Chubby Vogue Divas is the brain child of Charmain Carrol, a South African beauty and photographer. It celebrates the fuller African figure through the art of photography and a series of interviews. This project is so amazing it even won an award on International Woman’s Day.
We caught up with her to ask her about her amazing initiative that looks to show the amazing beauty that is the curvier African woman.
HOLAA: Firstly, what exactly is a Chubby Vogue Diva?
Charmain: In my opinion a Chubby Vogue Diva is someone who is comfortable in her body. She is comfortable with what other people would call ‘flaws’, however as a Chubby Vogue Diva it is a part of who she is and she carries it with pride.
HOLAA: Why did you start the project?
Charmain: I started it because I am a Chubby Vogue Diva, and people would always comment on my weight or on my clothes, and some of the comments were not always good. [Furthermore] all the magazines I read were for slim women and did not speak to me at all. So I started speaking to a few friends who were chubby themselves about the idea of a photo shoot in a studio.
I invested in studio lights and contacted designer SemoleMooka from Revelations Fashion who agreed to loan me some of the clothes used for the shoot. Other photographers helped me daily with setting up the studio, NqobileZungu and AkhonaHailele whom I had studied photography with at the Market Theatre helped me every day without fail. The idea of the photo shoots was to have the women walk in and feel like super models and there was a need for a team to do this.
HOLAA: How did you find your Divas?
Charmain: I searched for them on Facebook and would inbox them. Some I would approach in malls, on the street, in hair salons, basically anywhere and everywhere. Whenever I would see a Diva I would go up to her and tell her about the project. Some were skeptical at first but would eventually agree. On the first day of the shoot I seriously thought no one would pitch but at 9am my first appointment arrived.
HOLAA: Why do you feel people think so negatively about larger women?
Charmain: I think that people have a negative image of big women because the media and society has portrayed us to be outcasts yet African women are meant to be big. Within Xhosa culture being big was a sign of wealth. This is not to say that I feel should be big in an unhealthy way where you get to the point where you cannot do anything for yourself and your weight starts being a problem.
For me (without being racist) I feel that being slim was inspired by western culture, not forgetting the magazines and music videos that influence teenagers and young people. These shape the ideas of African women who then want to be slim believing that being slim is beautiful.
How did you get into photography?
Charmain: ZaneleMuholi encouraged me to leave the corporate world and do photography full time. This has been the best decision I ever made even though it is not stable in terms of income, not having a monthly salary.
She encouraged me to never give up and for that I will always be grateful.
What role does photography play in re-imagining how we see big women?
Charmain: Photography plays a big role especially in terms of counteracting what is portrayed in the media. For me, my role is to make sure that all the projects I start are relevant and true to me as I am a mother sister, an aunt and possibly a granny. Thus all my projects are very personal. An example of this is the A part of the Family Project which is on Family Portraits. This is because I never made it onto any of my family walls so I take photos of families that do not only look at the nuclear family (an idea I do not think exists). I seek to look at the different types of families: single parent families, lesbian families, gay families, child headed families, friends who consider themselves family and someone with their pet. I am also doing a project on women and scars, both visible and invisible.These are all projects dear to my heart.
How would you advise women to engage in self-love?
Charmain: One cannot make someone believe that they are beautiful unless they see it themselves and what better way to see yourself as beautiful than to see it in a photograph? The only advice I can give a woman is love yourself first, regardless of your flaws or what anyone may think of you. This is the first step to self-love; you do not need to tell anyone that you are beautiful.
Most importantly self-love starts within yourself, loving your body, embracing your womanly figures and beyond that not caring what people may think or say.
Check out the Chubby Vogue Diva Facebook group right here.