WORDS Lucinda Graham HEADER IMAGE Jorja Smith album artwork for Falling or Flying
26-year-old R&B royalty Jorja Smith has it all. Her latest album, Falling or Flying is receiving critical acclaim, her accompanying intimate tour is sold out across the UK and last week, Smith added a hot new Clarks collaboration to her repertoire. With all of the surmounting success surrounding Smith at this time, the question must be asked – why are we still talking about her weight? As of the 20th of October, typing in half of Smith’s first name will yield immediate results questioning her weight on TikTok. Imagine having your legacy reduced to one snide search bar suggestion? I can’t fathom the toll this must take on any person.
Imagine having your legacy reduced to one snide search bar suggestion? I can’t fathom the toll this must take on any person.
According to a 2019 interview for ELLE, in conversation with model and activist Adwoah Aboah, Smith stated that she had made herself stop reading online comments surrounding her weight gain. “One thing that used to happen was, because my tummy isn’t flat, if I wear tight things, it sticks out a bit… People comment: ‘She looks pregnant.’ [they] think that, because I have loads of followers, I don’t see things online.” It’s also notable that her X account is run by members of her team and not Jorja personally.
The thing is, it really is none of our business to discuss the R&B star’s weight. Sure, she may have encountered a thyroid condition, started a new medication, or a litany of reproductive issues, or – heaven forbid – she may have simply gained weight.
The demonisation of weight gain in women and femme-presenting people across the fashion and music industry in 2023 suggests that we have not progressed society’s acceptance as far forward as we thought.
The demonisation of weight gain in women and femme-presenting people across the fashion and music industry in 2023 suggests that we have not progressed society’s acceptance as far forward as we thought. We may have made small efforts on the runway, but if as a society, a woman’s ultimate ‘moral failing’ lies in her weight, then we really are no better than our tabloid-based and bloodthirsty predecessors. The narrow eye of the needle of what remains ‘beautiful’ and ‘desirable’ is exactly what the industry perpetuates, and we, very sadly, find ourselves in an age where the goalposts continually shift. The very idea of desirability, and the consequences of not being ‘thin’ continually shift.
Hadiyah Hussain designs inclusive clothing created from a rich personal heritage mixed with cultural inspirations and is a designer who stands for body positivity and inclusivity in all aspects of fashion. What shocked me about Jorja wearing an independent designer wasn’t that a self-contained designer could land a star like Jorja; but actually about what it says of our industry. That perhaps more and more stylists are turning to female-led, inclusive designers to pick up the slack of an industry that still only postures to care about body diversity, but drop the ball at every hurdle. We still are meant to be satiated by heritage houses that send one plus-size woman down the runway in a shapeless jersey or mesh look. Are the industry stylists finally waking up to the fact that change lies in the new generation of up-and-coming designers?
This topic has resonated with me so deeply because I have grown up in the space where so many women reside, outside of the traditional confines of what we are taught to be. Working in the industry is a kicker if you’re plus size. You end up becoming really good at accessorising because there’s no chance you’ll be able to fit into the clothes your peers can. The showrooms are laced with sample sizes, of which you could probably squeeze half of your left tit into.
It’s a strange thing to work as a stylist and engage with clothes on a daily basis, but rarely with clothes that you yourself could wear. I remember my first magazine feature was with Dazed, and the trousers supplied didn’t fit, so we just had to put a coat on over to cover the open fly that I had squeezed into. Sure, it was Fendi, but it didn’t make me feel good. You can be so close and yet so far within your own industry. It’s like the equivalent of a computer programmer not being able to have his own computer. Vintage shopping has become equally depressing for me, with each store usually turning up only a couple of oversized coats, jackets and menswear that I could purchase. If you experience this kind of ‘othering’ in a space, after a while, you may believe that you are not worthy to be there at all.
It’s a strange thing to work as a stylist and engage with clothes on a daily basis, but rarely with clothes that you yourself could wear.
Model and activist Felicity Hayward wrote of her similar ‘othering’ experience at Milan Fashion Week in September: “When I first turned up, not one Italian street style photographer took my photo outside, they literally put their cameras down, even though I was in a full Karoline Vitto look, attending her show, focusing their shots on the smaller framed attendees wearing other designers. I’m not going to lie, egos aside, it did rattle me, was my body still not accepted or understood even though I was attending a full curve show in the designer’s full look? Was that still not seen as fashionable or stylish because of my size?”
DesignerEllie Misnerwants women to feel deeply “beautiful” no matter what their size when they wear her self-titled brand. Misner, who has created custom and couture looks alike for icons such as Paloma Elsesser, ShyGirl, Aweng Chuol, Ashley Graham, RAYE and Alva Claire, to name a few. Having long created looks that encompass multiple body types –a key to the meteoric rise of the young designer – Misner claims that she was “never taught” to build garments for “larger bodies”, and that Universities naturally divert students to make for size S/XS mannequins. She states that it was actually through her work “in creating made-to-measure corsets” that helped her to understand the female form and pattern draft accordingly, skills that Misner feels are “deeply important” to her practice.
“If you can’t create something beautiful for anyone, I don’t think that you are really a good designer,” says Misner.
Not only this, but if you stop producing clothes after say, a size 12, then “you are literally halving your target market… outside of morally whether I think it’s right or not, economically it’s just stupid,” says Misner.
Misner also grew up through the thick of “early 2000’s diet culture, celeb culture.. and a size 10 was seen as huge… Even the way our mums or other women around us talk about themselves… it’s so hard to escape the narrative that putting on weight is bad… And to be bigger is seen as undesirable.” She goes on to say, “But that’s why I do what I do… because when someone puts on one of my pieces and says, I feel beautiful, it’s just the best feeling in the world.”
I wonder what this means for the new generation of designers, stylists and talent – to have grown up within the crucible of toxic diet culture and body image, and to choose another way.
I wonder what this means for the new generation of designers, stylists and talent – to have grown up within the crucible of toxic diet culture and body image, and to choose another way. How do you forge a path as a young creative that you have never seen sustainably rolled out before? To still be having this conversation is exhausting, for everyone involved, but my faith is firmly planted on the young designers and stylists who will continue to put pressure on the industry, from the inside. To swap the discourse from being about weight, to why we are not doing better for bigger bodies.
Lucinda Graham is a Freelance Stylist and creative based in East London. Sustainable fashion practices are at the heart of her work, as well as being a vocal disability and body diversity advocate within the fashion industry.