and feeling your best. One can truly savor the experience of fitness as it releases endorphins and serotonin, creating feelings of happiness and empowerment.

As a former college rower who even got an invitation to the Olympic trials, fitness has always been a crucial part of my life. Whether it's using my erg at home or going snowshoeing with friends, I have learned to embrace the changes my body undergoes as I age. It remains my beautiful vessel through which I enjoy, participate and explore.

I am excited for more brands like Women Within to produce vibrant, well-fitting activewear that encourages women to embrace their bodies. There are misconceptions that being a size zero equates to being fit. However, research shows that there are different body shapes that qualify as 'fit'. Shining a light on this misconception will hopefully encourage more people to engage in physical activities without fear of judgement or isolation.

Engaging in any form of movement, be it dancing, swimming or hiking, enhances self-esteem. Therefore, the key is to get up, get moving and feel better about oneself.

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Why fashion and self-esteem are so intertwined:

"In the past, fashion brands were merely creating plus-size clothing as an avenue for profit, lacking any true fashion essence. However, we are now seeing a shift from this perspective. A woman's dress size should not dictate her worth in society, and this notion is slowly being dismantled. In America alone, there are one hundred million women who wear a size 14/16 and it's crucial to cater to their needs. Fashion deeply impacts one's life – if someone adores what they're wearing, it can elevate their mood and overall outlook. The role of fashion in enhancing a person's day cannot be underestimated."

Why the body-positive movement took so long to get off the ground:

"During the 90s, when I landed a deal with Revlon, I was working with Cindy Crawford and Halle Berry; however, I continuously looked around, questioning where the other women who resembled me were. But it all came down to the right timing. When hosting television shows and requesting clothing, people seemed shocked – as if I had struck them – when I asked for a size 14/16 dress. It took a while for the culture to catch up. Witnessing this momentum lost was frustrating, especially knowing that many women were battling body confidence issues and eating disorders, all the while questioning why they couldn't simply accept and love their unique bodies. There was a sort of hiatus, then the voices of the younger generation echoed loudly, with social media playing a significant role in this movement's current narrative. Now, millions of women can feel connected to each other in this wonderful way."

What comes next:

"I believe the modern body-positive movement is crucial for the welfare of all females. I express immense pride in the efforts of women like Ashley Graham and Julie Henderson, among others who are leading the way currently. Their self-acceptance, both in their attire and within themselves, is a breath of fresh air. It's invigorating to be part of this wave again, this time without the burdens I used to carry. And it's not just about curvaceous girls. It's not merely a size issue; it encompasses women's issues and the embracing of our individuality, irrespective of age or size. Our society is progressing positively and needs to amplify more diverse voices. The more extensive representation we see of varied body shapes, skin tones, age groups—the more we reflect our culture in media and on fashion ramps, the more at ease we'll be as a society in broadening our perception of beauty."

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