Waves of people dressed their best — decked in flawless makeup, lavish suits, extra high heels and freshly done hair — strutted into the Student Union Building on Saturday, March 7, ready for a much-anticipated fashion show.
The show began at 7 p.m., but the 30 or so people who arrived after 6:50 were promptly turned away. The multipurpose room that the event was being housed in had hit its legal capacity 10 minutes before the show had even begun.
The event drawing so much attention and excitement was the “In My Element” fashion show, hosted by the organization Realistically Embracing All Ladies (R.E.A.L). The popularity was well-deserved, given that multiple members and showgoers have referred to it as the best fashion show on campus in years.
The organization was founded in 2012 by sociology major and Dove campaign model Lori Moran, who wanted to ensure that there was a student organization on campus that was dedicated to embracing all women, but especially those “who are shunned by society for being overweight.”
The “element” theme of the fashion show informed the style and dress of each model. The show was split into five parts to represent different elements: earth, fire, water, air and metal, each representing different styles of dress.
Water was represented with a swimsuit collection, fire with evening wear and earth with streetwear.
The air collection represented the most seductive theme, featuring models dressed in all white silk, lace and tulle embroidered clothes. The collection evoked a heavenly aura as the stage spotlights shone on the models, causing their ivory clothes to glisten and shimmer.
Metal never looked so professional until Saturday night! Silver and gray blazers, tuxedos and powerful skirtsuits strutted and twirled down the runway to emulate the element metal.
Second-year psychology major Jordan Hennix said the metal collection was “mesmerizing” because “seeing a whole bunch of people of color in professional attire made me think ‘wow we look successful, we can be successful and there’s so many places we can go, especially because professional wear is something we all associate with power.”
At the end of the show, five models emerged onto the stage covered only by body paint. Each of them represented a different element.
One of these models was third-year communication studies and sociology major Valerie Gomez, who was also the model coordinator this year for the second year in a row. For the past three years, she modeled lingerie for R.E.A.L and says that now modeling in only body paint served as another step for her in an important journey: fully embracing and loving her body.
“Lingerie was already a big step for me, but after doing it for a few years I realized it’s my body and I want to show it off for myself, not for anybody else,” Gomez explained. “With just body paint, it was just another level where I was able to embrace my body even more and love myself even more.”
Brii Hicks, a first-year psychology major, describes the concept of showing a little skin as being similarly transformative.
“At first I was very apprehensive about showing my skin, but I decided I’m going to try something new to embrace myself. Now, I keep watching myself over and over again and thinking ‘wow,’ I’m so happy I was able to find it in myself to do it,” Hicks said with a proud smile. “I don’t know if I can do body art next time but now I can keep going [in the process].”
In addition to models, audience members also attested to having cathartic and jubilantly encouraging experiences as well.
Jenna Cohen, a fourth-year English major, says watching people of different complexions, body sizes and genders walk confidently on the runway was a confidence-building experience for her as well.
“I’ve personally struggled with body dysmorphia and it’s something that not alot of people talk about, but when I see realistic bodies and healthy bodies of different sizes that all look strong and all look beautiful, it’s empowering,” she raved. “I look at these women and I’m like wow she has cellulite too, she has a little tummy too and she’s owning that! I felt embraced.”