Self-appreciation is a powerful tool for success. For empowered women like Emme, it has driven them to a career not dictated by societal indifference but by self-love. Emme is globally recognized as an innovative social reformer for women’s empowerment and positive body image. Today, Erin Saxton discusses with Emme her exciting career path and addresses the huge disconnect between the perception of equal body types, self-appreciation, and learning to accept and love who they are. With her ambition to influence others towards success, Emme simply says, “Just BE.”
Listen to the podcast here:
Erin And Emme Cut Out The Labels
My guest is a mom, a motivator and a supermodel. Welcome, Emme. We’re in New York City, but we both live in New Jersey.
We’re Jersey girls.
We’re here for a bunch of different reasons. You and I are catching up here on the lower Eastside. We’re about the same age and I grew up admiring you. We say you’re a model and a supermodel. Let’s talk about it. What’s the difference between a model and a supermodel?
I don’t know. The OG status of talking about body positivity and doing all the work that happened in the ’90s put me through the roof all over the place.
Let’s go back in time a little bit. You are a very well-known plus-size model, fit personality on camera. How did this all start for you?
When people say plus-size supermodel it’s so funny. I laugh because I’m a model and we are trying to teach the industry that, “Let’s get rid of the word plus.” Don’t you agree? That’s what I am and that’s totally good and great. I go into some meetings and I go, “I’m curving and that’s all good.” It’s been a cool journey. It’s been so fun to open minds about what type of beauty is out there and how we can look at ourselves in a much kinder and more compassionate way. It’s not trying to put us in a category. We are women. We should be diversified. We should’ve looked like each other and we should have differences that set us apart. I don’t know why, but my background in reporting opened my ears and opened my own heart aperture when I started hearing more and more women talking poorly about themselves when I would go on the road. Sadly I understand because I had gone down this journey to talking negatively and using the body as a battering ram in conversations. I thought, “I’ve got to stop doing this to myself because these conversations that I’m having are shedding light on how I feel about my relationship with my body.” Thus, my life’s work exploded when I started asking questions and hearing these wonderful, incredible answers from women that we’re diversified and we’re full of pain. I was like, “We’ve got to stop.” This is the vehicle of our essence. This gives us life. It gives us life experience.
This is a conversation that is long overdue. It’s a conversation I with my friends and family had all the time. It’s something that is beyond important to me. I don’t like saying plus.
That’s my title. That’s how I’m introduced and it is what it is.
At home, the reason why I bring up plus is because I want to bring people on the journey so then after this no one ever says plus. When you were younger, you were at Syracuse University. Did you then want to be a reporter right out of college like that?
I wanted to be the next Johnny Carson. I love talking to people. I like hearing their stories because I found out that people are more similar than they are different, but the differences are like the salt, the pepper, the seasonings that made each story interesting to listen to. I lived in Saudi Arabia. I lived in different parts of the world. I figured out that even though that I was Christian living in a Muslim world that was so beautiful to hear the call to worship. I had a very different experience with Islam. I started realizing that these are all different airlines to the same destination. Diversity at its finest. Also growing up in Saudi Arabia, seeing how women are being treated made me open my aperture at a very young age. How could I, as a young whippersnapper, have more freedom than these other women that were on the same Earth but wearing the shrouds and that were walking ten paces behind men? The nutrients and the little seeds of why I was doing the work that I was doing in our free country here with lots of rights and use of our voice, I took advantage of that.
When you were in Saudi Arabia, what a dichotomy because you’re a smart woman. I take it you don’t mince words very well. If you feel something, your deliveries probably very gracious, but you’re a heart-centered person. You don’t learn that as an adult. This means when you were in Saudi Arabia, this was who you were. Did you say something to your family like, “What is this all about? What’s up with the ten paces?” Did you have to walk behind ten paces as well?
No, I lived in Dhahran and it was a compound that had this parameter fence. We had families from all over the world that lived together there. We had to respect the culture and we couldn’t walk around with shorts on or exposed the back of her neck. I would wear thobes that were these collar high dresses when I would go into Khobar. You’d have to be aware and no, we didn’t have to walk paces behind. Within my own family, I was not able to communicate in the way that I wanted to because of the fear of wrath from authority figures like my stepfather. It was building up and I was learning about my own relationship with my own body. When I was given the opportunity to communicate, there was a lot of content.What you teach is what you're learning. Click To Tweet
What you teach is what you’re learning. I am always on this journey. How best I can feel the present moment, appreciative of how I got to you and waking up and the opportunity to be alive. I know it sounds hokey, but when I live in this place of deep appreciation and gratitude, all these things about, is your body good? Is your body bad? All this comparison falls away. I can groove in my own essence and be. That’s where the teaching of where you can be full and manifesting. The experience from Saudi Arabia and the experience from living and working in the modeling industry all was fuel to this wonderful flame to getting me here.
You’re such a trailblazer with this message. You get on the scene, you start modeling and you realize there’s a huge disconnect between the perception of equal body types and appreciation and openness. You’re back in the States. You’re away from authority figures that you can’t speak up. There’s not as much wrath or there might be from industry leaders. Do you finally say something then and that’s how you’re known and why you’re such an authority figure? I watched you, tell us that story. Was there a moment there were you were like shazam?
There were quite a few moments. When did you jump off the edge? When did you take the leap? I walked away from a modeling job that I had a photographer that was very excited to work with. He was known up in all of the industry and it was my first full day booking. It was back in ‘92. I was going to be in a billboard, I was going to be in ads. It was the very beginning of all this full-figured industry. He walked in after an hour and a half a hair and makeup and said, “Where’s the model?” I was the only one there. I had the curlers in my hair and my makeup was done beautifully. I’m thinking to myself going, “I’m right here.” He looked me up and down. He goes, “I’m not shooting this fatty.” When he walked out of the room, he slammed the door, the artwork’s shaking in the set.
I got on the phone with my hair and makeup, people came to put the tissues under my eyes. I don’t need that. I almost said, “Get down and do twenty pushups with me.” I’m an athlete. I didn’t appreciate it. I’d go in and I say to my agency, “I’m gone. I’m going to leave.” They said, “No, please stay.” I had to stay for the whole day and he came back hours later, the whole set had to be changed because the light had changed. He goes, “If I’m going to shoot you, I’m going to shoot you sexy.” He ripped the cotton fibers of a boat neck top. He’s like, “Let’s get this shot done.” We shot it 2 to 3 years later, I had 50 of the most beautiful people hit. I walked away from the shoot and I went into holistic health massage therapy, kinesiology and physiology. I loved that work and I said, “If I’m going to do something, maybe I should go into this work.”
Did you leave modeling at that point?
I walked away and my chart was filling up. I was working all the time prior to the shoot and the agency was like, “You got to get your butt back here. You have to come back. By the way, we want to let you know we submitted you for 50 Most Beautiful People for People Magazine. They’re looking for this new type of beauty.” I’m thinking, “I think you’re lying to me.” They weren’t, but I didn’t really take this. There were 500 people are looking at I said, “Let me know when they’re at 200.” They’re like, “You’re at 200.” I said, “Let me know when you’re at 50, let me know you’re at 25.” It started getting serious. I got chosen. I shoot this, I’m down in Miami and I see this photographer because I was shooting with the German crew.
I am picking up a telephone at the Luncheonette helping a woman with all the coffees and it was for the photographer. I’m thinking, “I cannot believe this.” I said, “I’m going to take this to him.” I walked out, he’s with two models, cleaned up. I walked up to him and he looks at me, he goes, “Emme, it’s so good to see you.” My face was all over the place at this time. I was breaking out of the fold as a spokesperson and I realized he did not even remember shooting me or he was very good at forgetting. He goes, “We got to work together, my dear. This is so fabulous.” How the industry could be, “Darling, this is so good.” I go, “No, here’s a phone call, but by the way, we did actually work together and I want to thank you for helping me stay within the industry.” I walked away. I don’t even remember of walking away. That is the story.
First of all, when I get mad, I cry not because I’m sad, it’s a little release when I know I’m saying something very controversial or whatever. Did you have that reaction?
I had something going on inside where I didn’t quite understand what was happening. The idea of me walking away from the industry for good. Thank God goodness, I didn’t do that.
On behalf of everybody, thank you for not doing that.
I share this with kids, with bullies. It has nothing to do with you. His fear with me being on his film scared him I’m sure that no one was shooting full-figured women back then, plus-size models that were Harvest, Bizarre Vogue and all the big names of the magazines. He was nervous about his own career. This was early stuff. This is the prejudice that was going on, but you can’t give up your dreams. I knew being a reporter, I fell into the biggest story of my life. Your life journey is never a straight line. It’s always a little over here, a little over there and stepping into your opportunities. It’s always about the journey. It’s never ever about the destination.
You get the Most Beautiful 50 from People Magazine, then you start becoming more vocal.
I started communicating and I was listening.
How is that received?
What I’m seeing, there are a lot of people that are not courageous and actually putting their name to comments. There’s such a free way of saying something snarky and nasty and there are people that are applauding people who have a wonderful voice. There’s a lot more nastiness these days. Back when I was talking and communicating from a place of truth and trying to heal myself as well as listening and saying, “I’m not alone here, let me get some stats. Let me get some data.” The data started coming back that there were a lot of women and men that were on this journey of, “Who am I? Am I okay? Do I have to look like my sister or my brother? Do I have to go on these diet-related products? What happens if I eat and exercise?” There was all this confusion and I said, “Clear it all away.” That was something that people never heard before. Groove your own beat. Self-reliance, what are you talking about?
I’m plus size, full size. I’m not in a thong model.
I beg to differ with you. If you wanted too, you could do that and do it well.
I tried to conform to the norms. The norms are, “I’m fine. I’m great.” The norms growing up as the miniskirts with the ruffle socks, the heels and you needed to look like a ZZ Top girl. I tried every diet there was. Did you go through that or you loved your body right from the start?
No, I went through a pretty tough time. Some friends had a harder time and others did not. I had a stepfather that was a cereal dieter and went to fat farms and had some conflict within himself about his own upbringing. My mother also was a dieter. The first cross I saw was the scale at Weight Watchers when I was five in the back of the room while she was getting weighed with a whole bunch of other women that were either crying or ecstatic that they lost or gained weight. That was my introduction to women and bodies and what is that? I was brought up in that being weighed after my mom on this metal scale and having my weight charted. It was all value-based. Your weight was value-based and don’t you dare hit over 200 pounds. I had to peel back the onion through lots of therapy, lots of reading, lots of listening and lots of work. This is my Amazon body man and I got a full athletic scholarship to college to row.
I’ve got this incredible career that through this body, this vehicle, I was able to not only make great money for myself but open minds of like, “If I could do this and if this is being seen in the way it is, rock on sister, let’s go.” This is teamwork. It’s hard work to go against what other people are saying. When you start shaking the trees and saying, “Money’s being made off of our backs with making us feel less than.” If we don’t use A product or B product or C product, forget that. This life is short. I got cancer and I got pregnant before that. All these things that were going on with my body, I said, “This is the most magnificent vehicle, it heals so well.”
You are a cancer survivor. How is your health?
It’s well, so good. I’m wonderful.
You have a beautiful daughter.
Eighteen years old, if you can imagine that.Life is about the journey, not the destination. Click To Tweet
She’s as gorgeous as her mama.
She’s special. All of us say that about our kids.
My modeling story is a brief one, but I have one. I’m at The View at the time and I am producing all the fashion shows. We had a contest of if you brand the fashion shows then you get to go out to lunch. I called it Out of The Closet. To be fun and campy. I enjoyed producing all the fashion shows and it was important to me that I had to have diversity in all my fashion shows and I needed a plus size look, which sadly was twelve or higher.
Sometimes it goes down to ten or eight.
On my watch, I was trying to put in fourteens and sixteens. My challenge with that was that the fashion designers I was working with didn’t always have clothes that size. That became an issue. Out of respect, I won’t name names because they didn’t know. They knew after I worked with them. I was doing my own way, but here’s what happened. Every fashion show we’d get there early and I’d meet the on-camera moderator of whatever huge couture house. Think of all the names I could work with, I did. I worked with all the major department stores. Think of all of those. Every single one would come up and they’d say, “Are you our plus-sized model?”
Of course, no. You’re beautiful Erin.
That’s not my story.
I can’t imagine them not asking that.
I said, “No, I’m your producer.” They went, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to insult you.” I thought, “What the fudge. You’re worried because I’m a producer and that trumps a plus-size model in your book. Thank you. Not in my book. Nothing trumps anything. I’m just not that girl.” I got so upset with everybody asking me. Finally one of the models came up and they go, “How many times do you need to hear this? You might as well join us.” She was so cute. I went and got an agent.
I became a plus-size model.
While you were producing at The View?
Yes, why no one knows this story is because it didn’t go anywhere. I was in a few TV shows. I was in Self Magazine. I got bookings. My challenge is my agent had me cut my hair and dye it brown. No offense to brown, but I’m not a brown girl. My roots aren’t even brown. It looks like muddy, but they’re still blonde. If I went all shade. I went to an open casting call for another department store. You could tell, you have a book and you bring your book with you so you can tell who has the same agents as you do.
Has their agency name on the front.
I walked in and all of a sudden I look around and there are all this baby blue look books with all girls with short brown hair.
They were calling for that particular look.
I was like, “You made me look like all the rest of your clients.” I called her like, “What are you doing?” I immediately went blonde again. It was great because you’ve got free facials and hair. For a producer, that was awesome. I was like, “This is great.” They realize I had a personality. They started sending me to TV commercials as a plus-size model. That went well, but they wanted me to do an underwear commercial. I didn’t have the self-confidence nor the support from my person at the time to be posing in. There were no ads. I haven’t done their big campaign.
Are we talking ’95?
It was the mid-’90s. It would have been an embarrassment I feel to my friends and family for me. I don’t want to see myself in underwear. I’m not that girl. I’m fine with being my size. That doesn’t mean you need to see me in my underwear in a photo spread in Times Square. That wasn’t my jam.
Did you saw it from the inside out?
I did. It’s not pretty.
Was it two years that you are doing this or in between working? You were busy?
I was busy. I did it a side hustle. I did it because it was presented in front of me and I thought, why not? I loved the concept of it because it got me out meeting new people. I was representing a lot, but I didn’t have the height, I’m 5’7″. The plus size clothes don’t fit me very well. I’m a straight size larger size girl.
You are though. You’re Missy fourteen or sixteen?Fashion is inclusive. Click To Tweet
Fourteen, don’t get me wrong, I could be a sixteen.
It’s a very different cut. If you’re wearing a plus size fourteen or plus size sixteen, the fit is completely different.
If I have a W on any of my tags, they’re way too wide and I’m not tall enough. That was part of my issue.
It should fit you because the majority of women are 5’4″. When you think about full-figured clothing, whenever I walked through major department stores and I see dresses and I’m thinking, “I’m almost six feet, I’m 5’11”. I always have to get things let out. I go in and take a look at the dresses and they’re hitting the floor. I’m thinking, “Who are these going to fit?” Fit is King. That’s one of the reasons why the industry is having such a hard time.
I have a confession to make. When I entered the modeling world, somebody said, “You should be a fit model.” I said, “I don’t work out that much.” A fit model isn’t because of exercise or athleticism.
Fit models where clothes are fit onto, but your measurements have to be dead on with every client every year. It’s very hard to be a fit model and not like an exercise fit model.
Also I said to the person “I don’t work out that much. I don’t think I should be a fit model.” There’s that pause. I’m like, “What?” They’re like, “We don’t mean fit like you have to work out. We were saying we want to put clothes on and we’re going to pin it against you because we think you’re a pretty evenly size fourteen.” I’m like, “I didn’t know.”
Some people do this for years and years. When you see all the clothing line that changes when you’re always fitting into the clothes. Always think they’ve changed the flip model. Don’t blame yourself.
You’ve had your own clothing line, you always are in the fashion industry. Do you buy off the rack or do you take it to a good tailor and get it custom fit for you? I try to do that sometimes I find I have sausage arms sometimes. I might have to roll up a little. Sometimes I’m a little T-Rex.
I’m thinking that we all go through when we go and try clothes on, we take it upon ourselves to be like, “My arms are this way. That way.” It’s so hard to be able to fit into everything that you like. If you have a really good tailor, if they could take by one size up so they can tailor it correctly for you. If you could take away the shame of the label, rip them out. It doesn’t matter. When I buy pants, forget it. They’re never long enough. This could be just as much I can always let out this Yves Saint Laurent jacket.
I wear men’s jackets from a higher end. That’s the only way I can get haute fashion because it’s very hard. 11 Honoré is going into training these designers that you tried to have on the show, have clothing that’s hired. I don’t work for them. I don’t get paid as a spokesperson for them, but they are the only game in town that has a bunch of haute designers that are taking the 11 Honoré fit so that they can make above a size twelve. This is earth-shattering that this exists. You’ll see women that are going to the opera, you will see women going to all these beautiful balls and events that are of a higher nature looking like they’ve been styled well. Finally, 2019, it’s taking time but patience is a virtue.
Let’s talk about your book, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy and Confident: 101 Stories about Loving Yourself and Your Body. What made you want to write this book?
All these stories, all these women. There were so many stories of inspiration as well as stories of sadness around our vehicle for this earth. I thought wouldn’t it be great to have a bunch of stories that show the journey to inspiration, the journey to acceptance. Everyone can relate to these stories. It took forever for us to figure out which stories are going to go in the three of us. Amy Newmark, the owner of Chicken Soup for the Soul as well as Natasha Stoynoff and myself. We all got punches of stories. We had thousands to choose from.
It’s evident of how much this is needed.
We all have stories. We all are on this journey of trying to figure out how not to body bash and how to be like, “I have curves. I have rolls. I have a hip, I’ve got to tush and I’ve got boobs. How do I accept this when our society doesn’t reflect that as often? This came out in such a way. We’re talking to about different ways of bringing this out in a bigger way as well.
What advice do you have for everybody out there struggling with accepting and loving who they are?
That’s all of us. We all go down this journey. When I don’t get to the present moment, if I’m projecting fear into the future of something that’s coming up where I look in the past and have regret and whatever it might be, I try to work on being in the present moment through meditation. I know that might sound like, “That seems so simple.” When I can still my mind on a daily basis, at least almost every day I try to be and feel that without judgment, without fear, without any of that stuff that keeps on coming at me. I’ve learning to push it away. The more that I can be in that state of stillness, the better I can react or not react to an ad on TV or a friend body bashing themselves or someone trying to say something on social media that isn’t aligning with the message that I’m putting out and not taking it personally. It’s almost an invisible shield or armor of wellness.
Is that Fashion Without Limits? Does that tie into all of this?
Fashion Without Limits came about when I was like, “What is the issue? Why do we not have clothing above a size twelve that’s better to bridge to a designer?” I kept on asking designers, I kept on asking magazines, department store heads and I thought, “Beacon above all, knowledge is power.” I said, “I’ve got to go back into the educational system.” I looked into how we teach young designers. They have sizes 0, 2 and 4 forms. I said, “No wonder.” I went back to Syracuse and I said, ‘Would you like to do a program called Fashion Without Limits where it’s an inclusive fashion education where we have all diversified forms up to 24.” There’s an award each year and the young designers’ clothing, whether it’s on a red carpet or for a show or whatever to give them a tear sheet? It’s in its sixth year. It’s rocking and rolling. We’re looking into an online offering so other schools can get certified individuals to understand how to do this. It’s not so hard. You’ve got to get your myths and your beliefs about a woman’s body out the window and open your eyes to, who do you want to serve? Fashion is exclusive. It’s not now, fashion is inclusive.
Where could everybody at home learn about Fashion Without Limits and your book?
Everything is there?
You can sign up for newsletters. We can tell you all the behind the scenes stuff of what we do in our newsletters and places where I’m going to be so we can meet up.
Thanks for reading. Emme, thank you for being here. We’ll hope to see you all soon.
- Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy and Confident: 101 Stories about Loving Yourself and Your Body
- Chicken Soup for the Soul
- Fashion Without Limits
- @SupermodelEmme -Twitter
- Instagram – Emme
- Facebook – Emme
Known for over two decades as the award-winning, iconic American supermodel and trusted the voice in the fashion, wellness, beauty and news industries, Emme is globally recognized as the innovative social reformer for women’s empowerment and positive body image.
A TV personality, brand spokesperson, TV and podcast host, consultant, author, Revlon spokeswoman, keynote, creative director of her clothing lines (EMME®, mebyEMME®, and TrueBeautybyEMME®), Emme’s message is clear – “to awaken the inner magnificence inherent in each of us, to be whole.”
She is the first celebrity body image and self-esteem champion invited to speak before a Congressional subcommittee in Washington, D.C. with a mission to increase public awareness of the dangers of eating disorders and poor body image for women, girls, men, and boys.
Named in 2018 by Oprah Magazine as the Godmother of the full-figured industry, a TEDx presenter, Emme has twice been selected to People Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People” and Ladies’ Home Journal chose her as one of the “Most Important Women in America” and one of the “Most Fascinating Women of the Year.” She has also been honored as one of Glamour magazine’s “Women of the Year” and as one of Biography magazine’s “25 Most Influential Women”. Emme is a long-time Ambassador to The National Eating Disorders Association, board member of the Model Alliance, honorary board member of Project Heal, and Kent School Trustee.
Emme is a sought-after media, healthcare, marketing, and retail consultant, tapping into her invaluable insight from her 30 years in the TV, fashion and beauty industries. She is dedicated to positive body image and celebrating a woman’s body™ and is frequently interviewed by the media on a variety of topics relating to eating disorders and body image, fashion & beauty trends, marketing, inclusive fitness, wellness, surviving cancer and women’s health. She regularly visits Today Show, GMA, CBS The Early Show, CNN, MSNBC, HLN, OWN, FOX News, OMG! Insider, Huff Post Live, Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight, and others to share her point of view on these topics.
Emme has authored five books translated in a variety of languages, “True Beauty- Putnam”, “Life’s Little Emergencies -St Martin’s Press”, “Morning Has Broken – Penguin”, “What Are You Hungry For?” – Harper Collins, and Chicken Soup for The Soul book series: “Curvy and Confident: 101 Stories of Loving Yourself and Your Body”.
Her work receives national and international coverage from the NYTimes, Women’s Wear Daily, R29, Bustle, People Magazine, Glamour Magazine, Marie Claire, TIME Magazine, HuffPost, WSJ, Yahoo! Style, PeopleStyleWatch, USAToday BusinessInsider.com, Vogue Italia, Tribune India, MTV, The DailyMail, among many others.
Emme is the founder of her passion project: Fashion Without Limits (FWL) – a first of its kind in the USA, in its 5th year co-founded with Syracuse University’s School of Design – FWL is an inclusive fashion design initiative, teaching future fashion designers how to design for all women size 0-24+, addressing 100 million women not able to buy clothes that fit and reflect their personality and style in the US alone.
Invited to the US ’84 Olympic Trials for rowing, Emme’s passion for nature and fitness fuels her active lifestyle, which includes triathlons, rowing, snowshoeing, boogie boarding, hiking, yoga, swimming and yes, camping.
Raised in Saudi Arabia, Emme is a Mom, passionate traveler, and enjoys creating a deeper and long-lasting societal impact by working with leading companies that support the wellbeing and wellness of their employees and customers.