Fun fact: 10 years ago this month, I was preparing to attend my first Grammys ceremony, as a first-time nominee. It was simultaneously one of the most exhilarating and anxiety-ridden times of my life. On one hand, I’d accomplished what had felt an impossible feat as a self-funded indie artist. But the thrill of that accomplishment was admittedly undermined by the nerve-wracking revelation that I was heading to the majors—and had absolutely no idea what I was going to wear to what is clearly not an off-the-rack affair.
Why? Because despite over a decade working in the fashion industry as a full-time model (my day job); despite having a celebrity stylist friend generously at my disposal; and despite whittling my plus-sized model proportions down to the smallest I’d ever be in my adult life—a size 6-8—I was still too big to fit a sample size.
For weeks, my stylist brought in garment bags full of options from the handful of showrooms willing to dress an unknown artist like me; and each time, I’d leave her studio wondering if I just needed to cut out another set of meals—or another food group, altogether.
Ultimately, I lucked out; friend and 2004 Project Runway alum Carmen Webber came through for me with a collection of unconventional, attention-getting looks that got me through a week full of junkets, parties and performances—including an avant-garde custom creation for the big event itself. Was it the image I’d initially envisioned rocking on my first Grammys red carpet? No. But it was weird, wonderful, and ultimately befitting an underground artist nominated in the “Urban Alternative” category.
But what struck me then was the narrow margin of accessibility to high fashion for anyone above a size 4—and mind you, I’m old enough to remember when sample size models were a size 6 (they’re now typically a size 2—and size 8 and up are currently considered plus sizes). So, it’s been disheartening to see that in all the buzz of inclusion in the fashion industry over the past decade, the red carpet remains the least level of the playing fields when it comes to dressing curvier bodies.
We watched this play out for Leslie Jones in 2016, when designers refused to dress for her Ghostbusters premiere. (Christian Siriano quickly volunteered, and the two have been partnered ever since.) And fellow SNL alum Melissa McCarthy launched her own line out of purported frustration with not finding an appropriately glamorous attire to fit her fuller frame. Oscar winner Octavia Spencer notably sticks to a small handful of designers and a standard silhouette for her red carpet appearances. And even fashion favorite and five-time Grammy nominee Cardi B (another Siriano pal) has publicly recalled a time no designers fit her curvaceous proportions (an issue that miraculously seems to have been remedied as her star has risen).
And most recently, two-time 2019 Grammy nominee, singer-songwriter Bebe Rexha made public her struggle with finding a designer to outfit her size 6-8 curves for her first Grammy ceremony, posting a video on Instagram to share her rightful frustration.
“I’m sorry, I had to get this off my chest,” Rexha wrote, in addition to her blistering commentary on video. “If you don’t like my fashion style or my music that’s one thing. But don’t say you can’t dress someone that isn’t a runway size. Empower women to love their bodies instead of making girls and women feel less [than] by their size. We are beautiful any size! Small or large! Anddddd My size 8 ass is still going to the Grammys. #LOVEYOURBODY”
I know exactly how she feels.
Like Rexha, I know exactly what it means to work hard for your curvy yet fit frame, and how it feels to have perhaps the biggest night of your life dampened by the dictates of the fashion industry. And for those designers not bold enough to just say “you’re too big,” the reasons they give are equally insulting, at least to the intelligent.
“We don’t know how to cut plus size,” they say, which is truly unacceptable at this point.
Or, “We only loan sample-size dresses.”
Or, my personal favorite: “You’re not a big enough star for us to accommodate.”
As for that last one, keep in mind that even if you’re not familiar with Rexha’s multiple chart-topping music, one of her two nominations this year is in the coveted Best New Artist category. That, and she boasts more than 7 million international followers on Instagram alone, making this a potentially excellent showcase for those who want to do the work.
For the record: I’m not a Rexha fan or follower. I couldn’t even name one of her songs. I found all that information within 3-5 minutes of Googling. And yet, several designers have seemingly decided Rexha isn’t worth their precious time.
As for designers who don’t cut for curvier figures, the skills required are different—and increasingly necessary to tap into a market that has repeatedly reflected that 68% of women in America alone wear a size 14 or up. With that in mind, are we supposed to believe that a size 6-8 is impossible to accommodate?
Will Christian Siriano once again swoop in and save the day? Perhaps. But should he have to? The fashion industry continues to be its own worse enemy—while feeding the body positivity movement it seems not to realize it birthed. And the collateral damage are women like Rexha and the millions of other non-famous, non-skinny women who just want something beautiful to wear.
And 10 years later, it’s sad to say I still know exactly how they feel.