6 Inspiring Women Who Are Combatting Media's Body-Positivity Problem

More so than any other time of year, fall is the season when fashion tends to be on everyone’s mind — not just the obsessives that pore over September issues. Blame it on the back-to-school shopping itch, buzz-worthy cover stories, and need for something fresh after three months living in denim cutoffs. But this year, we’re looking at the fantasy, luxury editorials and mainstream commercials through a different lens. Inspired by Lane Bryant's fall 2015 campaign, #PlusIsEqual, which aims to democratize fashion for women of all sizes, we’re partnering with the body-positive brand to offer a universal alternative: #LetsRepresent.

Teaming with fashion-industry players across the board, #LetsRepresent — intended for tagging onto photos that wholly and awesomely embrace inclusivity — is more than a hashtag that’s about to be everywhere. It’s a demand to broaden the mainstream definition of beauty. It’s a recognition of those who are striving to present diversity among women in media. And starting right now, it’s a social movement that we’re kicking off with six amazing individuals who stand behind it.

As models, writers, and even a celebrity stylist whose client roster includes Lena Dunham and Zooey Deschanel, the women ahead are powerful voices in the body-positive movement. And they've got a lot to say when it comes to the persistent problem with one-size-fits-all standards. Read on, get inspired, and spread the message about the real September issue, #LetsRepresent.
Paloma Elsesser
Writer, model, and student

Pressures Are Not Aspirations
"As women, we are subconsciously taught to be good at everything and keep everything under control. In the media, we are encouraged to 1) be a caretaker, 2) have a cool and lucrative career, 3) be a doting and loving partner, 4) maintain our appearances, and 5) be intellectual. I myself want all of these things, but part of me believes that I am disillusioned to view them as aspirations versus pressures. Throughout magazines and TV shows, we are forced to swallow a big pile of these expectations...I see so many individuals striving to be the same woman."

Honor Your Worth

"My advice for dealing with harmful messages is to know your worth. No one can take what you have away from you. Ever."

Love (& Like) Yourself First
"Acceptance is essential in body positivity and positivity in general. In order to actualize your best self, one must understand and accept the terms of the life they are living or the body they are living in. I have never been thin, and I accepted that I probably won't ever be thin a long time ago. It has been incredibly freeing and allows me to explore what it is to like myself, which is still a battle. But I am accepting it!"
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Sophie Tweed-Simmons
Model

Speak Up
"Most harmful messages in the media are hidden within advertising. My advice for dealing with the overwhelming standards we are thrown every day is to find an outlet to speak about how they make you feel. Whether that’s a friend or even a workshop (yes, they exist), seek out a place where you feel safe expressing your concerns. The danger comes when women hold in how they feel and take it out on themselves."

Expect More
"I think women are fed the idea of one-size-fits-all beauty through the media. Even in plus-size advertisements, we see women with gorgeous faces, proportionate bodies, clear skin, and sex appeal. Being a model means being aspirational, but I think there are many ways we can be both aspirational and inspirational. It is not enough to be a pretty face. Show me how you give back to the community. Show me how you inspire young women. Show me how you have overcome."

Celebrate Strength
"I feel the most confident wearing a sports bra! Usually when I’m wearing one, I know I've just worked on building my strength and endurance. As a young girl, I struggled with finding teen styles that would do the job, so I stayed away from the gym and physical activities. When I discovered my love for sports, a good bra was my best friend. When I’m running on the treadmill or hiking up my favorite trail, I feel the most confident and strong in my sports bra."
Shirley Kurata
Celebrity stylist

Change Focus
"Female celebrities are constantly being put under a microscope for their outfits, their body shape, their cellulite, [and] their wrinkles more frequently than male celebrities. More attention is given to their physical appearance rather than their intellect or accomplishments. One of the underlying messages that women are sent through the media they digest is that physical aspects are more noteworthy than spiritual and intellectual aspects, which I feel is very unfair and unhealthy."

Break The Mold

"When I was younger, I would read American fashion magazines — the fact that I rarely saw any Asian representation made me realize that I didn’t fit the mold of mainstream beauty. For the most part, the models that graced the pages were Caucasian, and it was especially rare to see an Asian on the cover or in the fashion editorials. I felt very excluded. I didn’t really have that many Asian peers that I could look up to or relate to in the fashion, TV, or film worlds. It has gotten better these days as we see more diversity in fashion, but we still need improvement."

Cut Yourself A Break
"To quote Buddha, 'You, yourself, as much as anybody else in the universe, deserve your love and affection.' This is the best advice about body positivity. It's about self-compassion, which involves being less judgmental and more gentle and understanding of ourselves."
Kelsey Miller
Senior features writer at Refinery29, creator of The Anti-Diet Project, and author of Big Girl (available January 2016)

Ignore Labels
"Trends come and go, but we're still seeing non-inclusive sizing across the board. Honestly, I do understand there's a financial component here, and making more sizes is expensive, but I think we've reached a point where that argument doesn't hold water. The actual issue of size-chart variance and vanity sizing is a whole other issue — we're utterly beholden to these labels that don't reflect reality."

Be Seen
"Do not hide your body, and do not hide yourself. Even if you're struggling or ashamed — especially if you are — get out there. Make the deliberate choice to be present in your life, see other people, and be seen. Claim your space, every day. It is still a radical thing to present yourself as body confident, no matter what your size. The more we all make the choice to do so, the more we make this world a safer and more diverse place for ourselves and each other."

Reject The Digs
"Your body is a problem to be fixed — this is the underlying message in so much of what we're fed by the media. Hide your holiday weight in these gigantic sweaters. 10 leg exercises to get your biggest thigh gap ever. OMG it's time to start freaking out about your beach body! In some ways, it's less explicit than it used to be, but the subtle digs are an even more insidious problem."
Chastity Garner-Valentine
Blogger, GarnerStyle

Go Mainstream
"There are still only a couple of mainstream fashion magazines that have any plus fashion. Come on, it's time."

Flip The Script
"Even in the world of plus-size fashion, there are still a lot of unspoken advantages to those that are under a size 18, have an hourglass shape, and have a European look. As a black girl who is a size 26, it's a constant battle to prove to even plus-size fashion that I'm just as good as my size-16 counterparts. Anytime I feel this way, it just motivates me and encourages me to work harder."

Find Confidence
"I feel most confident when I'm handling my own business affairs and negotiations. I'm a fashion girl, so I'm probably put together in a skirt and top that give me clean lines, with clean makeup and a girl-power posture."
Dale Noelle
President of TRUE Model Management

Know When It's Just A Number
"A fashion-industry norm I’d like to see turned on its head is the age standard for models. Most women in fashion look like they are in their 20s, and there is extreme pressure on women to maintain a youthful appearance and body."

Be Complimentary
"My advice for dealing with the overwhelming, mixed, and harmful messages women receive through the media is to make an effort to compliment and positively reinforce yourself, your friends, and even a stranger, daily. I can be my worst critic at times, but when I receive a compliment or positive message from someone, it makes me appreciate my remarkable qualities. The media only portrays a fraction of the women in the population, which makes it integral for women to maintain a sense of individualism and to celebrate that uniqueness."

Eff Perfection
"Many women in the media are shown with professional hair, makeup, styling, lighting, cosmetic surgery, and/or image retouching, which hide or correct most lines, dimples, dark circles, or 'imperfections.' Through fantastical portrayals, women are held to the standards that the media presents as the ideal woman. The more women become obsessed with physical perfection, the less inner joy they experience. Happiness generated on the inside radiates outwardly — the world would be a better place if everyone focused more on their minds and souls and less on their appearances."
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