Big Beauty | Wafaa Razeq

Plus-size model Rocio Ramos, twenty three, struts across the Macy’s parking lot turning the asphalt into her own runway. Fresh from a photo shoot, her hair and makeup enhance her facial symmetry and olive-green eyes against her tan skin. She has the gait of a trained model, a size 16 model.

Ramos is signed to the plus-size retailer Torrid and regularly has her photos taken by the same photographers working with famed Victoria’s Secret Angel Gigi Hadid. “Their models are plus-size but every model is actually bigger than what they seem in the pictures.” Making her way into the Westfarms Mall of West Hartford, Connecticut her first stop is Forever 21, a store with a meager plus-size section tucked away in the far right corner. “I always have to call stores in advance and ask about sizing.” Ramos, like many other plus-size wearers, has to pre-plan shopping trips. She calls and asks for waist measurements of the clothing, inquiring about the fabric materials to see if there’s room for stretching.

She zigzags through the clothing racks, running her fingers over the hangers knowing most sizes will not fit. Occasionally she holds up a dress to her size 2 companion, comparing the extra fabric for context. A size 2 is the standard in the fashion world, the baseline by which all other sizes are considered deviations. This trend overlooks the growing number of women that fall between the 16-18 range. Ramos’ size.

She pauses at a rack, feeling the texture of the fabrics. “[Fashion industry] clothes tell you to love yourself, but not too much” she utters, staring at the clothes she knows won’t fit. She believes that the industry holds a hypocritical approach of pushing the trend of self-love as they still design wear that is pattern and texture heavy to distract from the extra pounds.

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The security escorted me out of the show because I was fat.

Tim Gunn, fashion guru and host of Project Runway, has expressed his disappointment with the industry that has marginalized over 67% of the population who are over a size 12. In an industry worried about fashion but more importantly profit, Gunn and others have raised the question of why does the industry disregard a group that can bring in so many profits? Only recently have brands like aerie been designing to meet the needs of full figured women. Still, high fashion brands with multi-million dollar runway shows in Paris and Milan have yet to embrace this change.

Six years ago, when Ramos worked as a stylist for a socialite, she was kicked out of a show at Paris fashion week. “The security escorted me out of the show because I was fat.” Standing three feet away from Karl Lagerfeld, creative director of Chanel and Fendi, she felt hurt yet not surprised by the decision. For runway shows with cameras panning around at celebrities, a size 16 sends the wrong message about the brand.

The outspoken Gunn admits that he is more of an “advocate for having us look long and lean than I am an advocate for having us look short and squat.” Can Gunn have it both ways? Is it enough to make body image a trendy body positive hashtag, or need there be a fundamental reworking of the way society perceives beauty?

Ramos leaves Forever 21 empty handed and makes her way to Starbucks. “They don’t really want you to be fat, even if you’re plus-size.” There is always a goal of losing weight, a perpetual reminder that if you are in the plus-size category it should be temporary. The pressure isn’t always just on weight loss. Ramos has been told repeatedly to get plastic surgeries. She nonchalantly lists all her cosmetic surgeries in between ordering a Caramel Frappuccino. She’s gotten work done on her nose, jaw and cheekbones as well as back fat removal, a face lift and her stretch marks lasered off. The price of beauty.

She slurps at the bottom of her cup pausing to express the decades’ worth of more work and activism needed to normalize plus-sizes. “Being fat is not an insult” yet even she admits that the stigma may always be there.