Why This Modeling Agent Doesn't Care If You Drop The "Plus"

Photo: Via @becca_thorpe.
There's no better time to be a model than the present (hell, there’s even space for aspiring plus-size male models these days), but still, the fashion industry’s movement toward inclusivity is happening at a glacial pace. Considering everything else in fashion — predicting and changing trends, getting products out to consumers — happens as fast as possible, it's downright laughable.

And yet diversity is the (touchy) topic that we just can't stop talking about — be it in the form of race, age, or size. All that talking seems to be making waves on the political front, but when it comes to the types of people we actually see represented on the runways and in campaigns, we still need to send up reminders that one model does not diversity make.

Thankfully, every once in awhile, someone enters the exclusive ranks of the industry and shakes things up (a secret weapon, if you will); think what Yves Saint Laurent did for style, or Irving Penn for imagery. For modeling, that visionary is Muse Management agent Rebecca Thorpe. Being a former plus-size model herself, Thorpe's been-there-done-that mentality makes her the perfect agent for the company's plus-size board — that, and her heart of gold (make that yellow gold, which she jokes is her fashion armor). For her, it's all about the girl.

Beyond the flashbulbs that make everything look prettier than it actually is, the modeling industry, like most cutthroat endeavors out there, has its skeletons. If it's not an underage labor law being passed, it's one that focuses on "skinny models"; the fact that this type of legislation even has to exist is enough to know things aren't right. The days of "heroin chic" dominating the aesthetic may be long gone, but the scope of what is now considered beautiful is still unabashedly narrow. To wit: There actually are many more models on the scene than Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid. And agents like Thorpe are out there trying to bring those "others" to the forefront, to give the industry the edge it desperately needs.
Photo: Via @becca_thorpe.

At the end of the day, these girls are models, and they need to have books and careers that flourish like any model.

"It's time to showcase these girls in a beautiful, high-end looking way,” she says. “There's all this talk of, 'We're just like all the other girls,' and 'Drop the plus, keep the plus...' That whole fight felt like it was going to be there until the end of time. At the end of the day, these girls are models, and they need to have books and careers that flourish like any model." To ensure they receive the same treatment as straight-size models, Thorpe sends her board on castings, even if clients (be it brands or publications) are looking for something different. Why? "I think the needle needs to be pushed a little more,” she explains. “When you aren't expecting to look outside the box, but all of the sudden it happens...sometimes magic happens. And if I'm not going to [send plus-size girls out for jobs], who is? How do things change from the inside?"

Thorpe notes that Instagram has truly become a driving force for the body-acceptance movement, and that social media in general has helped show that the physical isn’t the only determining factor of a model’s success. "You have to know where the market is going,” she says, explaining that her board is comprised of girls who know themselves, own their figures, and exude confidence from within. “I know everybody wants to sell something at the end of the day, but these girls’ interests are sometimes outside of modeling, which is really refreshing. I think that's what casting directors are starting to want to see — that human element of what the models are really about.” So for those of you with a staunch aversion to the Insta-model movement, there's your answer: a social presence is key.

In her opinion (and ours, too), nothing really sells better than a smile. And if you take a look at her board, Thorpe's models exemplify this. One of them, French model Clémentine Desseaux, recently told The Cut that she's tired of the favoritism that exists in the industry: "We're not treated the same way," she said. "In editorial, they want skinny-girl clothes because it looks great. They want big girls naked because they look like art. It's a weird way to see a full-size body, which is so annoying to me."
Photo: Via @becca_thorpe.
Whatever you want to call it — "plus," "curvy," "full-bodied" — is up to you. But if you're wondering what it takes to join the ranks of, say, Ashley Graham and Candice Huffine, Thorpe cautions, it's not about semantics. "When you're asking me, someone who's casting models...at an agency that caters to curves, it doesn't really matter what you call it... We want people to think, 'Oh my God. These girls are gorgeous. They're muses just like anybody else.'" She goes on to say that clients call her asking for models using specific language, and she doesn't care to police that. "Do I take it personally? No. Do my girls take it personally? No. Call it what you want. Really, it's kind of outdated in a way."

And, no, straight-size models aren't losing jobs over this. "There will always be what people have classically considered to be models, and we all know what those dimensions are, but it's time to change people's perception of what the industry is as a whole," she says. "[Plus-size models are] not in this cubbyhole in the corner of an agency anymore. It's not like, 'Oh, that's where the plus girls go.' You don't just sit there and say, 'Oh, those jobs are only for you.'"

This debate doesn't just focus on straight-size vs. plus-size models, however — it also pulls into question what it actually takes to become successful in this industry: "Are we having this conversation about petite models, or about influencers who aren't 'real' models? Why are we so obsessed with this question [of weight]? Nobody talks about how tall or short a model is,” she says. “But we celebrate it when a 5'7" girl makes it as a high-fashion model. I just find it so interesting that the same question is always being asked and not switched on its head when influencers can be on the covers of magazines. We just casted a girl who's not tall enough to be a model but she [has] a wow factor, and clients are drawn to her for other reasons than being the typical, standard model." She gets a twinkle in her eye and references Paloma Elsesser.

It's not this cubbyhole in the corner of an agency anymore. It's happening now. It's not like, 'Oh, that's where the plus girls go.' You don't just sit there and say, 'Oh, those jobs are only for you.'

Photo: Via @tyfransen.
The fashion industry is one that's always sensationalized the human body — and only now are we coming to terms with its hypocrisy. But what makes a model today isn't her height, or weight, or race — it's that wow factor that someone like Elsesser possesses. And whatever that may be is up to the universe (and, well, agents). The more we put models into categories based on their shape and skin color, the further we backpedal on the journey to complete and total representative diversity within the industry. And as Thorpe concludes, the change isn’t coming — it's here. "When I have clients calling me who want to do full-on castings with every single one of [our] girls — that's how you know things are changing. It's out there. It's happening now."

So this conversation we're having? Maybe talking isn't enough.

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