In the ’90s, Al Franken’s iconic SNL character Stuart Smalley—the sweater-wearing self-help guru—made America laugh while reminding us that we are good enough, smart enough, and (doggone it) people like us. He was a self-confidence boost in a well-maintained blonde wig.
Everyone needs a Stuart Smalley in their life. Maybe not the actual character, who would give himself pep-talks while staring at his reflection in a mirror, but everyone could use reminding that they are beautiful and important, a message made clear during Fashion Week Minnesota this year, which last week included its first plus-size event and discussion panel.
FWMN comes around semi-annually, with independent fashion designers and producers celebrating Minnesota’s fashion industry at public events. This year featured the plus-size pop-up shop and discussion to highlight how we live in a country that promotes a clear beauty standard: one almost impossible to meet. How many six-foot-tall, size-zero women do you know? When was the last time you were able to lengthen your neck and legs to look like a life-size Barbie? You’ve never been able to do that? Neither have I.
Here’s a reality check: The average woman in America is size 16. Yet size 14 is often considered “plus size,” meaning average women often have a hard time finding clothes that fit and match their style.
This is where the plus-size panel came in, set up by Cat Polivoda, owner of Cake Plus-size Resale (which opens a brick-and-mortar store in Bloomington on October 6) and Michelle Raven of the Twin Cities’ Arc’s Value Village. During FWMN, the two created a pop-up space on Surly’s lawn in Minneapolis—so the panel discussion on size in fashion could also feature racks of clothing sizes 14 and up.
Five local body-positive designers and business leaders made up the panel, and together they bashed beauty standards for 55 minutes straight.
“There’s a difference between being curvy and plus-size and healthy and happy—and being unhealthy,” said Molly McMahan, founder of design business Six Peaks.
Jessica Barnett, director of event venue Machine Shop, recalled a quote: “I knew that I could never look like Barbie, and so I never tried.” She added, “It really resonated with me and hit me at a right time when I was like, ‘F— yeah, I’m not going to look like Barbie. I don’t need to try to look like that, and so it’s OK to look like me.’”
As the discussion came to an end, Char Dobbs, owner of personal styling service Char Style and Image, reminded the crowd to “Be bold. Be you. You deserve to be you.” She put it better than Smalley ever could.
Jessica Barnett, of the Machine Shop
Char Dobbs, of Char Style and Image
Ryan Kroening, of Events by Lady K
Molly McMahan, of Six Peaks
Samantha Rei, of Samantha Rei MPLS, and contestant on Project Runway