In their recent plus-size issue, Glamour Magazine lumped Amy Schumer in with several other beautiful, talented, ubiquitous women like Melissa McCarthy and Ashley Graham. Amy wasn't having any of it and took exception with being categorized as plus-size (at a size six or eight) and with the term "plus-size" itself. Glamour #sorrynotsorry-ed her with a weird legal-sounding apology that claimed they never specifically called Amy plus-sized.
That's a semi-polite version of "sorry, you're so sensitive."
It's an awful way to apologize.
Like every reasonable human being in this country, I'm a huge fan of Amy Schumer. Her tweets about how Glamour featured her in a category she doesn't feel she fits into without notifying her first particularly struck me. It didn't just reveal that even confident, successful women still find it painful to be labeled "plus-size." It also revealed her innocence about an industry she's been dabbling in on magazine covers and a semi-nude shoot for the Pirelli Calendar.
What this incident has made clear, is that Amy — with her unique beauty and voice — doesn't really understand the fashion industry which deals in a mostly anonymous flesh trade. It was almost inevitable that the two worlds — her powerfully vocal one and their nakedly objectifying one — would finally collide.
At least the collision is creating some dialogue-inducing friction, because (in this case) both sides are right.
Amy is plus-size, because in the fashion industry plus-size starts at size eight, maybe even a six.
When I started modeling in New York, I was a solid size six and happy with it. I hadn't planned on modeling; it just happened. When I got my actor's head-shots, the photographer asked me to model. I posted those pictures on one of those sites that's always casting for misogynistic (but paying) actress-to-portray-model roles and from there continued to work regularly.
At first, I preferred modeling to temping or waitressing. I learned as I went along, never really thinking of myself as a model but more like a latter-day Gloria Steinem pulling one over on Playboy. Then, in my undercover capacity, I learned something surprising at New York Bridal Fashion Week: in the fashion industry, a size six is borderline plus-size.
I'd booked a runway show at the famous Algonquin Hotel for Marimo Bridal, a show that combined "straight size" models and plus-size models. Plus or straight, we all traipsed — or, in my case, tripped — down the runway wearing flowing white dresses. I imagined what the ghost of Dorothy Parker, another generation's acid-tongued feminist wit, would have had to say about my fish-out-of-water performance in her famous lair and laughed it off.
After the show, industry people weren't concerned with my walk. Instead, they weren't sure which side of the show's line I fell on. Was I plus or straight-sized?
I was surprised but not offended. Later, both camps (straight and plus-size models) ended up spending the weekend bonding between smaller shows for private clients and I learned a lot about the plus-size modeling world from those gorgeous girls, several of whom have continued to be good friends to this day. Hearing my complaints about being pressured to diet, the plus-size girls encouraged me to gain a little extra weight instead.
"The size eight plus-size models get all the work," they told me, wistfully. "They just add a little padding to their hips."
That's right. In the fashion industry, plus-size starts at a size eight.
At that time in my life, I still wanted to be an actor and was often rehearsing plays no one came to see. Certainly, no one was paying me to be in them. I was living on twenty bucks a day in New York City. Eating more was actually outside my purview unless I started scarfing down McDonald's, a plan that didn't appeal to me. Plus, I'd always been a six. Even after two kids, I went back to that size within six months. It's where my body wants to be. So, I didn't follow their suggestion.
I grew up with a Haitian stepmother who, in that inimitable manner of all immigrants, once bluntly asked me at 12-years-old why it was white women aged so badly. All I could ever deduce was that all the white women I knew, barring my second-wave feminist mother, were always dieting to a ridiculous degree.
"Avoid pineapple; it can be very fattening."
"Careful of apples! They're full of calories."
These are the kind of things I've only ever heard white women say. Of course my African-American friends and family care about fitness and healthy-eating, too — in fact, my stepmother went back to school to study nutrition — but I've never heard any of them take healthfulness to that extreme place, or act as if that extreme place is totally normal.
As for me, I continued modeling until I booked a campaign at a hair salon so famous you've definitely heard of it. The photographer booked me, but the salon coordinator immediately made it clear I wouldn't have made the cut had she done the selecting.
"Do you think you can fit into this skirt? It's our biggest one, " she asked me at the shoot, her voice dripping with disdain. It was a size four. I put it on, but she didn't look pleased at the turquoise pencil skirt's tight fit against my obvious hips. Still, I had quite a head of hair on me.
"Don't bother putting makeup on her; we'll just shoot the back of her head," she quipped. Even though I'd shrunk down to a size 2/4, it still wasn't enough.
I realized then nothing would ever be enough.
That's the pool of sharks Amy Schumer has been dipping her toe into. No wonder she finally got bitten. At one time, modeling might have seemed preferable to collating pages under florescent lights or tumbling down a flight of stairs while carrying seven empty plates of veal parmigiana. (That really happened; I have the moves of a heroine from a bad romantic comedy.) But the pressure to erase myself finally became too unbearable and invaded other endeavors. It's pretty hard to create art when you're physically and spiritually starving.
Ultimately, I hope this incident reveals how far the fashion industry has to go, even with their recent and sickening pandering to this concept of pretending to appreciate women of all sizes, and how ridiculous, subjective, and meaningless these labels are.
Also, apples are delicious.