'What Not to Wear' & 'Mike & Molly': Being Big, Looking Good, Fighting Back

Tonight's cuppa: Peppermint tea

Mike_Molly_Billy_Gardell_Melissa_McCarthy.jpgIt only took one blog post that appeared Monday on the website of the magazine Marie Claire to set off a firestorm across the Internet and talk shows this week.

Written by Maura Kelly, it took a hard swing at the freshman CBS comedy "Mike & Molly," questioning whether two people of larger-than-average size should be seen romancing each other on television (the show is about two larger people, played by Melissa McCarthy and Billy Gardell, who meet at Overeaters Anonymous).

According to Kelly, the answer is no, and especially if she's watching, because she'd be "grossed out."

I recommend reading it yourself, along with the comments and Kelly's attempt at an apology. To its credit, Marie Claire has been running a series of posts in rebuttal to Kelly, including this one from Cece Olisa of "The Big Girl Blog."

Reactions flashed across the Web -- click here for Zap2it's story, which talked to "Mike & Molly" creator Mark Roberts -- and on TV, most notably from Sharon Osbourne, who let loose with a blast of her own on her new CBS chat show, "The Talk" (click here for that).

Ironically, TLC's "What Not to Wear," which helps women overcome their fashion issues and learn how to look the best they can, premieres Friday night (Oct. 29) with an episode that takes Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for LeeLees_Valise_Lisa_Dolan.jpg former "The Facts of Life" star Mindy Cohn to LeeLee's Valise, a plus-size boutique in Brooklyn, N.Y.

(Click here for a clip.)

The shop (pictured at bottom) is a favorite destination of show hosts Stacy London and Clinton Kelly when they are helping plus-size women.

I contacted the owner, Lisa Dolan (at right), to get her thoughts on the Marie Claire controversy, helping Cohn (and Molly) and plus-size fashion in general.

Enjoy! (Questions in bold)

What was your reaction to the Marie Claire piece, and what would you say to the writer, to the stars of "Mike & Molly" and to your customers and the show's fans?

I was shocked and appalled by the Marie Claire post and could not believe that they would publish such an ill-considered and frankly hateful article. The author seems to be the type of person who, in another era, would have been mocking black or gay couples, secure in the knowledge that her snark would meet with the approval of her peers. I was initially worried about this show ("Mike & Molly") when I heard about it, but, unlike the idiot who wrote this garbage or her dimwitted editor, I actually sat down to watch the show.

It is cute and charming and not in any way exploitative or derisive toward the principal characters Mike and Molly. Yes they have weight issues, and they are trying to do better. They are doing the best they can, but they are just human. They are just living their lives!

They don't hate themselves and, unlike the author, they don't hate people that are different. In fact, they find themselves attracted to each other. The show is a cute little sitcom about relationships. If you were going to sum it up in one word, it would be normal. Normal people with normal problems. Just in plus-size.

Sorry if that scares and disgusts the ignorant and prejudiced people at Marie Claire.

What does it mean to you to have "What Not to Wear" open its season in a plus-size boutique?

It was an honor and a privilege to have "What Not to Wear" bring Mindy Cohn to our boutique for the season premiere. Stacy and Clinton have long been champions of plus-size people and they realize that we have many of the same problems as anyone else, just in different sizes.

There are simply very few places where a plus-size shopper can find fashion-forward clothing that is not boxy or shapeless. That is why they have come to our shop more than a dozen times. When we could not find the clothing that our customers needed and deserved, we simply went out and made it, and you will see several of those pieces on the show.

MIndy_Cohn_What_Not_to_Wear.jpgWhat were Mindy's fashion challenges, and how could you and Stacy help her with those?

Mindy was caught in a rut that many of the plus-sized community find themselves in year after year. She was wearing shapeless flowing garments to conceal her body. Long scarves and sweat pants.

She was basically settling for what was out there instead of searching out the clothing that would flatter her figure.

Everyone can do better, if they just give themselves a chance. She needed to find clothing that would skim her body and give her shape. She needed to drop the big and boxy look and wear more fitted clothing.

Recently, there was Full-Figured Fashion Week in New York City, and this coming weekend, there's Full-Figured Fashion Week (end) in Los Angeles. What is the state of the plus-size industry from your perspective, and do you see more designers getting on board in the future?

The plus-size industry is a lot like the weather. Everybody talks about it but nobody is really doing anything to really change it for the better. Many of the lines that formerly made plus-sizes have reduced or totally eliminated plus clothing because of the effect of the recession.

Although you often hear about this or that designer offering "bigger" sizes that is simply not accurate. They are offering "extended" sizes usually 14, 16 and 18 based on their regular patterns which simply do not fit properly. Anyone who is larger than an 18 is just out of luck unless they shop those lines that strictly offer plus.

The problem with the plus-size industry and fashion designers was perfectly illustrated by this blog post in Marie Claire. Many designers simply do not want plus-sized people in their clothing. I had a famous designer tell me straight out "I don't want fat people in my clothesThumbnail image for Mike_Molly_Melissa_McCarthy.jpg. Then normal people won't want to buy them." Normal people? The only way the industry is going to improve is if we do it for ourselves. Make fashion-forward clothing that fits. That's what I strive to do. I have a boutique just like any other fashionable New York City boutique. Just with different sizes.

If you could dress the Molly character in "Mike & Molly," what sort of clothes would you recommend?

Molly has a round face, which makes her seem larger at first glance. The first thing I would recommend would be to frame her face with a flattering neckline. This brings the attention upward. I would choose a deep V which will elongate the neckline and give the illusion of length.

In the "date" episode, she just threw on a purple wrap over black pants and a black top. She dressed to conceal, and all the interest was gone when she took off the wrap. She needs to incorporate color and fun prints into her look. Variety can spice up your life. Molly, don't wear black all the time! Black is great and can be one of the mainstays of your wardrobe, but remember black shows more lines than a print. Prints keep your eye moving. If it is a solid color you are looking for try to use tones of navy, charcoal or burgundy.

Molly needed to show a waistline. She should have either used a belt or the shape of her clothing to create one. It doesn't always have to be her actual waist, it can be the illusion that the look creates!

Thumbnail image for What_Not_to_Wear_LeeLee's_Valise.jpgWhat plus-size fashion trends do you see on the horizon that you really like?

What I see in the future is unfortunately more of the same. The plus-size consumer is trained to accept what people give them. They have to demand fashion-forward clothing with a mainstream look. We are tired of boxy shapeless clothing that makes us the afterthought of the fashion world.

What I would like to see is fashion-forward clothing that recognizes the latest trends. For example this fall the Obi sash belt was all over the runways. I was able to recreate that look and brought it to my customers by creating different textures and leathers with my sizing. You will see them later this season on TLC's "What Not to Wear."

I hope to see more shape, color and fun prints.

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