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Quick Wit: Vanessa Marshall

The star of Got Phat? talks with Wenzel Jones about eye shadow, plus-size modeling, and caftans. logo
Vanessa Marshall has just opened at the Hudson Avenue Theatre in Hollywood in her multi-media one-woman show Got Phat? Tales of a Plus-Size Model All about her days as a plus-size model in a size-obsessed town, the show is playing Wednesdays through June 14. (More info is available at

I was recently kidnapped by Vanessa and her producer, Cynthia Szigeti, and whisked away to Dominicks--that venerable institution of a restaurant where the bill of fare is sturdy and substantial. As the ladies said, "It's all about food." Naturally, I wanted to take full advantage of my one-on-one with an actual model. So I started with a burning fashion question that has been gnawing at me for the past 20 years:

Blue eye shadow. When is it going to die?

Unfortunately, never. Blue eye shadow is here to stay.

So, during your time modeling, what was the most uncomfortable look you ever had to achieve?

I think wearing a leopard skin print camisole while weighing in at about 200 pounds. That was pretty scary.

What's with the spelling of the title of your show, Got Phat?

Well, P-H-A-T means cool, phat means good. And you know the "Got Milk?" ads? Well, I'm playing notions about weight and how it can be cool to be fat since, most of the time, I'm not fat enough, I'm asking, Do you have any fat, because I could use some more for my work.

How can it be in the world of modeling that you're not fat enough?

In the world of plus-size modeling, the fatter you are the more you work and the larger you are the more money you make. And I've lost 50 pounds since my debut. So I'm not fat enough.

It's true, I'm not looking at a very large woman.

I am what I consider to be a normal-sized, big-boned gal.

How did you get into plus-size modeling? Well, I was at this party, my theatrical agent threw this party, and there were all these anorexic women lounging about the pool. At the buffet table, a man came up to me and said, "I really think you should model."

Did you think he was coming on to you?

I did, except he couldn't have been more gay. He said, "No, I represent plus-size models," and he represented Emme and it was for Ford Modeling Agency. It was legitimate. When I asked him if there was any money in it and he said yes, I swiftly took his business card, went in for an interview, signed contracts and started working.

Just like that?

Just like that.

I don't know what training for a plus-size model would be.

You pick up a fork...

Once you started working, did you feel driven to go out and put on more weight?

No. I had been conditioned enough growing up in Los Angeles to loathe any form of weight whatsoever, including body mass -- natural, lean body mass -- so that I would never aspire to be fatter under any circumstances.

Did your mother [the notoriously slender Joan Van Ark] ever give you grief about it?

It's really hard to say. I can't tell which were my own self-critical thoughts and which were hers, trying to be helpful. "I'll buy you a new wardrobe if you lose weight!" I think she was trying to endorse my own ideology of "if I'm thin, I'll be happy." Most of the women I know who are that way are born that way; they eat like pigs and they're bone-thin. God had a plan for them. I have other assets but being bony is not one of them.

Is your show like a Jenny Craig commercial?

No. Although I've lost 50 pounds I'm not encouraging women to go out and lose weight. What I'm talking about is my own journey to self-acceptance and I encourage that in others. And if it leads to weight loss...mazel tov! I do think that women with curves are wonderful to look at, though, more than angles and bones. There's a way to dress flesh that makes it look mmm-mmm tasty.

Could we take an overview of fashions for large women, though? Say, caftans....

I could show you some pictures. There's one where I look like a tank. It's like a muumuu. Olive green. And sometimes for the large and lovelies they stretch the photo out. Widthwise.

You mean they actually make it more unflattering?

More unflattering. To embrace more of the large and lovely women who are reading the literature. I'll never forget, there's this one frozen yogurt place I go to and I went in there one day and my picture was up on the wall; they had taken it out of the paper. And it was one of the ones that they had widened. I was mortified. Everyone said, "Did you gain 30 pounds for that shoot?"

That's horrifying.

I know. But I laughed all the way to the bank. And I got over it.

Good for you. Now, the swimsuits with the skirt: Do you think they're on their way out?

I'm sad to say that, like blue eye shadow, I think they're here to stay.

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