I Tried It: Diva Magazine's Body Positive Swimsuit Shoot
Our Curve intern shares what it's like to be in a fashion shoot that aims for real, untouched beauty.
Photo Credit: YouTube Screenshot
I started reaching up to the top shelf at WH Smith—yes, they kept the queer mags with the porn—for Diva Magazine when I was 17. Between its glossy pages were pictures of and articles about cool, interesting and sexy women—some familiar to me as big celebrities, others smaller stars of one niche or another. My favorite page was the personal ads; I would spend ages reading them and imagining what it would be like to meet women like them.
For those not familiar with Diva, it is the U.K.'s lesbian magazine. So when I spotted their call for plus size models to take part in a swimwear shoot, I emailed the organizer Bella Qvist, and promptly forgot all about having done so. I have done a lot of art modelling, where the figure is the subject of a work of art, and curves, lumps and bumps are bonuses, more contour to create light and shadow. The world of plus modelling, however, like any world tied to the fashion industry, has its biases and its unwritten rules and my shape—very short, very pear—tends not to fit into that. If I had known Bella and her body positive attitudes, I might have expected what came next. I gave my measurements, half-expecting a polite “Oh, we didn’t know you were quite that plus” and made arrangements to travel to the nearby city of Sheffield, where the shoot would take place.
In Yorkshire the average summer temperature is around 66 degrees but on the day of the shoot, it was a heavy, humid 84 degrees. I arrived at Bella’s apartment already soaked with sweat—not exactly ideal for trying on tight swimsuits meant to make the most of my curves. When make-up artist Clare Adern arrived, I was the first in the hot seat, feeling like a star as the cooling spray of her airbrush made my complexion all dewy and summertastic.
Bella’s vision for the shoot was to create “a summer night of fun” with bright colors in a dark outdoor environment. The location was a quirky, bohemian garden nestled behind a very tall, very British house. Complete with a gnarled, fairy tale tree and an old rusting bathtub, the place looked like it had been set up especially for us, but was in fact just the garden of ordinary Sheffield residents. Bella and I had quite a time blowing up the paddling pool, which looked exactly like a big blue and yellow vagina when half-inflated! Just as the sun was going down, the other models arrived, all primped and preened, yet looking fresh-faced and down-to-earth, rocking an after-party vibe. We made an interesting mix—Rosie the English rose, Cyd the androgynous punk, Tamara the curvy nerd and the big brown tattooed creature that is me.
Photo Credit: YouTube Screenshot
Of her choice of models, Bella said, “Why should we just feature one body type, one skin color, one sexuality, one style, one ability, one gender, one age, one anything?”
Shirlaine Forrest, our incredibly talented photographer, manipulated the little Yorkshire garden to fit the vision only she could see in her head, dressing up the tree in fairy lights, using colored light filters and giving us props like bubbles and a giant teddy bear named Paul to play with. We were all amateurs but Shirlaine was completely patient with us, throwing out friendly directions to get the most out of our untrained bodies. The atmosphere was playful and totally relaxed. We all took a moment to appreciate how freeing it felt to be working with an all-female crew, something Bella told me had been very deliberate, to avoid the “male gaze” that can go with a shoot like this—lesbians, swimwear, water guns.
It’s strange, but even in environments that claim to be accepting of plus size bodies, I have been overlooked and undervalued enough times to be suspicious of anyone claiming to be body positive. I kept waiting to be pushed aside, told to stand in the background or asked to perform some unfair feat of contortion, but all I received from everyone involved in the Diva shoot was the utmost respect—something very rare when you dare to take up as much space as I do. Even after the shoot, as I waited for the magazine to come out, I was preparing myself for the worst case scenario, despite all evidence to the contrary. When I opened the magazine to the correct page and found that four of the eight pictures had me in them and, amazingly, one picture had only me (and Paul the bear) in it, I was so pleased.
Photo Credit: Shirlaine Forrest
What was more exciting, though, was that the images had not been cosmetically retouched. All of the models looked beautifully real and tangible, not the weirdly smooth and featureless creatures we are all used to seeing. Bella told me, “We wanted to show female beauty, not modify it.” This completely logical attitude is so refreshing and I hope that more real bodies appear in mainstream publications, especially ones specifically about fashion and beauty, very soon.
Watch: Behind the Scenes of the Diva Magazine Swimwear Shoot