Pretty woman, redefined


Nov. 11, 2006, midnight | By Audrey Kubetin | 13 years, 8 months ago


As junior Jaynice Harden struts down a makeshift runway in the front of the SAC, she knows that each step brings her closer to the modeling career she's always wanted. She's three weeks into her first year with Blair's fashion club, but what she lacks in experience, she makes up for in confidence and curves.

Harden, who wears size large or extra-large, stands out in a field where the average model is a size zero, according to the Evening Standard. With her full figure, Harden looks more like the typical woman: According to SizeUSA, a nationwide study of body type, the average American woman is a size 14.

Efforts are underway both on and off the catwalk to narrow the gap between the average supermodel and the average woman. In September, coordinators of the Madrid Fashion Week made headlines by banning underweight models from the runway, as reported by CNN.com.

Thousands of miles away from Madrid, Blair's fashion club, Fash-On High, takes the same all-inclusive approach to modeling. Although hopefuls have to try out to join, the club has no minimum weight and no maximum weight – no discussion of weight, period. To participate, an aspiring model needs only a nice pair of shoes, a confident walk and an unwavering dedication to the club. On Oct. 27, when Fash-On High held its first show of the year, models of every body type sashayed side by side down the catwalk.

By selecting its members based on talent and personality, the fashion club gives full-figured fashionistas the chance to break into the world of modeling. Watching these girls walk the runway, it's clear that at Blair, beauty comes in all sizes.

Fast times at Fash-On High

When Fash-On High held tryouts during the last week of September, over 50 students showed up to vie for a chance to be in the club. Security officer and club sponsor Tanesha Taylor says that the models were selected based on their style and energy. "We want confidence. We want the girls to have positive attitudes," she says. "We look for things that stand out." Height and weight, Taylor says, did not factor into the decision.

Between Monday and Wednesday, club members teach prospective recruits the steps to a choreographed walk. On Thursday and Friday, the modeling hopefuls are called into room 232 to perform the routine they learned, and a walk of their own, in front of Taylor and Fash-On High's student leaders.

Junior Courtney Forbes is the first to walk for the judges. When she enters room 232, she finds a makeshift catwalk set up before her: The collapsible partition to the classroom next door has been folded away, creating an open space where two long rows of desks are set a few feet apart to define the borders of the runway. The panel of judges sits at one end of the catwalk, watching Forbes's every move.

As the upbeat rhythm of Beyoncé's "Upgrade U" fills the room, Forbes begins to walk, calmly and confidently, down the runway. Forbes, who is 5'1.5" and a size seven, knows she doesn't look like the prototypical model, but she knows the power of a positive attitude. "It's not about what you look like on the outside," she says. "It's what you bring to the runway."

As sophomore Janee Holden waits for her number to be called, she watches girl after girl walk out of room 232 looking dejected. Holden, a size 15, begins to feel nervous. "I didn't know if I would make it," she says.

Standing at the end of the catwalk, waiting for the music to start, Holden feels a flood of relief as she hears the familiar first notes of "Upgrade U" begin to play. Stepping perfectly in time with Beyoncé's beat, Holden hopes the judges still look past her size and see her style. "They want to see your personality in your walk," she says.

The next week, when the list of models who made the cut is posted outside the main office, both Holden and Forbes see their names listed among the new members of Fash-On High.

Role models

To Forbes, a good model has self-respect, no matter what her size. "It's really all about accepting yourself," she says. "If you don't have confidence, you can't go out there and own that runway."

When she was younger, Forbes admits, she had trouble accepting her body. When she hit puberty, she began to fill out – much more than she expected. She began to worry about how other people saw her. "When someone says, 'Courtney, you have a big butt,' or 'Courtney, you're really thick,' it really downs your confidence," she says.

As her weight climbed, her self-esteem sank. Although Forbes had been dancing since she was 3 years old, she stopped taking classes as her confidence continued to drop during middle school. When she compared herself to her thinner classmates, she felt overgrown and out of place.

After Forbes arrived at Blair, her self-image began to improve. "I walked into Blair, and I saw girls who were just like me: my size, my age," she says. "It made me feel comfortable in my own skin."

While Forbes struggled with her self-esteem, Harden says she's always been comfortable with her size. "I do me," she explains. She says she couldn't care less how others think she looks.

Because Fash-On High doesn't focus on weight, members don't feel pressured to be a certain size. "You can be all sizes," Harden explains. "As long as you're confident and you can walk, you can be on the team."

A professional model's career, however, is heavily dependent on his or her appearance – a pressure that pushes many models to unhealthy extremes in diet and exercise. To promote a healthy body image, organizers of the Madrid Fashion Week required models to have a Body Mass Index, which relates height to weight, of 18 or higher in order to participate in the show.

Forbes feels that placing a strict ban on certain sizes is unfair. Some women are naturally a size zero, she explains, just as other women find a better fit in plus-size clothing. On the catwalk, Forbes says, "You should have full-figured women standing next to skinny women. You should have all body types."

At Blair, Forbes has learned to accept herself. "This butt isn't going anywhere, and neither are my thighs. It's part of my heritage," she says. Rather than trying to be something she's not, Forbes wants to set an example for other full-figured girls – both on the runway and off. "I want to be the girl who says, 'You can do it,'" she says. "I didn't get that, so I want to be that for other girls."




Audrey Kubetin. Audrey lives off of tea, tofu and Tool. The end. More »

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