I was so incredibly blessed to interview the very first curvy model, Emme Aronson! She is truly an inspiration to every woman out there, curvy or not, on what your life can be is you want it badly enough. Her favorite quote says it all: “Be bold, for mighty forces will sustain you” – Goethe.
1. Question: Since you were originally drawn toward sports and television, why did you choose to become a plus size model and what were some of the challenges you faced to achieve your goal?
Answer: I really wanted to be the next Johnny Carson, so I became a news affiliate. After awhile, I realized how much certain stories affected and stayed with me, and I knew it was too much so I crossed over from journalism to advocacy in the mid-90s. As an advocate for women and girls, I was sent around the world and realized that no matter where I went, women had almost the exact same problems with body image and acceptance.
It took a lot of time before I realized that this issue is a women’s issue, not a size issue, since all women have issues with their bodies, no matter what size they are, and the one common thread running through all of our lives was that we look outside ourselves for acceptance.
2. Question: I was appalled when I learned how your stepfather, Bill, drew lines on your body where he thought you needed to lose weight. Did he eventually accept you the way you are?
Answer: My mother was beautiful and tall, just bigger-boned than her smaller friends. She married Bill, who was obese and used to purge and diet. When he drew those lines, he said he was doing it out of love because he didn’t want me to go through what he did being overweight. Even later, when I was an adult, he used to ask me all the time how much I weighed, even after I asked him to stop doing that. Eventually, I realized that he was never going to change and I didn’t want such a negative influence in my life, so I wrote him a letter severing ties with him for good.
3. Question: Having been raised in both Saudi Arabia and in America, what did you find were some of the biggest differences those 2 cultures had toward women’s bodies? Why do you think they were so different?
Answer: I didn’t get much of a chance to interact with the local women in Saudi Arabia, since they usually had burkas (full body veils) on and were not very approachable. I did find it a little strange that, as a young, single woman, I had more rights than older, married women.
Later, I wanted to make sure that whatever voice they do have is heard and started talking about plus size women on TV which had really never been done at that time. I was stunned to receive a flood of amazing feedback from like-minded women that has continued to this day.
4. Question: What were some of the most powerful responses, either positive or negative, that you received to your book, True Beauty—Positive Attitudes & Practical Tips from the World’s Leading Plus Size Model?
Answer: When the book first came out in 1996, many avid readers had never heard the term “plus size” or knew that plus size models even existed within the uber-thin modeling industry. Women who were not yet connected to healing their self-hatred either rejected the book or, oppositely, embraced it and shared it with their friends. Readers and reviewers were polarized, which really tells of the time it was published. I also felt very vulnerable writing about such personal events in my young life, especially as far as my body image was concerned, although I knew how important it was to do so because only a very, very few people were speaking about such things back then.
5. Question: I loved your article in Huffington Post about former Mayor Bloomberg’s “I AM A GIRL: I’m beautiful the way I am,” campaign. What would you say to critics who claim that encouraging women to accept their bodies will add to the obesity epidemic?
Answer: With so many women not liking the body they were given, a happy, balanced life is highly unattainable – which is a total waste of a good life while you have one on this earth. To change, we need to be less critical of ourselves, which will make us less critical of others. This way, fewer people will point fingers at others, they in turn will feel more secure in their own image, people will take better care of their mental, physical, and spiritual health, and those who live on the extreme (either extremely thin or quite large) will be left to deal with their own issues in their own time. There is no question that all the of the girls in the “I AM A GIRL” campaign were adorable and cute in their own beautiful way. No one can take that away from them and in no way does it promote or encourage obesity. In fact, it encourages women and girls to accept themselves, which leads us to feel better and do more to that end. Nothing wrong with that! Through neglect and not providing empowerment, all things wither away and die.
6. Why do you think so many designers do not want to create plus size clothes? Do you think things like Mayor Bloomberg’s campaign will change their minds?
Answer: I think that Mayor Bloomberg’s “I AM A GIRL” campaign, championed by Mayor Bloomberg’s former deputy press secretary Samantha Levine, definitely opened eyes, having been so well received by people and the media. I’m not sure, however, that it created the desire within the fashion industry to create cute clothes for younger women above a size 12. Change really takes place when we educate young designers from the beginning to design clothes for all women on small and large dress forms. This way, upon graduation, all designers expect to design for all without limitations. I am spearheading such an initiative this fall at Syracuse University VPA’s School of Fashion Design. Check out EmmeNation and join the newsletter to stay in our loop.
I also created EmmeNation’s Adventure Series: EmmeCruise, May 10-17, 2014 to Bermuda, is designed to swoop us up out of our typical day-to-day life to experience with 7 nights of peace, rest, movement, and fun. To give us the exclusive opportunity to meet an extraordinary collection of expansive thinkers, revolutionary shape shifters, try new body+mind+soul exercises, meet like-minded new friends, be waited on, be served, and to re-enter our lives refreshed, renewed, and infused with a new lease on life.
Call it what you want: girlfriend get-away, retreat, or “time for just me”, join us to create memories you’ll want to repeat for years to come.
7. Question: Who is your personal favorite designer and why?
Answer: I love Donna Karan, her sense of grace and flow in everything she creates for a woman’s body. You can find all aspects of your personality in Donna’s clothes; the sexy vixen, the corporate CEO, the modern art dealer, and the woman with flair, adventure, and peace. All of Donna’s pieces from Donna Karan and Urban Zen are like wearable art. Her sensibility and style for the modern woman is what attracts me to her collections decade after decade.
8. I absolutely agree with what you said in your “commencement speech” about living in the present moment. Why do you think it often takes a life-changing event like cancer to make people realize how important that is?
Answer: Sometimes we need a jolt to shake ourselves out of complacency. The only thing that’s consistent is change.
9. If your 12-year-old daughter, Toby, chose to go into modeling or acting, what advice would you give her?
Answer: I’d advise her to choose projects wisely and know what her comfort boundaries are; she needs to know what the right choices are for her, not for anyone else. If she decided to model, I would want her to go with an agency that represents all sizes, not just straight or plus.
10. What are your hopes for yourself, your daughter, and the plus size fashion industry over the next 5 years?
Answer: My hope for my daughter is that she’s happy in the life she has created for herself and through her friendships, that she gets through puberty pretty much unscathed by the harshness of adolescence in 2014, which is much different than when I grew up in 1974!
The hope I have for myself is to continue to forge forward and be a light and source of inspiration to try, do, and believe that all things are possible with a little faith and elbow grease; to NEVER GIVE UP.
For the 12+fashion industry, my hope is to continue to see a blurring of the line that tries to separate us, but be seen to represent a fresh vein of opportunity as an extension of the fashion industry’s reach. The benefits are tenfold…namely by empowering more young women and their mothers in seeing beautifully diversified images of beauty consistently reflected back to them creates higher self acceptance. Which we all can use, right?