Plus-Sized Models Still Face Challenges

Diversity, it’s probably the most cringe-worthy words for designers of high-end label these days. In the era of inclusivity and digital reinvention, designers can squeam all they like but their size 0 - 6 models just won’t cut it. As designers strife to humanize their brands and connect intimately with consumers, they are faced with real time backlash from women who purchase, idolize and love these brands but can never find something that fits in their size.

In America, the average woman is between sizes 14 and 16, forming a huge base for the $21 billion plus-size fashion industry yet the reluctance to render styles in plus size and include plus size women in ad campaigns and editorials is still prevalent.

In 2016, designers Marc Jacobs and Sophie Theallet each took baby steps, careful to include not two or three of the 60% of plus size women but one plus size model in their runway line-up. The media raved about it, applauding the duo and declaring changing times in the fashion industry.

Tim Gunn was quick to dispel such frivolous predictions, after his interview with many designers proved otherwise “I’ve spoken to many designers and merchandisers about this. The overwhelming response is, ‘I’m not interested in her.’ Why? ‘I don’t want her wearing my clothes.’ Why? ‘She won’t look the way that I want her to look.’ They say the plus-size woman is complicated, different and difficult, that no two size 16s are alike. Some haven’t bothered to hide their contempt,” Gunn wrote in his editorial.

To compound things, some designers have made claims that plus-size women aren’t interested in fashion and thus aren’t ready to spend that much on clothes. Really? If designers are going with excuses can they be a tad bit creative and original?

Walking into your favorite store and finding as you go up the sizes on the isles less flattering designs and clothes that only seem like an afterthought, is heartbreaking enough. But actively modeling in an industry that is resolute on using only size 0-6 models presents unique challenges.

In a casting room full of skinny size 6 models, the one brave plus-size model out of every 40 or so skinny girl, has to put on an even braver face as she walks up to the casting agents. She’d hope first to not be shamed for daring to come to the casting and consequently not dismissed on account of her body type.Some agents and designers state outright on casting calls that models must fit a stringent size ‘0-6, 5’11 or above in height , etc. leaving no room for ‘unwanted’ plus size models.

If a plus size model somehow makes it through a casting and is included in the line up of the runway, she must first wriggle her way into ill-fitting clothes with all eyes on her or float in designs that barely complement her beautiful curves. She’ll have to make do, apparently as staff and make-up artistes etc. remind her backstage, ‘for your type, you’re even lucky to be here’.

It is all quite ridiculous and to be honest an outdated approach to designing for women. The plus size women who walks the runway, poses in editorials or look wishfully through store windows are, just like every other woman, very much interested in looking good in the clothes they wear.

If well-established fashion brands have little interest in creating piece for plus size women and taking advantage of the $21 billion industry, sure enough, startups with little hang ups about using plus size models and with even bigger appetite for profit will create pieces that not only hide problem areas on plus size women but fit snuggly and flatter their curves.