Model Melissa Miller, known as Emme, was exposed to the negativity attached to plus-sized women as a preteen when her stepfather encircled her thighs with a magic marker and drew on her stomach to show how she needed to lose weight.
Since then the 51-year-old has hosted E!'s Fashion Emergency and written articles for The Huffington Post and Mode magazine on body image, self esteem, and style, and was the most successful plus-sized model of the 1990s. Now the mother of one is returning to the fashion world to encourage young designers to create more for the plus-sized population and right what she considers an “undeniably present stigma.”
"In one way, [the way full-figured women are portrayed in media and advertising has] gotten better," Emme told WWD. "You see more beautiful size 12s and 14s on the covers of Vogue Italia. Models are starting to come onto the covers of these women’s mainstream magazines."
Emme says that European countries have always portrayed larger women better than the U.S. companies.
"With age and beauty, it’s much less under a microscope in Europe. They don’t Photoshop as intensely as we do in the U.S. I never noticed it was that bad, [but] you...start to travel and you look at the imagery over there. You’ll see fine lines, and you’ll see teeth not being overly white. You’ll see the natural essence of that woman coming out. You’ll see a little bit of age, and you’ll see women who are not size zero. You don’t see a lot of size-zero imagery in Europe."
But shopping in America is difficult for women over size 10.
"I can’t go into most of the stores," she said. "I once took a camera crew with 20/20, and [the shopkeepers] said, 'You can go over to the basement of Bloomingdale’s or Macy’s at Herald Square.' They told me, point-blank, 'No, we don’t have it here.'"
Now Emme has teamed up with her alma mater, Syracuse University, to launch "Fashion Without Limits," a design initiative that encourages students to create styles for sizes 12 and up.
"We wanted to go and educate the new designers and teach them how to drape on a large-size body, whether she’s a little older or a more youthful junior," she said. "Syracuse came to me. I was doing a Kickstarter program, and they told me to pull it off Kickstarter. [The school said] 'We want to take this on and be the first design school to implement — really, truly — through curriculum and draping and a whole program to integrate how to create for a full figure. Every year, everyone will learn how to drape, how to create.' Wolf Form stepped up and donated 12 forms in my measurements. I’m very proportioned. I’m a plus-size model, but I’m very much in between straight size and plus size. Designers who graduate from here use a size 4, 6 or 8 form. Now, they get to have the 2, 4, 6 and the size 16 form, [and] we added an 18 and a 20."
Emme is featured in the Model Alliance 2015 calendar and is currently posing for German clothing line Ulla Popken and the U.S. company David's Bridal.
— The Model Alliance (@ModelAllianceNY) October 16, 2014