Jenny McQuaile

Jenny McQuaile

“The fashion industry and media set our beauty standards, they make us feel like unless we are thin and white we will not be happy, successful, find love, land our dream job, or be brave enough to follow our dreams. This is what I want to change.”

Between her laser sharp focus on redefining our society’s standards of beauty and an undeniable skill for masterful storytelling, award-winning filmmaker and journalist Jenny McQuaile is leading the charge for body positivity and she’s starting by addressing the fashion industry.

Her new film, “Straight/Curve: Redefining Body Image” looks at the labels, stigmas and expectations that have been engrained into the general consciousness for decades and explores ways to unravel this type of thinking so younger generations can move past the preoccupation with body.

Take it from her, a size-inclusive activist who exemplifies how the fashion industry is changing and how prioritizing comfort doesn’t mean sacrificing style.

In the movie, McQuaile and the photographer Anastasia Garcia embark on an intensive photo project where a diverse set of models (including Charli Howard, Philomena Kuo, Denise Bidot and “the first plus-size supermodel”, Emme) are styled, shot and also profiled to further understand their journey to body confidence.

“In order to have any impact on society at large I had to tell this story through the lens of fashion and media.” Says McQuaile. “It’s the true epicenter of this issue.”

She takes on the issue in a way that exposes all angles, some you knew about, some you may not yet have thought about.

Regardless, the common thread that comes through is that we all, no matter our size or background, seem to share most of the same insecurities (many of which can be directly linked back to the overwhelming amount of “sameness” fashion and media has traditionally promoted.)

Here, McQuaile goes deeper into what inspired her to make this movie, how fashion is changing and the power of buying products from brands that reflect you.

“Self worth and empowerment comes from a positive body image and that can only happen if we start representing women, and men, of all sizes, shapes, ethnicities, ages, abilities, genders etc in fashion, media, TV, film and advertising. If people see themselves reflected in imagery they will believe they can reach higher heights.”
Ali Tate Veda
Ali Tate Veda
Ali Tate Veda
Unretouched photos from Straight/Curve by Anastasia Garcia, styled by Jenesee Utley
Ali Tate Veda
Ali Tate Veda

Q & A With Jenny

As a journalist and filmmaker who addresses various subjects in your work, why did body perception resonate with you in terms of wanting to make a film about it?

Firstly I love that you describe the theme as “Body perception”. I’ve never heard it called that before and that is the most perfect definition of my intention. I wanted to make a film about women and bodies and this idea that a size 10 Woman is called “plus size” and I didn’t know the best way in or around this huge issue. I spent a lot of time researching and talking to people and it soon became obvious to me that in order to tell this story about body image and perception I had to look at all bodies - Straight size and plus size, as well as different ethnicities and ages. Society’s standards of beauty are extremely narrow and focused towards the “thin, white ideal”. This is a very dangerous notion and is deeply affecting our next generation of leaders, thinkers and doers. In order to have any impact on society at large I had to tell this story through the lens of fashion and media. It’s the true epicenter of this issue. The fashion industry and media set our beauty standards, they make us feel like unless we are thin and white we will not be happy, successful, find love, land our dream job, or be brave enough to follow our dreams. This is what I want to change. It is no longer ok for any young girl or boy to believe they cannot do something because of how they look. We NEED a new generation who is empowered enough to run for office, to shatter those glass ceilings, to challenge the norms and we cannot create that generation if our kids feel “less than”, “disgusting” or “invaluable” to society. Self worth and empowerment comes from a positive body image and that can only happen if we start representing women, and men, of all sizes, shapes, ethnicities, ages, abilities, genders etc in fashion, media, TV, film and advertising. If people see themselves reflected in imagery they will believe they can reach higher heights.

Did you cast the models featured in the film? If so, what was your approach in selecting the women you did?

My wonderful Producer Jess Lewis and I cast the models for the film. Jess is a former straight size and plus size model and has been in the fashion industry for over 15 years. She comes with a wealth of knowledge and really opened the doors of the industry to me and our team so we could properly and effectively tell this story. It was not an easy process to cast the models for the shoot. We knew we wanted to be as inclusive and diverse as possible and representing size, age and race was a big goal. I think we can honestly say we wish we had a plus size Asian woman represented in our shoot, but we struggled really hard to find one within the agencies we were working with for the film. We also struggled with casting different abilities and genders as a few years ago there just were not many (if any) models at a lot of agencies that were differently abled and gender non-conforming. I think it would be a very different story if we were to cast now as agencies have opened their doors to a lot more models recently. The women we did choose however are all amazing trailblazing women who I feel eternally thankful to for sharing their stories with us. It was vital that we cast women who were not just models, but role models. Every woman in the film has a platform and is an activist in her own way. We wanted to empower these women to share their stories together on a grand level. Everyone brought a different element to the film and that was important. Every woman’s role was to make us think about things differently, and I hope we achieved that.

Do you feel as though the fashion industry has made greater strides as of late in terms of helping to change the ideals it promotes?

The fashion industry has come on in leaps and bounds, there is no denying that. However, it is not enough. I am not sure it will be enough for several more years to come. We have a long history of the thin, white ideal to dismantle and a long history of brands, companies and media thinking that larger women don’t deserve decent clothes, that they’re not willing to spend money, that they don’t warrant a place in fashion. All of these ideals are deeply ingrained and it is going to take time. But I fully believe that the way to get there is to lead by example. That is why it was important to me as a filmmaker to showcase the people who ARE changing the narrative, the people who are fighting to redefine our toxic beauty standards. By showcasing these leaders my hopes are that it will serve as a call to action to others in the fashion industry to stand up and be more diverse and inclusive.

There is obviously so much involved in making lasting change in terms of how women are marketed to, is there an area you feel needs to be changed most urgently?

I think this is a really interesting topic right now. We are no longer in the era of Mad Men and advertising to women’s insecurities. That day is done. Women do not want to spend money on products or companies that make her feel bad about herself. Women are now more empowered than ever and with that wave of empowerment comes the NEED to market to us in a very different way. We want to feel good about ourselves, we want to buy products that enhance that empowerment. I think there are some top-level decision makers left at companies who are rich, old white dudes who have not realized this yet – and those are the companies that are suffering right now. Look at Aerie – they decided to stop photoshopping their models and their bottom line increased by 32%. That proves that women want more from marketing these days. Advertising began with the woman in the home and now it needs to shift its lens to the woman in the workplace! A shocking statistic in the film says that our brains process images 60,000 times faster than words so if we want to change something we have to change the imagery we are seeing and how we are presenting that imagery to the consumer. In this era of social media and advertising at every turn we have to be accountable for the imagery we are putting out in the world.

Someone during the panel (which took place after the Los Angeles screening of Straight/Curve) said something really interesting last night in terms of the models we see represented more and more in media. She said, "We have to be careful not to replace a thin and unattainable body with a curvy and unattainable body." Given how much the students in the film were affected by the topic you tackle so well, do you feel like there is just an inherent aspect of the fashion industry idealizing aspiration that will always leave young girls feeling less than?

The fashion industry is a business at the end of the day so companies and brands have to listen to the consumer. For the first time ever we as consumers have a direct line to a brand via social media. We can tell them what we want to see more of, what we like and what doesn’t feel good for us. Brands are listening and that is an incredible power we wield as a consumer. If people speak up and tell brands/media/advertisers what they want to see more of I do believe they will listen, but we have to use our voices and vote with our wallet. Stop buying product that doesn’t represent you or make you feel good and buy into the ones that do. If young girls see themselves represented more and more than I think the feelings of being less than will lessen. There will always be haute couture, which is basically ‘aspirational’ pieces of art. They are not meant to be worn, they are meant to be appreciated as works of art. I don’t think that will ever change at the high fashion level. But I don’t think those are the people and brands young girls and boys are looking up to. If more accessible designers and brands start being more inclusive and representative of the world we actually live in then I think we will go a long way to solving our body image crisis. This may be wishful thinking, but I remain an optimist.

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