"I was a size 6 model and told to go 'plus-size'"
It’s a bit of advice you don’t really forget, especially as a brand new model. I was part of an unpaid photo shoot that had been set up to help bolster my portfolio. While discussing my looks and my potential, the photographer warned me that I was going to have a hard time finding work — and that my best bet was to market myself as plus-size.
There was nothing mean-spirited about his advice, he was genuinely telling me what he felt was the most sound business decision for my career. It brought back memories of the runway director at my first agency who once joked that I was all boobs and butt (or, more accurately, she said, “You’re all this and this” as she grabbed her own respective parts of her anatomy). I was a size 6. Was I really plus size? It didn’t make any sense.
That is, until I did a little more research on the industry standards for fashion modeling. That’s when I learned that the “industry standard” (aka the height and size requirements) for a typical fashion model technically caps at size 4, but usually stops at size 2 (especially in markets like New York) — and that in New York “plus size” starts at size 8.
That means, if I ever tried to work as a model in New York City, I would be closer to plus-size than I would be to industry standard. Kind of shocking, and honestly pretty ridiculous.
The term “plus-size” is controversial. What does it mean? Do we really need it? And should we even be using it in the first place? Conversations about the label can get contentious, but conversations about the label are deeply important. If we don’t talk about the need for change, change will never happen.
The photographer who told me I should go plus size was, unfortunately, 100% right. Though I never ended up marketing myself that way, I was repeatedly passed over for work purely because of my size. Casting directors would take one look at my measurements and downright scowl. I even once had one casting director make a snide remark about my big “runner’s legs.” In the real world, I was the token tall, scrawny friend. In the modeling world, I was too “big” for work.
This all happened to me back in 2007, and in the eight years since the conversation about weight and modeling has continued. The “thigh gap” has taken on a life of its own. Extreme Photoshopping can be found everywhere, from magazines to catalogues. There are countless stories of established (and very slender) models getting fired from major retailers for being too “fat.” Our culture has become more and more obsessed with skinniness, and skinniness at all costs. But simultaneously, our culture is fighting back, and saying these standards are unrealistic, and that we deserve more.
This year’s New York Fashion Week was refreshingly diverse, including a show of ”role models” over runway models — which spotlit women who are downright amazing; Denise Bedot, became the first plus-size model to work two New York Fashion weeks in a row; and Sports Illustrated featured its first plus-size model — however, let’s not forget that Robin Lawley at a size 10 was technically the first.
Meanwhile one model has started a campaign to make modeling just modeling with the hashtag: #droptheplus. Stefania Ferrario, a size 8 Australian model for Dita Von Teese’s lingerie line, is labeled “plus size.” Last month she took to her Instagram posting the below photo of herself and writing words that so fully resonate: “I am a model FULL STOP. Unfortunately in the modelling industry if you’re above a US size 4 you are considered plus size, and so I’m often labelled a ‘plus size’ model. I do NOT find this empowering . . . Let’s have models of ALL shapes, sizes and ethnicities, and drop the misleading labels. I’m NOT proud to be called ‘plus’, but I AM proud to be called a ‘model’, that is my profession! #droptheplus”
Stefania is right.
While we are becoming a little more universal in our acceptance of everyone’s unique body type, we are still a culture that is focused on a very narrow view of beauty, and a preoccupation with labels. We need to keep talking about plus-size models, and keep demanding change, because a world that would consider a size 8 at 5’11” “plus-size” is frightening.
The fashion world and the real world might seem like two separate places, but it’s hard to deny the influence fashion has on the mainstream when it’s what you see on billboards and magazines and websites. Let’s #droptheplus and allow models to represent the range of body types we see waking down the street. We are all beautiful, and we don’t deserve to be labeled according to an industry standard that truly makes no sense in the first place.
[Image via Shutterstock]