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Plus-sized models open New Year with fashion show.

The New Year's weekend celebration is said to be a party felt around the world. For some, it is a time of reflection, celebration and champagne.

For Ghanaian-Canadian teacher Rosemary Manso and her troupe of plus-sized models, the New Year kicked off with applause at Itaewon's Crown Hotel -- and a plus-sized fashion statement.

As a full house looked on, 27 curvaceous models of different ethnicities joined a host of performers including singer Anna Choi to showcase the power of plus-sized, diverse modeling -- something never before attempted in Korea.

The event, dubbed "The Ladies of Curves Fashion Show" broke a number of notorious fashion rules, though it can be argued the "rules of fashion aren't clear anymore," as event attendee Julia Chase noted.

"When I was modeling, I used to think of the body we had as a uniform," fitting model Francis McDermet said.

"I felt there is one body type that can handle the dimensions fashion demands without causing the body serious harm."

But she said she loved the show, and called the models effective. "I felt confusion when I thought about the vastness of modeling today, especially in multicultural places. On one end, critics condemn plus-sized modeling as advertising unhealthy habits, while actual industry standards are seen as unrealistic,dangerous and even criminal in some cases. No one is a winner, but everyone is criticizing."

For fashionistas, the event highlighted a critical global conversation about the standards that dictate the beauty industry, its influence on life choices and the nuances that shape how we are received by others.

"From basic posture habits to fabric quality, how you present yourself affects your life. Fashion and style are about expression, and expression is identity," co-founder Manso remarked.

"It is frightening that something so powerful can be so confusing and contradictory."

As the thunderous applause would suggest, the show made a welcome addition to what it means to have "Seoul style" that evening. The scene was a first for Seoul's notoriously unpredictable neighborhood in Ameri-town, but the call for greater diversity on catwalks is hardly new.

No lasting change comes quickly, but Manso joked she never turns down a good challenge.

She is not alone. Last summer, Manso strutted her stuff alongside 44 global models at the Korea International Model Association's Miss Work IKON Model pageant. The event was held at the Boryeong Mud Festival, and Organizer Debra Paik selected the theme of diversity, choosing to focus on Seoul's increasing cultural diversity.

Sadly, these occasions reflect the acts of outliers, not the norm. More value is placed on choices that are seen as safe, tried and true, risk-free.

"You can see it throughout the city in the most basic of items," Manso said of Korea's tendency toward consistency, "throughout every changing district, the same items appear, the same colors and often sold in one size, the same combinations I couldn't buy stockings this afternoon. I happen to be a few inches too tall."

"In the beginning, we were looking for plus-sized models that had a certain quality," co-founder Calisha Holland said.

That "quality" made an impact on Boston-born fashion photographer Izzy Schreiber, who was responsible for the event's official photography.

He said Manso and Holland "were able to come together and do this great show with models who were beautiful together, but probably couldn't be seen in the fashion industry because of society, though they should be."

He added that his favorite photograph served as a good metaphor for his feelings.

Schreiber snapped the photo, which features a couple walking arm in arm on the catwalk.

It has a charismatic "stop and stare factor."

"You see a man walking with a woman on the catwalk. They are plus-sized and that is unexpected _ yet they are totally beautiful."

To host the show, Manso enlisted Nathalie Calderon, the celebrity vlogger behind "Fabulous Nat."

Calderon, identifying herself as a plus-sized woman happy in her own skin, expressed her own determination to be part of the first "body-positive inclusive fashion event in Seoul," a feat she feels the group accomplished.

With visible emotion, she discussed the vulnerable nature of her vlogging, her desire to help, and having achieved over 60,000 subscribers since she began.

"Every week I receive messages, many of whom tell me they are held back by the fear of not being accepted in their skin, a fear so great it is shaping their lives."

"Although Korea is evolving quickly, one aspect that is not keeping up with the economy is the acceptance of diversity. People fear what will happen to them when they are seen as different. They fear enough to stay home, and that is tragic."

Caldron also condemned the media's habit of using heavy people in an overtly stereotypical manner.

"Seldom do we see a heavier man or curvy woman in a sexy or beautiful light in advertising," Caldron said.

"Most often, they are shown eating a lot of food, and the context is specific to gluttony. The sexiness is left to a very predictable type of person, and the challenge is showing people that being different can be -- and is -- beautiful."

The enormity of the challenge is daunting: Korea is a country known for uniformity, one-size-fits-all policies and flashy K-pop showmanship, all of which have been seen as stifling to the vital "power of the individual." It was this aspect of stifled self that nearly destroyed model Michael's life.

Much like Caldron, Michael is in his mid-20s, dark-skinned and in Korea on a teaching contract. He is attractive, larger than average, and radiates confidence. Having lost his parents at a young age, Michael says he took being a minority to a level that became destructive to himself and all whose lives he touched.

"I was the ultimate minority: a black man in the South, confused about my sexuality and living a life that was based on feelings of imagined rejection. In time, I became a bully to cope with an enemy that only existed in my head. I lived as if I was invisible, lashing out at those around me."

For Michael, a dramatic transformation occurred after a kind stranger approached him at college.

"I was openly destructive in college, feeding off the pain that comes when you believe you aren't who society tells you you should be," he said.

"One day a stranger told me that I was a person of value, and that I had the choice to be who I wanted to be. It was simple and strong. The message clicked. The secret is knowing who you are, and loving that person. Your identity is something you choose."

Now a healthy, proud LGBT advocate, it is hard to imagine Michael as anything but a warm, confident man that moves people with his sense of self and style -- the man in the picture that makes people "stop and stare."

A gifted model, he now exudes confidence and charm.

"Fashion can change, but certainty in who you are never should."
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Publication:The Korea Times News (Seoul, Korea)
Geographic Code:9SOUT
Date:Jan 9, 2018
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