Supermodel Emme '85 sheds light on body positivity and self-esteem through speaker series

Iconic plus-size supermodel talks to SU students about navigating the fashion industry while reinforcing body love and self-appreciation.

The complex housing the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics is usually quiet at night, but this Wednesday evening was out of the ordinary.

On Feb. 28, Syracuse University students and faculty crowded the hallways as they filed into Grant Auditorium for the Third Annual Ann Selkowitz Litt Distinguished Speaker Series. In recognition of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Falk College welcomed world-renowned supermodel Emme '85 for her lecture "Facing our fears: Embracing the ones we're with!"

Emme has been an icon in the fashion industry for over 20 years. She takes on many roles including TV personality, model, mother, author, brand spokesperson, cancer survivor, creative director, and globally recognized advocate for women's empowerment, particularly regarding body positivity and self-esteem.

In 2014, Emme partnered with Jeffrey Mayer and Todd Conover, professors of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, to incorporate "Fashion Without Limits" into the fashion design program at SU. The initiative offers students the opportunity to create clothing for sizes 12 and above while participating in an inclusive fashion education in pattern-making, draping, and illustration.

The motivation behind the launch came in response to the lack of plus-size clothing available to women, despite the high demand. According to Plunkett Research, the average American woman wears between a size 14 and 34, Emme said. Plus-size women's clothing is a multi-billion dollar industry that fails to fulfill its market. "But," Emme said, "the future is bright."

During her lecture, Emme discussed the challenges she faced while entering the fashion and modeling industry. She battled low self-esteem for much of her youth and, after receiving hurtful comments at her first shoot, decided modeling was not for her.

 After six months off, Emme re-emerged into the industry as one of People's 50 Most Beautiful People in 1994. The experience taught her not to take anyone's criticism to heart. She addressed young people today who struggle with bullying: "It has nothing to do with you."

This year, Emme walked in a fashion show at New York Fashion Week for the first time ever. At 54, 20-something years older than the models who walked beside her, Emme was the epitome of confidence. As she stood on the stage in Grant Auditorium on Wednesday night, wearing leather leggings and a long, sparkly blouse, Emme radiated the same confidence and poise.

"I want to make a big statement," Emme said. "We're just perfect. Right here, right now. You don't have to change a thing."

Emme continued on to describe her best tips for body love and personal appreciation. She advised each person in the audience to celebrate their bodies' abilities to run, to dance, and to laugh, among so many other things. She also suggested making a top-10 list of things you like about yourself that have nothing to do with your body.

Her underlying message was that beauty is not simply skin deep, it goes much deeper. In emphasizing this, Emme advised students to be critical of what they see on social media.

"There's a lot more pressure today to fit this kind of image which just doesn't exist," Emme said.

In regards to achieving success in the professional world, Emme's advice was simple: love what you do, stay focused and don't be too fearful. When asked how to deal with difficult people in the industry, Emme encouraged students to be persistent in achieving their goals.

"Show up as a bright, shining star," she said. "Keep pitching your ideas. If you get fired for pitching fantastic ideas, then that's not the place you're supposed to be."

Following the lecture, Falk College hosted a reception and book signing, where Emme's fifth and most recent book, "Chicken Soup For The Soul Curvy and Confident: 101 Stories of Loving Yourself and Your Body," was available for purchase. At the reception, the fashion design program of VPA also presented a Fashion Without Limits Pop-up Show.

To learn more about Emme's efforts to give women a strong voice, follow her on social media @SupermodelEmme.

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