Why I Became A Plus-Size Model



Plus_Size_Model_01Photo: Courtesy Of Lauren Chan; Illustrated By Sydney Hass.
For as long as I can remember, I have loved models. In fact, I still own a copy of the 2004 September issue of American Vogue. Covered by Daria, Natalia, and Gisele, and featuring a foldout of Isabeli, Karolina, Liya, Hanna, Gemma, and Karen, the “Models of the Moment” issue marked the beginning of my love affair with the modeling industry. In the photos, the gorgeously styled models appear ethereal, desirable. And, despite the differences in their appearances, they share one thing: They are all unmistakably and overwhelmingly thin .

The problem was that I was young and impressionable, and took that one measly theme — thinness — to heart. At the time, there were no plus-size models, like Tara Lynn, Robyn Lawley, or Candice Huffine. I hadn’t read Crystal Renn’s Hungry or heard of Ford's plus-size division-head Gary Dakin. In essence, thin was all I had to look up to.

I later experienced what I assume many other young aspiring models are familiar with. It began with endless research on famous models’ body measurements, weights, and career paths. Then, in an effort to emulate them, dieting, calorie counting, overexercising, and self-induced brainwashing kicked in. Eventually, I was 14-years-old, 5’10”, and a size four. Yet, in my mind, I was not thin enough. As disciplined as ever, I wasn’t yet ready to make my debut in the world of fashion modeling. So, when my mother finally took me to Elite Model Management in Toronto, I refused to get out of the car. I was immobilized by the thought of rejection. Ironically, that may have been the best decision I ever made for myself.
Plus_Size_Model_02Photo: Courtesy Of Lauren Chan; Illustrated By Sydney Hass.
Over the next eight years of high school and university, my body made its way to womanhood and naturally filled out. There wasn’t much I could do to stop it, and I never went back to Elite. I went through weight swings multiple times, and I constantly wished to get back down to my pre-pubescent sample size. During that time I developed into an elite basketball player and successful fashion writer, and while modeling was put onto the back burner, my preoccupation with thinness was not. After all, my body-image idols were still the models in the pages of Vogue. Though my realistic interest in modeling had dissolved, I still had some serious and seemingly permanent body image issues.

What I didn’t know in the time between buying my September 2004 issue of Vogue and growing into my body was that there is — believe it or not — more to those models than a thin frame. I later learned that Daria Werbowy is a laid-back sailor who would eventually take a break from the modeling business to travel the world. I was inspired by Liya Kebede’s philanthropic foundation for mothers and children in need. Gemma Ward seemed more human when she gained weight after her famous friend Heath Leger passed away. Hell, did you know that Karen Elson has enough wit and spunk to throw herself a divorce party? Really, I discovered that they aren’t invulnerable to the normal physical and mental stresses of life. And, that was the first step to healing myself of my unrealistic body goals.
Plus_Size_Model_03Photo: Courtesy Of Lauren Chan; Illustrated By Sydney Hass.
As I progressed in the world of athletics and writing, I was lucky to have inspiring female mentors who showed me that women can be strong, smart, and successful — no matter what they look like. Having role models like those women changed my mind about what kind of person I wanted to be and what traits would make me value myself. Those pesky body image issues slowly went out the door, and I began to focus on my intellectual achievements, personal relationships, and good health.

I was lucky to evade spending my teenage years in straight-size modeling and instead, develop other interests. But, 10 years later, I have not stopped wanting to be one of the models on the cover of Vogue. I still find inspiration in models, whether they’re the supers of the 1990s or the new faces of fall 2014.

As it goes, I have finally embraced my size 12 body, and now, I am a plus-size model. In one short year, I’ve worked with amazing clients, including major powerhouses and smaller start-ups. I’m thrilled to work with both types of clients, because I never fail to learn something important. It’s exciting to be involved in what the big brands are doing to set the stage for plus-size fashion. On the other hand, it’s interesting to see how the smaller companies interpret that and strive to create something innovative to make their own brands unique.
Plus_Size_Model_04Photo: Courtesy Of Lauren Chan; Illustrated By Sydney Hass.
I believe the high-fashion industry is on the verge of a plus-size breakthrough, and I could not feel more empowered to be passionately delving into the worlds of modeling and fashion while remaining true to myself. I celebrate my body, treat it well, nourish it, and stay active. I am not lazy, unhealthy, or unmotivated, and I think I speak for a number of plus-size women when I preach that. Every day that passes when I don’t scrutinize my body, I am proud of myself. Every time someone else does, I am strong enough to pay no mind.

Speaking of scrutinizing, I think it’s important to avoid indulging in a battle between sizes. Some women are built like straight-size models, some are built like me, and some are built bigger. All women are beautiful. Don’t take my message the wrong way. I am not on a crusade of defaming thin models, nor am I on a mission to push plus-size fashion onto people who want nothing to do with it. My message is this: We should celebrate all women and treat them equally; you should love yourself independently of how you look; and everyone is different, but all people should strive to be healthy. I have a positive body image now, but I had to teach myself that and unlearn unhealthy habits over 10 years. I wish that young girls could see more size diversity in fashion, so that straight-size isn’t their only idea of beauty like it was mine. I think we’re getting there.

I used to worship the thin bodies of models. Now, I admire their bodies of work, personalities, and individual beauty — regardless of size. I will never discard my beloved issue of Vogue, but now, it sits beside an Italian copy covered by plus-size supermodels Tara, Candice, and Robyn. It’s the perfect reminder that there’s room for more than one size in fashion.