Fashion: Full Figured Fashion Week draws plus-size crowd

Full Figured Fashion Week is a convergence of designers, retailers, bloggers and activists who came to Manhattan in late June to celebrate plus-size women.
By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 7, 2010

NEW YORK -- In the chaos of yellow cabs and black Town Cars that clog the street in front of the Hotel Pennsylvania, a young woman, belted into a black jersey skirt and tunic, emerges from a double-parked vehicle. As she cuts her way through a thicket of confused tourists, three facts are evident.

One: She moves with grace and confidence. The self-assured woman, it turns out, is a model named Rosie Mercado, which leads to fact two: She is stunning -- head-swiveling stunning, a genetic mash-up of Jennifer Lopez and Nicole Scherzinger.

And finally: Mercado is large. She is a super-size woman whose size-20-something hips are almost as wide as the door frame through which they pass.

This last bit is not a judgment, but a fact. And if American culture made that distinction, Mercado and other plus-size women say, everyone would be better off.

Mercado was the face of the second Full Figured Fashion Week, a late June convergence of designers, retailers, bloggers and activists who descended on this earth-tone hotel abutting Penn Station to discuss the fashion desires of women who are plus-size, curvy, thick, voluptuous or fat -- all adjectives the participants embrace.

For those who live and work within the plus-size community, FFFW served as a safe space for both defiant anger and group jubilation. Pretty clothes, and who gets to wear them, functioned as the lingua franca for a multi-layered conversation about self-esteem, health, politics and power.

In the past two years, a vigorous storm has been kicked up among plus-size women and their advocates. It has been fueled by a fashion industry that continues to discriminate, an ambivalent popular culture and a weight-conscious, fitness-focused White House that together have delivered a singularly mixed message to the obese: Be happy and proud of who you are. Who you are is not good.

"It shouldn't be about obesity, but it always comes back to that," says Michele Weston, a plus-size fashion consultant and founding fashion director of the groundbreaking Mode magazine. "That's what people see."

The Internet is pulsating with blogs giving voice to frustrations, as well as offering positive reinforcement, health advice and style information. Some read like mini-seminars in women's studies. Some are filled with humor. Still others are personal boast pages in which the creators publicly declare themselves fat and fabulous -- and await reader affirmation. They do not have to wait long.

The women have little desire to be slender. They are uninterested in preventative weight loss to stave off diabetes, high blood pressure or any other disease linked to obesity. Some are even unconvinced that their weight predisposes them to such conditions.

They do not want clothes that make them look thinner. If another designer offers up a slimming wrap dress or some swimsuit that promises to make them look 10 pounds lighter, the situation could turn ugly. They want Fashion. Fun, fast and disposable or luxurious, glamorous and sexy. If a trendy silhouette makes them look bigger, so what? As they see it, big isn't bad. Besides, they are big.

"People think every plus-size woman is yearning to lose weight. We have body imperfections the same way other women do, but we feel great about ourselves," says New York-based designer Monif Clarke, who showed her sportswear collection in the week's finale runway presentation. "People are willing to call themselves fat. I was talking and I said to my boyfriend, 'Fat girls like me . . . .' I might be fat, I still want to look great."

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