“You don’t get to win today.”
That was Ashley Turner’s sentiment when she ran across negative comments about her body and that of her fiancé’s after sharing their engagement photos online. While she could have allowed the faux concern over their health and general nastiness to leave her feeling embarrassed, she chose to take to social media to expose her detractors, and call for more inclusion when it comes to who gets to model, be seen and be celebrated in the bridal space.
The 34-year-old influencer is the first daughter of Houston, the only child of Mayor Sylvester Turner. Since he was elected nearly six years ago, she was thrust into the spotlight and chose to use the platform given to her to not only do great work in the local community, but to also provide representation for curvy women everywhere. She’s done that through her blog, The Curvy Paige, and through social media.
“Representation is everything,” she tells ESSENCE, the child of only the second Black mayor of the city. “I hope that all people, specifically all women, can see themselves in me. But I really hope that that young Black girl can see herself in me. I do it for her.”
With that said, Turner has always been one to advocate for body positivity. When she shared the news of her engagement to beau Jimmie Captain with her thousands of followers and the wider media in January, she was looking to both honor a moment in her life and empower other women. So they did a photo shoot.
“I love displaying an image of Black love, period,” she says. “Just showing an image of finding love and not being in my twenties, of not being a size six; that curvy women deserve love too, and deserve the right kind of love and the love you want and you desire.”
She shared their beautiful engagement photos with local news outlets in Texas, happy to share her joy. Though there were well wishes and positive comments, there was also unexpected body shaming of both she and Captain. Instead of internalizing the negativity, which she admittedly was hurt by, she decided to put it on blast. She wanted to let people know the reality of what plus-size women (and men) deal with and to make known the work that needs to be done in regards to normalizing body acceptance.
“I feel like if I dealt with it in private, then the people that were so negative in such a beautiful moment, won. And my biggest thing is you don’t get to win today. o I’m going to talk about it,” she says. “I’m glad I did [it] because there were so many women, plus-size brides or curvy [women] in general, who messaged me publicly and privately saying, ‘I had the same issue. I feel the same way. Thank you for sharing your story. This encourages me.'”
Using that as fuel, Turner wants to put the spotlight on the ways in which the those who are leaders in the bridal industry can do better, too. The fact that people aren’t used to seeing curvier brides modeling gowns, or that dresses in shops are often limited in sizes and/or creativity, is something she wants to see to change.
“I went to one boutique that caters to curvy women, and I’m grateful for them because I was able to try on the dresses. But I’m a glam girl. I love my glam. The dresses weren’t glam enough,” she says. “But then I go to another boutique and I could barely even fit the dresses. And literally they’re trying to squeeze my butt, like push my butt, into a dress to get it to fit. And so then it’s like well, why do you not have sizes?”
She adds, “I can see why if someone has always battled self-esteem or someone who has always battled body image concerns, they all of a sudden try to go on crazy diets and workout plans. Because that’s happened to me too. It’s like something goes off in your head and you’re like, ‘I need to drop all this weight in order to be beautiful on my day.’ And it’s like, ‘But why?’ Why can’t we just be beautiful as is? When will society catch up to affirm that?”
So she’s hoping to provide representation in order to provide the necessary shift. To remind people that while there may be wins in who gets to wear lingerie or walk runways nowadays, plus-size women deserve more visibility in the bridal world, too. She’s turn the tears she shed after her disappointing search for a bridal gown into action so others can feel empowered when their time comes.
For the record though, despite the hiccups, Turner is still full of excitement about her big day, taking place next spring. She’s decided to get a gown made, one extra glamorous to fit her tastes and that will support a local designer. As the months dwindle down in the planning process, her focus is on marrying the love of her life. So no matter what is worn on her wedding day, she’s sure to feel like a million bucks.
“I have someone I can literally walk down the aisle in jeans and a T-shirt, and he’s going to cry and think that I’m the most beautiful woman in the world,” she says. “You have to just keep remembering the whole purpose of the day, and it’s not about the dress. It’s about two people coming together and committing to one another and saying they’re going to do this life together. That’s what it’s about.”