It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the modeling industry is changing to be more inclusive of plus size models. We are living in a time where social norms are being questioned and challenged every single day, and we are witnessing a shift when it comes to the way beauty and diversity is portrayed. Models themselves are not just the faces of clothing lines and magazine covers, but rather, they are utilizing their platform and their places in the fashion hierarchy to speak out and become the faces of diversity in an industry that severely lacked it years ago.
For far too long, retailers and high fashion magazines, chose to dismiss the face that the average American woman was a size 16. Instead, they focused on carrying lines that didn’t cater to this kind of body type, and if they did choose to increase their size ranges, they would call it “plus” size as if to segregate these women who were actually majorities in their consumerism market. These plus size clothing items were also priced higher, and have often been called out for being lackluster in appearance.
However, in recent years, we have seen a major shift towards inclusivity in the fashion world. Due to the work from incredible women and models who started to voice their opinions and call out the industry that employed them, a bright light was shed on the fact that a lot of models, not just a minority, felt like there needed to be more diversity in the world of modeling and advertising, across all boards. And people listened. In 2017 alone, heavyweight retailers like Forever 21 and Nike have expanded their clothing lines to include plus sizes, and numerous brands have created empowering, transparent campaigns like Missguided’s winter campaign, #MakeYourMark, that’s completely unretouched. A year ago you would never see a campaign with the models’ stretch marks and cellulite on full display. Now you do. And it’s important.
Society is starting to understand that fixing confidence issues and dysmorphic tendencies in younger generations starts with setting an example. Even high fashion magazines like Vogue, and highly coveted Sports Illustrated campaigns, are making room to diversify and represent more than just the “stereotypical” female body type. It’s important for young girls to see themselves represented on Instagram, in Snapchat stories from these plus sized models, on billboards that these huge brands choose to put up, etc, because it is how we start to heal this thirst for perfection that was wildly sustained by the fashion industry years ago. By giving these women a platform, we show all women that they are allowed to take up space. We show all women that they have purpose here, no matter what size jean they wear or how their skin looks without makeup, and that is powerful beyond measure.
Ashley Graham is a beloved model and influencer known for being the first model beyond a size 12 to grace the catwalk during the 2017 NYFW season. Having blown up after she made headlines for her Michael Kors strut, Ashley put her platform to good use and is now known as one of the most motivational body positive models in the world. Graham is the face of American plus sized lingerie company Lane Bryant, and she has graced campaigns for Marina Rinaldi, Levis and Calvin Klein. She has also founded a collective of women called Alda, who fight to represent beauty beyond size, and challenge conventional norms when it comes to the fashion industry. She has spoken for the UN, visited the White House, hosted TED Talks, and was even snagged a spot in the Forbes “Top 30 Under 30” issue. Ashley works hard, but she is beloved because she does so to teach women that they are allowed to take up space in this world, and that they can be successful, and confident, while doing so, no matter what their bodies look like.
Iskra Lawrence has been in the modeling game since she was 13, but she is only just gaining attention as a model to watch for the way in which she advocates body confidence and transparency in the fashion industry. At the moment, with over four million fans on Instagram, Iskra is one of the top body positive models who isn’t afraid to be vocal about inclusivity, self care, and beauty standards.
Iskra was shot into her advocacy platform after refusing to be photoshopped in her photographs. From there, she became Aerie’s first role model, being shot for a campaign that was completely unretouched and real. In 2016, it was the first of it’s kind, and it created a ripple effect in the industry. She is now an ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association, a TEDx Talk representative for body positivity, and she is celebrated online for always being open and honest about her body image struggles.
Olakemi is a model, body positivity activist, and the founder of the #PlusIsDiverse movement. Her modeling journey began four years ago when she was scouted for a plus-size competition in the UK. Though she did not win, she found an extreme love for modeling, and decided to pursue it further.
Once she began modeling, Olakemi noticed that plus-size women were very rarely represented in mainstream media and high fashion, and she also noticed that an even smaller percentage of those represented were diverse. Instead of sitting back, she created Plus Is Diverse with three other women, and the aim with the initiative is to show that plus-size women are diverse too. She states “They always talk about plus-size women being diverse in regards to size, but let’s have racial representation too,” Obi urges. “Let every female out there know that they can relate to someone who’s in the spotlight somehow. “
Barbie Ferreira is a 19 year old model who grew up thinking that her passion for the industry would never be realized due to her size. After struggling to fit in, and accept her body, she became fed up with the unrealistic beauty standards imparted on models, and she refused to be touched up in her digitals when she was still in high school. This created waves in the modeling industry, and she was quickly thrust into the advocacy world, amassing a platform of over 500k women who look up to her for her transparency, her newfound confidence, and the way in which she proudly shows off a lot of the bodily “flaws” most of us try to hide away. Looking at Barbie’s Instagram just makes you love yourself in the most positive way, because it is relatable and human, and judging by her success in the industry, the world agrees.
Makeup artist Em Ford started to develop adult acne in 2015, and while she was extremely disheartened by it, she turned her struggle into a learning opportunity. She started to post photos of herself both with, and without, makeup to her Instagram, and she even opened up about the harsh comments and criticism she received due to doing so on her YouTube channel. Due to her transparency, and capacity to be completely honest in her struggles, Em managed to inspire a lot of other women and men who deal with adult acne. She has since worked with Kylie Jenner, and L’Oreal, and has amassed a following of over one million fans — proving that she is helping to change beauty standards and diversify the industry.
Model Precious Lee is a powerhouse body positive model. She is one the first size 14 African American woman to have ever appeared in Sports Illustrated. Starring in brand campaigns for Lane Bryant, she gained a lot of attention as both an advocate and a model who has something different to offer the industry. Vogue caught on and she was officially the first black plus-size model in the magazine. This garnered her a lot of attention, and she used it for good — creating an Instagram platform that advocates for body positivity, diversity, and the embracing of oneself.
Despite consistently facing bullying for her size in the modeling industry prior to the shift in acceptance, Stefania Ferrario never backed down from her advocacy. In 2012 the Aussie model shaved her hair off to raise awareness for cancer, alopecia and trichotillomania, and her career took off from there. She uses her platform to advocate and educate her large following on cancer awareness, and even created a campaign with Ajay Rochester to completely end the use of the term “plus size” when describing women who don’t fit into the standard US 4 dress size.
The first plus-size women to ever grace French television, Clementine Desseaux used her platform to break into advocating for body positivity. She co-founded the campaign A Women Project to show the industry that groups of women from all different diverse backgrounds, upbringings, and sizes, could be successfully represented and utilized in ad campaigns. She also consults fashion brands on their brand identity, and works with them to diversify their representation and their approach to the advertisements they put out into the world. The Al Women Project is dedicated to showing unretouched photos of women in campaigns, and they even organize workshops, events, and networking opportunities for young women to help and promote inclusivity at an impressionable age.
“We believe greatness starts with self-love,” their website reads, “and we’re dedicated to make every little girl convinced that she can do anything, regardless of her background or her body.”
Winniw Harlow has shown the world that you can be a body positive advocate in many different ways. An America’s Next Top Model contestant, with beautiful features and an incredible, slim, frame, Winnie has opened up about her own struggles in the industry due to her skin condition, and has used her platform to advocate for acceptance when it comes to looking different and embracing her differences. Harlow has vitiligo, a skin condition that causes patches of her skin to lose their pigment, but she uses that as a means to diversify herself. Her success has gained her a lot of fans, all of whom are reminded every single time she posts of her positive, and fierce approach to accepting who she is, and what she looks like.
Shay Neary is a powerhouse model who is shaking the industry up. In 2016, Neary became the first non-straight-size transgender model to be featured in a clothing campaign. The model used her success for good, and is known for being an extremely positive force of nature on social media that has managed to create a safe, and kind, community for those navigating the same kinds of struggles she dealt with when she was transitioning and trying to identify in an industry that didn’t seem to make room for her.
Kenzie Brenna is a body positive model hailing from Toronto. After creating the viral hashtag #CelluliteSaturday, Brenna went on to gain a following that is both robust, yet intimate, at the same time. Known for her body positive before and after photos on Instagram, Brenna stands up for young women and showcases how body perception can change once you start to normalize the way you look. Unlike a lot of accounts on Instagram, she honors mental progress, which is so important in a world that is quickly becoming an extremely socially dependent place. To be able to take a step back from what we see on Instagram is important, but with people like Kenzie filling our feeds with her positivity, and her call for acceptance, she makes Instagram an inclusive space where those who struggle with body issues feel welcomed, understood, and emotionally empowered.