Michelle Elman, body confidence coach and author, teamed up with photographer Linda Blacker to give plus-size Asian women the representation they deserve.
Fashion has for the longest time been exclusive to those who fit one particular mold of body size and even race. But over time, there has been a push for diversification to represent more types of people. Having not seen anything but the token person of color to get diversity brownie points in ad campaigns, body confidence coach and author, Michelle Elman, decided to take matters into her own hands. While she had noticed the inclusion of size, she saw that there was no diversity in race. So teaming up with photographer Linda Blacker, she decided to organize a photoshoot of her own to show how things were done.
Asian representation would most often be restricted to one person being shown on behalf of multiple continents. "Particularly within plus-size, the lack of Asian representation is noticeable and I believe it is due to the stereotype of Asian women being petite and of course, if that’s the only Asians we see, this stereotype is perpetuated and the pressure of Asian women to conform to the beauty ideal is greater," Elman told Good Morning America. To draw attention to the lack of true diversity, she joined hands with Blacker to create a campaign across varying body types and skin shades.
Together, the two women came up with a stunning concept for the campaign to show what fashion magazines were missing out on. The shoot included plus-size social media influencers from Instagram and Twitter, Bishamber Das, Vanessa Sison, Saalene, Kat Henry, Mina Kumari, Sim Sandhu, and Elman herself. The pictures were posted on Instagram, where they soon went viral. In the caption, Elman wrote, "Despite the absence in the media, Asian is actually the largest ethnic minority in the UK. Asians deserve to be represented. Asians deserve to be seen. And all Asians aren’t the stereotype of being small and petite. Being Asian is not one look. Being Asian is not one culture." She added, "Whilst even this shoot isn’t a perfect representation, it shows just a small sample of the diversity within Asia."
Speaking to Canon Europe, Blacker spoke of the unique photoshoot, "That was such a nice feeling. That's what makes me happiest – when people see themselves represented. It was wonderful being able to support the work of Michelle too, who is a plus-size Asian woman. Although it's not that often, there can be backlash, but there's also overwhelming love and support for what we're doing." The photos also received raving reviews from social media users. User donna.resultsrealtymetrowest commented, Want to see more of this in the media. Thank you! Another user, rickyrebarco said, Amazing and beautiful. More Asians in movies, advertisements, fashion, everywhere, please!
"We hope this photo demonstrates that 'Asian' is not one appearance," Elman said. "People want to feel included and ultimately brands have a responsibility to acknowledge that their customers want to feel seen." As an Instagram influencer herself, Elman had started conversations about inclusivity and diversity with the brands she worked with. While they responded affirmatively, no actions were taken to reflect this. She then realized she had to bring about this change herself. "Having a more diverse idea of beauty benefits and empowers everyone," she stated. "Body positivity is for all marginalized bodies and we need to make sure that when we talk about being inclusive, we are being intersectional across ability, age, gender, and sexuality."
“I got criticism from every side of my life for my size ― family, friends, teachers, other students,” Sandhu told HuffPost. “And not once did I ever have someone to point to and say, ‘She’s like me and she’s living her best life. I can, too.’” She added, “I’m hoping that these pictures help other people feel seen and that some other kid doesn’t spend as long as I did figuring out they’re beautiful and powerful just as they are.”