Franceta Johnson: artist, graphic designer and creative

"When you don’t see your body represented on social media, in magazines or in everyday life, you have to come up with your own rules."


I’m a Black, queer, plus-size woman, standing at six-foot-four. I interned at Teen Vogue as a photo editor while attending a semester at Parsons School of Design in New York City. It was probably the most stressful six months of my life. At that time, in 2008, Teen Vogue wasn’t progressive. I was getting emails from editors with ratios for Photoshopping bodies. Wrists and ankles had to be the same width. The waist had to be a certain proportion, and legs needed to be this long. Anyone on the cover had to look a specific way.

I was the only big girl there. No one was telling me, “You’re too big to be here.” But all the standards that were being thrown at me felt like an underhanded, “You don’t belong here.”

I was trying to understand where I existed within this ideal of beauty that the company had. That’s when I started to define beauty for myself, outside of these standards, because this was obviously not how I was going to live my life.

When I came back to Toronto and enrolled at George Brown for fashion design later that year, my goal was to put an emphasis on plus-size and tall fashion. It just wasn’t a thing at the time. If clothes were long enough, they wouldn’t fit me. When they fit, they weren’t long enough. I would buy plus-size clothing and it would fit across the chest and around the waist, but I still looked like I was going to walk through a flood.

So I pushed every boundary I could. In first semester, we made shirts, and teachers told me I needed to make it in a large or extra-large. I asked why I couldn’t make mine an extra-extra-large, and they told me that was not part of the curriculum. My whole experience in fashion design school was  getting low grades for handing in assignments that challenged size norms. There just wasn’t space for me in fashion – at school or in stores.

Things are getting better now. There are some options – ASOS makes plus and tall now – but they’re not bountiful.

When you don’t see your body represented on social media, in magazines or in everyday life, you have to come up with your own rules. Outside of people calling me fat or clothing companies telling me I’m not desirable enough to wear their clothing, life is grand. You have to break out of it yourself, push these things aside and realize that you are fine as a person.


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See last year’s Body Issue here.

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