Miami Swim Week has brought big-name models and designers to South Florida for over a decade, but last weekend a different kind of fashion show was happening at the same time. It was the first edition of Miami Curves Week+, a two-day event giving fuller-figured women a chance to celebrate their bodies.
Curves Week consisted of an all-female comedy show, plus-sized vendors setting up a pop-up market and a swimsuit runway show.
Participants said an event like this was especially welcome in Miami, which has a particularly strong stereotype for the female body. Though some see the city making progress in body acceptance, women at Curves Week said that the expectation here is still "slim waist, and nice humongous rear end," "that plastic-surgery type" and "high-cut, super slender, tall bronze."
"I had my boobs done on the plane," joked Gina Brillon, the headliner for the Curves+Comedy Show. She said she does feel added pressure when performing here.
"It's nerve-wracking anytime I go to Miami, or California, or Las Vegas, or anyplace where it's like beautiful people might as well just be the billboard when you come in. Welcome to Miami: yes you're uglier than all of us," she said.
All of the comics are plus-sized (that's the point of Curves Week). And, of course, they're also all women.
"The stigma of women not being funny is still around, and that's really sad," said Brillon. "I realize that any time a woman gains any kind of momentum in this business, it's always attributed to something else other than her talent, which is infuriating."
Pairing comedy and fashion is relatively rare. But it might be telling that a specifically plus-sized fashion event opened that door. At some point, society started associating "fat" with "funny." In the entertainment industry, known for its brutal appearance standards, comic actors are often forgiven the extra weight – and even criticized if they lose it. It's happened to John Belushi, Lisa Lampanelli and Jonah Hill.
"Some comedians, when they start out, their weight is a part of their act, and people fall in love with them for that," said Alycia Cooper, another comic performing at the show. "So I think when those comics lose the weight, all of a sudden the audience takes it like, 'aw, I can't relate to him anymore, I was only relating to him when he was fat.' "
She said this can be especially true when self-deprecation or insults are a big part of a comic's routine. "No one wants to take insults from a size four."
"Plus this idea when it comes to female in the stand-up comedy industry, that you can't be attractive and thin. You can't be attractive at all or you have nothing to say. Like people don't look at female comedians and be like, 'Hey look at that one, she's got a brain on her.' "
There's a general movement within this community to reclaim terminology that had previously been considered insulting: "plus-sized," "curvy," "full-figured" and even "fat."
"If I call myself fat, I'm stopping anybody else from calling me fat," said Meesh Zambrana. She runs a blog called healthyfatchick. "I've done 10 half-marathons and a full marathon. I feel like I have the right to call myself that."
The American Heart Association was the main sponsor for the runway show. Sarah Williams, the Curves Week organizer, says the messages of "embrace yourself" and "take care of yourself" aren't mutually exclusive. "We all know that you don't have to be plus-sized to get heart disease, but that is a known factor that women of larger sizes are more susceptible to different diseases," she said. "So you can love who you are, you can be confident in who you are, but you still have to exercise, you still have to eat right, you still have to take care of your body."
For Miami model Keisha Chenelle, being a part of the Curves Week Runway show was an important step for her personal body acceptance. "I remember in high school I always used to get bullied because of my size," she said. Curves Week, to her, is all about progress. "It's helping out a little girl that's at school, that's being bullied. She'll have someone that she can look up to like me."
The hope is that Curves Week will eventually become an official partner of Miami Swim Week.