Models React To Being Called Not Plus-Size Enough

Cosmopolitan/December 2014


With Myla Dalbesio as a face of Calvin KleinCandice Huffine appearing in the 2015 Pirelli Calendar, and Ashley Graham designing lingerie, the fashion industry seems to have realized that models who are bigger than a size 6 are a positive, powerful force.

Even as they become a more significant part of the fashion world, these so-called “plus-size” models are still subjected to certain body requirements. Though curvy models carry the message of body acceptance and self-love, even they are asked to alter their appearance for the odd job. As Inga Eiriksdottir of IMG Models and ALDA puts it, “A few times, clients have preferred me bigger, but we have always worked it out either with padding or in post” — meaning, with photo editing.

Clearly, plus-size models are still often told they’re “not plus-size enough.” Here’s what 10 models have to say about it.

1. Ali Tate

“Many plus-size models live in fear of being told, ‘We really like you, but you’re just not big enough.’ My whole life I was insecure about being bigger than most of my peers, but in this industry, suddenly I was too small?

“My first year or so when I was told I didn’t look ‘plus-size’ enough for some clients, I felt such conflicting emotions. The part of me that had suffered insecurities about my weight and my body felt secretly pleased that someone thought I looked small! I felt like I had been waiting for society to tell me I was skinny, because that, in my mind, was the only way to be attractive. The other part of me felt upset because I knew I would not book jobs if clients thought I looked too small, which meant financially I could be in trouble.

“But when I started seeing more and more amazing plus-size models, my perception started to shift. My body image changed from one where I was constantly judging my own body to one where I thought, you know what, this is my natural body size — and it’s hot! I actually like my curves.”

2. Jessica Lewis

“I was right on the cusp of being what is known in the industry as an ‘in-betweenie’ — a size 8 to 12. Oftentimes if I did book the job I would be told to pad up … or, even more extreme, wear a ‘fat suit.’ At the time, I did it. I don’t think I would have the same reaction now. I might even talk to the client about how this is a dishonest way to promote their brand, especially when honesty in images is such a hot topic right now.

“The irony of the plus-size side of fashion is that they wear a facade that promotes positive body image yet are just as keen as the ‘straight-size’ — size 0 to 4 — side of the industry to alter the shape of the body in the clothes. They still want those sharp cheekbones and small wrists for ‘glamour’ purposes, but they feel the need to put emphasis on the fact that they are plus-size. It’s hard. We’ve built a society that feels the need to categorize and label everything — from food to music to bodies —and many brands come under heat from people for using a girl who isn’t ‘plus-size enough.'”

3. Iskra Lawrence

“Absolutely every time I’ve ever met anyone and I’ve told them I’m a plus-size model, [I get told I’m not plus-size enough] without fail! Even when I’ve booked jobs and I’m on set, stylists and hair and makeup artists have commented that I don’t look big enough to be a plus model.

“I try to reeducate them about what a plus-size model means. Many of us lead healthy lifestyles, train in the gym regularly, and are in great shape. We represent a huge range of not only sizes, but also shapes, which I find really beautiful. I’m very proud to say I’m a plus model. I’ve learned to love my body and be proud of all my curves, and I’m so, so grateful every day to be able to work in the industry I love at my natural size.

“It’s frustrating that society is so set on categorizing everyone. But in the fashion industry it is difficult — most samples of straight-size are a 0 to 4 and plus is 14 to 16. It costs more to produce a range of different sample sizes. It would just be nice if everyone could accept a range of different size models without having to label them all — we are models, not numbers.”

4. Katy Syme

“I’ve only been told directly that I’m the ‘wrong size’ a couple of times, but fairly regularly, I’m asked whether I’ve lost weight or I’m asked to take my measurements, which is often followed by a pursed lip or raised eyebrow, so I suppose the message is the same. So often, it feels like clients have to tick boxes in terms of the girls they choose to represent their brand. I’m often dismissed over an inch or two that I don’t have around my hips. I found myself scrolling other models’ Instagram feeds and asking myself: Are my arms bigger or smaller than that? Am I the same size as her?

“I understand both sides of the story: Brands have to toe the line between creating aspirational images and keeping customers happy, but I’d obviously be delighted if I didn’t have to keep my waist-to-hip ratio at the front of my mind in order to keep doing the job I love. There have been some amazing examples lately of in-betweenie girls working with non-plus-size brands without being picked out as something different. Myla Dalbesio for Calvin Klein; Naomi Shimada for Monki; Denise Bidot, Kailee O’Sullivan, and myself for Chromat at NYFW. I hope that the industry gets enough positive response from those incidents that they feel the desire to continue to push in a similar direction, and we can stop labeling people as ‘not enough’ of something and start honoring ourselves for the way we are.”

5. Bree Warren

“I have experienced the negative side of it more so on social media because the wider population has a hard time understanding why I am considered plus-size. I do my best to explain that while I may not look plus-size to some people, I am still four sizes bigger than the average model. I think most people don’t understand just how tiny some models are in real life, which is why plus-size models are also usually smaller than expected. I may not be as plus-size as some people are hoping for, but what I stand for is a step in the right direction.

“I think the term ‘plus-size’ is so dated. It was a term given to women long ago, and it doesn’t really have a place in fashion anymore. There should be a range of shapes and sizes represented across the entire industry — not just one or two. In-betweens are really just bridging a gap that should never have been there in the first place!”

6. Georgina Burke

“Every time someone asks what I do for a job, they laugh that I am considered plus-size in the fashion industry. Client-wise, I have never been told that I am not plus-size enough recently, but earlier on when I first started, I was a 10 and, yes, they thought I was too small. As my body grew and filled out with age, I haven’t been asked to pad or gain weight. I don’t react. You want me for who I am or not. I now refuse to pad or make my body bigger except wear a padded bra. Who doesn’t want bigger breasts?

“I think clients want to show a variety of models and what sells their clothing. What does make me upset is when a model is padded and her face is out of proportion to her body. That’s when the job should go to someone who is healthy at that size.”

7. Inga Eiriksdottir

“A few times, clients have preferred me bigger, but we have always worked it out either with padding or in post. When I switched from straight-size to ‘plus-size,’ [clients] used to like a lot bigger girls than I. I had decided never to change my body for a client after struggling with losing weight as a straight-size model. I’ve been so lucky to be able to work this whole time at my size.

“I understand that plus-size women want to see models that really reflect their size. It varies on the brand if it’s better for them to go bigger or smaller plus, and the sales reflect what the client likes to see. I’m so happy to see the rise of the ‘in-between,’ as there are so many amazing models that don’t fit into the category of straight-size or plus-size. Eventually, it will just be about models at every shape and size and no labeling.”

8. Danielle Redman

“I’m told on the daily that I’m not plus-size enough, not big enough, not really plus-size. But then I get to a job, put on the clothes that are made for plus-size women, and they fit. At the end of the day, I love my body for what it is, and in return, people tend to accept it as well. My body frame is larger, and I am somewhat toned, so compared to a size 0, I’m going to look bigger. I love all my curves and thickness, but I feel like I am constantly defending my size. It’s either I’m not big enough or I’m too big.

“I’m not a fan of labels in general. There is a much-needed demand for the in-betweens. I’m naturally this size, I work out and eat healthy, my bone structure is in my genetics and I wouldn’t want to change them. Baby, I was born this way, as Lady Gaga would put it.”

9. Katherine Howe

“Since I began modeling, I’ve been told countless times that I wasn’t big enough for a job, sometimes even in terms of specific body parts that were ‘too skinny.’ It’s frustrating because I know I don’t really fit in at straight-size castings either. Naturally, or maybe unnaturally, I started to entertain the idea of gaining weight to book jobs. In the end, I decided that would probably be as bad for my mental health as starving myself to be a straight-size model. At times, I’ve felt like maybe there isn’t a place for someone like me in the plus-size world and that I’m essentially banging my head against a wall, but then where do I belong? Should there be no models my size?

“I’m torn because I understand that plus-size women want their bodies to be represented when they shop for themselves. But that’s a hard thing to do; everyone is different. Even a size 16 plus model isn’t going to look like the average plus woman. And though I may not necessarily shop for plus clothing, I’ve still felt left out by the fashion industry and been told clothes didn’t come in my size. My body certainly isn’t represented by straight-size models. I think the prevalence of ‘in-between’ models is increasing because there are lots of women who feel just like me. I hope the rise of the ‘in-betweens’ is a step toward bridging the gap between the extremes that the fashion industry most often represents.”

10. Naomi Shimada

“It’s never a nice feeling to find out that you didn’t get a job in any industry that you’re in, but especially in modeling, you have to learn to let it go because you just can’t make everyone happy. It’s impossible! I used to take it so personally, but learning to brush it off is the only way to survive.

“I’m frustrated [by] the existing mold. I’m exactly the size and weight I’m supposed to be; I just wish there were more brands willing to take a ‘risk’ and use more girls like me. It’s so hard to fit into the categories that exist today. There is a huge size gap that isn’t being represented out there. Why can’t we make the average size a beautiful thing?

“More variety can only ever be a positive thing, and I actually believe that it would only increase popularity and worth to a lot of ‘normal-size’ clients out there if they decided to make it the new normal. I want to live in a world where we bridge that gap!”