Local company puts plus-size women, big-and-tall men on the runway
By Jamal Denman
In American media and advertising outlets everywhere, there are images of tall, freakishly thin, fair-skinned women that are intended to represent the ideal model of beauty all females are constantly told in one way or another they should strive to emulate.
Most people do not fit the description of the model that is often presented. People come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes and shades; even those that can be described as tall, thin and fair-skinned usually look nothing like the professionally styled and digitally enhanced images seen on screen and in print media.
This current situation is the reason why Nena McAlister started Beauty Exxtreme, a company dedicated to promoting alternate versions of beauty standards and building the self-esteem of those who are rarely represented or recognized in media, advertising or fashion.
While McAlister wants to help promote everyone who feels underrepresented by the media and fashion industries, her focus is on plus-size women and big and tall men. “We [plus-size women] have no clothes to represent us… We’re the last people they think about, even though we’re willing to spend money,” says McAlister.
She is also concerned about how on the rare occasions the fashion industry makes an attempt to cater to plus-size women, there seems to be no attempt to give them the same range of choices that smaller sized women have to choose from. Her goal is to “make the fashion industry change their minds, and make them understand that we’re just as beautiful as that size six or size two, and we need to be represented just like them. Just like they make them [smaller women] look beautiful, we want to look and feel that same way.”
McAlister wants the fashion industry to understand that just because a person is a larger size, it does not mean that they are unhappy, lacking confidence, or have no concern with looking good.
“We’re beautiful on the inside and out; just because the average American doesn’t think so, doesn’t mean we feel that way. And every time someone talks about a large person or full-figured woman, they want to say we’re miserable and unhappy; [but] we’re not all miserable, we’re not all unhappy. I love me, 100 percent of me. I never want to be a skinny person,” McAlister passionately expressed.
Although McAlister is not lacking any confidence and is very comfortable with her size, she recognizes that not all people of larger stature feel the same way. This is one of the main reasons Beauty Exxtreme puts together events like the Beautiful People Fashion Show, which took place May 5 in Bloomington. The show featured plus-size women such as Marie Chanté, Jody Hemmingson and Lorna Pettus, while the big-and-tall male models included KMOJ-FM personalities Walter “Q-Bear” Banks, Jr., Samuel “Big Sam” Williams, Brother Jules and Ray Seville.
The models confidently showed off suits, dresses, swimwear and lingerie from designers such as Robert E. Knight and Sonsi, as well as selections from Harold Pener and K&G Fashion. Designs from MCTC students were also showcased. The show was hosted by comedian Shed G, and included performances by Jermz the Teacher and Lyrik LaShá. A portion of proceeds went to Keith Barnes, who was hit by a car while rescuing a woman trapped in an overturned vehicle on the highway in December 2011.
The event drew a decent-sized, diverse crowd who really seemed to enjoy the experience. Q-Bear summed up the night by saying, “KMOJ is here, and the community is here, and it’s all about support and showing that love. [In regards to] the fashion and the modeling, you’re seeing some of the best of the big guys and the [plus-size] ladies, and it’s going down; so if you missed it, you truly missed a treat!”
Many of the models seemed to have fun participating in the show, engaging with the crowd and strutting down the runway with supreme confidence. Marie Chanté, a spoken-word artist, says she has been interested in modeling ever since she was a young girl — her mother and grandmother would teach her and her sisters “elegance and how to walk with poise by placing telephone books or a mop bucket on [their] heads and have [them] walk 20 to 30 steps.”
Always referred to as being “pleasantly plump,” Chanté is very comfortable with her size, and it definitely showed on the runway. When asked about the experience, she cheerfully cries out, “It was amazing! I had so much fun! It was a really beautiful experience for me.”
When Chanté was 16, she went to a model call and was told she was too big, which she said “sort of scarred me a little.” She tried again in her twenties, but she was not presented with any opportunities that she was comfortable with. “I’m a single mom; I have three sons. I was at an age in my life and my children were at an age where I didn’t want them seeing me in magazines or on TV with my tail in the air.” She also did not want to disgrace her parents.
Working with Beauty Exxtreme gave Chanté that opportunity, which is why she plans on working with them again in the future.
When Lorna Pettis is not modeling for Beauty Exxtreme, the married mother — who between her and her husband have six children and 25 grandchildren — is the front desk and event coordinator at the Minneapolis Urban League. Being friends with Nena McAlister and believing in her message were key reasons for Pettis working with Beauty Exxtreme. “Everyone could be beautiful, no matter what size you are, and I think she does a good job at conveying that message,” she says.
McAlister plans to host other events promoting the Beauty Exxtreme philosophy in the near future, including another fashion show in the fall.
For more information about Beauty Exxtreme, go to www.facebook.com/pages/Beauty-Exxtreme/286286084756698.
Jamal Denman welcomes reader response to [email protected]