Plus Size Models vs Plus Size Consumers

Plus size has a big problem (no pun intended). The disconnect between the high street consumer and the models used has in recents months caused huge controversy, many newspaper headlines and a hell of a lot of social media posts.

For the most part there is a huge gap between the plus size shopper and the consistent stream of images presented to them by the brands from which they are expected to shop. The most recent (and it seems ever reoccurring argument) comes in the form of Myla Dalbesio, dubbed ‘Calvin Kleins first plus size model’ although essentially Calvin Klein’s first model in many years that was more reflective of their consumer and not really plus size at all and this is where we start our story.

Fashion we all know has a size problem. The industry as a whole has no interest in anything above a size 6/8 (UK) or a 0/2 US. From runways to campaigns, standardised model sizing hasn’t changed for years so any model that falls above that range is automatically transferred to the curve/plus board of an agency. This means that our plus size fashion models start from as little as a size 10/12. Luckily, at least in plus size fashion there is slightly (and I said slightly) more wiggle room – although that in itself contains a whole load of other issues. Within plus size modelling you are likely to find an array of girls from a UK 10-18 and a few signed girls up to a size 20/22 – rare but there. You also of course have Tess Holliday at a UK 26 and an increased used of plus size fashion bloggers which adds to market diversity. A diversity really not found in straight size campaigns.

However once you hit the high street, the goal posts move again. Originally, when all brands essentially stopped at a size 12/14, plus size models in many ways made sense in the current format, because they were representative of the smallest of the plus size ranges – Simply Be, Evans etc all started from a size 12/14 (I think Simply Be even do a 10 now) and if we look at straight size, the clothes are still presented on the smallest only size range. In fact it is in many ways a credit to the plus size industry that we think about at least attempting to represent a broader spectrum of our consumers, after all in straight size, the size 12 girl is barely ever front and centre. That doesn’t mean that we are anywhere near as diverse as we need to be, just we are doing slightly better.

But times have changed and where once it was pretty impossible to shop for a size 16/18 on the high street, it is now pretty common place and it is only really once we hit a true 18 and above that shopping becomes more difficult and sparse. Hence why to consumers in 2016, plus size is definitely a size 18 and up. This is reflective of the market in the US who really start plus size ranges from a 1x on the whole – equivalent to our size 18.

Are you still with me…

So now we have this gap, this, what many like to call ‘inbetweenie’ stage and a whole heap of models in this void. They aren’t straight size and to the plus consumer they don’t feel like the represent them – which I totally get. But to the brands they are the smallest size in the plus size range and so just like in straight size, it is the size they opt for, a safety net in many respects but also the notion from a business point of view of sticking to standardisation and ease and cost effective sampling. But of course, when you are mainly forced to shop online this isn’t helpful to have everything presented on a size 12-16 model.

See I told you it was complicated.

So we have straight size models, plus size models and plus size consumers. All three are different sizes and all essentially still have an important part to play in the fashion industry.

While the growing diversity on curve and plus size model boards is to be thoroughly commended I can also see the frustration of consumers and while every model we use in SLiNK may not be considered plus size by consumers, it honestly isn’t that easy to find the constant stream of plus size signed models at a 16 or above. There is still a need to support the models who are an important part of helping the industry to grow and develop and what we try do at SLiNK is ensure every issue has a mixture, diverse body types, shapes and ethnicities because that is something fashion still struggles with.

And while I fully take on board the frustration of consumers, the lack of plus size models in larger sizes has helped in many ways to create a great platform for the plus size blogging industry to find a unique place for bloggers in this ever evolving market place. Who have I think in many ways had a greater hand in shaping plus size fashion future than in the straight size industry.

Brands do need to shoulder responsibility and while if their range starts at a 12 – then the tradition of using the smallest size does technically to them make sense, the desire for consumers to feel more involved and represented is something they need to be considering in large scale campaigns, online shopping etc. The lack of doing this, could in the future cost them consumers as ultimately there will be newer brands who come through and recognise this disconnect and be new and forward thinking enough to fill it.

In the case of Myla, she never touted herself as a plus size model, Calvin Klein never booked her as such (in between size girls often do work well in the lingerie sectors for obvious reasons – a story for another time) and a lot of the subsequent press has come about because beauty ideals are such that mainstream media can’t believe that Calvin Klein simply like Myla and that is still the fault of media ideals, not Myla.

When we refer to models and real women (a term never used in SLiNK) and imply that the model is in the wrong, neglects the fact the she is real, with feelings and who to be honest is here to earn a buck modelling in the only part of the fashion industry that has accepted her.

The rhetoric that surrounds some of the smaller girls who work in plus size by those who feel they shouldn’t be there would not be out of place in ‘Mean Girls’ and to be honest, when all plus size fashion has wanted was a seat at the table, some of the language used for women who for the most part are supportive and want greater fashion diversity is not doing anyone any favours.

Suggesting smaller plus models will give a generation of girls eating disorders, as Coronation actress Catherine Tyldesley, once again refocuses the argument on how plus size bodies are negative things and that plus size women (ones that are considered actually plus size outside the fashion industry) should be ashamed – but not this girl because we still deem her within societies beauty standards.

No one should be ashamed of their body and we should stop trying to make people feel like they don’t fit in or aren’t quite right.

The industry is complicated and it isn’t perfect in any sense or any case. From when SLiNK started we have seen a definite rise in the 16 and over models available – this used to be basically impossible if you weren’t in the US and I do think it will continue to improve. But I think that improvement comes with support & encouragement and talking to plus size brands. Plus size fashion has the chance to be a leader here. To show the rest of the fashion industry that we can have model diversity. That sometimes it might be the smallest in the size range a brand produces but it doesn’t have to be and that sometimes using a size 22, 24, 26 etc will also work.

Sample size is a huge issue – it can literally dictate who you work with / how you can work with different size and as Christian Siriano tweeted…

“It shouldn’t be exceptional to work with brilliant people just because they’re not sample size. Congrats aren’t in order, a change is.”

It is such a blame game, a chicken and egg – where does the buck start and stop – honestly there are arguments on all sides of this and this is literally just glossing over the surface.

Finding roles for everyone working towards a better and more accepting fashion industry is important and we are not yet big enough or strong enough to start throwing anyone over board. If a model is cool with the title plus (in the sense that we are all about keeping the plus not dropping it) and wants to help towards greater representation in fashion then we need to find a place where their voice is added to conversation alongside plus size women and plus size bloggers across the spectrum. This is a growing industry and there is room for us all. We need lots of voices.

Because this whole, you can’t sit with us is so 2004 and I’m over it. Let’s show the fashion industry that we can represent our consumers at all sizes (this is where brands need to start showing diversity in their bookings) and ensuring that a range is shown across the range.

And if we want bigger plus size models it is talking to brands and find a way to get them to that point. The agencies will naturally sign what makes the money and the brands need your money. And the agencies need the brands to be happy, so if they start having to demand larger size models the agencies will have to find them.


-- Editor-in-Chief SLiNK Magazine