Iskra Lawrence Aerie

Inclusivity, the power of social media fame, the prevalence of eating disorders among models and how they can transcend size were among the issues discussed Friday at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

The Model Alliance’s Sara Ziff led the talk with Iskra Lawrence, Lauren Chan and JAG Models’ Gary Dakin, which was part of The Museum at FIT’s “Fashion and Physique” symposium.

Lawrence described an experience when she was 13, being backstage at a fashion show “buck naked” and unable to fit into any of the garments. After telling a stylist what was wrong, she said he told her, “Well, you’re too fat then,” despite the fact that she wore a size 4 to 6. That experience triggered her disordered eating for five or six years, Lawrence said.

Now an internationally known large-size model with four million followers on Instagram, Lawrence said she believes aspiration “should not be a look but a feeling, if that’s confidence, empowerment, even if it’s sexiness, whatever that might be.” To that end, she decided to share only untouched photos and to talk about her relationship with her body, “to show that even as a model or someone in the media, we all have the same feelings of not being good enough or that we fit in,” said Lawrence. When that sentiment resonated with others, she realized she was doing it for them, she added.

Chan said she thinks women are “just programmed to take up less space,” and “we have to work hard mentally to reclaim that and make those labels mean nothing.” Lawrence noted that the value system placed on females even at a young age is on appearance. “We have to change that narrative in our homes and within schools. My long-term dream is to have self-education in schools for mental, physical and emotional health because we need to learn how to speak to ourselves in a loving way and to each other,” Lawrence said. “There is an actual thing that all of you guys can do right now. Change the conversation you’re having in the mirror with yourself…if you hear someone who is saying something that is bringing them down, stop it. Don’t be passive. Actually, take action and say, ‘I wouldn’t speak to my best friend like that.'”

In running the Model Alliance, Ziff has collaborated with researchers at Harvard and Northeastern Universities and they recently published the largest study to date of eating disorders in the industry. More than 80 percent of respondents had a BMI that classified them as underweight, and 62 percent of them had been asked to lose weight by their agencies, she said. And half had been told they wouldn’t book jobs if they didn’t lose weight, Ziff added.

JAG Models’ Gary Dakin said he and his cofounder were very conscious of representing women between the sizes of 0 and 20. Unlike some agencies, he said he would never ask a model to lose weight or gain weight. He also pointed to the scope of the large-size sector from a business perspective. “Financially, this is insane for retailers, designers to ignore 60 percent of the population,” he said, later adding how Nordstrom and J.C. Penney have supported fuller-size models, and more recently, so has Calvin Klein.

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