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!”
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!
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.
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).
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.
PATRIA NATIVE LAND
THUY CUSTOM CLOTHIER
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!
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!
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!