By Wendy Cohen

Growing up I was a sweet, chubby, cherub — 90 lbs. in kindergarten, 180 by 6th grade, and 250 by the end of college. UGH, the shame, the horror, the obsessive cyclical thoughts on always wanting to lose weight to fit into clothes has been the central theme in my life from a tender young age. Not only was I being bullied for my size, the clothing I wanted to wear just wasn’t available. It made me feel not good enough. Trying to get to 150 lbs since age 10, my weight yo-yoed up to 285 lbs by age 28. Diet camps, commercial weight loss programs, green juice fasts, exercising 8 hours a day — none of this worked long term, but I still tried because I wanted to look like my best self. Who doesn’t?

Fast forward to 2016. My size has become my identity, shaping my hobbies, my desires, my visions, my relationships, my family dynamics; ultimately, how I show up in the world. For prom, I designed my own dress based on a Nicole Miller off-the-shoulder silhouette I found at Bloomingdales while shopping with my skinny friends. And come prom night, I radiated and exuded confidence; that’s how the right clothes make you feel.

Enter this year’s September Fashion Week. As a NYC fashion & beauty executive for 17 years, the media and designer attention has blown me away with the plethora of options and brand name designers clamoring for our plus-size attention. I am most impressed with Ashley Graham’s Addition Elle fashion show. The savvy Canadian plus-size retailer nails chic modern and inspiring styles with their “vision of championing a fashion democracy, where style isn’t limited by size.”

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Image courtesy of New York Natives, photographer Wendy Cohen

The wearable, comfortable, sexy-as-hell fashion and lingerie walking down the runway left me breathless. Ashley Graham, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue curvy supermodel, has catapulted us curvy girls to a new dimension of sexy gorgeousness for the world to appreciate and celebrate.

The versatile clothes featured included fluid, intricate, lightweight midi dresses, magenta sequined mini dresses, white button down shirts paired with corsets and wide leg pants, crystal embellished v-neck tunics paired with leather leggings, lace dresses and green metallic jumpsuits — essentially what you would find on the contemporary floor for our thinner sisters, but with flattering details for our curvy dimensions. The Ashley Graham lingerie showcased plunging push up bras, sexy detailed thongs, lace chemises, and see-thru lace babydolls and teddies. Addition Elle is sexy cool, and wants us to flaunt it.

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Image courtesy of New York Natives, photographer Wendy Cohen

For women over a size 12, finding contemporary chic fashion easily and effortlessly has been a life challenge for many of us. Speaking from my experience, the ghastly reflections of dressing room mirrors staring back at me that don’t look like the models on the runway have caused me to burst in tears and reach for the Häagen-Dazs millions of times; it’s counter intuitive, I know. Using food to dull the pain of a dress size is not the answer but I know I’m not alone in this struggle — it’s a real mind/body f*ck many of share. Therapy & eating support groups for decades have helped.

I am absolutely thrilled that new designers and retailers want to take on the fit, expense, and psychological challenge of dressing us in clothes we actually desire. Forever and a day, friends and fashion experts have said — you should write about your curvy life in New York City! So I’m blowing rainbows of joy (Stacey Bendet rainbows) as I launch my first column here on New York Natives, “Fashion PLUS Life”.