What It's Like To Work In Fashion As A Size 12

 

20th Century-Fox Film Corp/Everett Collection

Actress Marilyn Monroe on the set of 1953’s How to Marry a Millionaire. The actress’ famous hourglass shape has been a hot topic for years.

In 2005, the year I moved to New York City from Pittsburgh, I lost 40 pounds.

I was 23 and I dropped the weight by working out and eating less, but not too much less. It’s been nearly a decade, and I’ve managed to maintain it. On a normal day, I’m a size 12. On the best days, I’m a 10. And on a vanity-size day, I’m an 8. Healthy and average has always been the goal.

But healthy and average also means I’m neither a waify model nor a bodacious plus-size. And working in the world of fashion, I’m not sure where that leaves me.

Let me start from the beginning: When I turned 10, I decided that clothes were more than pretty. They could communicate exactly who you were at that one specific moment in your life.

I remember noticing a pair of mustard-colored Converse in a magazine and thinking, “These shoes explain the person I want to be.” They were classic but offbeat, and I liked the idea that by wearing them, I would be seen as someone who wasn’t afraid to stand out. Unsurprisingly, those particular kicks have helped to define my style for decades. (I call the look “considered tomboy.”) They made me realize that style was a powerful thing, and that the fashion world was at the core of that thing.

As a teen, and a true plus-size, wearing the clothing I obsessed over—Marc Jacobs’ fall 1998 collection, Betsey Johnson prom dresses, Contempo Casual super-flares—was a fantasy I could never quite make into a reality. So when I hit the “normal-size” mark and could actually fit into 3.1 Phillip Lim blazers and Isabel Marant pants, it was a real relief.

I think that’s a big reason I’ve been able to keep the weight off: Every time I try on a neat little blouse or a pair of high-waisted jeans, I’m living the dream all over again.

Even though size was an impediment to wearing the clothes I loved, I never once thought that my fashion-writing ambitions would be stifled by my weight. And they weren’t. It was, in fact, the complete opposite of the stereotypical fashion cliché. After getting my start covering the business side of the industry for a financial magazine, I got a dream job: Web editor at this very title, when I was 29 years old.

At Lucky, I was with my people. There’s something special about being surrounded by dozens of women—and a few men, too—who are just as interested in clothes as you are. It was nothing like all of the TV shows and movies set in magazine offices: Everyone genuinely got along and there were no couture bullies. It was the kind of place where you’d walk into a meeting and at least four people were wearing mint green jeans, which would inspire the other four people in the meeting to also buy mint green jeans. (They had a moment about two years ago, okay?)

Justin Chung

Writer Lauren Sherman

But because we were often talking about fit and flattery, I started thinking about my body more than I had for a long time—and making it a part of my identity at work.

Fashion celebrates the extremes. There are runway models and curvy models. “Straight” sizes and “plus” sizes. For me, it’s always been about wearing what I felt good in—I didn’t consider myself part of either end of the spectrum.

But in editorial meetings, when we would talk about bringing in more plus-size clothes and voices, I felt like I needed to speak up for the “bigger” girls. I remember saying, “Well, since I’m the closest to what is considered plus-size, I think I should share my thoughts.”

It’s strange to feel obligated to a group in which you don’t necessarily belong. I have a healthy BMI, and while I’m not what’s considered slim in New York, I’m skinnier than what is considered average in America. (Currently, that’s 5' 4" and a size 14.)

On the other hand, I’m still the person I was as a size 16. I remember not fitting into jeans at the mall. And trying on sweaters in the men’s department because that was all that would work. (To be fair, they did have a sort of borrowed-from-the-boys appeal.) What’s more, every time I see a new plus-size label launch, I still have a “Yeah, we’re making progress!” reaction.

As for what my coworkers think of my weight? You know, I’m not really sure. No colleague has ever commented on my size, except to give me a genuine compliment. (And I’m a freelance writer now, so I’d say that I have more bosses and colleagues than most.) I, on the other hand, mention my size quite often, almost bringing it up proactively so no one else can.

This weird little inner struggle came to a head when, for the December 2013 issue of this magazine, Eva—the editor in chief—asked me to submit a photo of myself for the Contributors page. I tried to play it cool, but secretly my heart was both full and anxious at once. As a writer, being on a Contributors page of a major publication has always been a goal of mine. But as someone who doesn’t feel like she necessarily has the right look, I worried that none of my photos would work. “I’m not cute like that,” I said to Eva. (What I really meant was “I’m not skinny enough.”) “Of course you are!” was her “Give me a break, lady” response. In the end, I made it to the Contributors page, no slimming down of my size-12 self required. Just Lauren Sherman as she looks when she’s smiling.

Which leads me to my 2014 revelation: My hang-ups are my hang-ups only. I never let my size get in the way of dating, or getting good grades, or getting published. So why should it matter now?

A few months ago, I wrote an essay online that required me to post several photos of myself in different outfits. Those full-length shots landed on one of the biggest websites in the world, known for its “colorful” (read: snarky) commenters. The remarks weren’t all favorable, but the mean ones were all focused on my outfit choices, not my size. To my surprise, most of the comments specifically referring to my body were totally ... fine. “She has shapely legs for a fashion editor,” one said.

Not plus-size, not normal, not skinny: shapely. And whatever “shapely” meant to that person, it honestly didn’t sound so bad to me.

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