Changing the Beauty Standard:

It isn’t easy being a “big girl”. Rubbing thighs, finding properly fitted clothing without looking frumpy, and getting in and out of tight spaces are all in a day’s work. (Shall we call these #BigGirlProblems?)

I’ve gone through the battle and lived much of my life being overweight. My sister and I often joked about our two-person crew, The Big Girls Club. I was the captain. She would soon abandon me, so in college I decided to give-up the captainship. I curbed my eating and gained control over my weight. Today I am deemed a “normal” size by society’s standards, though I still struggle to mentally disassociate myself with my previously plump past life.

For a very long time, I correlated one’s weight with their worth. In my eyes the two practically went hand-in-hand, especially as a teenager. The slimmer girls in high school got the boyfriends, because they were seen as desirable and always had many, many suitors. Of course, as a teen, this was a big deal. Most girls in high school want a boyfriend and the “normal”-sized girls achieved this goal, so I understood them to be more worthy. This notion was damaging and it followed me into college—and to some extent, still lingers in my psyche.

The problem was that I didn’t see the BBW (AKA Big Beautiful Women) as a sought-after archetype that got Prince Charming. Rather, she was an understudy—or a supporting character at best. The heavy friend was “cute in the face and thick in the waist.” But very seldom was she the number one draft pick. In the mainstream media, this perception was consistent. Full-figured women weren’t deemed sexy vixens. In television, they were often comedic or maternal (if not both), fully covered or outrageously dressed. Plus-sized women were certainly not depicted to be physically aspirational; my goal wasn’t to look like any particular plus-sized woman.

Fast-forward a decade and so many things have changed, as evidenced with the new #ImNoAngel advertising campaign.

#ImNoAngel is a high-profile campaign launched by Lane Bryant last week. Its intention is to promote their Cacique line of lingerie while celebrating and encouraging body diversity of plus-size women, including plus-size women of color. (Victoria Lee and Marquita Pring, we see you!) As a woman of color, I value these models’ super-visible presence in the campaign.

I am absolutely elated to see a diverse group of full-figured women wearing lingerie on billboards and in subway car ads. My immediate response seeing these ads? You betta werk! I can relate to these women. This is how a great number women actually look, as compared to the normalized images of super-thin models we’ve gotten used to.

Lane Bryant’s models seem authentic and bold. Larger women have long been told to cover up by mainstream media. When I was plus-sized, I never wore a two-piece bathing suit. The idea terrified me. I was caught-up with the idea of exposing my thick arms, not to mention my stomach. Wearing a bikini wasn’t a viable option in my mind; in part because I didn’t see many larger women exposing themselves. The lumps and bumps were real, and I was uncomfortable. Part of this insecurity was because I was comparing myself to a totally disparate standard of beauty.

The #ImNoAngel campaign is a call to action, a statement that defies convention and says that what is considered “sexy” isn’t exclusively reserved for Victoria’s Secret models. Finding perfection in the physical form is unrealistic; it ain’t happening. So why do we still hold onto the super-slim swimsuit or lingerie model depicted in magazines and on billboards as being nearly perfect?

On the contrary, #ImNoAngel encourages full-figured women to have a sense of pride in their physical appearance. This is about redefining what it means to be beautiful and sexy. It is about empowering women that don’t fit the narrow standard. This campaign is absolutely necessary and I am wholeheartedly here for it.

As expected, the high-profile campaign has stirred-up some controversy on social media. (Haters gonna hate.) What some don't seem to understand is that #ImNoAngel isn’t about tearing down thin women or aimed at making anyone feel inferior. It’s not about skinny-shaming. But the fact is, slim women, this isn’t about you. This campaign is about obliterating a long-standing and completely skewed notion of beauty. This is Lane Bryant’s way of saying that women of all sizes can be desirable and sexy, and hoping the mainstream media can evolve to reflect this bold and daring notion of beauty, too.

Decades from now, I can only hope that my 5-year-old niece grows up to be a woman that is proud of how she looks, regardless of her size. And if she is a full-figured woman, I hope she always feel worthy because the “big girl” narrative has changed.

We are now included within the standard of beauty. - Felice León

Photo: Promotional image from Lane Bryant's #ImNoAngel campaign

Felice León is a regular contributor to For Harriet.

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