A woman described the embarrassment of being offered a seat on the subway because her poorly-fitting dress made her look pregnant.
Another shared the shame of being told bluntly by a clothing store employee, “We’d never have your size in store, but maybe online.”
A respected reporter – representing major publications such as Teen Vogue, Nylon and Glamour – recalled being asked to leave his front row seat at a fashion show so that a thinner person could sit there when photos were taken.
These are just a few of the many stories of weight discrimination, or “fat-shaming,” that have been shared through the articles and social media of Gianluca Russo. That third example above was his own personal anecdote.
Russo is a self-described “plus-sized journalist” who has become a leading advocate for plus-sized people. He has written dozens of provocative articles on the topic to help shine a light on the fashion industry’s skewed view of beauty and its broader implications for our society.
“Fat-shaming is the last legal discrimination,” said Russo, who noted that Michigan is the only U.S. state where weight discrimination in the workplace is explicitly illegal.
This prejudice is particularly troubling in the world of fashion, an industry obsessed with traditional perceptions of perfection. Until recently, runway models with curves were scarcely seen, and most of the world’s leading fashion labels didn’t even design clothes that could fit anyone above a size 6 or medium. It was almost as if, in the eyes of the fashion industry, plus-sized people simply didn’t exist.
The topic of body positivity is not just a professional interest for Russo – it’s also personal. Through his writings, he has shared his own struggles with weight control and dangerous diet plans, and his message has connected with a growing fanbase.
“I love it when something I write has a positive effect on people,” explained Russo, whose social media footprint has become a safe, supportive community for plus-sized people and the challenges they face.
Beyond his journalism success, Russo recently inked a deal for his debut book. Chronicling the evolution of the plus-size fashion movement, “The Power of Plus!” is set for release in 2022.
How did a recent graduate acquire so much influence in such a short time? Through a combination of talent, tenacity and timing.
“Things happen quickly for me,” explained Russo. “When I see something I want to do, I just chase after it as fast as I can!”
Russo’s passion for fashion began when he was growing up in New York’s Capital Region. He vividly remembers watching the 2007-2008 season of “Project Runway,” the reality TV competition for fashion designers. Russo was thrilled when wunderkind designer Christian Siriano took the top prize that year. (He never could have guessed that their paths would cross about a decade later.)
Though he initially pursued a paralegal degree after high school at a local community college, Russo was increasingly drawn to writing and was inspired by a surprising evolution at one of his favorite magazines.
In 2016, the editorial board at Teen Vogue decided to make a significant content shift. Instead of focusing solely on style, beauty and relationship advice, the magazine began to dig into topical social and political issues such as gender equality, the environment and body positivity. Motivated by Teen Vogue’s new direction, Russo decided to pursue a career in journalism at UAlbany.
While taking introductory classes in journalism, he began pitching articles to a variety of fashion magazines. One topic particularly intrigued him: the fashion’s industry’s unabashed discrimination against plus-sized people.
One of his stories was published. Then another. And another. He soon earned an opportunity to write for Teen Vogue, the publication that inspired him in the first place.
“I didn’t care what they wanted me to write,” Russo said about Teen Vogue. “I just wanted to be part of it!”
At the time, Russo was juggling his burgeoning career with his studies at UAlbany. “I had some great professors – they really helped to challenge me and bring my interests into the class,” noted Russo.
Though he now writes about a variety of topics in the fashion industry, advocacy for plus-sized people is Russo’s signature issue. His notoriety has earned him access to major industry events and into the orbit of leading designers. He was even able to interview Christian Siriano, the designer who inspired him years ago and who now helms a multimillion-dollar brand. Russo described the opportunity as “a dream come true.”
Thanks to body positivity advocates like Russo, the fashion industry has made significant progress. Curvy models, such as Ashley Graham, are now featured on magazine covers, and many high-end labels now design clothing for people of all sizes. Beyond obvious ethical reasons for the industry to evolve, there are financial ones. According to Coresight Research, the 2020 plus-sized apparel market was valued at $24 billion.
Russo is unafraid to debate the movement’s detractors, who say that advocating for plus-sized fashion is, in effect, “endorsing” unhealthy lifestyles.
“Size is a very narrow view of health,” Russo noted. “Only a doctor can tell you if you’re unhealthy.”
The medical profession’s overreliance on Body Mass Index (BMI) as a health determinant is a frequent topic on Russo’s social media. One plus-sized reader described the time that his doctor checked his blood pressure three times because the doctor couldn’t believe his normal, healthy results. Russo also mentioned the growing research concerning the connection between genetics and weight. “It isn’t a choice for some people,” said Russo.
Harkening back to when he first discovered his love for fashion, Russo becomes very animated when discussing its “transformative power.”
“You get to dress the way you want to – to be seen the way you want to, to be who you want to be,” said Russo, who noted that the body positivity movement is less about any particular garment and more about helping plus-sized people feel comfortable and valued.
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