- The Complete Guide To Plus Size Modeling
- What are the Plus Size Model Requirements?
- Are There Plus Size Model Agencies I Can Apply to?
- How Do I Get Signed by Plus Size Modeling Agencies?
- Who are Some Famous Plus Size Models?
- How Can I Become a Plus Size Bikini Model?
- What are Some Plus Size Fashion Designers and Plus Size Brands that Hire Plus Size Models?
- What Kind of Plus Size Modeling Jobs are Out There?
- What Should I Put in My Plus Size Model Portfolio?
- A Guide to Plus Size Modelling
- Introduction to the Plus Size Model Industry
- What are the Plus-Size Models?
- Jobs for Plus-Size Models
- Physical Requirements
- Specialty Agencies for Plus-Size Models
- Notable Plus-Size Models Through Time
- Some Famous Plus Size Lingerie Models
- Plus-Size Models that You Should be Following in 2019
- Plus-Size Fashion Brands and Designers Who Work with Plus-Size models
- Creating a Plus-Size Model Portfolio
- 11 Throwback Photos Of The First Plus Size Supermodel — PHOTOS
- 1. The Time She Was A Spokesperson For Revlon
- 2. The Time She Looked Sumptuous In Satin
- 3. When She Got A Pixie Cut
- 4. The Vision In Gold
- 5. The All Black Ensemble
- 6. The Beautiful Print Coat
- 7. The Time She Took To The Ice For Charity
- 8. The Time She Slayed In A More Gender Neutral Ensemble
- 9. The Beautiful Blue Dress
- 10. The Metallic Pencil Skirt
- 11. The Ballerina Twirl At The Dress For Success Benefit
- Plus-size model Emme first started modeling in 1989. 28 years later, she made her NYFW debut.
- The First Plus-Size Supermodel Talks About the Evolution of the Body-Positive Movement
- Ashley Graham Becomes First ‘Plus-Size’ Model to Grace Vogue Cover
- Victoria’s Secret just got its first plus-sized model: ‘It felt surreal’
- Emme Has Just Curated Your Entire Plus-Size Wardrobe (and it’s All ‘Comfortable Chic’), So Start Shopping!
The Complete Guide To Plus Size Modeling
Are you dying to know how to become a plus size model? Thanks to a number of boundary-pushing models, designers, and activists, there’s more plus size visibility in the world of fashion than ever before. Plus size modeling opportunities are increasing across the industry, from catalog and commercial jobs to swimsuit modeling, magazine editorials, and even runway shows.
These days, it’s not just plus size clothing brands looking to cast full figured models: more and more straight size brands (those catering to a size 12 and under) are extending their sizing—or rolling out entire plus collections.
If you’re looking to steal some of that limelight for yourself, we’ve got a few tips on how to get your foot in the door of the plus size fashion world, including finding plus size modeling jobs, applying to plus size model agencies, building an online modeling portfolio, and more. Let’s get started!
What are the Plus Size Model Requirements?
While straight-size modeling focuses mostly on body measurements, plus size models are typically evaluated and cast based on dress size. Broadly speaking, plus size models are categorized by the fashion industry as anyone over a size 6—a designation that’s raised some eyebrows in the past.
These days, however, most women deemed plus size models are a size 12/14 or higher, bringing the industry’s perception with what counts as plus size a little more in line with that of the public.
The industry’s exacting standards about height and other aspects of models’ appearance, however, still remain largely intact. Plus size fashion models are generally 5’9” and up, and are asked to have unblemished skin, healthy hair and well-kept nails.
Plus size fit models can be shorter—between 5’6” and 5’9”—while commercial modeling gigs (a.k.a. real-people modeling) offer more flexibility. (Keep in mind that there’s exceptions to every rule: famous plus size model Tess Holliday is 5’5”!)
Are There Plus Size Model Agencies I Can Apply to?
Many of the top modeling agencies in North America and around the world now offer plus divisions. Here’s a selection:
- Front Management
- B&M Models
Additionally, there are also a few curvy model agencies specializing in plus models, like Germany’s Curve Models and U.K.-based Bridge Models (which represents “curve and brawn models”). For a more extensive list of regional agencies, check out this roundup by Plus Model Mag.
How Do I Get Signed by Plus Size Modeling Agencies?
The easiest way to get seen by model casting agents? Send them a link to your online portfolio! Many plus size modeling agencies have “Be A Model” pages set up, listing their desired criteria for models and allowing applicants to submit portfolio images for consideration. Expect to supply measurements like your height, weight, bust, waist, hips, dress size, and shoe size.
Additionally, plus size model agencies will ask for a selection of images—typically, a full-body photo, a waist-up photo, a headshot taken straight on, and a headshot taken in profile. These images don’t necessarily need to be elaborate, or taken by a professional photographer—all you need is natural lighting. The goal is to show yourself off as you are, so wear plain clothing (a white T-shirt and jeans or a black shirt and pants are great) and minimal or no makeup. (Looking for examples? NEXT Models offers sample images on their application page.)
You might also be able to attend an open casting call geared toward plus size models—many agencies will regularly open their doors to undiscovered models looking to meet with casting directors. For tips on how to navigate these cattle calls, check out our guide to landing your first modeling job.
Who are Some Famous Plus Size Models?
Arguably, the two biggest names in plus size modeling right now are Ashley Graham, who landed the cover of Sports Illustrated’s famous swimsuit issue in 2016, and Tess Holliday, who was featured on the cover of Cosmopolitan UK in 2018.
Other famous plus size models include Tara Lynn, Robyn Lawley, and Candice Huffine—but there’s also plenty of noteworthy rising plus size models, including La’Shaunae Stewart, Paloma Elsesser, Naomi Shimada, Vivian Eyo-Ephraim, and Tash Ncube.
How Can I Become a Plus Size Bikini Model?
Though agencies specializing in swimsuit modeling do exist, and some larger agencies do have specific swim divisions, most plus size models for swim campaigns are picked from a regular plus size modeling roster. Be sure to include bikini or lingerie shots in your portfolio so that casting directors can keep you in mind for swimwear gigs.
Plus size brands with a focus on swimwear might also host their own model searches looking for fresh faces, so be sure to follow some of your faves on social media for any news.
Height and size requirements are about the same for plus size bikini models as for other plus models. Generally, those casting plus size models for swimwear shoots are looking for people with an hourglass shape and visible muscle tone, but with brands constantly making their shoots more diverse, there’s more and more room being made for models of all shapes. Remember: here, more than ever, confidence is key!
What are Some Plus Size Fashion Designers and Plus Size Brands that Hire Plus Size Models?
Some of the major plus size clothing brands include Torrid and Eloquii, while hipper indie brands include the basics-oriented Universal Standard and Premme, a line created by plus size influencers Gabi Gregg and Nicolette Mason.
Canada has major plus size fashion brands like Addition-Elle and Penningtons, while the UK is home to Asos Curve, Asos’ plus size brand. Boohoo Plus offers budget-friendly clothing popular with streetwear lovers.
Meanwhile, a number of straight-size companies—including H&M, Loft, J. Crew, and Modcloth—have extended or introduced plus sizing, and have begun booking more plus size models to show off those wares.
What Kind of Plus Size Modeling Jobs are Out There?
According to Toronto-based modeling agency ICON, which represents several plus models, “plus size models can be found in advertising campaigns, magazine editorials, runway, live-TV work and commercials.”
Here’s a few tips on how to hunt down plus size modeling jobs without an agent:
With the popularity of plus modeling on the rise, you might see an increasing number of plus size model searches held by designers and brands for specific campaigns. Be sure to follow plus size brands and designers on social media to find out who’s looking.
Seek out Facebook groups or job boards in your area that feature postings for modeling gigs.
Look on social media for local photographers who shoot full figured models. (Searching Instagram hashtags can help with this.)
Try joining Model Mayhem, a popular site for freelance models seeking gigs.
What Should I Put in My Plus Size Model Portfolio?
If you’re looking to jump-start a career as a plus size model, you’re going to need a an online portfolio that lets you show plus size designers and casting directors what you can do.
As previously mentioned, basic images shot in natural lighting are a must-have, but you’ll also want to use images featuring a variety of looks in order to show off your range. Add them to your model portfolio book to bring with you to castings, and make sure you use them for your online portfolio as well—casting directors searching online for plus size models could book you on the strength of your online portfolio alone!
Here’s a few tips for building your plus size model portfolio:
If you can’t afford to hire a photographer (and a stylist, and a makeup artist…) then organizing a TFP shoot is a great way to get images for your portfolio.
Broaden your repertoire by brushing up on essential modeling poses.
Include a few bikini or lingerie photos—especially if you’re planning on going after plus size bikini model jobs.
Check out a few awesome modeling portfolios for inspiration for what you can do with your own plus size model portfolio.
Once you have your shots in hand, use a website builder to create a professional-looking portfolio in a snap. Choose one with bold, fashion-forward themes that will impress industry insiders, and Instagram integration so you can show off your gorgeous Insta snaps there, too.
Check out our guide to creating a model portfolio for everything you need to know about making a stunning comp card and online model portfolio.
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Now that you’ve learned all the ins and outs of becoming a plus size model, it’s time to get out there and show the world what you’ve got. Let your confidence shine, and the fashion world will take notice.
Looking for more info on how to break into the fashion industry as a plus size model?
How to Become a Model: A Beginner’s Guide
Everything You Need to Know for a Successful Fashion Shoot
How To Become An Instagram Influencer
Amanda Czerniawski, an assistant professor of sociology at Temple University, took an unconventional approach to writing her dissertation: She decided to try her hand at plus-size modeling. “As an academic, I’d always been interested in the notion of ‘ideal weight,’” Czerniawski told the Cut. “I wanted to try to understand the position of plus-size models — and what impact they can have on constructions of beauty.” As a former child-actor, modeling wasn’t completely foreign to her — so she decided to get some headshots taken and try her hand at getting an agent.
At first, Czerniawski wasn’t sure that she fit the typical profile for “plus-size” modeling. As a size 10, she falls into the range that Calvin Klein model Myla Dalbesio called “in-betweenies”: “We’re not skinny enough to be straight-size — these size 0, size 2 girls — and we’re not large enough to be considered for plus-size.” Yet, though plus-size typically starts at size 14, Czerniawski noticed that a lot of the plus-size models she saw in magazines and catalogues looked a lot like her. “When you look at the plus-size models agencies represent, they often go down to a size 10 or 12,” she explained.
Czerniawski worked as a plus-size model in New York for about 2.5 years — while getting her Ph.D. at Columbia — before calling it quits. “It was a struggle. I don’t think I was a very good model,” she says now. Her experience modeling, as well as her interviews with 35 other plus-size models, are the subject of a new book, Fashioning Fat, which will be published by NYU Press this January. She spoke with the Cut about the pressures plus-size models feel to manipulate their bodies and what it’s like to be an “in-betweeny.”
So, did you decide to give modeling a try purely for research, or was there a part of you that genuinely wanted to do it?
It was a mix. I wanted to do it so that I could really understand the pressures that these models face — which you don’t understand unless you are in a room being judged by casting directors and agents and clients. Models are supposed to embody ideal beauty, so I wanted to know what happens when they have a non-normative body, especially for fashion. The fat body still seems antithetical to fashion. I was curious if plus-size models had the power to challenge thin privilege. But there was also a part of me that felt like, I need this personal validation, that I’m pretty enough. I wanted to know whether I could do it.
What assumptions did you have about the plus-size modeling industry before you started modeling?
I think I assumed, as many people do, that these women had undisciplined bodies. When, in fact, these women work really hard for their bodies. It didn’t dawn on me that they actually experience the same kind of bodily pressure as straight-size models. They all have to work on maintaining their size; plus-size models just have a different body.
Among the models that you interviewed, what were their attitudes toward being plus-size models?
I found that many of these women had grown up struggling with their bodies. Many of them had spent years in shame, trying to cover up their body. But when they discovered plus-size modeling, the way they saw themselves transformed. They realized that the body that they’d hated for so many years could actually give them work opportunities. By working as models, they started to appreciate their bodies. Many of them develop more positive self-images through modeling and embrace the mantle of spokesmodel for size acceptance. Many want to change the cultural ideals of beauty to include their kinds of bodies — larger bodies, and diverse bodies.
How does diversity among plus-size models compare to the straight-size modeling industry?
In terms of age, many plus-size models are much older than straight-size models. Many begin in their 20s — the age where straight-size models are retiring. There’s definitely a greater level of racial diversity among plus-size models, but there is also a hierarchy. The more prestigious agencies tend to represent plus-size models who are on the smaller end of the spectrum, and they also tend to be lighter skinned. But if you go to agencies that exclusively represent plus-size clients, there is greater diversity both in terms of size and racial representation. There were some castings I went to where I was the racial minority. It seems like there is more space in the plus-size industry for nonwhite models.
How did the models you spoke with define success within their industry?
At a very basic level, getting jobs. But also what kinds of jobs: Are you working in jobs that present a positive image of plus-size bodies, or not? Because there were some models who were modeling in ads for weight-loss products as the “before” image. That’s not the best work, but it is a job, and opportunities for plus-size models are still so limited. The majority of the work is just steady, routine modeling for catalogues and behind-the-scenes fittings — it’s not very glamorous. Beyond success at work, feeling a personal sense of fulfillment and acceptance was important to them, too.
Very few plus-size models are able to earn enough to live off their modeling, right?
Yeah, most of these models wouldn’t consider modeling their main bread and butter. They wouldn’t be able to live off their modeling alone. They had all types of other jobs, because the plus-size modeling jobs are so limited. There’s a very high start-up cost to becoming a model, and very few can really make a living out of it.
It is very competitive?
It is a small world, so there is a competitive edge. One model told me she was so happy that her main competitor had lost weight, so now she could go for the jobs that her competitor had lost. So everybody’s looking at each other’s back, but at the same time there’s also a lot of openness and warmth, because all of these models realize that they’re not the norm for fashion models. There is a great sense of community where they realize that the opportunities are limited, so if somebody succeeds it could potentially benefit all plus-size models with more opportunities in the future.
You also mention that among plus-size models, losing weight is stigmatized.
Well, if you break the cardinal rule of changing your body, it’s a huge problem, whether you gain or lose weight. It’s interesting, though, because by losing weight these women are conforming to the general cultural expectations for women, yet within the modeling world, they’re told that they did a bad thing. One model I interviewed really struggled with that. She got these Invisalign retainers to improve her smile, but that made it very hard to maintain a steady eating routine, because you have to wear them all the time, and you can’t eat with them in. She didn’t even realize that she lost all this weight, but her dimensions changed dramatically and she lost clients. She’d struggled with an eating disorder and a binge mentality before, so she really struggled when her clients said, “Just do whatever you need to gain the weight back quickly.”
As a size 10, what was it like to be a model on the smaller end of the plus-size range?
Well, in fashion in general, the ideal image of beauty is always in flux. Just as fashions change with the season, the most desirable plus-size body can change, so some seasons you’re seeing a larger body, and other times, a smaller body. When I was working, I felt like there was more focus on bodies that were a little larger — more of the 14-to-16 size range — so I felt a little disqualified. It always shifts back and forth, and that’s something these models have to deal with: If your size isn’t in demand, do you radically transform your body, or do you wait for the trends to shift?
In the book you mention that a number of models use padding to enhance their measurements. How common is that?
There are varying degrees, but I think that some level of padding is pretty common. A lot of models use silicon “chicken cutlets” to add to their bust dimensions, or add shoulder pads to their hips for a little boost. Or they’re putting on full-body padding. Many smaller plus-size models use padding to meet a specific size demand. A lot of clients want a larger-size model, but with a thinner face, so they’ll use a size 10 or 12 model and put her in padding to make a size-14 body.
Did you feel any pressure to gain weight?
At that moment, when I started hearing, “You have to be a size 14,” I did feel that pressure. But that was also what prompted me to step back and say, Okay, I’m done. I didn’t want to have to change my body at someone’s beck and call. I couldn’t maintain my body and size and dimensions at that strict level — it was too much pressure.
A Guide to Plus Size Modelling
In the world of modeling, there are lots of different types of models. If you don’t know anything about fashion, you might not assume that this would be the case. Because the nature of modeling is to sell products, there is actually a wide range of different roles a model can fit into: plus size or curvy models, petite models, child or senior models, and not to mention even the most basic differences like male and female models. Here’s our guide to one of these subgenres in particular: plus-size modeling.
Introduction to the Plus Size Model Industry
Plus-size models are in demand because the vast majority of people, particularly women, are actually above the standard sizes demanded by the modeling industry. It becomes unrealistic to see thin women wearing clothing on catalogs, in magazines, on online stores, and in advertising. Instead, sometimes we like to see a woman who has a fuller figure, in keeping with the reality of how women actually look for the most part.
The plus-size model industry is smaller than other areas of the fashion industry, which does still rely on the mainstream image of a slim and tall woman, no matter her race or background. For example, we haven’t yet seen a Victoria’s Secret plus-size model. But it is growing, and that means you may want to find out more about it to keep up with the trends.
What are the Plus-Size Models?
Plus-size models are a category of models who are above the standard sizing used by the fashion industry. There isn’t a real industry-wide definition that has been agreed upon, in terms of actual sizes and boundaries. It’s difficult, therefore, to come up with a precise guideline for the look a woman needs to have in order to fall into this category.
Generally speaking, however, she is larger than the average model – just not as large as you might think. In fact, the majority of women in the US or Europe would be considered to be plus-size. You don’t have to be huge to fit this category. It’s usual for plus size model agencies to look for girls who are just a little over normal weight – obese or very overweight models are still extremely rare.
Jobs for Plus-Size Models
There are a lot of possibilities when it comes to jobs for plus size models. Actually, the potential jobs are almost limitless, but we will list a few options here. These are the kind of roles that you might be available to take up:
- Catwalk or runway model
- Editorial, lookbook, commercial model (having your photograph taken for print and digital campaigns)
- Catalog or online store model
- Acting in video advertisements
- Music video, film, or TV extra
- Art model or life model
- Fit or showroom model
- Influencer or blogger
You may even be able to pursue other opportunities outside of strict job roles, like taking on brand endorsements.
There are not really strict physical requirements for curvy models since there’s no set size that you need to be. However, you have a better chance of getting work if you fit standard sizing – for example if your body is the exact dimensions of a size 16. This will allow you to work as a fit model, pose for catalogs, and so on. The usual fittings start from size 12 and up for this category.
The height requirements are not as strict for plus models as they are for normal models: you can actually be a bit shorter, usually 5”6’ to 5”9’. You might even get away with being smaller than that, as there are examples of successful models at 5”5’.
It may seem like a contradiction, but you will get more work if you are fit, even if you remain plus size. This means toning up and making sure that your body is well-proportioned and tight. As a general rule, having your waist 10 inches smaller than your hips is a good proportion. You will still have to work out a lot, even as a plus-size model! Imagine plus size lingerie models – they need to look great in the items, with the minimum of visible ‘issues’ such as cellulite which are seen as unattractive.
You also need to try to remain the size that you are, as you won’t be able to keep booking jobs if your weight yo-yos up and down. Clients won’t know what to expect when you turn up, which isn’t great for them.
You should have clear skin and healthy hair and nails, too – so if it is unhealthy habits that keep you a larger size, you’ll have to change the way you live. Essentially, you need to be as healthy as possible while still maintaining your size.
Specialty Agencies for Plus-Size Models
There are a few more open Plus-Size Model agencies out there, who are willing to take on differently-sized models. Here is a list of a few of the more notable plus-size model agency names out there:
- B&M Models
- Front Management
- Curve Models (Germany)
- Bridge Models (UK)
There might even be a plus-size model agency in your regional area. There may also be more agencies opening up their doors over time to allow more plus-sized girls in, so keep checking back if you can’t find any opportunities yet.
As for how to get signed by them, you first have to work on your body and appearance in order to meet their requirements. They might have more information about what they are specifically looking for on their website.
Some will take applications online, while others will only accept walk-ins. This means you have to go right to their door and ask to be seen! This can be really intimidating, but it will be the first test in your serious modeling career. You will likely be asked to show your body standing in underwear for Polaroids, which is the name of the small shots model agencies use to get their clients hired.
It’s important that you wear plain clothing – a vest, leggings, and plain neutral toned-underwear are usually the best bet. You should also avoid wearing makeup, or at least anything more than a subtle base, as well as not having your hair done in any particular style.
Notable Plus-Size Models Through Time
There have been some notable plus-size models who changed the way the industry worked overtime.
Allegra Doherty was one of the first plus-size models, as well as one of the youngest, to start appearing in mainstream fashion magazines and advertising. She has worked in the Italian, Chinese, and US versions of Vogue, as well as Italian GQ and Mode. She’s also worked for Tommy Hilfiger, Lane Bryant, and other notable designers. Most of her success began around the early- to mid-2000s.
Angellika Morton started her career as a straight-size model, then became plus-size in 1997. She was the first model to be inducted into the International Model Hall of Fame in 1999 and has had plenty of magazine covers as well as notable runway shows.
Ashley Graham is probably the most famous plus-size model of all time, thanks to the fact that she is very outspoken as well as successful. She has even been on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in order to talk about her fashion work, which proved controversial when an image of her was edited.
Candice Huffine is notable for landing Vogue Italia’s cover in 2011 as well as being a great editorial model. She has worked with some top photographers and has appeared in a lot of top-end fashion magazines.
Known as just Emme, the first plus-size model to really get recognition was also in the People magazine ’50 Most Beautiful People’ list twice – 1994 and 1999. There’s even a collectible doll named after her and shaped in her form! She was the first plus-size model to get a contract with a cosmetics company, which was Revlon in 1998.
Natalie Laughlin cannot be ignored: she was the first plus-size model to be on an advertisement billboard in New York’s Times Square – and she did it four times. She was also the first plus-size model on the cover of Glamour magazine in the US.
If you are interested in entering pageants, Rosie Mercado has to be your role model. She has claimed many titles including Miss Nevada Plus America, Miss Plus America Cover Girl, and Miss Plus America Runway Model, as well as awards from People’s Choice and roles, in reality, TV shows.
Finally, Tess Holliday is hugely famous in the plus-size world. She started a movement called #effyourbeautystandards on Instagram and is considered one of the top plus models in the world – as well as being the heaviest model signed to a top modeling agency. This is even more remarkable as she is heavily tattooed!
Some Famous Plus Size Lingerie Models
Of all plus size lingerie models, Ashley Graham stands out the most. She has become a household name and it might be argued that she is a contender for being the supermodel of plus size. She has done a lot of work for Lane Bryant’s lingerie lines.
Crystal Renn is another plus-size model who does lingerie, and the story has a familiar trend for many of the other larger models. She started out as a teenager in standard sizing and ended up going through eating disorders over and over again as she struggled to stay the right size. Eventually, she became a plus-size model instead, putting her health first.
There has not yet been a Victoria’s Secret plus-size model, but the world will continue to hope!
Plus-Size Models that You Should be Following in 2019
There are some plus size models really killing it on Instagram. As well as the notable figures we have mentioned above, you might want to follow Iskra Lawrence, who is hugely influential on social media and runs her own brand. Jada Sezer is really inspirational – she ran the 2018 London Marathon in her underwear to prove that fitness comes in all shapes and sizes.
Stephanie Yeboah has a colorful feed and lots of positivity in her captions. Then there’s Sonny Turner, who posts images without edits and embraces being real. Saffi Karina is a gorgeous model who is bringing awareness of the fact that plus-size models should also be a range of different ethnicities.
Hayley Hasselhoff combines being a curve model with an inside look at a celebrity lifestyle, as her dad is David Hasselhoff! You should also follow Diana Veras, who is a committed feminist as well as body positivity advocate.
Plus-Size Fashion Brands and Designers Who Work with Plus-Size models
Here are some brands and designers who are known to regularly work with curvier models:
- John Galliano
- Lane Bryant
- Universal Standard
- ASOS Curve
- Boohoo Plus
- Savage x Fenty
- Dear Kate
- Tommy Hilfiger
- Liz Claiborne
- Simply Be
- Christian Siriano
- Michael Kors
- Addition Elle
- Ashley Graham Lingerie
Creating a Plus-Size Model Portfolio
If you get rejected at first, it might help to build up your portfolio to show them your potential. You can do this by working with photographers on a TFP (Time for Prints) basis. This means that you don’t get paid, but you do get to use the images to start your portfolio. Finding a good photographer to work with can really be worth it. You might even want to pay for their time in order to get a really high-quality selection of shots.
Here’s a detailed step by step guide on how to go about creating your killer modeling portfolio.
One of the most critical steps to become a model and to make a stable career is to have a well-rounded modeling portfolio that showcases your strong points through high-quality, stunning images. One of the first requirements from a model that agencies and clients will look at to make a great first impression is the modeling portfolio. It helps to have both an online version (your modeling portfolio website) that you can send to anyone via an email and a printed version that you can show when you meet someone face to face. You need all the exposure you can get to move up the ladder in the modeling industry.
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Being a plus-size model is hard, just as it is in other areas of modeling. You have to work hard and be dedicated to maintaining your body. But if you have a passion for fashion, you might just be able to make it work!
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11 Throwback Photos Of The First Plus Size Supermodel — PHOTOS
Taking a walk down memory lane is usually fun, especially when it involves following the career of influential folks who are trying to change the world. Often recognized as the first plus size supermodel, Emme definitely fits into this category. Melissa Aronson (known as her professional name, Emme), has had a whirlwind career — and one that has arguably helped change the face of the fashion industry at large.
According to Refinery29, Emme started her professional life as an reporter. But after spotting an article about plus size modeling, she decided to visit an agency. Emme told the publication, “I loved my job, but I took the agency’s address and walked into the office on my lunch time (with a black-and-white polyester Liz Claiborne jumpsuit and thick, black patent-leather belt, unibrow, and red lipstick) where I met and was signed right on the spot by agent Susan Georget!”
The rest, as they say, is history. She’s been nominated as People Magazine’s “50 Of The Most Beautiful People” twice in her career and received a plethora of awards since, including being named one of Glamour Magazine’s Women of the Year. Emme has also written books, hosted a TV show, released her own sportswear line, and has even had an EMME doll made in her likeness.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of the career of an incredible woman who raises awareness about the importance of representation for different types of bodies and body positivity in the sartorial kingdom. So let’s look back at some of her most fabulous moments.
1. The Time She Was A Spokesperson For Revlon
Robin Platzer/Twin Images/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
In the late ’90s, PRNewswire reported on the collaboration between Emme and Revlon. Kathy Dwyer, the president of Revlon Consumer Products USA said of the collab, “Our consumers tell us that Emme’s classic beauty, intelligence, and self-confidence is refreshing. Her message of accepting yourself and enhancing your natural assets makes her a perfect fit for our company.” Emme told PRNewsWire, “It’s important for women to have a variety of role models, with different personalities, body types, and attitudes. Women asked for this and Revlon responded. I am proud to be representing them.” What a babe.
2. The Time She Looked Sumptuous In Satin
New York Daily News Archive/New York Daily News/Getty Images
Here she wore an entirely satin (or silk) outfit, proving that none of us should live by fashion “rules,” including plus size women.
3. When She Got A Pixie Cut
Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage/Getty Images
Emme threw out the “plus size women can’t have short hair” rule out the window when she chopped her locks into a pixie. The look was totally delightful.
4. The Vision In Gold
Eugene Gologursky/WireImage/Getty Images
Ms. Aronson opted for a golden gown for this special event and she stunned. She kept her look classic with the addition of a ruffled skirt on this floor-length dress. The tight bodice is also everything.
5. The All Black Ensemble
Robin Platzer/Twin Images/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Emme knows how to work an all black outfit: By mixing it up with different textures, of course. As you can see here, she adds an edge to her look with a cool, seemingly sequin and velvet jacket.
6. The Beautiful Print Coat
Nick Elgar/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Exuding decadence, Emme sure knows how to work a statement piece like this luxe animal print coat.
7. The Time She Took To The Ice For Charity
James Devaney/WireImage/Getty Images
Writing, reporting, modelling, ice-skating: Is there anything Emme can’t do? Here she is looking super cute and cozy at the DISHES On Ice HIV AIDS Benefit.
8. The Time She Slayed In A More Gender Neutral Ensemble
Bennett Raglin/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Pulling off an androgynous look can be tricky, but Emme makes it look easy in a suave tuxedo style blazer.
9. The Beautiful Blue Dress
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
This gorgeous Grecian style number looks enchanting on the blonde bombshell.
10. The Metallic Pencil Skirt
Steve Eichner/Archive Photos/Getty Images
I love to see plus size babes rock it in tight-fitted metallics, and Emme is showing us why.
11. The Ballerina Twirl At The Dress For Success Benefit
Lawrence Lucier/FilmMagic/Getty Images
This super pretty, ballerina-inspired outfit sported by a twirling Emme shows that society shouldn’t put people in boxes and even makes a nod toward plus size ballerinas.
Emme has always been proof that it’s OK to go against the grain, and that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. She’s an inspiration for everyone.
Plus-size model Emme first started modeling in 1989. 28 years later, she made her NYFW debut.
In 1994, Emme made history as the first plus-size model to land on People’s 50 Most Beautiful list. In 1997, she was reportedly the first plus-size model to appear on a billboard in Times Square, standing over ten feet tall, selling Liz Claiborne. That same year, she was one of Glamour’s Women of the Year. In 1998, she made history as the first plus-size model to land her own contract with a major beauty company — Revlon.
All that combined, and she became widely known as the very first plus-size supermodel. But back during Emme’s most active modeling days, in the 1990s, walking in New York Fashion Week as a plus-size model remained a pipe dream.
Emme for Revlon in the late ’90s tvrepeater/YouTube
“I would sit in the front row, when I was with Revlon,” Emme said in a recent interview. “I kept on thinking, ‘How funny is this?’ I’m able to watch this, but I wonder if any of the gals could be on this runway. I would never in my wildest dreams thought would I be. There were no designers that were showing at 7th on Sixth that would ever, I mean ever, consider it. We all had to change.”
And change the industry did. In September, during NYFW, Emme finally made her debut, walking for the consistently well-cast Chromat show, which had curve models and plus-size models and transgender models and Emme, who is 54 years old.
Emme walking for Chromat at NYFWFrazer Harrison/Getty Images
“Chromat called and said ‘We’d love to have her come in,’ and I said, ‘Really?’” Emme said. “Knowing Chromat, you could be hardly clothed or fully clothed. They had a beautiful dress and I go, ‘So what’s going on with the cage?’ So she’s like, ‘OK, try it on.’ I try it on and she was like, ‘I want you to walk like a badass’ and I did!’”
As a sign of just how fashion is changing, days after Emme’s debut, model Natalie Nootenboom made her NYFW debut, becoming the first plus-size model to walk for Anna Sui. She’s 16. Looks like you don’t have to wait until you’re a certified supermodel and 54 anymore.
Emme first started modeling in 1989, after seeing an ad in an in-flight magazine seeking curvier models at Plus Model Management. As luck would have it, she ended up running into the star-making agent Susan Georget, who’d go on to sign people like Natalie Laughlin, Kate Dillon and Ashley Graham.
“I had a unibrow, no highlights, I wore red lipstick with a polyester black and white jumpsuit,” Emme said. “So I walk in and Susan was there, and she just said, ‘Can I help you?’ I said, ‘Well, I just saw this article on modeling.’ She said, ‘Wait right here. We want you right now.’”
At the time, Emme mostly got booked for catalogues and commercial work. Moving over to Ford after Plus Models, her world opened up a bit, and by her estimate, she was traveling 300 days a year, posing for campaigns like Liz Claiborne, and continuously booking catalogues domestically and internationally. But it wasn’t like Gianni Versace was calling her name.
“It was beyond me that people really were holding tight to that very small aperture of beauty,” Emme said. “Truly from the core of the industry, it was like, ‘This is fashion, darling. You guys are utilitarian back there.’”
One of the biggest issues facing plus-size models at the time was pay equity, according to Emme, with plus models not getting paid nearly the same amount as straight-sized models for the same work.
But the allure of these models did get boosted by the very existence of Mode magazine, which was like a plus-size woman’s Vogue. Emme graced the cover multiple times, and landed campaigns and editorials in its pages too.
Emme for ‘Mode’Mode Magazine
What eventually landed her at Revlon was a deal with the William Morris Agency, which also helped her get into TV and hosting gigs, on channels like E!, where she’d talk about what it was like being a plus-size woman.
“I did guest appearances on sitcoms and the goal was to get into the culture zeitgeist as ‘the curvy girl,’” Emme said. “Attending all the must-go places and parties. I had wonderful opportunities working with networks and shooting pilots. I think the messaging that was coming through was that there needs to be a bouquet of beauty represented, so women and kids don’t feel like they’re outside of everything all the time.”
Then, after some re-evaluating in the mid-2000s, she took a step back from modeling and focused on lecturing and thinking about what her legacy would really be. That’s when a lightbulb went off in Emme’s head, and she started thinking about what she could do to make the biggest impact in plus-size fashion.
“Why don’t I think about bringing in a design school within a university and talk to them about teaching all their design students about how to have an inclusive fashion education?” Emme recalled. “Not only would you have 0-, 2- and 6-size mannequins, but size 16, 18 and 20 too.”
The students would be taught how to make patterns for women of different sizes, and even how fabrications look on different body types. “I thought about even illustrations, and opening the hand to learning the curve of a woman’s body and not just the stick,” Emme said. “Bringing it together for real inclusive education.”
Emme approached Syracuse University — her alma mater — first. They immediately bit and, in 2014, the program Fashion Without Limits was born.
Emme teaching students at Syracuse University Courtesy of Emme Emme speaking with Syracuse students Courtesy of Emme
“Change is gonna happen when the pain of not changing is greater than the change itself,” Emme said. “When I first started the program, those kids were dragging their feet. Now, they realize that if they understand how to design plus-size clothing, they are tapping into an incredibly powerful industry, and they will be successful.”
As a trailblazer herself, Emme, in a state of disbelief, and also relief, has seen the industry boom. This is progress that Emme thinks is going to stick.
“It’s not going to slip backwards into a trench,” Emme said. “Our success no longer depends on the right person having the right publicist. I’m seeing agents getting much smarter on how to market their top-tier girls, who are fierce and working it and making history, just like I did.”
To her, we are living through a revolution. “The power of women is much more than we’re ever given credit for,” Emme said. “When you take a look at the faction of women above a size 12, there’s been a revolution taking place in the last five years of more respect for the plus-size woman. And I want the industry that sells to ‘her’ to really, really understand that she is driving the boat. She is very loyal but don’t underestimate her power, because if she stopped buying bags, if she stopped buying makeup for three days, everyone would feel it. That is the truth.”
The First Plus-Size Supermodel Talks About the Evolution of the Body-Positive Movement
Plus-size models have more opportunity than they ever have before, thanks in large part to social media and the force that is the body-positive movement. But before Instagram, there was Emme-the first plus-size supermodel.
After decades in the industry, her list of accomplishments is lengthy: She’s written five books, designed clothing lines, been twice selected as one of People’s “50 Most Beautiful People”, and even had a doll created in her likeness. And now, at 54, she’s back walking the New York Fashion Week runway as a plus-size model-the category that she helped to create in the 90s. She flaunted her confidence in Chromat’s spring 2018 NYFW show-something, even at the height of her career a few decades ago, she couldn’t have even imagined was possible. Emme has also recently appeared in several spring campaigns, on top of advocating for body positivity through her podcast and work with groups like the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).
Most recently, Emme partnered with Woman Within, a clothing line focusing on size inclusivity, for their summer campaign, #LoveWhatYouWear. Ahead, we spoke to the model who paved the way for today’s generation of models. Emme opened up about her start in the industry, why it took so damn long to get where we are now, and what comes next. (Related: The Best Size-Inclusive Activewear Brands)
On getting her start in the modeling world:
“When I first started in the industry, people were shocked that someone of my size was being shot. Photographers would walk away from jobs because of my size. I had a photographer say ‘I’m not going to shoot this fatty.’ I’ve had someone say ‘Where’s the model, where’s the model?’ as I was sitting right there in the hair and makeup chair. As a strong and curvy woman who was a size 14/16, it sent reverberations through the fashion industry. It was like, ‘Oh, horror of horrors! ‘ And it was really lonely. There were a few of us doing the real bread and butter jobs all around the world and doing catalogues, but there weren’t many opportunities until MODE magazine came along and started putting women of all different sizes and races on their covers and stylists like Susan Moses and Kendall Farr created clothing for us-because there was nothing to pull. Very few designers even wanted to admit that plus-size modeling was a gig going on. Honestly, I really don’t understand how I hung in there! But I was trying to increase the aperture in which we view beauty. It was so closed; so very, very narrow.” (Related: Model Katie Willcox On How She Made Space for Herself In the Modeling World)
Why it’s so important to see plus-size women working out:
“One of my hashtags for fitness on Instagram is #PlaySweatWin. I want to show that if a body-positive person is working out, it’s not that because they don’t feel good about their body. You actually feel really good about your body! You’re accepting yourself as you are right there. And when you’re excited about fitness, there’s endorphins flying and serotonin flying, and that makes you feel good. That’s so empowering to me, especially as an athlete. I was a rower in college and was invited to the Olympic trials, and still use my erg at home today and love to do things like go snowshoeing with my girlfriends. I have to accept my body as I get older-it does change but it is still my beautiful vehicle that allows me to play and jump and see. So I can’t wait for more companies, like Women Within, to continue to provide activewear that’s fun and bright and fits well to encourage that. People still think that just because you’re a size zero it means you’re fit-but there is research that proves that there are a variety of body shapes that are ‘fit’. I think the more light shed on that alone will help a lot more people get out and feel that they’re not going to be made fun of or be ostracized. Any time that you can move-whether it’s dancing, swimming, hiking, whatever it is-you’re going to feel better about yourself.” (Related: What People Don’t Realize When They Talk About Weight and Health)
Why fashion and self-esteem are so intertwined:
“In the past, the brands who decided to make clothes for plus-size women just to make money haven’t put the same thought into it as their smaller sizes. There was no fashion involved. We have to turn the page. We cannot just lean on the size of a woman’s dress to determine her value in the society. That’s starting to break down and be dismantled, which is very, very important. There are one hundred million women in this country that are a size 14/16 and we need to give them what they’re asking for because what you wear affects your life-if you love what you wear, it improves your day and the outlook that you have. Fashion can make a huge difference for a person.”
Why the body-positive movement took so long to get off the ground:
“Back in the 90s when I got a Revlon contract, I was working Cindy Crawford and Halle Berry, but I kept on looking around wondering . But I think it’s all about the timing. When I would host TV shows and ask for clothing, people were like, ‘What? You want a size 14/16 dress?!’ It was like I slapped them across the face. It took time for the culture to wake up. It was frustrating to see that momentum lost, especially because women were struggling with body confidence and eating disorders and all of us were like, Wait a minute, why can’t we be happy? Why can’t we just own what we have? And love the unique bodies that we have? There was a lull and then the voices of the next generation came in and were loud, and social media is a huge contribution to the fabric of this movement right now. Now millions of women can feel that connection with each other and it’s beautiful.” (Related: Ashley Graham Just Landed Her First Major Beauty Gig)
What comes next:
“I think the body-positive movement that’s happening today is so monumentally important for the health of all women. I’m very, very proud of the work of the women like Ashley Graham and Julie Henderson, and the whole list of ladies that are really kicking it right now. They’re loving what they’re wearing, they’re loving themselves, and it’s so refreshing. I’m so excited about what these young ladies are doing and about being part of it again, without pulling that heavy rope that I used to. And it’s not just about girls that are curvier. It’s not just a size issue; it’s a women’s issue and about owning who you are, no matter your age or size. We are moving in a very good direction and need to continue to hear more voices. The more we see diversified body shapes, skin colors, age ranges-the more we see of ourselves as a culture in media and on the runway, the more comfortable we’ll be as a society with widening our definition of beauty.”
- By Kylie Gilbert @KylieMGilbert
Ashley Graham Becomes First ‘Plus-Size’ Model to Grace Vogue Cover
With a cadre of Insta-famous runway models gracing its March cover (and yes, Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid are front and center), it was easy to overlook that American Vogue made major history on Wednesday.
Seven major models, including Liu Wen, Imaan Hammam, Adwa Aboah, Vittoria Ceretti, also posed for the cover wearing matching black Prada turtlenecks and high-waisted bikini briefs, which was released on Wednesday. Most notably among them, Ashley Graham. The 29-year-old model and self-proclaimed body activist is the first plus-size model to grace the cover of the 125-year-old magazine. And while Graham herself has stated that she doesn’t like the term “plus-size”, she has been a significant influence of shaping the way fashion perceives body types that aren’t of the 5’11” size 00 variety, since her 2015 cover of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit issue.
“Designers aren’t the only ones pushing fashion in an all-embracing direction, ” said writer Maya Singer in the issue’s cover story, celebrating the seven models who are “democratizing fashion.”
More from the issue, which hits newsstands on Feb. 21:
For years, Graham, 29, had been told that certain dreams were out of reach for ‘plus-size’ models like her. Landing the cover of Vogue, for example. But Graham didn’t buy it. Anointing herself a surrogate and spokesperson for the legions of full-figured women who felt unseen — and earning legions of fans in the process — she has stormed fashion’s most formidable barricade: its cult of ultra-thinness. Today, as she enters the supermodel pantheon, Graham is convinced that the industry’s skinny worship is destined for the dustbin.
Ashley Graham in March Vogue.
But alas, no good deed goes unpunished as fans (or foes?) lashed out on social media, claiming the placement of Graham’s hand on her thigh indicated her wanting to cover up, as the other models did not. It was also suggested on social media, that Hadid’s hand extended to embrace Graham’s waist seemed a little longer than anatomically possible. Graham, never shy to voice her opinion, spoke out on the matter on her currently exploding Instagram account, saying: “I chose to pose like that…no one told me to do anything.”
As for the model’s feelings about the historic cover, it was all a “#dreamcometrue.”
Victoria’s Secret just got its first plus-sized model: ‘It felt surreal’
Rasha Ali USA TODAY Published 9:32 AM EDT Oct 8, 2019 Victoria’s Secret is featuring Ali Tate-Cutler in its campaign for its collaboration with Bluebella. Monica Schipper, Getty Images for Victoria’s Secr
Victoria’s Secret just got a little more inclusive.
The lingerie fashion brand is featuring its first size 14 model, Ali Tate-Cutler, in ads as part of its collaboration with Bluebella, a female-founded, U.K.-based lingerie company.
Cutler made the announcement to her Instagram page by posting a photo of herself in Bluebella for Victoria’s Secret lingerie along with a few photos of her pictures displayed at a New York City flagship store.
“I believe I’m the first size 14 on @victoriassecret?,” Tate captioned the post. “Regardless I’m pretty stoked to work with a brand I idolized when I was a teen. Great step in the right direction for bodies.”
Cutler also told E! that she was cast to work with Bluebella in London and then was told that her work would be showcased at Victoria’s Secret.
“When I went in today to the VS store for the launch of the collaboration it felt surreal,” Cutler told the outlet. “I never expected that I was going to see an image of myself on the wall next to these top super models that I have been looking up to since I was a little girl.”
More: Victoria’s Secret model details struggle with anorexia, says her hair began to fall out
It could be said that Victoria’s Secret move to showcasing different body types in their stores is a push towards rebranding themselves.
Victoria’s Secret has recently been under fire for its lack of inclusivity and body positive messaging. Both Halsey and model Kate Upton have called out the brand for its problematic ways.
Upton said that she was tired of seeing the same body types walking the runways of Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
“We’re sick of seeing the same body type,” Upton said in response to a question that the fashion show might be cancelled. “You have to be body inclusive now, every women needs to be represented otherwise it’s a snoozefest.”
Halsey spoke out after the brand’s chief marketing officer Ed Razek, said that he wasn’t interested in casting transgender and plus size models for the annual fashion show.
“As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I have no tolerance for a lack of inclusivity. Especially not one motivated by stereotype,” the artist wrote to her Instagram after performing for the runway show.
Since then, Razek has retired and Victoria’s Secret cast its first openly transgender model, Valentina Sampaio.
Published 9:32 AM EDT Oct 8, 2019
As the body positivity movement gains greater mainstream acceptance, realistic body types are finally emerging throughout pop culture.
Plus size models are now flaunting and celebrating their figures, instead of disappearing under layers of clothing and letting themselves be relegated to the fringes. It seems Hollywood and Madison Avenue have come to the joint realization of a strong, hitherto unmet demand amongst consumers to see more relatable bodies.
Plus size models Ashley Graham, Gabi Fresh, and Mia Tyler strut runways and are now recognized as frequently as some of their stick-thin peers. Much of that can be attributed to EMME; the original plus size supermodel.
Emme chose to try her luck as a model while working as a reporter. The decision proved to be a fortuitous one; her ascent was rapid. Within a couple of years, she signed as a spokesmodel for Revlon, appearing alongside Cindy Crawford and Christy Turlington.
Despite achieving fame and success in a pre-internet world, Emme has kept up with the new media landscape. For many celebrities, social media is a toxic wasteland of trolls, but Emme’s point of view on it is refreshing.
“It’s much easier for individuals to communicate through texts and video blogs; it’s a time to use your voice. The playing field has been leveled. It’s a very important time. Social media is game changing.”
Addressing the omnipresence of technology in our lives, Emme offers some plain spoken advice and perspective:
“You have to put boundaries around social media, too much access affects young minds. We have to live in the moment. It’s a balancing act. Social media brings families together on social and heartfelt issues. It allows people to stay connected.”
Nowadays, Emme spends much of her time writing and delivering lectures to promote body positivity. Last year, after a self-imposed sabbatical of 28 years, she returned to the runway.
Fashion Without Limits, a program for fashion students to learn how to design for plus size women, is one of her recent brainchilds. It was a response to fashion schools continuing to focus on small sizes despite current trends.
“I don’t understand why fashion schools don’t teach all of the forms and sizes. When you’re told to work on variety of forms, you can’t do fast fashion.”
Originating at Syracuse University, the program has grown into an unequivocal success. One of the big tests involves students designing an evening gown over a semester with the winning design worn by Emme on the red carpet. The dress is then manufactured and made available for purchase on AshleyStewart.com. The winner this year will be revealed on Valentine’s Day.
There’s never a dull moment or downtime with Emme. With a television show in production and a podcast underway, Emme continues to be driven to promote her positive message while always maintaining her high level of utter fabulousness.
Follow Emme on social media:
Instagram and Twitter: Supermodelemme use the hashtag #fashionwithoutlimits www.emmestyle.com
Keep up with the latest news Fashion Without Limits.
Emme Has Just Curated Your Entire Plus-Size Wardrobe (and it’s All ‘Comfortable Chic’), So Start Shopping!
The number one plus-size model of the ’90s is still making waves on the scene today. She already started “Fashion Without Limits” (an initiative to help young designers focus on making clothing for sizes 12 and up) and now she’s testing out her design muscles by curating a plus-size collection with online retailer ideel. Find out more about the collection in our exclusive interview!
“It’s truly a new day in size 12 and up fashion, and I’m thrilled with the work of the Ideel team,” Emme says of . “They worked really hard — pushed their manufacturers and designers to provide us with bold power prints, black and white remix pieces and punches of vivid bright florals.”
The colorful collection is filled with blouses, leggings, jumpsuits, dresses and accessories that all mimic Emme’s own style mantras: “Nothing complicated” and “comfortable chic.”
Top of her style musts: “I like clean lines with punches of color, glorious shoes — I’m a size 11.5 but have always been obsessed with shoes! — and I never forget my best accessory, a smile. No matter what!”
RELATED PHOTOS: Love Her Outfit! Star Style to Steal Right Now
Lately, she’s had a lot to smile about. “Social media has given a voice to a very underserved community and that moment is here to stay,” says Emme of the meteoric rise of plus-size models (and subsequent fashion).
Up-and-comers that have Emme’s eye? Ashley Graham, Candice Huffine, Marquita Pring, Denise Bidot and Robyn Lawley.
“These women look outstandingly beautiful in all the work I’ve seen them do,” says Emme. “They confidently have staked a claim in an arena that for so long few have graced. I love the way our eye is being exposed to many types of models — pushing the aperture of beauty open, allowing a more inclusive, less narrow point of view which benefits all women psychologically!”
But she still doesn’t think the market is catching up quickly enough. “Unfortunately, the work today is not as abundant as we would like, quite possibly because there are so many beautiful young women coming into the modeling world being size 12, 14, 16,” she says. “It’s fantastic, but the supply has not caught up with the demand for a robust modeling industry that there is in the misses market,” explains Emme. “I believe it’s coming, but not at this moment.”
And that’s part of why she founded the program at Syracuse, she says. “Upon graduation, more designers will know how to address fuller figure apparel and help eliminate this gateway into the business in the future worldwide. Over the next few years, the curriculum is being tested, books are being written and classes are being tweaked so that all designers graduating from design programs will know how to create clothing for women size 16, 18, 20, and above!”
Her big takeaway? “All in all though — and in keeping with a saying I began using two decades ago: ‘Slow Change is Lasting Change’ — the industry has never given up and today an education to the masses is taking place: Women with curves want fashion and are not going anywhere until they get it!”
And luckily, women have Emme’s positivity and creativity leading the change.
What do you think of Emme’s fashion collection? Which items are going on your wish list? What do you hope to see Emme do next?
The retail and fashion industry has long ignored the plus size market, but now brands are starting to take notice that there’s a huge opportunity within this vertical. Emme, the woman dubbed the “World’s First Plus Sized Supermodel shares her views on the plus-sized fashion industry.
Emme makes an appearance at MAGIC in Las Vegas on Feb. 17, where she’ll be leading the panel: Plus-Size Fashion: Are You Missing a Major Market Opportunity? Here, she talks about how she became a model, what brands are embracing the plus-size market and more.
What inspired you to become a plus size supermodel, and ultimately role model for not just curvy women everywhere, but also anyone wanting to make it in the fashion industry?
First off, modeling never appealed to me as a kid. I was much too active and involved in sports to care about all that. However, in 1989, after being an NBC on-air reporter in Arizona, I fell into modeling during a lunch break from my marketing director job in New York City. I had just read an article in an inflight magazine on the new plus size industry that piqued my interest. Being tall and a size 12/14 was an asset — WOW! The cincher is that they were looking for new talent. It didn’t take me long to grab my red lipstick, give into curiosity and throw fear into the wind. Off I went, and the rest as they say, is history.
To think I would one day be called a supermodel was as far from the truth, as you could imagine, being a high energy, athletic, competitive and towhead kid. However, the writing was on the wall after I signed on and experienced the bizarre attitudes, pay scales differentials and lack of advancement for the beautiful plus size models size 12, 14, and 16. So, I took a stand, utilized my past reporting experience and began to use my voice on these issues in a very public way. What tipped the scales in this direction was a horrendous incident in the early 90s when a photographer called me a “fattie” to my face prior to shooting, and left his crew and me in shock after slamming the door behind him. That was my defining moment and one that almost ended my career, but actually fueled my passion for justice.
At that time, some high-end fashion photographers felt embarrassed (to put it mildly) to shoot plus size models. They would rather leave the money on the table than to have their film processed by technicians who would tell their contacts at magazines the inside scoop on who was working with whom. No one talked about this, but to shoot a full figured model no matter how beautiful she was, was considered a real kiss of death for a photographer’s career.
As with everything, I was thrilled to work with the exceptional hitters, Arthur Elgort and Francesco Scavullo, who were gentleman, fun to be with and always made us look incredible!
Thank goodness I didn’t quit when it got rough. The change we see today wouldn’t be here if the other plus size models or I had left. So, we showed up to work, made good money and persevered. The more challenges we were faced with, the more I began to feel that there was a real story going on here. So much so, I took out my old NBC reporter hat and really began to listen and take note of the lack of respect for millions of women wanting to look and feel beautiful every day.
When People Magazine named me as one of the “50 of the Most Beautiful” in 1994, I began to communicate from this platform about the indifference within the industry and the lack of clothing for the curvy customer. I found information and research that revealed that things were not adding up; that the shoe was actually on the wrong foot. Why were 68 million women above a size 12 not finding clothing suitable for their lives, and why was advertising of those clothes only on women size 0, 2 and 4? It just didn’t make sense to me, and slowly, to many others. I asked, “Why not add a curvy gal into the equation?” And with my bookers, models, press agent, forward-thinking clients and talent agents asking the same question in the mid 90’s enough times, we ALL created a cultural shift beyond the narrow aperture we had perceived a woman’s beauty to be.
Enter the next generation of outstandingly bold and gorgeous models to own this thriving and robust movement. What a magnificent time today is. It is really very special to see the enormous empowerment and opportunities that exist today.
What are some of the challenges that plus size women face today, and how have you helped to address them?
Over the last two decades, I’ve seen the subtle dance between the viability of plus size spending power vs. an industry not knowing how to address her as a consumer. However, it’s interesting when you see plus size lines pop up when a recession hits. I always say, “There’s never a recession that a plus size line can’t help!”
Strangely, the relationship with the decision makers of the 7th Avenue fashion elite has always been one with push and pull. In the mid ’90s, the bell rang loudly when the glass ceiling shattered and women above a size 12 saw an array of models, including myself, reflecting a more inspiring and aspirational image in major advertising campaigns, TV shows, and mainstream media. Until then, models with a curve in Revlon ads, People Magazine spreads or on billboards in Times Square were a dream. A new beauty standard was in place and was seemingly here to stay.
There were more choices, and the gatekeepers were beginning to listen…until the events of 9-11. The effects on the fashion industry rippled through an already shaky economy, then the spring market week turned a poor show as well. Clothing lines closed down, the country became scared to spend money, and the plus size community was forced to step back.
Regardless of the abundance of plus positive NPD research available, the demand remained untapped, stores claimed plus size lines failed due to the lack of customer support, that plus size customers were not motivated by fashion and didn’t have the money to spend on fashion-forward clothing. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
The community stood back in shock. What was once gaining speed was gone in a flash. The backlash sent a message loud and clear to motivated, dedicated and determined women and men behind the plus movement. It could be built again.
Today, I see a variety of bold steps in a new direction. The customer is being heard online, in chat rooms and through bloggers. Now feedback is directly delivered to stores and media. For example fashion blogger @GarnerStyle took a stand against Target last year. Most recently, plus model Ashley Graham took on Hollywood. This is not an industry sitting back and taking it. Ownership is in play now, and for those wanting to get in, there has never been a better time!
In what ways has plus size fashion changed since you hit the scene?
Today, our new fashion leaders in the market have NO shame listening to their customer and delivering what they ask for, and it’s paying off. The customer is not one boxy plus size, one personality, one plus fit. She’s diverse. She’s young, old, funky, rocker, conservative, contemporary, minimalist, Goth, preppy, hip, casual and more – just like her smaller contemporaries. She is here to be served well with a great fit and awesome styling, or else she can find others doing it better and will go there.
What are the brands that you believe get plus size fashion right?
The seasoned leadership at Eloquii, and Lane Bryant’s bold move to bring in designer talent put their stores firmly in their customers hearts and on the map. New online stores like HeyGorgeous.com increased sales 300 percent from one year to another, having evolved from MadisonPlus. New plus initiative at Ideel.com got a big full figured lift having Groupon sign on as its mother ship. Specialty stores Fashion to Figure and Torrid, Ashley Stewart, Forever21, H&M, and major retailer Macy’s offer fashion-forward options that include all her personalities and wants, to include bodycon dresses. Beloved designer brands such as IGIGI, Cabiria, Anna Scholz, and Marina Rinaldi have firmly established that they are here to stay.
What advice do you have for brands that want to market to plus size women?
Get on the ground and do your research, ask questions, bring them into your plan and have them as your guide. Don’t go blindly into your development without having an in-person or online advisory council. Catering to curvy women who want fashionable, well-made clothes is unchartered territory for many fashion brands. The mistake is thinking you know what she wants without asking her. Save yourself the heartache of losing your money. Dress her well, make her feel amazing, and you will have a loyal customer for life. And for goodness sake, stay consistent in your fit. Once you hit it, stay with it.
What changes do you hope to see in the future in regards to plus size fashion?
The more passionate people in the industry that think out-of-the-box for this customer, the better. For example, in the fall of 2014, I along with Syracuse University developed the Fashion Without Limits (#SUFWL) initiative where all designers learn how to design on size 2, 4 and 6 forms as well as size 16, 18 and 20 forms — representing all women’s bodies during their education. The goal upon graduation is that they’re able to create inclusive fashion lines for those manufacturers not wanting to incur the costs of learning how to do so with the majority of designers that don’t have this education or experience. It’s an initiative that has been wildly successful, and one that has motivated many design schools and programs to follow suit.
I also encourage stores to allow their customers to share their opinions. It’s from this feedback that the industry will develop real and long-lasting roots with those they serve. We will no longer need these plus size vs. straight size conversations in the future.
I want all women to find what they’re looking for and for designers to help make it happen. I hope this will ignite a new generation of fashionistas who seek joy in their reflections in the mirror. I want these women to project power on a job interview and feel sexy on a date or in the bedroom! Now that’s something to strive for!