by Marléna Ahearn
In 2015, Emme launched the Fashion Without Limits fashion design program at Syracuse University. Since the launch, she dedicates her time to advocate for plus-size fashion and positive body image. The first plus-size supermodel and body image activist also hosts the EmmeStyle podcast every week. After graduating from Syracuse University She started her career as a reporter and found her way to modeling.
In Bold asked Emme about the plus-size fashion industry, fat, and her best advice.
What do you consider to be the most significant change in the plus-size fashion industry since you started modeling?
There are more clothing options, diverse reflections of body shapes and body types in mainstream advertising and editorial and voices being heard online digitally and in mainstream media.
How did you get involved with body image activism?
I crossed over from being a reporter who was taught to always see two sides to fairly represent the story. But when I dove into the modeling industry in 1989, I [became] a body activist where there were very few passionate souls speaking their mind. I saw it as the greatest opportunity of my life to step over the edge and not know where I was going to land, but that it felt right.
What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment as the first plus-size supermodel and a body image advocate?
Being voted by People Magazine as one of their 50 Most Beautiful People in 1994 & 1999 and freely using my voice from that time to today, shedding light on dark places on behalf of women, and children
How do you feel about the word fat?
Fat is a three-letter noun. Why we put so much energy, meaning and value on this is beyond me. Why we allow ourselves to use this seemingly innocent noun as an often times negative value-based adjective and as an assault on each other and most likely ourselves every day is beyond me. I believe it is a habit that’s got to be broken for our sanity and self-esteem, not to mention our health.
You inspire a lot of people. Who inspires you?
Thank you! I got inspired by Oprah when I began stepping out and using my voice. I’m a longtime Johnny Carson fan and loved his way with the average Joe guest with a cool story or some kind of gimmick. Their stories made me realize at a young age that despite how different we may look, we are more alike than different. I love Dr. Sylvia Earle, oceanographer extraordinaire. Her stories about the ocean will get you to think better of how to live well and help the environment while you’re at it. Lastly, I am inspired by nature and masters from different walks of life, each one with messages we all can take and apply to our daily lives.
What question are you tired of people asking you? Why?
“How do you feel about the word plus?” Plus is a 4-letter word that gets way too much attention but at the end of the day, it’s just a word. We place whatever meaning we choose on it, being our responsibility to live well or by other people’s standards. I always say: See the white space, go there and thrive.
What advice would you offer your 20-year-old self?
Not take anything personally. Take more chances. Speak awesomely to yourself and make sure you pick girlfriends as wisely as your men.
What’s your fashion pet-peeve?
Not wearing white after labor day and before Memorial day! I do it anyway.
You launched fashion without limits at Syracuse University. What inspired the program and what is the next step for fashion designers?
When 100 million women above a size 12 can’t find clothes that fit their diverse bodies reflecting their personality and mood, I felt there were incredible opportunities and white space for change. [I] went back to the basics in education so future designers can be exposed to an inclusive fashion education to learn how to serve all women with their fashion designs. Next step for fashion designers is to open their minds creatively. If that takes place globally, magic will happen for women.
If you could only follow one person on twitter, who would it be?
What advice can you give to young women who don’t see themselves represented in media or fashion?
Use your voice for better. Always ask “why?” and if the answer doesn’t resonate with you, figure out a way to shift the conversation digitally, online, in print (magazines), or TV/Podcast/Radio to a more inclusive idea, image, projection of health, and beauty. Tap into groups or with individuals that align with your thoughts/beliefs/ideas and together map out a campaign or strategy for change.