When it Comes To Models, What Exactly Is “Plus-Size”?

In the last couple of years, plus-size models have gone from being novelties in high-fashion shows and couture, to being included in mainstream campaigns and editorials in nearly every glossy from Glamour Magazine to Vogue Italia. But, it’s nearly impossible to even mention the words “plus-size” without stirring up a bit of controversy; whether they come under scrutiny for being too thin, too fat, or too “normal.”
We talked to some thought leaders in the plus-size community to have them weigh in on the issue. Read through their opinions, and then let us know what you think about plus-size models and representation.
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What is the range in sizes for a "plus" model? How is that range determined?
Madeline Figueroa-Jones, Editor-in-Chief of Plus Model Magazine : "At the moment, plus-size models range from size 10 to 16. There are a few size six, eight, 18, and 20 models working, but very few and far between.
"I wish I knew who exactly was determining the size of plus-size models. Whenever I ask a brand, they tell me the agencies don't have high-caliber bigger models. When I speak to agencies, they tell me that the clients are calling for smaller models, so I'm not exactly sure what is going on. All I know is that I can't get a clear answer from anyone."
Images via Plus Model Magazine, July Issue.
What kind of role do you think diversity (body type, ethnicity, etc.) plays in the fashion industry as a whole?
MFJ: "I would think that model diversity should be a key factor for brands and designers. For example, I have to be mindful of ethnicity and sizes of models for the magazine. If I use too many of anything, the emails start to come in asking about when they are going to see more red-heads, bigger models, etc. Plus-size women want to see themselves being represented within the companies they support. Look at the Dove campaign and United Colors of Benetton—why are we not seeing a rainbow of colors and sizes as we did in the past? This is what attracted us to the brand and designers in the very beginning. The plus-size customer used to be silent and took whatever was given to them, but since the fashion market has exploded in the past five years, they are choosy and shop all over the globe."
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Images via Plus Model Magazine, July Issue.
Do you think there will come a time when models won't be distinguished by their size or body type?
MFJ: "I think that when society no longer distinguishes people by size and color, we could possibly see a change. In the meantime, plus-size fashion needs plus-size models in order to sell to the customer. This is not about models, it's about how the plus-size woman is marketed to.
"I read a lot of the comments whenever an article comes out online about plus-size fashion or models and I'm appalled by the ignorance I read. People equate bigger people with being unhealthy, but I would bet my career that if I took the plus-size board and the straight-size board of an agency and had them take physical exams, the straight-sized models would not be 'healthier' than the plus-sized models. To some women, being a size double-zero or zero is natural, but for those that starve or abuse drugs, it's a battle to stay at a size that your body is rejecting.
"No one should have to starve themselves or overeat to be a model. There is an industry for models that do not fit the criteria—it's called commercial modeling. I feel like the plus-size boards at modeling agencies have become a dumping ground for models who can no longer starve themselves and are at a size six and eight. They know very well [that these women] are not marketable to plus-size women."
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What kinds of clients are looking for models on the smaller end of the range versus the larger end? Aimee Cheshire, Co-Founder and CEO of MadisonPlus.com: "It depends on the brand. Ashley Stewart and Lane Bryant use more full-figured models than Style 369 or ASOS Curve. The major plus retailers will all overlap, using most of the same models. There is either not enough discovered talent out there, or retailers are not varying who they pick for their lines. Retailers tend to get a lot of flack for not using girls on the larger end of the spectrum, but finding talented models who are size 18+ is just a lot more difficult. The plus industry cannot run before it walks. We are just at the point were size 12's, 14's, and 16’s are starting to be included in major magazines, and this is not yet even on a monthly basis. It is still a rather rare occurrence.  
"Ultimately, the mainstream fashion industry is not ready to integrate larger plus models into the fashion mix. 'Plus' is too frequently presented as a lower quality than its straight-sized counterparts—that larger models are sensationalized and seen as a gimmick. We must take baby steps to ensure that the up-and-coming talent in the industry has the basic resources afforded to them that they have previously been denied."
MadisonPlus.com Editorial “Under the Influence
What do you say when people criticize that a plus model is too large? If she is too small?
AC: "When you get right down to it, people are just craving variety. It’s been quite refreshing to see different body types on the pages of Vogue Italia and V Magazine. Everyone has their own concept of what is too big or too small. I have to go with what in my experience works for plus, and stay true to my vision for the industry.
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"It disappoints me that women who were for so long marginalized because of their size feel it’s okay to tell plus models to eat more, or accuse them of being too small. I’ve been told more times than I can count how 'skinny' I am at 5’10, 190 lbs, and a size 14. People wonder what authority I have to discuss plus and create a business around it, when currently I am not visually 'plus-sized.' How is this any different from what was done to [plus-sized women] for so many years, and how can that kind of attitude create a sustainable industry? The way I see it, this is the same behavior that has prevented plus from being accepted into mainstream fashion, and the core of the reason why plus was created in the first place."
What kind of role do you think diversity (body type, ethnicity, etc.) play in the fashion industry as a whole?
AC: "This is always a hot topic, and there will always be people who feel that they are not being represented equally. I can say quite confidently that the body type that I prefer seeing in the fashion industry has yet to be consistently represented. I know that if I had seen bigger models in the pages of Vogue when I was young, it would have helped me see my shape in a different light. I do not want plus to be sensationalized or be seen as a gimmick or a stunt. This can easily happen when placed in the wrong hands.
"However, Crystal Renn has managed to narrowly crack open the doors to high fashion for a few plus models. Now, we must wait, much like when Crystal first broke onto the scene, for this new round of models to flourish. It will take time for the industry to see past their 'plus' status and see these women as models worthy of the covers and catwalks from which they've previously been excluded. In due time, this wave of plus models will open the door further for girls at the larger end of the spectrum.
"Even though the end destination is plus acceptance in mainstream fashion, it's even more important to recognize we are on the journey. It is just a matter of persistence, patience, and time."
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As a consumer, does the size of the model make a difference to you?
Gabi Gregg, Blogger at GabiFresh.com: "To be honest, not really. I am just as likely to buy an item that's modeled on a size two as I am to buy something that's modeled by a size 16. That being said, I think I'm an exception to what most women look for, and I think there should be more diversity in the industry! Growing up only seeing smaller models definitely had a negative effect on my self-esteem, but I don't think my personal buying habits today are affected by it very much. I shop at stores with size-zero models and at stores with size-20 models."
GabiFresh.com editorial with Wilhemina Curve.
What role do you think bloggers like yourself play in creating diversity in fashion?
GG: "I think we have a huge role because we are literally representing body types that aren't seen in advertisements or editorials. Women like to see bodies they can relate to, so they know how things will look on them. Since models aren't providing that for lots of people, they turn to bloggers. We're not airbrushed, styled, or made-up professionally."
What kind of role do you think diversity (body type, ethnicity, etc.) play in the fashion industry as a whole?
GG: "I think the fashion industry has such a huge impact on young girls, and so much of what is considered beautiful trickles down from the models we see in the media. Diversity is so important, because without it, we're left with only one narrow definition of beauty, which is obviously really harmful for women."
Do you think there will come a time when models won't be distinguished by their size or body type?
GG: "Hopefully! I mean, realistically, size is always going to play a role because of samples and such, but I do hope plus-size models are seen much more often and integrated organically into the mainstream fashion world."
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