Models of all sizes are on the rise, but designers aren’t totally on board

The fashion industry has had some major breakthroughs recently: Body positivity hero Tess Munster became the first-ever model of her height and size to be signed to a major agency. And Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue diversified its latest edition by including size 10 model Robin Lawley

Despite the fact that aspects of the fashion industry are (finally!) changing when it comes to representing models of different sizes, there’s still a major hurdle to cross. According to an op-ed in the Washington Post, designers are reticent to hire women of different sizes—especially on the runway.

Amanda M. Czerniawski, a Temple University assistant sociology professor, takes the industry to task in her article posted today. “Most runway shows maintain strict and often extreme body standards,” she claims. “In 2009, designer label Ralph Lauren fired model Filippa Hamilton for being too fat. At the time, Hamilton wore a size 4. Both Coco Rocha, whom the industry considered “too big” for high fashion at a size 4, and Gemma Ward lost work opportunities due to weight gain because they could not fit into the common sample size — a size 0.”

While at least two major designers sent fuller-figured models down the runway at last year’s New York Fashion Week—a milestone in the industry—the standards for the catwalk is lagging behind that of the modeling agencies, says Czernaiwski. And she should know.

The author of the recently released Fashioning Fat, Czernaiwski actually delved into the industry as both a sociologist and an undercover plus-size model to research her book. She notes that while “modeling agencies have taken the first step” in expanding narrow beauty standards within the industry, it’s up to designers and companies to make the next move.

And it’s not just runway rules that need to change. “Even print advertisers often won’t hire anyone above a size 16, even for plus-size campaigns,” she writes. “It’s not uncommon for models to advertise plus-size clothing lines they themselves would not fit into. Many of these ‘smaller’ plus-size models use body padding to effectively size up, because clients want a plus-size body but a thin face.”

“Such manipulations further distort our sense of what bodies should look like, creating impossible ideals,” she adds. “And they perpetuates thinness, albeit of the face, as an ideal component of beauty.”

Major modeling agencies have been hiring curvier models for a while now, but until last year most of them segregated the plus-size models from the traditional size-zero models into different categories. In 2013, IGM Models (the top modeling agency in the world) declared they would no longer do this, and other agencies seem to be jumping on the same bandwagon (yay!). And we are all still cheering MiLK Model Management’s wise decision to sign on size-22 beauty, Munster.

With all the baby steps the industry is making towards body acceptance, we’re just waiting for designers and brands to catch up with the times. Maybe then, we can stop labeling women by their body types, and just refer to models of all sizes as, simply, models.

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