Diversity is a word that has always defined me. Why? Because I didn´t have any of it around me, only in myself, the reflection of the mirror. Latina but not Latina enough, too tall, too fat, my eyebrows too thick, my look too “exotic," too much of many things. Being called ugly and a monster from a toddler stage is something that has been extremely hard. Since I didn’t want anyone else to go through this, I´ve set myself the goal to work hard, to make feel others better, to show what we are as the human race: diversity, and that is what I´ve been doing for the past 25 years of my life.
"This is not a favor someone is doing to us; this should be the norm, as the world we live in: diverse. "
Going through my daily readings of fashion magazines, trying to have my work as a magazine editor on point, I cross paths with this interview of designer Tom Ford in WWD.
In the interview, WWD asks Ford about body diversity on the runway, his less than eager response shows his flippancy towards the subject, shrugging it off as an issue of the models needing to fit into sample collection rather than seeing it as an issue he can help with.
The more I read the interview the more I roll my eyes. How can a designer give such a lame excuse to not include plus-sized models? I had higher expectations for such a talented designer as Ford.
“This is an industry thing. Whether we all decide to start making all of our clothes in the next size up, that’s a different thing. But there is practicality, there’s a reason models are a standard size.” If we settle on everything because 'that's what everyone else does', many of us wouldn’t be here, standing up for our rights, the way it should be. At that very moment while I read I swear I could see a big, gigantic dinosaur waving at me. I felt like I was in the cave era. How is it 2018 and we are still having this conversation?
I had to read the entire interview, and in all honesty, so many things were wrong there.
So I´ve tried to figure it out, how could I send a strong message of discomfort with all that Tom Ford said and I did it the best and most respectful way I've found: recreating on my amazing size 24 an outfit from the 2017 Tom Ford collection with things in my closet. What was the idea? 1. Giving certified information on how terribly negative and dangerous the “one size” message is, from body dissatisfaction to eating disorders and beyond. 2. Proving that he was wrong, as I knew he was. I could easily recreate that look without any hesitation or effort. So if someone like me could accomplish something so powerful and diverse, how come he couldn't?
I´m the first Latina plus-size model worldwide and editor in chief of Belleza XL the first and only plus-size Latino oriented magazine in the world, which gives me a huge responsibility for every single thing I say and do. That´s why pretty much I couldn´t just ignore this, it is way too serious, as the pioneer of this industry I had to say or do something. This nonsense needs to stop and I'm doing my part.
The conversation of diversity (on beauty and sizes) in fashion must be discussed at every opportunity. This is not an issue that belongs singularly to the plus size industry anymore. There are many conversations to be had about negative messages attached to people who are not white, or tall and skinny (consider this to be the perfect, average and ideal in the fashion industry).
The fashion industry is growing and evolving, the fact that we have plus-size models, models from all races, models with Down's Syndrome and other characteristics is a clear manifestation of how things are going on.
Fashion should be for all, pretty simple. This is not a favor someone is doing to do us; this should be the norm, as the world we live in: diverse. We are not all the same size, height, race, etc. so why should we accept being treated like soldiers of the same army?
We are not a one size world, and everybody needs to understand this. We need visibility and representation. Diversity matters.
More companies, brands, designers are expanding their concept of beauty and that is something amazing that I can´t thank enough as a costumer and plus size model. The body positive movement, (which has nothing to do with fashion, but has helped tremendously) is a most on every single aspect of our lives. Discrimination is not normal, is not ok and we shouldn’t remain in silence every time it happens.
Having nothing to wear is a big form of discrimination, the message we are getting is: “you don’t exist, your existence is not worth, the market is not interested in your size or shape” and that is absolutely wrong, cruel and despicable.
So I´m sorry Mr. Ford, but no, I can´t take your excuses. Do not underestimate us, please. If you don´t like us, go and say it, or don´t, it's your right, as it is my right to not remain in silence and claim my space.
' This is not an issue that belongs singularly to the plus size industry anymore.'
As I´m writing this I´ve read about four new different clothing lines size inclusive all over the world. On every story, there are two sides: the one that causes the problem and the one that fixes it. And I refuse to cause any problem. Which side are you?
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.