‘Where Are All The Asian Women In The Plus-Size Community?’

With the overlap of body positivity and the plus-size community, it seems more ironic when campaigns with the slogan “every body is beautiful” fail to include an entire continent says Michelle Elman

Michelle Elman

by Michelle Elman |

As James Baldwin once said, “The price one pays for pursuing any profession or calling is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side” - and being a part of the body positive and plus-size community is no different. It is a wonderful thing to be a part of – and the increasing awareness and support for body positivity is growing. And yet, Asian women are absent – excluded, even – from the plus-size community.

For years I stayed silent on the issue – first of all because I didn’t think it was my place. I am mixed-raced, I am half-white and therefore I benefit from white privilege. In fact, I think that’s probably the reason why I’m often the only Asian in the room at events – because I’m just white enough to pass. And, secondly, I stayed silent simply out of fear that if I vocalised my concerns, I would be excluded further. After all, I’d already noticed I was getting around a quarter of the opportunities of my counterparts with the same size following seemed to – and when I was getting an opportunity, there was a massive pay disparity.

So, I spoke out. In an Instagram post, I asked my followers to tag UK plus-size Asian accounts. Hours and over 3000 likes later, only four other people could be found. It exactly proved my point: that Asian women are practically non-existent in this community. Inspect the Instagram accounts of most plus-size brands and you won’t find a single Asian woman.

Plus-sized Asian women very rarely feature in campaigns, especially in mainstream brands, let alone on their website or in sponsored posts. Since starting my advocacy work within the body positive community four years ago, and being invited to plus-size events, I have always been the only Asian in the room. Despite attending more than 100 events within that time, I don’t have a single memory of being in a room with another plus-size Asian woman. Not once. I would hazard a guess that most white plus-sized influencers wouldn’t be able to even name an Asian contemporary.

It can be argued that there is not only a lack of Asian presence within the industry, but that I work in an industry that is not always welcoming, or more to the point, fair. Recently I learned that on a brand collaboration I was being paid half the amount a white woman – who has a strong following, but one which is one quarter of the size of mine – was paid. Late last year, I attended an event where everyone with the same size following were being paid to attend. I quoted my fee but was told they had no budget and that not even my travel and accommodation could be covered. When this happens time and time again, it’s really easy to question yourself, which I did.

Maybe my content is just not as good, I thought. Maybe I’m not as good at public speaking? Maybe it is just... me? Yet, even if all of this is true, where are the other Asian women? If I hadn’t attended, an entire continent would not have being represented and the evening would still been praised for its diversity, I suspect. The final straw that caused me to eventually speak out was an event two weeks ago, when I was told by a white woman that I didn’t “count” as a woman of colour. Even in conversations about women of colour, Asian women are left out.

Asian women for years have been stereotyped as being petite. This illusion not only creates more shame for Asian women who don’t fit the societal perception, but also feeds the idea that there is no ‘need’ for Asian women to take up space in plus-size. And this has been the case for far too long. Not only that, but Asia is a massive continent – you just wouldn’t know it looking at the representation we have. Instead, Chinese women are treated as interchangeable with Indian women, or Filipino women and the differences between our cultures are not honoured.

With the overlap of body positivity and the plus-size community, it seems more ironic that this issue persists when campaigns with the slogan “every body is beautiful” fail to include an entire continent. You cannot call for diversity in terms of size and then claim to be colour-blind when it comes to race.

So, from now on, I am going to be asking why I am the only Asian woman in the room, and I implore you to do the same. It doesn’t matter what industry you are in, ask why there are no Asian women in the room. We need to see race, in order to address racism; silence only lets racism prosper. It has done so for far too long.

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