There's no denying how many more fashion opportunities (shopping, yes, but also campaign fronting, and more) plus-size women are afforded these days — much of which is thanks to Emme. And, the inclusivity evolution is still happening. We sat down with her to learn more about the good, the bad, and the ugly of the industry, and to reflect on just how much things have changed in a few decades. It was, in a word: Super.
How did you break into the modeling industry?
"I was a reporter for an NBC affiliate in Flagstaff, AZ and [I] loved people's stories... After a year and a half, I left for NYC, where I worked as a marketing director... I was combing through an on-flight magazine where an article on plus-size modeling caught my eye. I loved my job, but I took the agency's address and walked into the office on my lunch time (with a black-and-white polyester Liz Claiborne jumpsuit and thick, black patent-leather belt, unibrow, and red lipstick) where I met and was signed on right on the spot by agent Susan Georget! I later went to Ford Models and continued my career with Patty Sicular... It was good timing and following an impulse to go out of my comfort zone. I had no idea what type of work a plus-size model did...it just felt like a good idea to explore."
Do you notice any differences between when you were modeling regularly and the industry today?
"Happily and thankfully, I see a new generation of empowered young [size] 12-plus models hitting the runways, photo shoots, and go sees, and feel like there's a new day in the industry. No shame and guilt anywhere, and in fact, it's sometimes quite the opposite. I've actually met a few divas, which is not a bad thing — it keeps things interesting and unpredictable. The jobs are getting a higher pay scale but not at the rate quite yet of our smaller model sisters...but that's slowly changing. But, most of all, the world is witnessing the most beautiful array of beauty ever to be seen."
Do you feel that public perception of plus models and plus fashion has changed?
"Absolutely. The top tier 12-plus models in demand for magazine editorials and the cream of the crop campaigns remain size 12, 14, 16, 5-foot-9 to 6-foot-1; but there's an implosion online of women feeling good in their skin, rocking the runways, and modeling in catalogues for [women] size 18 and higher."
"Being in the industry in the early '90s and a part of the wave of 'firsts' opening up to our industry, my 'I did it' moments happened early on and throughout. Being twice nominated as People Magazine's '50 of the Most Beautiful People' in '94 and '99 put me on the map, and brought the issues at hand in the public eye. Being asked to join Revlon as one of their spokespeople will always be a highlight, as well as being named 'One Of The Most Influential Women in America' by Biography Magazine and one of 'Women of the Year' by Glamour Magazine. I was so very fortunate to be in the industry at the right time when women were beginning to awaken from feeling badly about themselves because of an unrealistic ideal of beauty.
"I feel I'm in a 'I did that' moment now and look forward more 'I did it' moments to come as I re-enter the modeling industry with Rebecca Thorpe over at MUSE NY now at the seasoned age of 51. The best, I feel, is yet to come!"
What has been your worst experience in the industry?
"Being at the [receiving] end of a photographers' wrath when he found out he was shooting a plus model for a jeans campaign, and [screamed], 'I will not shoot this fatty,' and slammed the door to the amazement of his crew and my makeup team. I was so close to leaving the industry that morning, but didn't, and am so glad I didn't let him get the best of me. He actually was forced to shoot me four hours later once he regained his composure, and it turned out to be a highly successful campaign that solidified my place in modeling at the time."
Do you feel you're treated differently as a larger model?
"Yes and no. I feel there are more opportunities yet to be had, but whenever I work on a set or with other 12-plus models, I feel there is a certain appreciation and excitement [for] our presence. Long gone are the days when photographers refused to shoot us based on our size above the classical size 0 models commonly used in print, commercial, and editorial spreads. Refreshingly, there's a lot more room to express ourselves as models representing a majority of women."
There have recently been attempts to take back the term "fat" (to remove the negative stigma), and use "plus" or "curvy" instead of "plus-size." What do you think of the term "plus-size"?
"I have never liked the term plus-size. It always had this negative connotation associated with it in the mass public. Within the modeling industry, it was a category used by bookers and clients which is where is should have stayed. Clearly, if you have a campaign with diversified models, one will be larger than the other, so what?... Reporters and mainstream media have worked on trying to get the right jargon around this issue and feel we're getting close, be it 'curvy,' '12-plus,' or no callout to the issue of the model's size. I want to see the day where no clarifier is used and we know the models by name only — for smaller or curvier. It's obvious curves are in the picture — we're not blind for goodness sake — let's move on!"
"It's great! Personally, I am a big fan of ASOS... They are addressing all women so well and understand who their customer is. SMART folks over at ASOS. No excuses, just doing the right thing... I think social media used in this way shows how powerful our market is and the size share of the industry we really can own, and sadly how underserved we've been for decades. Thanks to ASOS, and others like them that understand there's a fashion-starved customer with money to spend, we're going to see more use of social media... It certainly is about time!"
Do you consider yourself "plus-size"?
"No, never have and probably never will even at a 16. Others may, but I refuse to define myself by this term. Undeniably, I am a larger woman (I'm] German and Polish) — I'm still very athletic and probably will be to the day I die. I do however relate to curvy women in the plight to finding modern, well-made clothes that properly fit. Not all plus-size lines should be created equal! I like more tailoring and refuse to wear boxy dresses or tops. I am body-conscious...and like to show my shape. I can't stand feeling like a second sister going into department stores that have plus-size sections that have no energy or excitement, or extended clothing lines that aren't replenished beyond a couple of size 16s. I always feel that top execs just don't want us in their store if they're going to leave the money of 68 million women on the table, I can't teach them otherwise."
Have you ever been asked to lose or gain weight for a shoot?
"No. But stay in shape and be consistant in shape and size from one shoot to another, yes. As a top model, this is required, otherwise, you'll drive your client crazy and not get rebooked!"
What's something surprising about plus-size modeling that people might not know?
"We can have careers much longer than our smaller model sisters...start in the industries later, and have families. What could be better?"
"I have to shrug it off. Knowing we've been fighting to play on the same 'stage' as size 0 top models and now have more opportunities as size 12, 14, 16s, I take it and run. It's really a complement when women say to me, 'You really don't look plus size!' I say, 'EXACTLY!' That's why I'm proud to do the work I do representing the majority of women and what all this fuss has been about.
What's your go-to clothing item when you want to feel fabulous?
"A form-fitted, jersey, three-quarter sleeve ruched dress with my platform, leopard-print, peep-toe shoes, complete with my favorite cashmere wrap and clutch in tow."
How would you describe your personal style?
"Classic with modern accents. I love art and believe a woman's body can be an incredible canvas, and clothing, wearable art. Simple elegance, clean lines with great accents via accessories. Hot shoes, of course — love my heels!"
What advice can you give aspiring models?
"Do not give up. Showing up is where the miracles happen. Leave your ego at the door and take the leap for a new test shot, look, hair color, eyebrow shape, new outfit. Get to know yourself and what you like/dislike in your life. Find a good routine and stick to it. Eat foods close to the earth, and enjoy regular and consistent body movement, and most of all create a social life and maintain your friendships. Share what you learn and give back — always give back! Last, but not least: HAVE FUN. If it's not fun, get out. Life is too short to not do what you love."