One of the interesting things that happened at last year’s Lagos Fashion and Design Week was the inclusion of plus-size models. To see models that didn’t look food-starved or rail-thin was refreshing. Catering to plus-size women and carving a much-needed niche in the fashion landscape, the About That Curvy Life collective and labels like Makioba were elegantly in the forefront at LFDW, showing that plus-size women wouldn’t be held back by the industry’s straight-jacket conventions of beauty. Size doesn’t matter, as long as you are confident in your skin seemed to be the overarching message.
“We’re getting a foot in the door. People have to see plus fashion in a way they never have before,” Latasha Ngwube, founder of About That Curvy Life, told CNN. “You can become that which you desire if you believe that you deserve to be considered beautiful.”
Almost a year later and this is about to happen: Plus-Size Fashion Week Africa, first of its kind in Africa and tipped to be huge. “Celebrating the real African woman” is the theme and, from the look of things, you wouldn’t have your regular, angular models strutting the runway. Instead, plus-size and bountifully curvy models will rule and shake the earth, drawing unbelievable power from their age-long marginalisation and giving a middle finger to thin privilege. That is how I imagine it. More than anything, Plus-Size Fashion Week Africa will be single-handedly pushing for its own visibility. Commendable as it is, the driving force behind the theme for PFWA appears to be hinged on an exclusionary body politics that, once reversed, becomes acutely familiar to plus-size women.
The idea that the “real” African woman is voluptuous and full-figured is a myth that has congealed with time. African women, even in pre-colonial times, have always come in different shapes and sizes from which constitutes a heterogenous make up. Perhaps the ancient practice in Calabar where young girls are sent into fattening rooms to prepare them for marriage and womanhood, so that they look fat after the process, might have leaked into today’s perceptions of what an African woman should look like. From this, it is easy to see where PFWA has been moulded from, but in its quest in fixing a problem that has bedeviled the fashion industry and society as a whole, it has created a new one. Which is shoehorning African womanhood into a rigid category. Essentially, PFWA is saying that African women can’t be considered as “real” unless they are plus-size. And what is particularly interesting about this veiled discrimination is how PFWA has removed itself from the margins, and weaponised the same exclusionary tactics that spurred its own conceptualisation.
For a long time now, the fashion industry has been slowly shifting towards agender or genderless fashion; men fashion shows have been harmonised with women’s, and brands are realising that this is a way to save cost in promoting their collections. Having a fashion show that glorifies the plus-size body seems redundant, and although underpinning PFWA’s creation is the need for a platform where plus-size women are recognised and their bodies deemed as acceptably beautiful, its theme undercuts this purpose.
At the last Lagos Fashion and Design Week, plus-size beauty went big (excuse the pun), into the mainstream. Sharing the same space with swirling body conventions and challenging beauty norms, it produced a juxtaposition that was as subtle as it was seamless. And the solution lies there—blurring the delineating lines between thin and fat until it no longer matters.