With curve models on runways, magazine covers and beauty campaigns, there’s no doubt that plus-size fashion has made leaps and bounds in the past few years. But for Dascha Polanco and Danielle Brooks, there’s still a long way to go, especially when it comes to including women of color.
In a conversation with InStyle, the Orange Is the New Black stars opened up about their experiences as plus-size women in fashion and entertainment, and why they believe that the plus-size fashion industry often prioritizes white women. As women who are both above a size 6, both Polanco and Brooks struggle with finding designers to dress them and often need to have their red carpet outfits custom made because they’re unable to fit in sample sizes. “I wear a 14/16. [Designers] will give my stylist a 10/12,” Brooks said. “I can’t fit a 10/12. It’s their way of saying, ‘We’re not going to dress you. We’ll give you what we got, but we’re not going to waste our time dressing you.'”
However, when Polanco and Brooks do find designers to dress them, they encounter another problem. As women of color, both Polanco and Brooks have found that brands prioritize white women when it comes to custom-making their clothes or casting them as their faces. “You know what else I noticed? That you have to be a white woman, first, in order to be dressed by a brand, whether you’re a sample size or plus-size,” Polanco said. “That’s another issue I have. OK, yeah, you have plus-size women, but it has to be a white woman first. It can’t be a woman of color that’s plus-size, it can’t be a Caribbean girl that’s a size 10. I don’t understand that. It drives me crazy.”
In terms of fashion, Brooks only saw thin and light-skin Black women, such as Naomi Campbell or Tyra Banks, growing up. It wasn’t until she saw Sudanese model Alex Wek that she noticed something different. “Speaking as an African-American woman, I hear you, Dascha. I did not see many big women, if any, getting to be in the spotlight that way. As African-American women, we had the Naomi Campbells, we had the Tyras, we had Beverly Johnson, but for me it was a very specific look,” Brooks said. “But, to really see a dark-skinned woman grace a runway, I think is just becoming a very new thing. I’m just now seeing Alex Wek. Getting to see someone like her was pretty incredible to me.”
In a 2017 interview with Vogue, Brooks opened up about only seeing “skinny white women” in the media and urged the fashion industry to look beyond Ashley Graham and cast other plus-size models. “I don’t know if fashion has made a wholehearted effort,” Brooks said. “It’s more like, ‘Oh this is a trend, let’s get on it.’ Then they bring in Ashley Graham, who is amazing, but isn’t the only plus-size model ever to exist. What about Marquita [Pring], Denise [Bidot], Philomena [Kwao], Tess Holliday? When I look at the ads I don’t see faces like mine, I see skinny white women.”
Plus-size fashion has made strides, but Brooks and Polanco are here to remind us that there’s still a lot of progress to be made.