If there is one word that has become more popular and widely used than “selfie” right now, it is “diversity”. Especially considering the uptick in violence and hatred toward minorities and people of color following the election of Donald Trump as the next US president. His campaign was marked by hatred, division, racism, ableism, sexism, and many more terms that seek to dismantle what diversity seeks to create. It is at this point in history when we realize our work as an advocacy platform for feminism has never been more important, and part of our work is to highlight the work of powerful role models in the world.
One of those is Suzanna Fatta, aka Carmina Suzanne, an international model who has graced runways and campaigns in cities such as Paris, London, NYC, Miami, Los Angeles and Venice. She is responsible for producing Curves in Couture – the first plus-size only show in the UK, and is the founder and CEO of Modal Productions, a fashion and music mentoring firm specializing in diversity advocacy. Like many others within the body positive community, Carmina is using her presence to be an advocate for inclusion in a number of different ways.
Along with championing plus size, petite, mature and disabled models of all colors to be represented in fashion, having recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Carmina has become an advocate for research and awareness, showing others that they can be successful and feel beautiful despite a debilitating illness. She has accomplished some ground-breaking achievements so far in her career, and we were honored to speak with this badass change-maker to learn more about her work and her passion.
How did you get your start in modeling?
I first tried it out in college, but my health problems and hair loss made me shelve the whole dream forever, or so I thought… but then we moved to England for my singing career, and I found a good hair replacement option. I was in my 30s and working in one of the top modeling cities in the world, so I gave it a try – I figured it was now or never… I quickly got amazing work in London, and it’s been a great ride ever since!
You have been featured in magazines and shows all around the world. How did you start to get international recognition?
Well I was lucky enough to start my career in London, and then to work in Paris where my main agency is. So when I moved back home to the States I was a European model for all intents and purposes; I had to learn the American catwalk style, for example. Sometimes I have a hard time slotting into the American market as my look is very Euro, in fact! I’ve been featured in 30+ publications in 8 countries, so I really value my international contacts. My heart is in Paris and my agency Agence Plus, but I am so lucky to get amazing work in New York and LA.
Tell us about producing Curves in Couture, the first plus-only show in the UK?
It was almost exactly 5 years ago, in November 2011. That was really an experience, both good and bad. I learned an incredible amount and am so proud of the plus models we booked for the Models of Diversity event; Robyn Lawley, Tocarra Jones, Lizzie Miller and disabled model Kelly Knox. And we got some incredible folks in the audience like CEO of The British Fashion Council, designer Zandra Rhodes, plus goddess Velvet d’Amour, and Members of Parliament. One thing I learned is not to model in a show you also Event Manage; I walked in The Diversity Show which opened Curves in Couture, and that was madness. Now UK Plus Size Fashion Week has become the standard-bearer in London, going from strength to strength!
Most internet users are aware of the revolution happening in the fashion industry, but there is still a long way to go. What do you hope the body positive movement will continue to achieve?
I’d like to see it consolidate and focus – we’ve done the quantity thing, now it’s time to work on quality. A lot of the body positive sites don’t go beyond “It’s wrong to be mean to big people.” We don’t need 1000 more Facebook groups telling us curves are beautiful; we need action, research and motion.
Aside from body positivity and greater inclusion for a variety of body sizes, we need to see more ethnicities, ages and abilities. Why do you think there is such a reluctance for the fashion industry to cater to real people in the world?
On the one hand I cannot fathom why. Fashion must be the only industry in the world where it’s considered good business practice to ignore 70% of your customer base. On the other hand, I wonder if the reluctance comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of who the customers are. With the greying of America, why aren’t more fashion lines geared towards that demographic?! Is it because designers still have the twinset-polyester-pants Granny in their head, and don’t realize how vibrant and active those over 50 can be in 2016?
Which models and designers right now are inspiring you with their work and advocacy for the BoPo movement?
While I wasn’t a fan while he was on Project Runway, Christian Siriano has blown me away lately. He designs beautiful gowns for women of all sizes and ages – that’s a real designer. And a smart businessman. I respect the crap out of him, especially because he’s been so vocal about body positivity. As for models, this sounds corny, but all the Body-Posi models inspire me. Whenever a model that is outside the fashion norm achieves a great national campaign, I feel like it’s a victory for all of us fighting the same diversity fight.
Tell us about your company MODAL Productions.
Beauty diversity in all its forms – that models (and consumers) of all shapes, sizes, heights, ages, ethnicities and ability levels be treated fairly by the fashion industry. In my hometown of Buffalo, I also serve most of the functions an agency would (there are no reputable modeling agencies in my area). I give personalized mentoring to aspiring models to prepare them for agency placement in major markets such as NYC, Toronto, LA and London. Since I have worked as a model booker, I can assess a portfolio or a catwalk pretty quickly. I also love mentoring talent; that’s the professor in me!
Why is it important for fashion, advertising and entertainment to represent bodies of all types?
Well it’s pretty simple – because those bodies exist. And those bodies are attached to money-paying customers. Shouldn’t it be cut & dry?! 10% of Americans have a visible disability, so why wouldn’t you want to serve a community of over 30 million people?
Aside from modeling and advocacy, you also do a lot of public speaking. What do you talk about?
I still present academic lectures, both for specialist and general audiences, which I really enjoy. Every year I give a talk for National Opera Week, and in 2014 I was recognized as having one of the top 15 events in the country by OPERA America. But in fact I often talk about modeling and diversity advocacy in my public speaking. One of my specialties is giving media interviews, in a variety of languages. I’ve been on stage since I was 8, so talking (off the cuff) in front of a group comes very naturally to me.
Finally, a question we like to ask all our interviewees: what makes you a powerful woman?
Being Southern Italian and Sicilian, for starters! We are a strong group of people for sure. And my parents. Not only do I come from a line of powerful women who have triumphed over incredible adversity, but I have a father who believed in women’s equality. I was never once told “You can’t because you’re a girl” – when I wanted to go to astronomy camp, I went. I never knew there was a glass ceiling from my parents, so I just keep barreling up the ladder. The love and support of my husband also gives me incredible strength.
Also, all my health problems have made me strong out of necessity. It took me twelve years to get diagnosed with three neurological disorders (Multiple Sclerosis, PseudoTumor Cerebri and Trigeminal Neuralgia) and I fought the medical and pharmaceutical industry – while self-treating – the entire time. Doctors mis- or under-treated me for over a decade; likewise I was misdiagnosed dozens of times. I’ve had seizures on stage, I’ve had to vomit violently minutes before a major singing debut, I’ve had to be home-bound and watch my social life melt away. If you’re not strong for all that, you wouldn’t last one day. You have to want it more than your body doesn’t want you to do it!