France’s Most Famous Curvy Model on Being Objectified

By
Clementine Desseaux, the first "plus-size" woman on French TV.
Clementine Desseaux, the first "plus-size" woman on French TV. Photo: lesmijotes.com/bonjourclem

A few months ago, news outlets like The Daily Mail reported that Christian Louboutin Beauty had cast its first-ever plus-size campaign star, French model Clémentine Desseaux. This turned out to be not quite true. In reality, Desseaux had posted a video of herself wearing the new Louboutin Beauty lipsticks and the video had gone viral. When Louboutin regrammed it, viewers took it to mean something official from the brand.

People worldwide were disappointed, and for good reason. Beauty products have nothing to do with size, but apart from Beth Ditto for M.A.C and Queen Latifah for CoverGirl, it’s rare to find a plus-size model or actress as the face of a beauty brand. Last week in Paris, the Cut talked to Desseaux — who runs her own blog and Les Mijotés, a creative agency representing plus-size clothing brands — about dispelling stereotypes and rejecting labels.

Basically, [Louboutin] gives me products because they like the blog and I know the team personally. I was in Paris just after they gave it to me, and me and my friend were like, “Maybe let’s do a cool video or something, because everybody does pictures.” So we just walked around in Paris, wearing the lipstick, putting it on and off and just playing around with it. Then my boyfriend edited it and we sent it to the team over at Louboutin. They loved it and decided to repost it on their social and everywhere. And the thing is, I think they never had posted a plus-size face ever before. So I think that’s why people just thought, Whoa, it’s the first face, that must be what it is.

But it was a good opening for us to actually start talking about things. The reaction was insane. People were super-excited. Christian, maybe take notes? [Laughs.]

I’m surprised that beauty hasn’t moved in a body-positive direction. Beauty isn’t size-related.
Yeah, exactly. But beauty is fashion really, in the industry, it’s kind of the same thing. [Plus-size faces] never get called for beauty casting, even though we have amazing faces. I went to maybe two beauty castings in my whole career, even though if I was a size zero, I would probably book any fucking beauty campaign. But because I’m plus, I don’t.

I’m a little over this whole “body thing.” Yes, I like my body and we already have that covered. Yes, it’s nice, yes, it’s curvy. Do I want to be naked all the time in magazines because people think my body is only good to be naked? No. Do I want my face out there more? Yeah!

Even if you don’t ever see the body in beauty campaigns, they just say, “Meh. Image-wise, it’s not the best.” But why? Every single woman is buying makeup or a skin-care product. Big girls do, too. Any girl would be happy to see a different face on a beauty campaign, whether she’s a size zero or a size 14.

If you are plus-size, you don’t have to fit a mold of the whole sexy thing. There’s this idea that if you’re plus you have to be sexy, you have to be out there, you have to flaunt it. But you can do whatever you want, whatever your body type — you can like fashion, be a little cool, covered, maybe even tomboy-ish, but do what you want.

Winning by putting our sexy naked body all over the place is just objectification in another way. We’re not treated the same way. In editorial, they want skinny-girl clothes because it looks great. They want big girls naked because they look like art. It’s a weird way to see a full-size body, which is so annoying to me. There’s still a lot of work to do on this. But it’s moving.

For example, [gesturing to a cover of Marie Claire France] this is out once a year and it’s a special curve edition. It’s still not the regular issue. Marie France is not bad, because it has different types of body and age in every issue, because they’re so broad. The fashion magazines? You’ll never see Vogue do a curve issue or anything like that. They don’t ever put any curves in any issue. Sometimes Elle will have their summer special curve issue, too. Then the rest of the year is like … no. It’s like the same thing of putting you in a box. “Okay, this is your month. Go ahead, be crazy.” But then they forget about you the whole year, which is insane.

There’s a perception in the U.S. that French women don’t get fat and are all one size, super-skinny. How do you feel when you hear things like that?
Paris is like New York. There’s more skinny women than anywhere else in France, because it’s the fashion capital and they feel like they have to fit a mold. But I mean, French women are not all skinny. They don’t eat croissants and not gain weight. That’s just not true. That’s a cliché that they like. They like to keep it and they think it’s cool, but it’s just not true.

Look at me. You go out in France and you really see any color, any shape, and it looks more and more like the States. It’s much more diverse, because of foreigners and people coming from different countries like America and all over Europe. They open your mind a little bit more, which is good. But it’s still quite close-minded. France doesn’t like to change. That’s why it takes a while to push diversity, whether it’s in politics, in race, in weight, body, whatever.

Do you think there’s a bigger plus-size market in New York than in Paris?
Oh yeah. I mean, the plus-size market in New York is huge. All the big brands are doing plus. American ones — like Macy’s, Bloomie’s, Target, and all the brands you can possibility think of — and then you have all the catalogues, all the cool brands like Michael Kors. They don’t really talk about it that much, but they do plus. That’s a lot of work for us.

Do a lot of agencies in France have a plus-size division?
They have one agency that’s been here forever. It’s called “Plus,” and they do have a plus division. It’s kids, men, older women. They have a plus division. I’m technically with them but never worked with them, because there’s just no market. I’m in the process of not being with them.

Then you have no other agency. None of the big agencies in Paris are doing plus. The only one that really is, kind of, is IMG, because they do worldwide, so if you’re signed in Europe, then they will find you some clients in Paris. I mean, there’s no options.

How did you get discovered as a model?
The brand I was working for yesterday is called Castaluna. They were the first to advertise plus fashion in France. They did a TV commercial almost five years ago, just before I moved to Miami. I was the first plus girl on TV in France. It was huge and was on TV for almost two years. It was my first job. I was dancing on TV in a bodysuit and it was kind of shocking for France. France had the worst reaction: Oh my God, we don’t want to see all this fat moving on TV.

It was exciting, because afterward women were like, My God, there’s other options. French women were so happy. It was such a great wave of positive messages afterward. I was like, Okay, I might try this thing. That’s kind of a cool, powerful thing to do. I just have to show my face to talk about things and people will listen. I already had understood that France was not an option. So I moved to Miami and tried out for this American Apparel contest, which I won, and it happened to work out again. I was maybe 19 [at] my first type of photo shoot. Maybe I was working once a year for the holidays, as a hobby, just to have fun. This TV job just kind of sparked the thing. That was 2011. And since then it’s just been whoosh.

In the U.S. some models prefer not to use the term “plus-size.” Do you not like the term?
To me, it’s just another word to put you in a box. But I mean, whatever you want to call me, I don’t care, honestly. I’m not going to get offended. I just would rather us not need any labeling, just in general. Like, you don’t have a black model page. You don’t even need to.

How do you think most people perceive you in France?
I guess friendly, approachable, funny. Cute, sometimes, sometimes not. I don’t really know. I think people like me because I’m kind of easy. I’m not like a mean model who moved to America where I don’t care and don’t give a shit. I couldn’t come home if I was the big model that was like that. That wouldn’t roll in France. They would just hate you. You have to stay true to your roots and know who you are and where you came from. I’m still this country girl from the south of France and I like to hang out in fields and shit like that [laughing], so it’s cool.

This interview has been condensed and edited.