by Diana Baus

Plus-size model is a term that refers to an individual of larger stature (sometimes but not exclusively overweight or obese), who is engaged primarily in modeling plus-size clothing. Other words used for plus-size model are “full-figured model”, “extended-size model”, and “outsize model”. Plus-size models tend to engage also in work that is not strictly related to selling large-sized clothing, such as stock photography and advertising photography for cosmetics, household and pharmaceutical products and sunglasses, footwear and watches. Therefore, plus-size models do not exclusively wear garments marketed as plus-size clothing. This happens especially when they participate in fashion editorials for mainstream fashion magazines.

The plus-size modeling industry has received general criticism on the premise that acceptance of plus-size models sets a poor health example of weight management. Plus-size models engage in unhealthy habits, such as eating salty foods to retain water weight and fluctuating size to please clients. Consumer-based criticism regarding the lower sizes of plus-size models is becoming wide-spread. While the believed ‘average’ dress size of American women is size 14, the majority of models represented as plus-size are between US sizes 6–12; therefore the models do not reflect the average consumer size. Furthermore, German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld and other fashion designers have deferred on the use of plus-size models through a lack of interest in the consumers associated with the term plus-size. Karl Lagerfeld, in particular, has been vocal on the matter of his preferred clientele: “What I designed was fashion for slender and slim people”. He received even more criticism for demanding that mass retailer H&M does not produce their collaboration designs to size 16. In February 2015, Australian model Stefania Ferrario and television presenter Ajay Rochester began a campaign to end the use of the term “plus size” to describe models who are above a US dress size 4 by the modeling industry. Ferrario posted a picture with the caption “I am a model FULL STOP” with the hashtag “#droptheplus”, which gained coverage in the media and was heavily discussed, with mixed, but mostly positive reactions, on social media and within the fashion industry.

Nevertheless, nowadays fashion designers are starting to look more closely at the earning potential from plus-size clothing, and have used plus-size models for their advertising campaigns and catwalks. Jean-Paul Gaultier and John Galliano both used plus-size models in their spring 2006 showings in Paris. Gaultier also used plus-size models Marquita Pring and Crystal Renn in his spring 2011 Ready-to-Wear show. Celebrities, who wear clothing larger than a standard U.S. size 8, have increasingly been attracting endorsement contracts as advertisers seek to extend size-acceptance into the film, TV and music industries.

Anna Nicole Smith, formerly known as Vickie Lynn Marshall and Vickie Smith, was an American model, actress and television personality. She first gained popularity in Playboy, becoming the 1993 Playmate of the Year. Soon after, she signed with Elite Model Management. Smith became very well known after appearing in Guess campaigns in 1992, becoming the first plus-size model used in a Guess campaign. The Guess campaign was one of the clothing brand’s most successful campaigns. She modeled for H&M’s December, 1993 lingerie campaign in print advertising and billboards as well as on TV and print advertising for Conair the same year. In 1994, she appeared on the cover of German Marie Claire.

Queen Latifah, is another example of a plus-size celebrity. She is an actress and music artist who appears in ongoing U.S. advertising for CoverGirl cosmetics. Queen Latifah is the figurehead of the Curvation company’s range of plus-size apparel and intimates, and the associated “Project Curvation”, an awards program championing confidence in women.

Many well-known brands have accepted plus-sizes as a way of supporting the fact that every woman is beautiful regardless of her body shape and weight. The most famous brand that speaks to youth the most is Aerie, a lingerie retailer and intimate apparel sub-brand owned by American Eagle Outfitters. The brand targets the American 15- to 25-year-old female demographic, and most of their models are plus-size women. In this way, an average woman can compare herself to one of the models, and no longer has to experience discrimination based on her physical appearance. Women see models on the runways to who they often don’t resemble, which makes them lose personal self-confidence. Therefore, it is necessary for the fashion industry to seriously consider the use of plus size models on its runways, too. Apparel sizes are becoming larger and there is an increasing demand for a stronger fashion element in plus size clothing. This, along with a change in attitudes to sizes, is adding to the shift in the way people are thinking about fashion, and unless the industry begins to change its attitude towards this issue, the subject will continue to dominate catwalks worldwide.