With the exception of a few films and TV shows, plus-size women are often relegated on-screen to the position of the hilarious best friend of a size-4 leading lady. Writer and director Shakesha Williams’ new web series, Curvy Girls Rock, attempts to broaden representation for curvy girls everywhere, casting gorgeous plus- size women in all her leading roles.
In an exclusive interview with EBONY, Williams discusses the groundbreaking new series, the power of self-love and why representation is so important.
Growing up, did the images of Black and Brown women you saw on TV affect your own self-image?
Absolutely! I was a teenager in the early 1990s, and seeing The Cosby Show [and] A Different World most certainly affected how I saw myself. It pushed me. I would see a Maxine Shaw and think, ‘Wow, I can be dope and be a lawyer’ like she was on Living Single. I would see Kim on A Different World and think, ‘Yes, I can be a doctor.’
Having images that reflect you is extremely important. The absence of representation leads people to question if their story is even worth being told, which is why Curvy Girls Rock is so important. It shows plus-size women that they are worthy of being seen and represented. The characters are [ethnically diverse], and all of them are strong women. Representation is super important.
One common critique of the body-positive movement is that if you embrace plus-size women and men, you are promoting an unhealthy lifestyle. What do you say to that?
I look at it like this: Think about the Black Pride movement of the ’70s. You had shows like Soul Train and Good Times, we were all wearing Afros, we had our Afro-Sheen commercials. Being inclusive of ourselves doesn’t mean we’re excluding or degrading anyone else, and the same goes for the body-positive movement. I’m not telling anyone that we’re excluding them; I’m telling them that I accept me! I love me in the space that I’m in, I am OK with me! It doesn’t promote obesity; me loving me has nothing to do with that.
And yes, we go through changes physically, mentally and spiritually, but I can’t love myself less because I don’t fit your ideal of what beauty is or of what I’m supposed to be based on my body type. The minute people begin to love themselves, you will see an entirely different world form around you.
Although the sexuality of curvy women is often either ignored completely or fetishized, one thing Curvy Girls Rock does is showcase the sexuality of these women in a healthy way. Why was that important to highlight?
There have been shows and rom-coms that feature plus-size characters in films like Just Wright with Queen Latifah, Mo’Nique’s Phat Girlz, even Ricki Lake did a movie back when she was on the plus side of life. I don’t want to take anything away from those films, but as a whole, when it comes to sex, we’re always talking about it the morning after.
I wanted the passion to be seen with a bigger woman. I wanted to see someone like me, because I’ve had an amazing sex life. Other women I know who are plus-size have amazing sex lives, so why are we hidden in the shadows? We’re beautiful! Why can’t we be seen in our full element like every other actress on the planet?
What has been the most rewarding part of the process of creating the show?
T.D. Jakes said once, and I’m paraphrasing, but he essentially said a lot of times you think you are building a ministry, when the ministry is really building the man. That’s really how I feel about Curvy Girls Rock.
It has taught me so much about patience. It took me and my team two years to finish this show. There were a lot of lulls because I paid to produce the show 90 percent out of pocket. We got some help from the cast and crew who were willing to take deferred payments or low payments. We also did four crowd-sourcing campaigns and never quite hit our mark. All of those things taught me so much patience and the value of timing. I have never worked so hard and so thoroughly on something.
Also, the fact that so many people are excited for the series. We haven’t released an episode yet, but we have 12,587 followers on Instagram, people who are like, ‘Oh my God! I can’t wait to see this!’ To know that they understand and support the vision of seeing plus size-women in these roles is incredibly rewarding.
What can we expect during this weekend’s Curvy Girls Rock red carpet screening?
We have Lane Bryant, who is our official sponsor, coming through. Sharon Quinn, who’s an OG plus-size model and the host of her own show is hosting the red carpet for us. Maddy Jones, who is an editor at Plus Model Magazine, will be moderating our panel. All these people that you only get to see online, you [will] get to see them up close and personal! You’ll also get the chance to meet the actors and actresses who are a part of Curvy Girls Rock!
Where can we watch Curvy Girls Rock when it debuts November 25?
We’re releasing it on Vimeo On Demand, where you can pay per episode. There will also be a subscription option.
Check out the latest trailer for the web series below, and purchase tickets to the November 18 Curvy Girls Rock red carpet screening in Brooklyn, New York, here