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Model Behavior With Sharon Quinn: Is It Time For A Plus Model Coalition?, 12/01/2008
sharon quinn
Meet Sharon Quinn

Is It Time For A Plus Model Coalition?

With the end of 2008 rapidly approaching, I thought I would for go my usual "Model Behavior" series and leave a little bit of "food for thought" with you to chew on to nourish and fortify you for the new year.

At the beginning of 2008, a few of my close friends got special invites to a very exclusive meeting at an undisclosed location.  I found out later from these friends that this meeting included most if not all of the African-American movers and shakers in the modeling industry.  It was a resurrection of the Black Girls Coalition, an organization determined to change the status quo in the fashion industry.  This particular meeting's mediator was none other than one of BGC's founding members Bethann Hardison.

Check out the excerpt from a story that ran in The Observer:

"It's been the biggest fashion story of the year and it's had nothing to do with harem pants, the coat versus the cape, or the alluring comeback of the brogue. An industry not known for its crises of confidence has been forced to ask itself some uncomfortable questions. Might there be something nearing apartheid inside the pages of the glossy magazines and on the runways of the international designer collections? Is fashion racist?

The debate - some say long overdue - would not have been kick-started without a woman called Bethann Hardison. The first black saleswoman in the Garment District of New York in the Sixties and a runway model in the Seventies, she spent the Eighties and Nineties as one of the few black women with her own modeling agency (for black and white clients). She's so celebrated in the business that she's known mostly by her first name only, like Naomi and Iman, to each of whom she also happens to be a long-time confidante and mentor.

Over the past 14 months she's held campaign meetings in New York to speak out about a subject that has been largely taboo in the fashion industry. These are protest groups like no other - a cross between a rambunctious church service and the coolest party you have ever been to. Here, the likes of Naomi Campbell, Liya Kebede, Iman, Tyson Beckford and Veronica Webb squeeze into a room with some of the fashion world's biggest players such as André Leon Talley, editor-at-large of American Vogue and designer Vera Wang, as well as casting agents, stylists and representatives from the modeling agencies.

At each meeting, Hardison sits at the front and beckons people she knows to stand up and speak. 'I knew I could make things happen,' she says. 'I knew I could make the rest of the industry feel self-conscious about what was going on.'

I wholeheartedly agree on the need for the BGC, I saw the need when it was conceived and I see an even more urgent need for it now!  Someone HAS to monitor the "shot callers" who consistently send out the ridiculous message to the majority of the population that "beauty begins at a size zero".  Black models have long been discriminated against in fashion but plus-sized models are literally ignored across the board in fashion, music and media.  It's as if we don't even exist and (if we are seen at all) the bigger you are the fewer opportunities you are allowed.  But what really puzzles me is that I know for a fact that there were several representatives of the Plus Model industry in attendance at that meeting; yet whenever someone tried to bring up the issues concerning plus-sized models-- I am told that at every turn the conversation was abruptly shut down and after several attempts; they were told quite rudely that no one was interested in hearing the plight of plus-sized models at this meeting. 

It is interesting that the last paragraph of the above excerpt says that "she sits at the front and beckons people she knows to stand up and speak" but what of those people that she DOESN'T know, those whose interests include subjects that hold no interest for her.  Do the voices of those that they represent not deserve a moment to have the floor?

This puzzled me.  Black women are known for their diversity and most of all for their luscious curves – Statistics show that over 2/3 of the population is a size 14 and larger, therefore how can you NOT include plus models in a coalition for models???  That doesn't make sense to me at all – to exclude a certain group of models from a so-called "coalition" of models IS discriminatory in itself.... Isn't it? Perhaps a name change to "The Skinny Black Models Coalition" is in order.

Initially, these reports incensed me but once the stories had a chance to marinate within me, it got me to thinking...



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