Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Personal is Political (and Fashionable) for Plus Size Model Liz Shar

You may have seen Detroit native Liz Shar performing onstage with Fancy Street, Phantom Cats, or as Ginger Spice at last year’s Creepy Cheapy. These days, the flame-haired beauty with the piercing blue eyes is in D.C., ready to take on grad school, unrealistic standards for women, and the rapidly changing world of plus-size modeling. Hip in Detroit caught up with Shar to find out what she thinks of the recent body positive movement and what her plans are for the future.
KT- How and when did you get started modeling?
LS- I have always been a performer in terms of singing, dancing, and acting, but I honestly never thought I would become a model. I just didn't think I would like being stuck in front of a camera, since I was so used to having a stage. In the winter of 2012, my former roommate, Detroit artist Kelly Guillory, asked me if I would be interested in test shooting with renowned fashion photographer, MUAH, and stylist Leticia Fisher who was starting a plus size fashion publication called PHAT Magazine (now Majour Magazine), and I thought maybe I should give it a shot! Needless to say, I ended up loving the camera. Working with Fisher for PHAT Magazine was an absolutely invaluable experience that I am still so grateful for. Her work is edgy and sexy, and she really let me experiment and find my own way as a model while giving me tips and direction as needed. She really opened up my eyes to the entire plus size modeling/fashion world that I had not been entirely aware of up to that point!

KT: How soon after did you get signed by IPM Model Management?
LS: I got signed to IPM MM soon after walking the runway for Full Figured Fashion Week 2014 in New York City.

KT: Did you have any fashion role models growing up? If so, who?
LS: Do Disney princesses count? If so, them, but also the evil witches and queens in Disney movies, the Spice Girls, and then Avril Lavigne in middle school, and Stevie Nicks in high school.

KT: How would you describe your own personal style?
LS: This is a difficult one... I've always kind of done my own thing when it comes to fashion. I tend to dress more "boho" than anything nowadays, but sometimes that Disney witch goth in me still comes out. When I was a child, my favorites were a black velvet and gold Minnie Mouse dress with puffy sleeves, and hot pink cowboy boots with gold studs, otherwise I would just wear dance costumes around the house!
KT: You've been very up front about overcoming an eating disorder on social media. How has modeling affected your body image?
LS: Yes, for years I was on and off battling bulimia, and punishing myself in other ways for being fat. At a certain point, I realized that if I'm going to declare myself a feminist and care about other women's self love and body acceptance, then I should focus on my own as well. Society teaches women to devalue themselves if they don't live up to its extremely narrow vision of beauty, and although more generous, the plus size fashion industry is not exempt from this part of our world. People may think that plus models have it easy, but in reality, there are still narrow margins placed upon us. I've been told I'm too big, then getting too small, or that I need to trim my hips, but not lose the weight in my face... it's pretty absurd at times how specific the ideals can be.

Honestly, I've taught myself to ignore the societal clamor, because no one fits into one narrow margin. We all have unique body types with genetically predetermined fat deposits, and I refuse to devalue myself because I'm not exactly who someone wishes I was in terms of size. I truly believe that our bodies are shells for the soul, and if I can emulate a healthy spirit, then who cares if I'm a perfect hourglass with a flat stomach and a big ass? I eat healthy, exercise daily, and I'm becoming more psychologically sound and psychically connected to myself each day.

Overall, I would say modeling has greatly improved my body image based on what I've learned about myself, and how I've grown in reaction to the body shaming world around me.

KT: Was there any special significance for you when Tess Holliday signed with MiLK Model Management?
LS: I find it so interesting that I could be so proud of someone that I don't even know in real life! Tess is probably the most important face of the body acceptance movement, so for her to get signed to an agency and be featured in Torrid and Monif C, who usually use size 12 - 16 models, was pretty amazing and influential! People continually shame her for being the size she is, and make all sorts of claims about her health and the message she's spreading to young girls about health and weight... but I think it’s great that there is a size 22 model representing women over a size 16, because whether people like it or not, these women exist, and guess what? They also love fashion! This is when I drop #stylehasnosize and #effyourbeautystandards. Haha.

KT: Model Denise Bidot has said that plus size models should just be referred to as models. How do you feel about the term plus size?
LS: I do not think we should drop the plus quite yet. Adding "plus" is an important marketing term that lets women over a size 12 know that there is clothing in their size available for them. Basically, as long as women have to seek out special designers and stores to find their size, we actually need the term plus. You can't just say "models" because there aren't just "sizes". There are petites, plus, and maternity. These are all terms to specify the sizing of the available clothing, and therefore the models should generally match! I mean, of course plus models are just models... but most plus models are actually plus sized, so they can only model plus sizes. If you're a size 10 or 12, you may be able to still shop at any store you want, but as soon as you reach the 12-14 cusp, you may need to work extra to seek out size-specific designers, and isn't "plus" synonymous with "extra"? It's true that bigger curves offer "more to love," but also "more to deal with" in regards to finding clothes that fit properly, so we need to keep the plus to simplify the search.

KT: What designers are you currently working with?
LS: I just worked with Sydney's Closet for their upcoming Prom line, which was SO much fun. One second I was a Disney princess, the next I was a rockabilly diva. There is actually a sneak peak of the gowns featured in the current September 2015 issue of Plus Model Magazine!
KT: What do you see as the future for plus size fashion?
LS: I think that more and more designers will want to take advantage of the growing plus size fashion market. As the world slowly, collectively realizes that most women are over a size 8, plus sizes will become easier to find, which may one day lead to just having "sizes," when we can drop the plus. The average woman in the United States is a size 14, so there is obviously a large market with money to be made. The truth is that real women are all different sizes, and they ALL want to look fly!

KT: Are you still pursuing music even though you are no longer in Detroit?
LS: I've been messing around on Ableton, and I brought a guitar with me to play around with, but I haven't been aggressively pursuing music at the moment. The next four months are going to be really, really intense between grad school, my internship with the Linguistic Society of America, and working at Whole Foods, but I'm still planning on learning guitar slowly, but surely, because I really need to learn an instrument that I can travel with! Of course, I'm constantly singing, and I'm always writing songs in my head, but I really do miss being in a band. Next semester I may try to get a little group together, but honestly, I need to wait and see how my school workload feels first.

KT: What are you studying in grad school?
LS: I'm attending Georgetown University for a M.S. in Sociolinguistics. I'm interested in dialect change/variation, language stigmatization, and language and identity in regards to gender and race. Yes I'm actually a huge nerd!!


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