plus size models

Recently I’ve read two articles on plus size models and their place in the industry. The first was about Crystal Renn in the NYTimes (January 13, 2010) and the second was about plus size models as a whole in the Washington Post (January 24, 2010). These two articles have great commentary and raise good questions that I felt it was worth recognizing as you learn about the fashion industry with me.

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I really liked the article that Eric Wilson wrote in the NYTimes about Crystal Renn. She’s 23 years old, a size 12 (38C-30-42) and technically a plus sized model. However, it was surprising to hear that many fashion editors and designers meet her (and other plus-size models), they actually comment about how she doesn’t look that big. As the comments are supposed to be a compliment, it’s still hard in an industry where they have to compete against size-2 models for shoots.

What you may not know is that Photoshop works both ways. Many times, it’s used (along with lighting) to make celebrities and models thinner, leaner and longer to sell a product and appear flawless; however, it’s always used to emphasize curves and appear more vixen-like for larger models. There have been shoots and covers where Renn’s images have been resized to make her more like a size 20 to be more appealing to the consumer.

Renn recently released a memoir called Hungry which chronicles her modeling career from when she started and lost 42% of her body weight to move from Clinton to New York City to now, as a healthy (and one of the highest paid) plus-sized model. By writing this book, she said she was able to close the chapter in her life where self-hatred defined herself.

In the last three years, the fashion industry has slowly tried to include more diverse body types especially ones with fuller, curvier figures so Renn’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed, but it’s both the industry AND the consumer that needs to change their ideal.

For the industry, Stephan Gan, the creative director for Harper’s Bazaar and Visionaire, said that it’s about “dealing with a subject that in [his] world is such a taboo. In fashion, putting on two pounds is a taboo.” I’m sorry, but everybody fluctuates up to 5 pounds a day naturally so a 2 pound rule is troublesome.

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At the same time, the consumer needs to change their perception of the ideal too. In the image above, which was in V, Renn is side-by-side with Jacquelyn Jablonski (size 2) wearing the same size samples. Some loved seeing an image that people could relate to while others thought it was exploitive and glorified obesity. Ouch!

So you decide, what do you think of this movement? Glamour has recently used “more normal,” fuller models on their pages (like Lizzie Miller in September 2009) and got a huge response from readers.

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“It was a reminder how much our eyes have become inured to a particular standard. There were many readers who said they didn’t know what a quote-unquote normal body looked like,” said Cindi Leive, the editor at the time.

Which leads me into the Washington Post article and a talk I had with some peers about the fashion industry last semester. At the beginning the article, Robin Givhan talks about the soon-to-be fashion weeks in NYC, Milan and Paris as well as stating the raised question about the fashion industry like “Do they push women to be more prone to eating disorders? Are they an insult to womanhood? Are they merely part of a designer’s prerogative?”

But the best question that she raised was “How big is big enough? And when does plus size, in a profoundly overweight population, become as distressingly unhealthy an image as emaciation?”

Last semester, for my PR Case Studies class, I did a presentation on the Ralph Lauren ad scandal and asked if the fashion industry was in crisis with it’s consumers. While everyone agreed that the photoshopping of Fillippa Hamiliton was outrageous and not remotely attractive, one of my friends also started a discussion about what’s the right image to show. While alarmingly thin models aren’t attractive or good for women’s satisfaction for their own bodies, just putting a bigger model in it’s place isn’t the answer either. I agree with her. What we need is more of an emphasis of health at any size. We all know healthy women who are a size 2 and unhealthy women at a size 2 and that’s the same for any size.

Givhan even brought up the V magazine spread in which Renn appears in their recent “size issue.” (PS: I hate that term). She says how Renn as the same detached and unattainable glamour as any other size 2 model, but how even though she’s considered a plus-size model at a size 12, some are also complaining that she’s only a size 12 when a size 16 is what’s known as plus-size and when clothing options get limited. Hmmm…

“You’re always treading lightly. I’ve had actresses who are a size 2 stand in front of me and weep. I’ve had young girls who want to cover their arms and older women who want to cover their arms,” said Kevan Hall, an LA-based designer who dressed Sidibe at the Golden globes.

He says that whole the designer’s ego often has to come down because the woman doesn’t have the physique of a hanger (thank god!), it’s always about the client and finding the right silhouette for her shape.

Hall’s optimistic that the times are changing though and hopes we’re getting closer to a less judgmental and more accepting society. Larger women are depicted with an insatiable appetite while the thinner women are cold and brittle and waif-like. Where’s the happy medium?

What would you personally like to see on the runway or in magazines?

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14 responses to “plus size models

  1. I’ve often felt amazed at the economic folly of fashion’s attachment to the very skinny. Clothes that are designed for stick-like figures do not really suit the vast majority of women.

  2. My utopia in the fashion and modelling worlds would be when women of all varying shapes and sizes could walk side by side with one another on catwalks & appear in magazine spreads without their size even being mentioned. No pluses, no zero’s, no bigger, no smaller. No comparisons.

    I appreciate this may not be possible all the time depending upon the clothes designed – but many times it is, but still the same sized models are chosen. If a label makes clothes in sizes 6 – 16 as many do here in Australia – why in their fashion parades do they not show those clothes off by having 3-4 models in a parade that represent that spectrum? It seems to be too hard, which I find ridiculous. None the less, I shall keep asking for it!

    • I agree! While it’s a little different here, I think the comparisons and the numbers are hurting us more than helping. I don’t know if sizes could ever be eliminated because it would make it very hard to shop for clothes without sizes, but there has to be another way.

  3. What’s amazing to me is that whats considered a plus size model looks completely normal to me. Lizzie Miller actually looks skinny and normal in that photo. I would like to see the average sized American in magazines and on the runway.

    Not to start any arguments but I don’t feel that plus-sized models should be included. It would be promoting an unhealthy body image. Just like having super skinny people up there…

  4. Good post by the way… Really made me think 🙂

    • Thanks! I’m glad you liked it 🙂

      I love the picture of Lizzie Miller too; however, what’s normal? I think both articles touched on it and in my commentary too of what is/should be a normal weight or size for a model?

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