It blew up on my newsfeed. It was all over my Facebook and Instagram. And from the moment I saw it, I felt a rush of euphoria run through my veins. Never would I have thought that something so simple would leave such a lasting effect on me or make me question so many things that pertain to how we perceive the visuals of Carnival.
What could possibly throw me for a loop? Seeing my colleague Sonja Pollonais, plus-size model, and owner of Closet Red Plus Size boutique taking full command of the stage, as she regally presented the costume Priya, as part of The Lost Tribe’s 2019 presentation ‘Taj’.
With every step, every movement, she captivated the crowd. Cheers and whistles were an undeniable sign that they loved her. Though I only saw a short video of her stage, what I saw instilled pride in me as a plus-size woman. I was over the moon, not just for her, but also for the fact that such a prestigious Carnival band would have afforded her the opportunity. At the same time however, it raised questions. Why was the idea of a plus size model on stage for a Carnival band such a novelty? Why have we not seen more of it in our local landscape?
Initially, I blamed my lack of seeing more full-figured women in mas presentations on the fact that I’m not really into Carnival. God alone knows the last time I went to a fete, and I don’t play mas. Admittedly, once or twice I’ve toyed with idea of playing, but never followed through. The closest I came to it was keeping my older sister company on the road when she played mas with Tribe back in 2008. It’s just never been for me. So, I never really followed the band launches or looked at costumes. Seeing Sonja on stage however, changed that ever so slightly.
I actively began to monitor the band launches that followed. I searched a plethora of carnival band websites. I vigorously sought out the collections of local and regional Monday we ar designers. I scoured as many corners of social media that I could, hoping, praying even, that I’d at least see one more image of a plus-size woman confidently donning carnival wear for a band or collection. Sad to say, I only saw a few, mainly for Monday wear, but other than Sonja, none for carnival costumes.
I’ve heard persons lament that they wish they could see “real women” in band launches. I don’t particularly fancy the term real women, because women come in all shapes and sizes. But I understand it to mean that they wish they could see persons on stage who did not have the stereotypical band launch body, or rather, the band launch model size range. If mas is supposed to be for everybody (isn’t it?), then why isn’t everybody represented when costumes are launched? I know, it would be a bit complicated to have every single size, height, and body type represented, but at the same time, a little diversity in the model line-up wouldn’t hurt.
On the Monday wear side of things, it is a little different. I have seen (albeit a few) collections where plus-size women were being used as models. Daniella Peters, M&S Culture and J Angelique included at least one plus or fuller figured woman in their collection. And in one instance, you have Curvy Goddess by Cher, whose Monday Wear collection caters specifically to plus-size women.
Now even with all of this, there are full figured ladies who are not bothered in the least that they don’t see any bodies like theirs showing off costumes at band launches. They will play mas regardless. But there are also those like me, who wonder if plus-sized women are not good enough to be showcased at the band launch or on the band’s website, but the money in our pocket is good enough that we get to play mas with the band anyway.
Now, my perspective on how mas bands view plus-size masqueraders could be a bit warped, I admit that. Especially given my own experiences where I’ve had designers snobbishly state things along the line of “they don’t make clothes for fat women, it’s a waste of cloth”. In the years when I did model locally, I had several experiences that surmounted to the same conclusion: plus-size women, fuller-figured women, were not considered or catered for when it came to fashion and carnival presentations.
So seeing Sonja in all her glory on stage, gave me some hope. Maybe in the future, we’ll see more diversity in the bodies that portray our carnival. Maybe plus-size bodies on the runway in band launches will be normalized. I want to challenge mas bands and Monday Wear designers to really look at how they can be more inclusive in the future. Because based on the reaction that Sonja received, diversity and inclusivity in our carnival visuals is something that people genuinely appreciate. If one mas band could step out of the norm and use a plus-size model, then what’s stopping others? •