I’ve only been to fashion week twice in my life. And after attending for the second year in a row, it’s for a good reason. I realize now that the glamour and glitz of the shows are really a front for the real issues the fashion industry faces. And quite frankly, this year, I was over it before it even began.
The first time I went to fashion week…
I was excited as shit. Duh! Who would have thought lil old Ari Bines from LaGrangeville, NY would amount to sitting first and second row at Spring, Pier, and Industria Studios for NYFW shows. Between my job as a Bustle fashion and beauty writer and working for another Bronx-based plus size fashion influencer, I was getting invites to shows and events I hadn’t even yet dreamed of being invited to.
But what struck me like a ton of bricks was the realities of fashion week as a fat person settling in. The naivety in me thought the industry had changed. I, myself, was being a part of that change with my articles, blog posts, and even as a baby Instagram influencer among the ranks of major plus size fashion stars like Gabi Gregg, Kelly Augustine, Gabriella Lascano, Nadia Aboulhosn, and a fuck ton of others. But I wasn’t truly a part of the experience of fashion week, and the experience itself damn sure didn’t want me to be.
It is the closest thing to betrayal I have ever felt
I felt like I had been the recipient of the ultimate dupe. And my (totally valid) feelings were probably the result of the way in which the media depicts so-called improved representation. But the work (and I use this term loosely) being done to represent others and otherness on the runway doesn’t translate (at all) to experiencing NYFW as a guest at an actual show.
As a fat person, NYFW was more than an experience last year. It was being pushed down three seats from my assigned seating to fit MIPs (read: more important people) in between me and thee Ms. Jay. Or having a photographer raise and flash their cameras for a size 0 influencer sporting something reminiscent of an after-prom dress, and then lowering said cameras as soon I — rocking a full-on red and navy checker print suit with a $300 tulle luxury blouse — stand on the step & repeat before getting my ticket scanned. And it was the incessant receiving of judgemental stares and the consistent eyes dressing me up and down with disgust. But alas. It’s “fashun.”
This year though was better-ish
I’m not going to give you false hope and say the shows were size-inclusive, because they weren’t, especially when the Chromat fashion show has been one of the leading examples for representation.
I have had the incredible opportunity to meet with and interview industry disruptors like size 16 Sports Illustrated model Hunter McGrady & the first hijabi model to be signed to IMG Halima Aden. Out of the entire experience, these two women made my entire fashion week worth the stares, glares, and other fatphobic micro-aggressions because they are just as sick and tired of being sick and tired as I am with the way the industry has represented people in fashion.
Both of these women taught me lessons in the few minutes I spoke with each of them. Aden taught me that you can still be a nervous wreck talking about inclusion even when you’re at the top of your career. And McGrady reinforced why I even write these posts when she explained the discrepancies of brands exploiting the movement of accepting all bodies, without ever showing all bodies in their campaigns.
What I realize now…
is that fashion and fashion week is an elite social club of who’s whos and how you dress and look determines your seat at the table. There is a sense of integrity to the fashion world, though, that I weirdly respect. Money is of no value to the entity of fashion and it wants to keep its restrictions alive. Because if coin actually mattered, the industry would visibly cater its products to the average size woman consumer (a size 16-18) and beyond. But I and many other fat people know this is, in fact, not the case when witnessing a fashion week from any major city.
In my world, fashion is a “come one, come all” place where anyone can use clothing, makeup, and accessories to best reflect themselves to the world without judgment. But in the real world, in this world, fashion requires a fee, where size, money, status, and a trendy fashion sense permits your entrance into social acceptance. I commend the few who represent otherness who are given permission to be themselves and continue to even want to fight for change in such a stubborn industry. But to those who aren’t and find themselves struggling with self-image just to get an in, I encourage you to do your own thing until the industry is really ready to face its demons.
So for those who have never seen or been to fashion week, the best way to describe such an event is in the words of Aretha Franklin on Taylor Swift’s singing career: “Beautiful gowns.”