Giving plus size models a fair spotlight
If there is something that has changed through time just as much as fashion, then that has got to be the evolution of the ideal shape and size of a woman.
There is always a description of what’s considered beautiful —slender physique, narrow shoulders, high waist, symmetrical face, slim waist, hourglass shape and many others. These are highly western media influenced.
Some of the earliest known representations of a woman’s body are the Venus figurines, small statues from 23,000 to 25,000 years ago in Europe.
The figurines, including the “Venus of Willendorf,” found in 1908 at Willendorf, Austria, portray round, pear-shaped women’s bodies, many with large breasts. Aside from this, in ancient Greece, Aphrodite, the goddess of sexual love and beauty, was often portrayed with curves.
Artists continued to portray the “ideal” woman as curvy and voluptuous all the way through to the 17th and 18th centuries, before the entry of her majesty ‘the corset’ and the evolution of beauty took a different shape.
The petite figure became the ‘it’ thing. And while others find enough room to fit, others turn to wild emergencies and make the most of body surgeries and fillers, meanwhile, there are those who still struggle with the acceptance of the natural body shape.
Struggles of plus size women
Having been a model for over 10 years and witnessing the disparities in the modelling world, Winnie Akinyi Jumah, a professional marketer decided to bring the much-needed change within her homeland, by creating a modelling platform for plus-size women.
Winnie grew up in the slums of Nyalenda, Kisumu, coming from a family of four siblings and many others she got along the way after their parents passed on.
“After my parent’s death, I was raised by my mum’s best friend, Selina Aoko, and she is a plus-size woman. I saw her try her best to lose weight, from not eating, to eating one meal a day, to taking lemon tea at night. I also saw her struggle with getting clothes for her size that she was comfortable in. I wanted to create an event to make her and other plus-size women feel beautiful in their plus-size bodies,” shares the 32-year-old fashion enthusiast.
Winnie had ventured into a modelling career after persuasion from top model Evelyn Aboka. “She and the Tuungane Youth Group were incorporating girls and women in their community outreach. At first, I was not accepted because of my dark skin. I later got introduced to Dorothy Oliech, who gave me paying opportunities for high fashion and pageantry, both in Nairobi and Malindi and later in Mombasa,” she shares.
With her immense background and experience as a fashion model, she built the first network for her event- Kisumu Plus Size Fashion Affair, a fashion exhibition, which can easily be referred to as a high fashion event where designers countrywide gather to showcase different attires, also with the hope to make a financial kill out of the show.
“Kisumu’s Plus Size Fashion Affair was initiated in 2016 to celebrate the curvaceousness of our women from the western part of Kenya.
It was also meant to amplify voices on the gender-based violence menace that’s become rampant in recent times and lastly, to create a platform for art lovers to come together for a night of artistic break from the normal hustles of the city.
This year would have been our seventh edition, but because of the Covid-19 pandemic, we had to postpone the event for two years and so, this is the fifth edition,” she shares.
As the saying goes- a prophet is not normally accepted at home, and so was the beginning of this venture for the model too. This change that she sought to create in Kisumu did not manifest in fullness from the start.
Surviving big flop
But eventually, people began to slowly embrace the plus size fashion affair. Initially, people made fun of the event. After a while though, the impact started to be felt, and a lot of people wanted to know more about it.
As Winnie shares, it has not been easy explaining why one should want to see the plus size women on the runway, but it’s becoming a bit easy now that at least the community and the event attendees are slowly looking forward to more events of this kind.
“The first edition was a big flop! I have never cried that long because of business. I, however, kept on telling myself that it will pick up someday. So at the third edition of Kisumu Plus size fashion affair, I saw a change in how Kisumu was receptive to new incorporations into the event. But we got a breakthrough during the fourth edition,” she shares.
Over the years, she has worked with a lot of partners — for this particular year, she had partnerships with both individuals and corporates within and around Kisumu.
One of the biggest challenges she has encountered in this venture remains- getting partners on board for an event that’s not just the ordinary runway event. While some agree to partner, along the way they sometimes end up dropping out of the project and leaving her with a void to fill financially. This has not brought her to her knees though.
“I always say that I am glad I learnt to have a back-up of my own, both financial and human resources. That, and the great support from my best friend- Jaugunja. He is the only person who has seen it all. Kisumu Plus Size even was once debt-ridded, but he remained my biggest supporter among other people, including my brothers,” she intimates.
Her dream for this initiative 10 years from now is to create more plus-size friendly spaces, be it fashion, and health, among others.