plus sized models

Graphic by Shenuka Corea

Plus-Size Bodies Often Far From Reality

A lingering conception of plus-size models is that they are free from the pressures of modeling. Unfortunately, in this respect, modeling does not discriminate.

Oct 1, 2016

Models are the ideal. At least, that is the image that the modeling industry tries to perpetuate by spending over 500 billion USD on advertising. A media boom over the last decade has strengthened this dogma, but it has also put the modeling industry under scrutiny for portraying unachievable body images. This has allowed plus-size models to gain recognition and, in some ways, dominate the global stage by rebelling against the cardboard cutout standard of beauty as well as demonstrating the sensuality of curves.
Even though the plus-size modeling industry has challenged the one-dimensional portrayal of the ideal body image, its lack of transparency and ultimate goal to be profitable has undermined the positive message it ought to portray.
The lack of transparency is a major concern in modeling industries as firms tend to see how far they can toe the line without repercussion. This is illustrated by the evolution of the term plus-size itself. According to Cosmopolitan, the term plus-size — as understood by the fashion industry — has shrunk over the years from being an average of U.S. size 12 to a size 8, an astounding change considering that the lower range of plus-size clothing in the market is size 14. There is a sinister attempt to continue to appeal to the existing thin ideals while providing no decent representation of how clothes will fit women who are larger in size.
This is not to say that there are no women who better represent the plus-size industry. Take Denise Bidot, who is half-Puerto Rican, half-Kuwaiti and models for the clothing brand Zizzi, or Brazilian model Fluvia Lacerda, who set the catwalk ablaze at the 2011 Full Figured Fashion Week in New York. These women and many others are undoubtedly showing us the potency of plus-size. Unfortunately, they are the exceptions.
If the average plus-sized model is presented as a size 8, women who normally associate themselves with plus-size clothing may begin to think that their bodies are even beyond plus-size or unworthy of representation, thoughts which can be psychologically damaging.
The opacity of the modeling industry also makes it difficult to identify the deceptions they manufacture between the dressing room and the catwalk. Take a moment to analyze some photographs of plus-size women and the facades begin to fall away. You start to notice the incongruities between face and body and the hollow cheeks that are reminiscent of thin models. It will appear as if the head of a thinner model has been transplanted onto a larger body. This is not an illusion. It is the work of stylists and designers well-versed in trickery.
United Kingdom model Katie Green, normally a size 10-12, explained to Daily Mail how she can be transformed into a plus-size model using equipment such as padding, silicone breast enhancers and the appropriate undergarments that obscure them. This makes her body appear as if she is a size 16.
The positioning of the extra padding is not natural; it is very strategic. Padding is placed to create an hourglass figure with a disproportionately small waist while maintaining large breasts and a bulbous behind. Even plus-size models that have not been as altered as Katie share certain key features, such as being exceptionally tall or having an emphasized hourglass figure. This demonstrates how plus-size modeling can be detrimental by promoting unrealistic perceptions of body types that are literally created in dressing rooms.
A lingering conception of plus-size models is that they are free from the pressures of modeling. Unfortunately, in this respect, modeling does not discriminate. In fact, it is possible that plus-size models suffer more in this regard. By being plus-size they can be criticized for both being larger or for trying to lose weight, creating a cycle of lose-lose situations. This also impacts the women who look up to these models. Instead of being relatable icons, their struggles are a constant reminder of how larger bodies are disproportionately subject to scrutiny in an industry that has lamentably been too successful in selling thinness.
As a result of these revelations and inconsistencies of the plus-size modeling industry, it is necessary to consider corrective mechanisms. The plus-size industry is not inherently bad. It is built on the foundation of empowering women of all sizes, but its execution has been colored by manipulation, stereotypical images of attractive qualities and criticism from a society conditioned to think thin. To bolster its initial foundation, women of all sizes must hold the fashion industry accountable to fair and progressive representation. After all, plus-size or not, the tensions of body image plague us all.
Vongai Mlambo is a staff writer. Email her at
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