Monday, September 27, 2010

Lizzie Miller Continues to Make a BIG Difference

I hate fashion – a lot. I’m a woman, so it’s always weird when I tell people that, although it’s really not surprising considering the way I dress.

Truth is, I hate buying clothes, wearing clothes :) or even thinking about clothes – and yes, that definitely includes shoes! I’m plus-sized, but that isn’t my clothes-hate issue. It does, however, explain the extreme irony it would be me, of all people, posting the following about fashion – well, actually about a super supermodel.

Positive body image remains elusive for so many girls and women, and society as a whole, but recent efforts to improve the way females perceive themselves are making a slow, but sure difference reflected in marketing changes. Maybe in another eon, girls will feel just as comfortable in their bodies as boys.

One of the reasons for this gradual improvement isn’t a what, it’s a who: Lizzie Miller. The first plus-size model who truly broke the fat-glass ceiling, proving once again that love handles on women are indeed lovely. In fact, she is drop-dead-fucking-gorgeous. (Why are we never having this conversation about men? Tedious.)

At any rate, Miller gave an insightful interview recently to the U.K.’s Daily Mail, discussing THE photo (at top of blog) that put her on the modeling map. Read it in its entirety below, or at the newspaper’s website:

The spare tyre that started a revolution: Model Lizzie Miller on the 'embarrassing' picture that made her a star

By Lydia Slater

When Lizzie Miller saw the photograph that would make her famous, she felt embarrassed. The picture — which appeared in Glamour magazine in the U.S. a year ago — showed her stretch marks and a roll of soft tummy flesh.

“I said to myself: ‘‘‘OK, it’s not the best picture, but it’s not a big deal. And anyway, nobody’s going to see it.’’’ Famous last words!”

But that photograph, buried in the back of the magazine, generated a global media frenzy and turned her into a supermodel.

Hundreds of emails and letters poured in from women overwhelmed with joy at seeing a normal body in a magazine.

“Seeing someone not airbrushed, with an average looking body, compared to all those stick-thin pictures of perfection — I guess people thought: ‘‘‘Wow! This girl looks like me,’’’ says Lizzie.

It really struck a chord. The work flooded in, with lucrative contracts with American and Italian fashion labels.

Ironically, it was the public reaction that helped Lizzie finally accept her own body in all its curvy glory.

“The part of myself I was most insecure about was my stomach,” she says. “My weight has been an issue I’ve struggled with all my life. But the response I got made me realise other people out there felt like me.”

“One girl wrote to me to say her sister had told her she was fat and ugly all her life. Now, when she feels bad about herself, she goes to her computer, looks at a picture of me and she feels better.

“As I read what she had written, I started crying — I felt so sorry for her. Knowing I could help her feel better about herself is so rewarding to me.”

[Above Photo: “It's crazy that fashion recognizes only one body type”: The 21-year-old, who is a British size 14 to 16, in a recent shoot]

A year on and the reverberations are continuing. Chanel cast plus-size model Crystal Renn in its Cruise 2011 show, and there have been fashion magazine issues dedicated to larger sizes, including V Magazine’s Size issue and Vogue Curvy.

Essentials has announced it will no longer feature celebrities or models on its cover after a survey of readers suggested they preferred ‘real women’.

And when luscious Mad Men actress Christina Hendricks revealed that designers refused to loan her clothes because of her size, it unleashed a storm of protest.

“The designers are going to have to take notice. After all, curvy women have money, too,” says Lizzie. “We want to wear fashionable clothes.”

I met Lizzie, 21, at the offices of her Manhattan modelling agency, Wilhelmina. Articulate and thoughtful, she is also a knockout — a tawny-skinned, athletic blonde who at 5ft 11in measures 38-32-42 and is a British size 14 to 16.

She eats well, exercises daily and, at 12½st, her body mass index is in the healthy range. Only in the warped world of fashion could she have been considered too large.

“When I started modelling eight years ago, plus-size clothes were shapeless potato sacks,” she says.

“Designers were trying to hide the figure because they didn’t know what to do with it. Now, it is better tailored. It’s baby steps, but I think that’s how you make progress.”

Lizzie is happy to be the poster girl for a more realistic portrayal of women in the fashion media. But it wasn’t that long ago that she was too self-conscious to wear dresses or shorts. As a child in San Jose, California, she was teased at school.

“Obesity runs in my family, so I have that genetic thing to battle against,” she says. “When I was little, my mum used to call me her “‘solid chocolate bunny’”.

“I’ve never been a thin girl and I didn’t eat healthily. Every day after school, I would get a bag of Doritos and three Ferrero Rocher chocolates. I ate a lot of cheeseburgers and not enough vegetables.”

As a result, aged 12, she weighed more than she does now. “I was known as the funny, fat one at school. One guy emailed me a picture in which he’d drawn purple stretch marks all over it. That was really hurtful.”

“He also told me that when I wore shorts, people would have to look away in disgust because my legs were so ugly.”

“When I sprained my ankle, he told me another guy had said it was because I was too fat to support myself.”

Until a couple of years ago, Lizzie says she would still hear his voice taunting her every time she showed her legs in public.

“If guys looked at me in the street, I’d never think they were checking me out — I’d assume they were looking at how fat my legs were. Just a couple of cutting comments had an impact on me for years afterwards.”

Eventually, her parents went round to the bully’s family to explain what was going on, and the teasing stopped. Lizzie decided to take her weight under control.

“When I was 12, I remember thinking: ‘“Wow! At this rate, I’m going to be enormous by the time I get to high school.”’ I didn’t want to be known as the fat girl any more — I wanted people to see me, rather than just my body.”

So she and her parents joined WeightWatchers and Lizzie shed four stone merely by eating more healthily. As her weight came off, other people started to notice her looks.

“People came up to me all the time to ask if I was a model,” she says. “I wondered if I should try it, but I never thought I could because I wasn’t super-skinny.”

Then she heard about a casting call for a model search and persuaded her parents to let her attend. Several agencies expressed an interest and, aged 13, Lizzie signed up with Wilhelmina, which has a plus-size division.

She has seen the pressures on models to fit an unrealistic ideal body type. “When I moved to New York, I used to live in an apartment with other models. One girl arrived who’d been working in Japan, where you’re expected to be even skinnier than in the West, and she was clearly anorexic.”

“She’d run for two or three hours a day, and even when we were watching TV, she couldn’t sit still — she’d be doing crunches or leg lifts. She ate only tiny amounts.”

Lizzie lays the blame for this on a fashion industry that worships skinniness. “My room-mate is a model who is naturally thin,” she says. “But there are so many other girls who are bigger than me.”

“It’s crazy that fashion recognises only one body type and if you don’t fit it, you’re considered fat.”

No wonder that a study in 2007 by the University of Missouri found that women felt worse about themselves after looking at pictures of models in magazine adverts for just three minutes.

“We need to be celebrating skinny girls, curvy girls, tall girls, short girls, black girls, Asian girls and all nationalities,” says Lizzie.

“I think that would make women feel a lot better about themselves. We have a long way to go until a girl who’s curvy can be in a magazine without a lot of attention being drawn to her.”

— The Curator

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