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The featured designers/stylists getting their moment to shine on the runway during the epic #CelebrateYourBody finale! (photo courtesy of @halmonivintage)

I barely know where to begin highlighting the beautifully uplifting experience that was this year’s #CelebrateYourBody Fashion Show Event held at SOMArts in San Francisco and hosted by Kearny Street Workshop, in partnership with ACMIST. To say that I am still riding the high of this extravanganza would be an understatement, as would saying that this fashion collaboration was one of herstoric proportions! After interviewing several stylists, designers, models, and volunteers, it became clear to me that not only was #CelebrateYourBody a passionate labor of love, it was a visibilising jubilation of those oppressed and marginalized in the fashion world due to their skin color or size (as a reflection of society as whole). This event wasn’t just a celebration, it was a socio-political statement of radical activists presenting in many shapes, sizes, and colors coming together to proclaim: “WE ARE HERE, WE ARE BEAUTIFUL, AND WE DESERVE TO BE SEEN BY THE WORLD!”

 

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Jenny Ton, CEO & Creative Director of ACMIST.com (all photos by me unless otherwise noted!)

Jenny, pictured here engaging in a little “stop-drop-and-style” moment with me here when I picked out my 2 favorite items from the line to pair together! Jenny’s message felt very clear after talking with her: she wants ACMIST’s clothing to represent something not represented currently in mainstream media. She has focused her company on empowering womyn to be in her words, “unapologetic in their skin,” and does this by using models of all different skin colors and body types – intentionally not conforming to the status quo of the fashion world. *I was, admittedly, disappointed when I learned that their sizing only goes up to 10, which doesn’t include a whole group of us womyn who are already marginalized in mainstream media/just beginning to be represented in the fashion world. When I questioned Jenny on this, she did note that it was a current goal of the company’s to include plus sizes, but they wanted to be sure to research and know their market audience well enough before launching.

A cool thing I learned from immersing myself in the body positive world, and just from existing in my own skin, is that we want the exact same things as other sizes! Well actually, we want to be even more fabulous and unique!

But essentially, companies looking to expand to plus sizes, should totally embrace that realization, which is: womyn of any size can and will wear whatever the fuck they want! And Jenny, I want that pink furry jacket and that comic book skirt combo, so shout me a holler when you’re looking for a consumer to test your threads!

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Thuy Nguyen creator of THUY Custom Clothier is a local stylist and clothier who caters to the butch-identified and queer womyn community and also offers shopping buddy services to empower this community and provide a positive bonding experience for a group/style usually not represented at all in retail stores (which sounded to me like retail therapy in its’ truest form)! Thuy explained two steadfast beliefs that serve as a resonant quote wrapped neatly in a bow(tie): “We’re not all templates…Even butches have curves.”

 

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Sonya Renee Taylor

I may have had a serious fangirl moment before taking a breath to speak with this gorgeous goddess and the night’s MC, Sonya Renee Taylor, poet, body-positive activist, and non-profit founder extraordinaire! I was lucky enough to be able to witness her performing her accoladed poem, The Body is Not an Apology, which has also turned into a social media hashtag craze, political movement, and full-service organization committed to information dissemination and empowering women to remember their worth and radiant inner and outer beauty! Sonya described that what started as a selfie of her in a corset including her created #TheBodyIsNotAnApology, turned into a Facebook craze with about 46,000 fans on board! One part of Sonya’s work experience that truly resonated with me, was her collaboration with the Association of Health and Size Diversity, speaking to the complete miss of the current medical model where fat bodies are concerned (which is the experience of many to be shamed, blamed, or just flat out treated poorly/discriminated against due to their size/weight).

In the midst of the fashion forward mayhem, I was able to have a mini-photoshoot with the exquisite Virgie Tovar (left) and Natasha Harden, the masterminds behind the styling for the Halmoni Vintage runway show.

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“I try to add a bright, large piece of jewelry to my outfit every single day. It makes me feel alive and seen. I view my daily outfits as an opportunity to showcase my personality and also to engage in costumery. I love being super queeny, and in the show we just piled on the fur and earrings and scarves and gloves and hats.” -Virgie Tovar

 

Not only are these ladies total babes, but they are fucking brilliant. When I asked them a bit about their experiences in the body positive world and in accordance with their #CelebrateYourBody work, they blew me away (but then again, I’m not surprised in the least). Virgie’s thoughts:

“The mantra that I kept singing in my head as we were dressing the models was ‘Revolutionize the Runway!’ It is rare to see a plus size model on any runway, and plus size fashion has traditionally been dedicated to creating muted looks meant to “flatter” and hide lumps, curves, bumps and rolls. This is what I call the “put a skirt on it” approach. You’ll notice that plus size looks are often baggy or adorned with an utterly unnecessary flower, ruffle or miniature skirt (as in plus size bathing suits).

Natasha and I are both really invested in flipping the plus size fashion paradigm through bold looks and statement pieces that accentuate the beauty of full bellies, double chins, and wide hips. I was primarily on accessories duty, and I really wanted to bring the sense of flirty defiance to our models’ looks that I like to bring to my everyday life.

What’s so exciting about plus size fashion right now is that it’s so political. We’re in the midst of this major cultural shift around body size and the models became part of this bigger political moment.

Fashion is this enormously significant mode of self expression. Fashion is a mode of self care and I think for big bodied people, fashion can be a potent mode of political engagement. With one short skirt, I can say “I refuse to bow to this fat hating culture” without having to say one word. With my big gawdy necklaces I am screaming “I am not ashamed of this body and I don’t want to hide it!!!” without even having to open my mouth. That’s the power of fashion.”

Natasha’s thoughtful reflection on a night that still has her reeling:

“I am still in shock at what was accomplished that night I am so proud of what we produced on the runway and can’t wait for the next styling gig. I am so glad that Halmoni represented for all the bad ass fat positive women! I think all the models were electric and represented Halmoni above and beyond.

I feel so connected to the other designers of the evening because we all worked so hard to bring the audience a great show. We will be always be connected from Celebrate your Body 2015. We woke up at the crack of dawn to shoot the promo video and that was bonding. I am so grateful to TJ and Jason for running KSW and making CYB happen. I am also grateful for Jenny Ton because she is a fashion maven with the biggest heart.”

The Kearny Street Workshop (KSW) is the Bay Area’s hub for Asian Pacific American (APA) arts and the oldest multidisciplinary arts nonprofit addressing APA issues in America, whose mission is to empower the diverse community through innovative and socially-conscious arts and cultural programming through a more just perspective. This year (Celebrate Your Body was started in 2013, so this is the second year we’re taking this approach), KSW, expanded to connect to the greater community in order to celebrate all bodies that aren’t normally represented in neither mainstream media nor fashion. I was able to speak with KSW Board Member, Robynn Takayama, who stressed the importance for and excitement of the APA community to, “push back against the constant societal stream telling them that they are too dark or too big or too petite.” This event was one culmination of that vision, which was helped to come to fruition thanks to KSW’s executive director, TJ Basa. The stylists/designers/clothing brands who were featured in the runway show included: PATRIA NATIVE LAND (by Christopher Florendo), THUY CUSTOM CLOTHIER (by Thuy Nguyen), HALMONI VINTAGE (special shout-out to this Oakland-based vintage store and these beautiful stylists whom I’m proud to call friends/inspirations: owner Natasha Harden and fat activist Virgie Tovar), MADEIRA (by Stephanie Yeung), and featuring a small sample of “KINI” ZAMORA’s collection (from Project Runway season 13 fame).

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Kini Zamora of Project Runway Season 13. He could not make it but he checked in via video!

 

The show that resulted was truly a feast for the eyes (trust me, I also served as Photographer for the whole shebang) and solace for the soul – see my images below along with some model musings.

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a little drag camp to kick off the show with an energy burst and a laugh!

 

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crowd enthralled (also this gal’s shirt in the red sweater said “I <3 female orgasm” so that was cool.

 

PATRIA NATIVE LAND

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A POWER-packed open to the runway!

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Living for this lady’s energy and eclectic look! as a side note: I usually have a major problem with clothing featuring my Native American heritage as it can be quite culturally re-appropriating to a people forced off the very land we live on today, however in this setting with this model and designer, I felt pretty ok about it. Although, I would admittedly have a much different feeling about it if I saw a white womyn trying to rock it – sorry not sorry about that!)

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The ever-glamorous plus size model, Saucye West, rockin’ the runway in some fierce animal prints!

 

THUY CUSTOM CLOTHIER 

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as a photographer, I gotta love getting the direct attention of a model at the end of a runway, so I can capture the glory that is this custom androgynous outfit!

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loved the love Thuy received at the end of their show; this image truly captures the connected energy of the entire night!

 

ASTROLOGIK…musical interlude.

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I was seriously feeling the ethereal and powerful ambient sounds of this beautiful duo, Astrologik, and highly recommend their music! (It was love at first listen, which is a very rare experience for me!)

 

HALMONI VINTAGE

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I asked some of these body positive ladies to share insight on what this experience was like for them, as well as what exploring what body positivity means to them, and this is what the beautiful Saucye West had to share: “Being apart of Celebrate Your Body was absolutely amazing. It was a positive environment with a well organized team. I am grateful to Christopher Florendo and Natasha Harden for selecting me, a size 28 model, to be styled by them. Every time I am able to walk on the runway as a fat model I am little by little changing the standard of beauty in an industry that was not designed for me. Being a body positive model and size activist brings on another level of inspiration. Along with teaching women and girls to love their bodies without apology. I can also bring the element of glamour which is amazing. I hope to follow in the footsteps of Tess Holliday and break down the barriers even further for plus size models.”

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check-out Jhanelle Rivera, @fashionistadoll12, werkin’ it hardcore in this 70’s meets 90’s inspired look that I love oh so much!

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Rachel Canero, rocked her duel roles as model & model coordinator for the CYB event, in this ravishing look! (I’m kinda obsessed with the headpiece and may need to purchase it ASAP!)

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If I had to name this look that @iofthetigress is OWNING it would be called “so much yes”!!!!

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One of my newest friends from the body positive community, Janet Torres, was glowing in this feminine meets military meets hell yesssss look! Here’s her take on the experience: “Life as a plus size woman of color is no easy feat, but events such as Celebrate Your Body give people of all genders, sizes, and ages the confidence and courage to be themselves. Even though the models were volunteers, we still had to audition in front of the judges/designers. For an introvert like myself, that was a challenge I had to overcome. Everyone involved in making the event happen was super friendly and we bonded over loving our bodies. Fashion is what I use to portray myself to the world and how I like to help others who struggle with body image learn how to love themselves.”

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was LIVING for this moment of pose perfection (not to mention this dress ya’ll)!

 

 

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Got to share in a little backstage bliss with these babes! Karen Medina (shown on the right) had this awesomeness to share with me: “Celebrating my body doesn’t come easy. Saturday’s experience propelled me into a space that I don’t have the honor of enjoying on a regular basis. The entire function glowed with pride and happiness and even my friends that came to watch and support me say it was unforgetable. Every single body was there with the main goal of empowering those around them. It was truly a safe space and I haven’t felt that beautiful in a long time. I have NEVER been on a runway before and feeling the energy from the people cheering my vintage Beyonce-channeling body with positivity will be something I remember forever. I felt that I was a big deal, and even now I hear myself saying to myself ‘Well, you aaaaarrreee a big deal!’ KSW’s Celebrate Your Body Runway has taken me several steps forward on this long journey of selflove and selfworth. I am forever grateful.”

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proof that fatty babes CAN rock the shit out of bold colors and prints, and even (gasp!) mix them up together!

 

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Halmoni Vintage group shout courtesy of Rachel Canero (thank goddess someone captured this revolutionary epic-ness)! OWNING Halmoni’s #BigBellyFashion message!

 

 

MADEIRA 

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Another model catches my lens, as my lens captures her soul-shininess!

 

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One of my favorite looks of the night, which uniquely celebrated bodies that are rarely visibilized and honored as fucking beautifully gorgeous! This model exuded such confidence and radiant beauty, it was a treat to witness her winning over the runway!

 

KINI ZAMORA

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Not much to say on these looks except I did like this white top despite the pairing with this skirt, which wasn’t from his collection, because most of his clothing was delayed during shipment! I also greatly appreciated the model pictured on the right for rocking this outfit in their own unique way!

 

FINALE!

 

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OFF THE RUNWAY…

The Fashion Show experience wouldn’t have been complete if I didn’t showcase some of the beyond fabulous off-the-runway looks that were catching my eye during the night! Below I have featured 4 looks from womyn I couldn’t help but admire and simply smile just from seeing them wear their voices through their fashion choices!

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The lovely Nina Asay. I couldn’t help but approach this classic fashionista, and it she turned out to be the modeling coordinator for the evening as well as a stylist with Fashion Penpals (http://www.fashionpenpals.com/).

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These style mavens caught my attention even during the runway show – I HAD to capture their looks! Melanie Elvena (left) who actually helped to organize the KSW’s fashion event a couple years ago, and the stunning Sarah Wong.

 

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Another stunner I couldn’t help but notice even among all of the fashion forward fantasticalness that was… Lisa Lee! I also later realized that Lisa was one of the Community Honorees for the CYB event, for her co-creation of the website entitled “Thick Dumpling Skin,” which, “Represents a vibrant community of Asian Americans to share and discuss our unhealthy quest, past and present, for the ‘perfect’ body. Our struggles with food and body image are not merely about will power – they’re social, cultural, and familial.” (Side note: I want every single element of this outfit!)

And of course, no night nor article, would be complete without a little photographic feature from yours truly, along with my outstanding editor and founder of Wear Your Voice, Ravneet Vohra, celebrating our bodies!

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In lieu of an ‘Outfit of the Week’ – I opted to share these images that Ravneet took of me Photographing (did I mention the majority of these photographs/images were taken by yours truly unless otherwise specified) – once we both realized I was the only female shooting on the floor, skirt, sparkly tights, heels and all!

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Don’t forget to follow my adventures on instagram @somewhere_under_the_rainbow !

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