INTERVIEW: Emme, World's First Iconic Plus-Size Supermodel

Sunday, December 14, 2014

As you know by now, I walked as a plus-size model in Macy's "Get Ahead of the Curve" event here in Houston. The event was hosted by plus-size supermodel Emme. Prior to the show, I had the opportunity to sit down with Emme and conduct an interview! You can watch the interview below or here on YouTube, or read the transcribed interview below: 


When did you first know that you wanted to be a model?
I never really wanted to be a model, I was an athlete. I liked make-up and my mom did beautiful make-up on herself. I was working as a Marketing Director for a Real Estate firm and I was trying to promote the Real Estate firm in the best way possible for traveling, business people. And so I grabbed a travel magazine, and in the travel magazine was an article on plus-size modeling. Now that's really unusual and it struck something inside of me. I thought, “Well I'm that height and I'm that size. Wow, I don’t have to loose half of my body weight to be a model? Well, let me sign up, I can make some money! Let's see what happens!” (laughs) So that’s really how it happened. I really wasn't seeking it out. I actually went to the office of the lady who's modeling business it was and she goes, “don’t move”, and that never happens to me; so anyway it was meant to be and that was back in 1989!

I was just going to ask you when you officially started, because my next question, was "How was it trying to get into the Fashion Industry" back then, because I know there's so much more awareness about it now as opposed to 1989.  
It was chiseling through the rock; a bunch of us were chiseling everyday. We weren't shot by the greatest photographers...It's still a little iffy, but it’s still better today then it was back in '89. We were like the second sisters. The work that we got was all catalog work...that was all that we got . Then I started traveling and the market started opening up around the world. Clients were saying, “There are curvy women and they need clothes.” It was really wonderful! My background was in reporting so I was able to communicate to press and media on a very regular basis about what women wanted, because women started talking to me as well as a lot of the other girls that were the top-tier girls that were working around the world.  I was working close to 250 to 300 days a year for about three years, around the world, so it was really quite thrilling to open the market around the world and then the United States as well as it was very challenging. Today, it's really lovely to see these beautiful young ladies gracing covers of Vogue Italia and all over the world on many different covers, having really choice campaigns and seeing a diversified beauty image being projected out. It's just really beautiful to see.

Photo by Tiffany Martinez
And I like that from all perspectives! Obviously, as an African American, seeing more diversity in general, whether it's different races, sizes, or age, it's great! 
Speaking of African Americans, it wasn't too often at the very beginning, whether it was straight size or full figure, that they were present. That was very strange to me because a lot of the clients were African American. I thought, “Why aren't there more women that are representing the majority of the women that were coming to the fashion shows and asking questions?” It’s nice that, that's been addressed; and there's a lot more girls of color, all the different hues of colors in magazines and on runways, and you're starting to see those images much more frequently which is refreshing and important.

Were you every discouraged during this time? 
Yes! There were a few times. I mean being called a fatty, I've always been very athletic so when I was called fatty a couple of times on set by a photographer who had his own insecurities, especially one that was shooting for  Elle, & Harper's & Vogue, and he was very, very "it". I didn't notice then, but it reflected a lot about how he felt about what beauty was.  Unfortunately, a lot of people feel that beauty only comes in one type of contained and controlled and manipulated way. That causes so much injury to young women and quite frankly men on how they see women. That if they don't see the bouquet of beauty, the tulips, the roses, the daises, the sunflowers, the array of who we are, then they're missing something.  You know, we've got it! Its really that communication that there is such a beautiful diversity beyond just what you see in very mainstream, very high-fashion magazines.

Photo Credit: Tiffany Martinez
I can’t believe he (that photographer) can get away with that.
Well the interesting thing is that happened around 1993-94 and after 93, I started to get a lot of People magazine stuff, awards and accolades. I was working down in Miami with a client and I would be there for months at a time and it was about six years later and I was at this luncheonette answering phones for the lady that was throwing food at everybody getting out on their vans. We started a little bit later, so I was helping out and a phone call came in for that photographer. Nothing ever happens for coincidence and I said, "Hold on, one moment please”. I put down the phone and went out and I actually saw him; he was cleaned up and he actually looked handsome. He said “Emme! Is your name Emme?” and I was thinking “Oh my God, he doesn't remember” and I almost gave up on the modeling industry because of that situation, thinking this is a horrible situation for any woman to put herself through. That's the lesson with bullies. It has nothing to do with you. It has so much to do with other people’s perception of what is right, and their own beliefs, and their own stereotypes. I say this to a lot of kids when I do pro-bono lectures “Don’t ever, EVER try and fall and crumble to bullying because it really has nothing to do with you”. I just said to him (the photographer), “Just to let you know you already shot me, it was a wonderful experience in life, and you actually helped me stick in the business”. He said, “That’s great! I would love to work with you”. I was off to the side going, "Wow!"

Photo Credit: Sheela Goh
When did you decide that you wanted to use your modeling platform to be an advocate for women?
I think after meeting thousands and thousands of women within the United States, year after year. I first had EmmeStyle and now I have a community online called Emme Nation where I started to receive a lot of feedback from women that certain things were not being discussed; that there were eating disorders, and problems with young boys having more eating disorders than women, and lack of fashion choices. I started thinking, let me get involved with those organizations that help people with body image and self esteem. It grew naturally, organically to marry the work I have with modeling and being able to project images of health and beauty across entertainment, fashion and moms. It’s a really wonderful opportunity and you don’t really go, “Oh, this is when I become an advocate”, it just grows on you. It felt right that I should speak out about it, so when I go on CNN, The Today Show or on any other venue I feel like it’s a responsibility to communicate what I've learned, statistics, and be able to use my voice, not just for my own purposes, but really from what I've heard from the public!

Photo Credit: Tameka Wells, Embellished Dame
Thank you for doing that for us! How did you feel about being named one of the 50 most beautiful people , not once but twice by People Magazine?
There's really not one word to describe that. I have great support by the TIME & People over at People Magazine and the other magazines that they have. It just shows that media likes to show underdogs; the issue of the women concept and conflict and how to get out of that feeling of the victim, and the empowerment. And not only my story, but there's many stories that TIME and all the magazines underneath them and People, have highlighted stories of hope. And I think my story reflected what millions of women were going through, the frustration and anger. Why can’t women who are diversified whether its color, whether it's age, whether it's size? Why isn't there more of that bouquet represented? It was really lovely when that happened, I felt so honored! I was really tickled! It was in ‘94 and in '99 I got to do a Vargas pin up girl. That was really awesome! And being naked in people magazine I said, “You want me to take of my thong, are you sure?” They asked, "Do you know what we're doing?" I said, "Show me". So it's in the Louvre, it's a beautiful grand odalisque. It’s remarkable! The image was really something that touched so many people and that’s what shot me around me around the globe.


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  1. Great post Shasie and you look amazing.

    Mad For Fashion For Less
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