The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘Monique

I truly believe no creative work is ever wasted. I began writing about the dilemma of ‘petite fashion’ years ago, but never found a home for it. I decided to revisit this issue for my column in The Chapel Hill News and also try writing it from a more tongue-in-cheek voice. So far this column has generated the highest response from readers I’ve ever had. I think a ‘petite manifesto’ is in order.


As a 5-foot-3/4-inch petite woman, until recently I’ve always accepted my minority status in the fashion world.

Growing up, I learned through the models that I saw in catalogs and fashion magazines that clothes were made for and the domain of taller women. I’d come to accept some givens of life, like when I shop for clothes 1) I’ll have to alter most of what I buy, and 2) I’ll have fewer stylish selections to choose from and they’ll range from clothing with a girlish ruffle sewed on every possible square inch of material, or matronly sweaters with an overabundance of appliqued fruits and vegetables across the chest.

I’d even gotten used to a blasé kind of treatment by sales personnel. Last week I went to a well-known women’s clothing store chain. I hadn’t been there in a few months and I couldn’t find the petite section. I asked a salesperson if she could tell me where they had moved their petite section. The salesperson looked at me and pointed toward the misses section. I said, “You’ve mixed the petites in with the misses? That makes a lot of retail sense, huh?”

She shrugged her shoulders.

I added, “So now, for petites, it’s fend for yourself clothing?”

She didn’t seem to understand why I was irritated and frankly, insulted. I believe it’s the underlying belief that the industry holds about petite shoppers: that those harmless, docile, slightly embarrassed small women will take anything that we give them.

But we won’t or we shouldn’t! Not anymore.

After the shopping incident I did a bit of research and discovered that I’m actually in the majority!

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the average woman’s height is 5’4”. Some estimates suggest that there are approximately 100 million petite women in the United States that are categorized as “fit, curvy and plus-sized”! Another shocker I discovered is that the fashion industry-preferred standard size of women at 5’9” and taller only represent 3 percent of women.

And, according to analysts, petites are a $9 billion industry. So, why do I often come home after a weekend of shopping feeling vexed, disrespected and downright disappointed? The fact is that retailers haven’t caught up with this new reality and that tradition, inertia and lack of consumer organizing all play a role.

There is a glimmer of hope as several new online sites feature designers offering limited lines for petites. Also there is the lifesaver that provides up-to-date links to name-brand designers and stores that sell petite clothes. But this is just a drop in the bucket and does nothing to combat the lack of equity of representation in major department stores. Several years ago Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s all made news when they downsized their petite departments.

I know the retailers have been in the “big girl” pride moment for the last decade, focusing on the plus-size market, and that’s great. Monique, Star Jones, and Ricki Lake, you go girls. But, where’s our contests, catalogs, or dare even I say magazines? As a girl I use to dream of entering the Miss Petite America pageant (yes there was such a contest, you had to be 5’ 4” and under to compete in it).

Retailers and pageant hosts, where’s the love?

Maybe petite women need our own reality show to get noticed, a hybrid of “What Not to Wear” meets “Survivor” where fashion designers are brought to an island and forced to come up with stylish lines of clothing with nary a ruffle or piece of appliqued fruit in sight. Or, maybe the trick is to get a hip-hop song promoting our needs.

If pop culture is not the way then effective organizing might be the key. I’ve been thinking about the following: Petites United for Fashion. So, the acronym would be PUFF, probably too cutesy – but it’s a start. Our chant would be, we’re here, we’re petite – dress us!

A version of this column recently appeared in The Chapel Hill News.

PS: I only found out about this resource after the column went to press: conducts a model search and also produces a print magazine. They say the ‘petite movement’ in fashion has begun. Yay!



I always watch the Oscars with a critical eye. It signals to me a kind of subterranean commentary about race and gender (always interconnected and complex). It reflects back to us what stories and actors have been valued—a cultural state of the union, one might say. I learned at an early age that films are a powerful medium that communicate social norms and expectations, ideology and privilege. By the time I was ten, I was well-schooled in raising critical questions about the nature of images about race and gender that were presented before me for blind acceptance. As an adult, I’m still critical and usually not thrilled with most of the main fare of Hollywood offerings of female and/or people of color characters.

I haven’t watched the Oscars since 2006. At that time, I was eagerly rooting for Helen Mirren (as Best Actress for The Queen) and Forest Whittaker (as Best Actor for The King of Scotland) to win which they did. I remember that my shouts of enthusiasm, when their names were called, caught the attention of my neighbors that were at the small party gathered. There were a few other women there but I was the only African American person in attendance. They may or may not have shared my excitement for this moment. Helen Mirren is one of the smartest and substantive leading women. I have been smitten with her work since seeing her in The Comfort of Strangers. She seems to be rewriting the rules for older actresses with her sexiness, intensity and daring. I love Whittaker’s range and have been following his career closely since Ghost Dog. And, he’s devoted to Kundalini yoga which is pretty cool. Both of their wins felt significant.

There were some big firsts last night: Kathryn Bigelow won for Best Director and Best Picture (The Hurt Locker). I still have a clipping from Elle Magazine that did a feature on her in the early 1990s. Although I probably will never direct a film, her visibility and work as a director inspired me as a creative person and as a woman to what’s possible. I hope that her win will translate into more and varied doors being opened for women directors.

While, I am also thrilled that Monique won for best supporting actress (the fourth African American to win) and Geoffrey Fletcher breaks new ground for winning an Oscar for Best Writing (Adapted screenplay) for Precious, I have to say that I am a bit underwhelmed at the representation offered up to us on Oscar night.
Having not watched the awards for four years, I don’t think I’ve missed that much from what I saw during the awards. It has gotten a bit better from when I was a teenager when it was a rare occurrence that people of color were nominated for anything at all. Now, it seems there is at least one African American actor nominated in a major role during every Oscar cycle. And, this year there was an African American nominated in several categories (six, I think out of almost 20 awards—an avalanche).

Although I’m completely underwhelmed by Hollywood, this does not mean that I don’t acknowledge that there has been that thing called ‘progress’ moving at a glacial rate. Progress measured by the growing number of African American directors including the Hudlin Brothers, Gina Prince-Bythewood and Tyler Perry. And, of course, we can measure progress in the kinds of films that more African American actors are cast in –a broader array of both supporting and lead roles (still very slim, however, for actresses of color). I guess after watching the Academy Awards (almost 4 hours), I have to ask myself: Is this is as good as it gets for Hollywood and diversity? I’m wondering why moviemaking still hasn’t caught up to the reality of our American communities. Where are all the richly textured films about Caribbean Americans, Chinese Americans, Filipino Americans, etc? I’ve talked about African American actors but where are the actors of various racial and ethnic backgrounds in Hollywood films? And, what about behind the scenes? For such a talented and creative community, I’ve come to expect very little from Hollywood as a whole and have been rarely surprised.

I know there are many who will say that this was a great year for African Americans in film and who will say just wait—there will be more. OK, but does that mean I should drop into the Oscars in 2 or 10 years? Just how long will it take for things to change demonstrably, I wonder?

Pesky questions that roll around in my head from time to time: I lived through the glut of 1980s black/white buddy movies (in sports and police dramas-e.g. Lethal Weapon, etc) and am sick to death of this liberal equality male bonding formula. Will Hollywood ever move beyond this formula (besides the Rush Hour movies)?

Can we tell African American and white women’s stories outside of the caring black maid (or nurse), caring white woman/child/mistress of the house formula (i.e. Clara’s Heart, The Secret Life of Bees)?

Where are the African American geek films?

Can we see more female directed movies in all genres?

Where is all that ‘untraditional casting’ in films that the civil rights movement fought for so many years ago? Why do we still have almost exclusively white casts in so many major Hollywood films (even in fantasy and science fiction genres)?

Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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