Selene Milano

Selene Milano

by Chelsea Gombes

Selene Milano is a writer and journalist who has worked in women’s media for the last 20 years. She started her career at Elle magazine before becoming the Senior Beauty Editor at InStyle. As a freelance writer for publications like Health and The Oprah Magazine, she’s tackled topics ranging from being targeted by Instagram with weight-loss remedies to navigating gym culture after a backhanded comment from a Bikram yoga instructor. It’s taken her 20 years to make peace with her plus-size body. Part of that shift meant moving away from mainstream media to launch her own site, The Gain where she focuses on sharing her story with other women and re-writing the narrative on weight loss. Her thought-provoking pieces on body consciousness invite women to change their minds not their bodies and to stop obsessing over what they need to lose so that they can see all there is to gain. Here, Milano talks about her start as a writer, her vibrant personal style and how the fashion industry is making strides to be more diverse and inclusive.

Q&A with Selene

Have you always wanted to be a writer? About fashion/beauty specifically?

A writer was the very first thing I ever wanted to be. I can even remember being very excited to be a journalist in my 6th grade school play. I tried many other career ambitions on for size but I always found my way back to writing. In my junior year of college I found out what a fashion and beauty editor did and I just thought “Sign me up!” I decided to apply for summer internships at every magazine in creation and got turned down from every one. But right before the summer I got a call to interview in the fashion department at ELLE and I was hired on the spot. When I walked through the halls on my first day I felt like I won the lottery. It was the best experience and I knew I had found my calling. I was ultimately hired full-time right after graduation and stayed on at ELLE for 6 years.

How would you describe your personal style?

I wear a lot of black—people always tell me I shouldn’t but it’s an old habit that I can’t break. I used to identify my style as really bohemian but that has changed as I’ve gotten older. As I’ve become more comfortable with my body and discovered new brands and shops like 11 Honoré, I feel like I’m rediscovering my love of getting dressed.

Your focus on diversity and inclusivity in your work is amazing and inspiring. Is this something you set out to incorporate into your stories and how you select topics?

Thank you so much! I wish I could say it was something I set out to do but it really just happened. As I found my own voice as a plus size woman and started to make peace with my own body I wanted to share my experience. The idea of truly giving up dieting was so revolutionary to me, I wanted other women not to waste so much time and energy feeding (literally) their obsession with their weight and experience the freedom that comes with learning to love yourself. Women in larger bodies have been silenced for so long except within their own communities. I had this platform within mainstream media so I felt especially compelled to speak out.

Did you feel reflected in fashion and lifestyle media growing up?

I was actually a very thin child and teenager, so while I certainly never felt like a model, as a white, thin, able-bodied woman I didn’t have the same struggle in terms of seeing myself represented. I have to confess that like many people that weren’t part of marginalized communities it wasn’t something I focused on. I’m so grateful, especially now that I have my own children that we are all waking up to the fact that representation is so critical, even if it doesn’t affect you personally.

Do you feel like the fashion industry has made great strides to be more diverse and inclusive?

I feel like it is making strides but there is still a long way to go. When I started working in magazines there was not a single editor that was not skinny, now I’m happy to say the women working behind the scenes come in all sizes. On the downside I think fashion people tend to talk the talk but not walk the walk. I’m happy to see terms like “bikini body” being banned from covers and more diversity and larger bodies shown in the pages, but I think there is authenticity that is still lacking. Editors still talk about losing weight almost compulsively, fashion designers are slow going to create inclusive sizing and size is still equated with health.

One thing that really stuck out to us is your story about covering the red carpet with your daughter in attendance when a woman asked you what it was like to be ‘plus size.’ Can you talk a little bit about that experience?

Sure. So, I was covering a red carpet and Tess Holliday referred to me as plus size in front of my then 11-year-old daughter. It needs to be said, she did so in a very upbeat, congratulatory way, but up until very recently I had rejected that label. I kept thinking the next diet was surely going to work and I would get thin again… any minute now! I didn’t discuss my weight with my children because I thought it would give them a complex but looking back I realize I was just projecting my own shame about my body on to them. Tess was complimenting me and I was so stuck in my pattern of self-loathing that instead of taking it in, I got so embarrassed. I felt exposed, as if my body was something I could hide. It eventually opened up a lot of dialogue between my daughter and I and it gave me the opportunity to model self-love and show her firsthand that all bodies are worthy and attractive and can be celebrated. I am forever grateful to Tess Holliday for that – another example of why seeing strong, sexy women in bigger bodies is so important!

What can we be doing to strengthen and further the conversation around size inclusivity?

I think one of the first things we have to do in the media and as a culture is to stop assuming every woman wants to lose weight. Everyone claims to be “body-positive” yet we are inundated with advice on how to have a smaller body, how to shed pounds quickly, how to look slimmer and it’s so incredibly toxic. The other thing is to be more authentic in our messaging. A lot of wellness today is just a diet in a very thinly veiled disguise. If it involves obsessive restriction and deprivation, that’s not about health. Thin does not equal healthy. Let’s stop making that assumption. There are healthy women and unhealthy women at every size. Thin women need to be better allies. Stop talking incessantly about your diet – first of all it’s so boring – but it’s also really triggering for some people. Let’s all start to learn to love our bodies or at least take steps to accept them. Nothing good can come from hating yourself. It’s not about willpower and self-control it’s about compassion and self-love.


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    Thu, Jan 3

    Selene continues to be an inspiration to all women of all sizes.

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