Jazmine Sullivan’s Ebony Cover Was a Major Plus-Size Moment Worth Celebrating
by Liz Barlow
“Loving Yourself Is the Greatest Revolution” –Random Internet Meme
The moment I saw Jazmine Sullivan’s thighs on the cover of Ebony, I knew I had to do something to commemorate this epic moment in black, fat visibility.
I called on my friend Cetera Jones, a plus-size model in the Hampton Roads/Richmond, Virginia, area, to help me coordinate a tribute to the cover. I wanted to find plus-size women who embodied more than just the hourglass fat femme body and boy, did she deliver.
I have to admit, as the shoot date loomed, I got super nervous and I began to have the usual fat-girl negative thoughts, like, “What if my thighs look weird or too big?” “What if my cellulite and dark spots show?” “What if I’m not pretty next to everyone else?”
I decided to quell my fears by just trying on the damn outfit on. When I looked in the mirror, I looked bomb! Just like that, I understood why the Ebony cover was so important. Representation can honestly make the difference in how you feel about your body and how you feel when you present it to the world. I wanted to make women feel this way. Cetera Jones, Jennifer Lee, Nusanti Jonathan-Wilson and I achieved that goal.
The excitement in our room at the Chesapeake Hyatt that recent May morning was something I had only experienced once before as a budding actress in 2009, about to perform For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow is Enuf in front the author, Ntozake Shange. The energy permeating the space radiated love, admiration and validation for the bodies in the room.
What Plus-Size Models Say About the Industry
I asked the ladies seven questions, including when they got their start in modeling and what they wanted from the plus-size industry. All of us came from different starting points, different cultures and have different body types.
However, the responses they gave were similar. Overall, they say the fashion industry is embracing us, but it’s also stagnant. In a room with women who are shaped like pears, apples, figure eights and hourglasses, they said there’s only one body type consistently represented, which tells society it’s the only one that’s fat-acceptable.
While the industry of plus-size clothing has expanded to provide options for women with different bodies, it is still being constructed under the gaze of patriarchy. After the shoot, I heard stories of being pressured to lose weight to be a more “marketable” fat model, and other assumptions rooted in the belief that someone’s health can be discerned from how they look. The idea that smaller is better is so deeply engrained in our culture that we even require fat people to be less fat so they can be seen as one of the beautiful ones.
One example is the love of my lusting eyes: Ashley Graham. Graham, currently the world’s most beloved plus size model (who, if we are being completely honest, is not really that big), has an issue with being included in a community that’s underrepresented. This is the community that these women, that this writer, finds a home in. It’s the community that has taught us to love our bodies and has made us confident in the way that we present ourselves to the world. Unfortunately, the most famous plus-size model in the world would rather not be attached to that label. There is a disconnect. But Jen made the point that women like us must unify in order to show the mainstream that we, too, are worthy of being displayed.
You have these amazing, incredibly fierce, proud women who are building their confidence step by step (see what I did there?) on the runway — but our most recognized representative is Graham, who would prefer to be separate. Some would say it is not only up to her to carry that on her shoulders. I would agree. However, her mindset is problematic (she still fione tho) — and it isn’t just her. It’s the coordinator of the shows that push fat models to the back, or the safari to find clothes in Forever 21. It’s the brands that begin to offer plus-size clothing, but when fat women don’t buy their low-quality clothes they blame the consumer. It’s the fatphobic comments and memes from men you used to date that remind you that to some people, you’re just a fetish. These micro- and macro-aggressions take a toll on psyche; it can disrupt the journey to self-love. Every day, most fat women wake up and have to convince ourselves that — despite what everyone else says — I deserve the space I occupy.
All hope is not lost. The body positivity community has had more and more success in pushing through to the mainstream while keeping the message intact. There is a sure and steady revolution unfolding before our eyes. It’s indeed revolutionary to resist the gaze that patriarchy puts on fat women and to show our bodies in their entirety.
More importantly, it reminds Cetera that she is worthy. It tells Jen she is right — and Nusanti that her views are valid. What does it remind me? That all the bullying, poor treatment from partners and mean nicknames didn’t make me stronger — but learning that I was powerful all along in the body I occupy did.
Also, it reminds me that stockings are from Satan. Do not wear them. I’m serious.
Liz Barlow is an up-and-coming Virginia comic, actress, radio host and writer. If she isn’t stalking Luke James, making people laugh or collecting The Incredible Hulk action figures, she is probably switching between social media apps. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Blog Talk Radio.