Reporter, SUNY Schenectady grad pens “The Power of Plus” – The Daily Gazette

In his first book “The Power of Plus”, Gianluca Russo, journalist and graduate of SUNY Schenectady County Community College, recounts the struggle to make fashion more inclusive.

Russo weaves interviews of 80 models, influencers, advocates and more with her own personal experiences to create a compelling narrative that makes the issue accessible to those inside and outside the fashion industry.

The Guilderland native’s path to writing has been a winding one. Growing up, Russo had an interest in the theater arts, but after graduating from Guilderland High School, he decided to pursue paralegal education at SUNY Schenectady. As he graduated in 2017, he knew legal work was not for him and instead felt compelled to write. He started blogging about local theater while studying journalism at the University of Albany. There, Russo turned to fashion journalism.

“What appealed to me at the time was kind of watching Teen Vogue go through this very public revolution from afar, where they changed their content to more accurately reflect their audience, and so that really meant bring identity into the reporting that was being done there, and I resonated with that,” Russo said. “While I have this love for theatrical journalism, I had the impression that at the time it was not ready for difficult conversations. And I wanted to be able to integrate these cultural moments and these identity conversations into the report that I was doing.

Russo discovered he was able to do this through fashion journalism. While taking classes at UAlbany, he began writing for Teen Vogue, GQ, Glamour, Nylon, and other outlets.

“I just felt like I came to journalism at a time when we crave this conversation about size inclusivity and diversity, and that’s what I could comment on,” said Russo, who has since become a columnist for Nylon.

The idea for “The Power of Plus” was born out of an extensive series of articles he wrote about waist inclusion and New York Fashion Week.

“I spoke to over 60 people for each one and approached the issue from every possible angle,” he said.

Russo tweeted each story in a thread and mentioned he hoped to write a book about it. A day later, he signed with an agent and began working on the book proposal.

“I’m going to take everything I’ve done for the past four years now and turn it into a book that celebrates us and also pushes fashion to where it still needs to go,” Russo said.

This is exactly what “The Power of Plus” does. It opens with some history on the movement, including the story of Lane Bryant, a company founded in the early 1900s that became a leader in providing clothing for curvy women.

Russo also talks about how plus-size people have been belittled and criticized over the years. Perhaps one of the most notable examples is told through an interview with trailblazer Emme Aronson, who is considered the first plus-size model. During a photoshoot early in Aronson’s modeling career, a photographer initially refused to photograph her, saying, “I don’t photograph that fat.”

“I was frustrated. I was hurt. I took it personally, but I knew it was wrong. That’s not how you should talk to a woman or a person,” Aronson said. She was later named one of People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People and became an advocate for plus size inclusion in the fashion industry.

“It’s so amazing how far she’s come in what she’s been able to do since the 1990s,” Russo said. “She was the first person I interviewed for this book and I felt like that set the tone. That’s why I wanted to open the book with her story, because to me, she m opened my eyes to this.

Another notable interview from the book is with model Hunter McGrady, who, after landing a series in Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue, was told she would have to lose weight if she wanted to continue working as a plus-size model. .

McGrady, a proponent of body positivity, refused to cater to the idea of ​​”more perfect,” even if it meant losing jobs. During New York Fashion Week in 2019, she turned down more than 30 jobs that she said didn’t include pruning. McGrady’s resolve resonated with Russo, who in the book talks about his struggles with diet culture.

Russo said his own experiences helped him connect with more than 80 people he interviewed while reporting for the book.

“I’m someone who is personally invested in this topic because I’m also affected by these kinds of fashion industry norms, and have been since I was a kid,” Russo said. “It really helped us connect and find that common ground, which allowed them to be more vulnerable and to open up more, and to really understand this project at its core.”

One of the challenges Russo faced early in his reporting on the size inclusion movement was choosing the right label. Russo identified with terms like “plus-size” and “fat.” However, while writing one of the articles that inspired the book, he discovered the controversy behind these labels. Russo wanted to call the feature “Fashion’s Fat Rebels,” but some of the people he hoped to interview refused to be included unless he removed the bold word from the title.

“It was tough because I wanted to include people that I really looked up to and looked up to and they just didn’t want to be lumped into this conversation,” Russo said. “At first, I was put off by that. And I was like, ‘Why wouldn’t you want to support that?’ ”

But while reporting for the book, Russo began to understand where these people were coming from. Some were afraid of losing their jobs, while others just didn’t want to be labeled that way.

“The complexity of understanding how fashion works and why labels matter in the way they currently do was something I had to learn through this process because not everyone wants to be labeled as a plus size. Not everyone wants to be labeled as fat or curvy,” Russo said. “Not all of them want to lend their voice here because at the end of the day it’s putting you in a box. to be put in those boxes, they find a community in those boxes. I’m one of those people. But some people don’t. They want the endless opportunities. They don’t want to be labeled, because being labeled means being limited to them. .

Although the book is less than 200 pages, Russo also delves into the complexities of fashion brands like Old Navy and Target expanding their plus-size offerings in ways that make plus-size customers feel supported and included.

“The Power of Plus” covers the struggles of the size inclusion movement as well as the victories with big brands. Those wins notably slowed during the pandemic when Russo wrote the book. With the release slated for Tuesday, Russo, who now lives in Arizona, hopes the book will gain momentum.

“I think after two years of being in this pandemic, the momentum on size inclusivity has unfortunately slowed down a bit in the industry. It’s really sad to see. I wanted this book to remind people: we’ve come this far, let’s celebrate this, but don’t let it die out,” Russo said.

“The Power of Plus” is published by Chicago Review Press. It will be available from Tuesday on BarnesandNoble.com, Amazon and other booksellers.

Russo will be at the Guilderland Public Library for a book signing and discussion from 6:30-8 p.m. on Wednesday, September 7. The conference will be moderated by Times Union journalist Steve Barnes.

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Categories: Life and Arts, Life and Arts, Schenectady

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