A Fashion Documentary On Body Diversity Is Coming

Photographed by Skye Parrott.
Philomena Kwao.
Although it feels like everywhere you turn there’s another plus-size model breaking down barriers and challenging society’s unrealistic beauty standards, representation in media is still majorly lacking. We clamor for diversity in size, skin color, age, and any identifier to which we relate, while brands consistently show us nothing but thin, young, and white. Leading the charge to combat that dull and dangerous model monotony is Straight/Curve, a controversial film that’s about to make a lot of designers and agents uncomfortable. What began as a documentary focused solely on the plus-size modeling world has since evolved; Straight/Curve now tackles both the thin and thick of the fashion industry, while also touching on its obsession with youth and whiteness. It hopes to inform viewers about the lingering diversity issues, as well as consider what the future of fashion will look like. Although you’ll have to wait until early 2017 to catch the documentary in its entirety, we’ve snagged its second trailer to give you a sneak peek. Plus, we sat down with creator Jenny McQuaile to talk about the film, whether she thinks inclusivity is a "fad," and why it's important to call out the industry's hypocrisy.
What is your take on this current uptick in inclusivity in the industry? Is meaningful progress being made, or do you think it's, for lack of a better word, a trend?
"I really, really don’t. I feel that a lot of people say that this has happened before, and it is happening again. But I think that this time is different. I have talked to people who have been rooted in this industry for 15 years or more, and they all say that this time feels different."

Do you think fashion should reflect real life, or be aspirational — a dream?

“The idea that fashion is fantasy is absolutely true, is absolutely valid, it should be celebrated, and I think we all as women look at high fashion as something that can be celebrated as fantasy, but the biggest thing is that fantasy doesn’t need to be one size. We can still have a woman who’s a size 2 [or] 4 as a fantasy figure and role model, but we can also have a size 14, a size 18, a size 22...and that’s not going to damage the industry. It’s not going to take away from that sense of fantasy. “Social media has given everyone a platform and a voice. I think that’s why people are saying that 'No, we want to see ourselves represented!' [Something like] 90% of women do not feel represented in the fashion industry or media. That is insane. I think that is broadening and I honestly believe that so long as people continue to voice what they want to see that won’t go away, because there is a bottom line and a business at play here. There will always be that really, really high end couture who doesn’t change, but maybe they don’t need to. In my opinion, the real change needs to happen a step down from that. If houses like Michael Kors and Marc Jacobs opened themselves up to a more diverse range of women and sizes, that would change the dialogue. That would change the industry. It will trickle down; the H&Ms and the Zaras will then reflect this. People in mainstream media will talk about this. Women in society will be able to access clothing and see themselves represented. “Maybe we wanted too much or we were trying to demand too much. So that every fashion house should change and Chanel and Dior, they should all open up to all sizes of women. I don’t actually believe that is true because I don’t know if that can ever happen. Trying to push that envelope may just stop us from achieving what we can actually achieve, which is just a little lower step down the ladder. I truly believe both can exist in the same realm of fashion without diluting the other.” Why do you feel that size expansion with couture may never happen?
“Maybe it will. I think that a lot of people have talked to me about design as art. I do believe that designers are artists, and as such they are allowed the creative freedom to create what they want to create, and the minute we tell a designer what to draw they are no longer an artist. However it is applied art; humans have to wear this clothing and they have to pay money for it. I feel that it isn’t right to tell artists what to draw, but at the same time, high fashion houses also have to pay attention to their bottom line. There’s money to be made. This is a multi-billion dollar industry. What is weird and surprising to me is that people don’t see that or accept that.”
Photographed by Skye Parrott.
Iskra Lawrence.
Even among the plus models, there’s still a very narrow range of what’s considered appropriate. Why don’t you think there are models above a size 14?
“The answers I tend to receive when I ask that have been surrounding the misconceptions around health. This is something we are looking into in the documentary, and really trying to open up the conversation surrounding health and size in a positive way... There is a big sense of, ‘We can’t be associated with [size 14 plus] because that is not healthy.’ I personally do not agree with that. Who are we to look at another woman to say that she is healthy or not, at any size? That’s nonsense. There are so many misconceptions in the midst of this obesity epidemic in America, and brands are terrified to be associated with anything related to a larger size.” It seems hypocritical that the industry would say, “This person is larger so they must not be healthy,” when agencies are encouraging models to engage in dangerous diets to maintain a size 0 figure.
“I don’t think it is just the agencies' fault. They are mirroring their clients’ demands. It comes from both, then it trickles down through the industry. It is clients, brands, agencies; it’s across the board. It’s fear, and the fear is real. “What we are trying to do with Straight/Curve is open up that conversation so we can show that women can be fit and healthy at many, many sizes. You can have a size 0-2 model who is the epitome of health and you can have a size 0-2 model who is on death’s door. Likewise you can have a size 14-16-18 woman who can run marathons and you can have other women of that size who can’t climb a flight of stairs. So it is important to continue to note that health is individual, and we can’t tell just by looking. I don’t know how to address that, but I think it has to do with the fact that we’ve been so accustomed to seeing smaller sizes for so long that we’re desensitized to the imagery, whereas the other end of the spectrum is relatively new so it is easy to create reasons why people don’t want to see more of that. “I think it's important to note that obesity is real. I don’t think anyone wants to be encouraging an unhealthy lifestyle. That’s not a good thing to do. But again, who are we to say what is a healthy lifestyle for any individual person? For me, separating the conversation between health and the fashion industry is actually quite important.”

What challenges did you face while creating this film?

“There’s been resistance from this straight-sized world to be associated with the plus-size world. There’s still fear. That was a big challenge. Brands have either been 100% behind this idea or 100% against this idea. That was interesting; there’s no middle ground. I don’t know what that says. What we are trying to do with the film is open up the conversation so we can all get rid of the shame, stigma, and fear.” What made you choose the subjects who appear in the film?
“We wanted our women to be more than just the face. People associate models with just being a face or a body. They just sell clothes. Women in the industry now are so much more than that and it is so important to celebrate. These women have powerful voices. They are moving this movement forward and creating change. They are activists and working with organizations globally on things, from the environment, to health, to education. I think that needs to be celebrated. I think we needed to make sure that all the women can stand strong and really come across as more than what we have been accustomed to seeing models as, which is just a face or a body. I think all our characters embody that.” Why do you think representation is so important?
“Representation is important because every human being on the planet deserves to see themselves reflected and feel good about themselves. It is a really hard thing to wake up in the morning every single day and feel good about yourself, and it gets worse if it is compounded by the industry, and the media, and movies, and music. It just makes everything in life way harder, when that is entirely unnecessary. “We should be celebrating women so that women can go out and do their jobs, and ace that job interview they are dying to land. We should empower women so they can shoot for the stars and not be terrified of what they look like. That is damaging to society as a whole.” Straight/Curve will be released in early 2017.

More from Fashion

R29 Original Series