African-American women tackle negative body stereotypes through fashion and entrepreneurship

By Laura Onyeneho

Mainstream media have gradually shown what the movers and shakers of the plus-size fashion industry can do. This year, plus-size models like Tess Munster signed to a mainstream-modeling agency, and Ashley Graham was featured in Sports Illustrated in the magazine’s first plus-size swimwear advertisement.

Even with mainstream media making efforts to recognize the growing acceptance of curves in the fashion industry, many say there’s more room for improvement in knowledge and understanding about all body types. But in Boston, three African-American women take a stand to change social attitudes about obesity and body acceptance through their own personal life experiences.

“When people hear the body acceptance movement, they also assume its anti-health,” said Chardline Faiteau, fashion curator and plus-size fashion blogger. “It’s here to promote acceptance for all bodies.”

Faiteau is the creator of Plus Size Beausion, a fashion blog made to showcase plus-size fashion and her weight loss journey. Like many other African-American women, she also struggled with obesity. Raised in Dorchester, she recalled that much of her life centered on her Haitian culture and food. “What my family taught me about eating was that salad was decoration; lots of rice and lots of meat,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about nutrition, I just knew what my plate should look like and what my portions should be.”

Plus Size Beausion features the best in plus size fashion and apparel
Plus Size Beausion features plus-size fashion and apparel

For fear of gaining weight during college, she began to quickly drop weight before going there. Around her senior year of high school, she was diagnosed with a minor case of anorexia. But once in college, Faiteau gained a lot of weight. At one point she weighed as much as 367 pounds. It wasn’t until her senior year of college when she researched the Paleo diet. “Paleo taught me a lot about what food does to the body and which foods I should and should not be eating,” she said. “Since then I have lost 113 pounds.”

Growing up in Dorchester, Faiteau said she saw the affects of a lack of nutritional education. “If you go down my street, you’ll find seven corner stores, three pizza stores, a whole bunch of liquors shops, six churches and a bus station,” she said. “You’re not finding ‘Hey, let’s go to this juice bar,’ or ‘Let’s go to the natural store’ or ‘Come try out these news salads.’”

Faiteau said she found her way downtown to find trainers and Paleo diet gurus to teach her how to eat properly.

Her fashion blog helped Faiteau analyze societal issues that she said has created a riff between plus-size women and the mainstream media. She mentioned Kim Kardashian and her body shape compared to views of the same body type 20 years ago. “Back then, that was not the idolized body, but now that she [Kim Kardashian] came in, everyone wants hips, thighs, and lips.”

Faiteau said she always had a vested interest in fashion, but was disappointed at the lack of variety of sizes she saw in stores. She followed online plus-size bloggers to find out where they purchased their clothes and how their own experiences were like “in a world where people don’t appreciate the fuller figure.” That inspired her to create her blog, guiding women on ways to dress in their size. “ I am happy that I choose blogging, that it’s a platform that is accessible to anyone,” Faiteau said. “I want my audience to feel like they have a place, and that they are not alone.”

Healthy Rich Chicks

In addition to the blogging communities, Boston is home to several initiatives to educate women about health and body image. Erica Moise started one such program, Healthy Rich Chicks, in which she dedicates her time to coaching women to invest in building wealth in the “mind, body, soul, and bank account.” This year she launched her Healthy Rich Chicks dinner party at The Fairmount Grille in Hyde Park on April 2nd. The launch introduced her push for a positive self-image alongside efforts to accumulate economic and personal wealth.

Supporters at the Healthy Rich Chick Dinner Party launch
Supporters at the Healthy Rich Chick Dinner Party launch

Moise’s journey before launching Healthy Rich Chicks was a rocky one. “ I didn’t know what I wanted to do career wise,” she said. “I called myself an ‘entrepre-whore’ because any industry I could think of, I wanted to put myself in a position where I could work for myself.” When she was laid off from her job in July 2014, she struggled for months to launch her business. She credited her consistency and faith in herself for her business success so far. Moise hopes that her business inspires other women in the community to do the same.

Like Faiteau, Moise was also overweight. She relied on plus-size blogs for inspiration because part of her confidence stemmed from those sites. “It’s the oligarchies at the top that dictates what’s attractive,” she commented. “Now you have to figure out how to ignore all of that, while being influenced by commercials and beauty magazines.”

Through her personal coaching and branding services, Moise teaches her clients best practices in self-representation on social media platforms, how to craft personal stories that “take customers on a journey,” and how to break the “mold of uniformity.”

“I don’t accept anything society offers because a lot of it is a lie,” said Moise. “The diet fad is huge, the makeup industry is huge, and there is a lot of things that profit off of insecurity.”

Thicky Chicky

Izzy Lopes, owner of Thicky Chicky, an online boutique that caters to curvy women, said the way to break these stereotyped barriers is to continue to push the brand for plus-size fashion. She calls her brand “dope clothes for thick chicks” as it promotes trendy and unique pieces for her customers. “The intent was to design clothes for plussize women, said Lopes. “Thicky Chicky started from my experience with the disappointments in clothing selection in stores for curvier women.” The boutique was launched in 2013 with the mission in “cultivating the confidence and inner beauty of curvy women through fashion.” Thicky Chicky consists of three major components: vintage clothing, clothing from select manufacturers, and personal collections designed by Lopes. Her designs cater to women who are sizes 12-24.

Lopes also does more than fashion. She is a mother, a Big Brother Big Sister organization mentor, and a public health social worker who has dedicated her career to improving the health and quality of life of so-called vulnerable populations. “We need to focus on how negative self-images can affect young girls because they are so malleable and vulnerable,” she said. “I think it’s my duty to tell these young girls to reject these artificial standards of beauty and create a standard that you can identify for yourself.”

Izzy Lopes, founder of Thicky Chicky
Izzy Lopes, founder of Thicky Chicky

As a fellow supporter of the Curvy Girl Movement, Lopes said she disagrees that it’s considered a movement. “Whenever I hear that word, the implication is that it’s something that is fleeting and passing and it’s not,” she said. “This is what it is. People are getting more vocal to demand what they want to see in stores. I want to see a mannequin that is shaped like me.”

Lopes, Moise, and Faiteau plan to continue to build their brands and to educate their communities about self- confidence and healthy body images. In agreement, they believe the media has fallen short in publicizing images that positively reflect women of all body types.

“ I want women to feel beautiful. I want women to embrace their confidence and stop looking for affirmation,” Lopes said, adding, “We are responsible for standing up and telling our own stories.”

About Laura Onyeneho 3 Articles
Laura Onyeneho is a candidate for an MA in Broadcast Journalism at Emerson College and graduated Cum Laude from Curry College with a BA in Politics and History and Minor in Communication. She is a contributing writer for the Bay State Banner Newspaper, reported for 88.9 WERS’ Associated Press award winning public affairs show ‘You Are Here” and a Co-Host on the Associated Press- RTDNA award winning Emerson College talk show “Every Women Has A Story” which profiles the lives, obstacles, and successes of everyday women. She hopes to use journalism as a platform to spotlight the experiences of underserved communities both in the United States and abroad.