Fashion is slowly changing in terms of diversity and representation, and that’s largely thanks to these industry trailblazers
Curvy or plus-size models are often the minority in a sea of slim women. In fact, according to the Fashion Spot’s 2019 diversity report, only 50 plus-size models appeared across 18 different fall 2019 runways in New York, London, Paris and Milan, making up only 0.69 per cent of all models.
This lack of representation in fashion is in stark contrast to real women’s bodies: the average American woman is between the sizes of 16 to 18. (Don’t even get us started on how fashion also ignores large breasts.)
While sample sizes still rule the runway, certain models have made positive strides in combating beauty ideals. Here, six curvy models who have changed the game.
Melissa Owens Miller, better known as Emme, is considered one of the first mainstream plus-size supermodels. In 1994, she made history when she became the first plus-size model to make People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful list.
Then, in 1998, she became the first curvy spokesperson for cosmetic brand Revlon — a barrier-breaking move during the height of the heroin chic aesthetic of the 90s.
Emme didn’t book any runway work, however, until 2017 — nearly three decades after she started modeling. She was cast in Chromat’s New York Fashion Week show, which featured other curvy and transgender models.
Following in her mother's footsteps, Emme’s daughter, Toby Cole, is also a model and a body positive advocate.
Ashley Graham is arguably one of the most recognizable faces in fashion’s body-positivity movement.
Graham, who turned heads after becoming the first plus-size model to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition in 2016, continues to speak out about self-love and embracing bodies at every size.
But just because she’s celebrated as a plus-size icon doesn’t mean she likes the term; Graham has called “plus-size” outdated and argued it can even be offensive to women.
The 32-year-old is also known to call-out fashion brands for limited sizing options, arguing women of all shapes deserve to be represented in collections.
Australian-born Robyn Lawley takes on big players in the fashion industry, including Victoria’s Secret. In 2018, she started the #weareallangels movement to call-out the brand’s lack of diversity. The public campaign became especially relevant after Victoria’s Secret exec Ed Razek made offensive comments about not casting plus-size or transgender models.
As a curvy model, Lawley has used her platform to voice her concerns around what is considered “normal” in the industry. In 2013 she penned an essay on why the “thigh gap” trend was dangerous for women and girls.
Angellika Morton started off her career as a “straight-size” model — a term used to describe models who fit the industry standard.
But in 1997 the American-born Morton transitioned to plus-size modelling and was later inducted into the International Model Hall of Fame in 1999.
While she doesn’t have as big of a profile as other models of her time, Morton broke barriers as a plus-size women of colour during a time where white, thin models were the norm.
The model behind the viral hashtag #EffYourBeautyStandards, Tess Holliday is a powerful advocate for representation in fashion. This year, she made a statement — literally — when she walked down Chromat's New York Fashion Week show wearing a dress with the words “SAMPLE SIZE” written across.
Holliday speaks openly about her body and how she’s learned to love her curves — despite the shaming comments she receives. She’s also penned a book titled, The Not So Subtle Art of Being a Fat Girl: Loving The Skin You’re In.
One of her most notable career moments, however, was her 2018 Cosmopolitan cover. It was the first time the magazine had featured a model of her size and the issue sparked widespread conversation around representation and beauty.
Another key figure in the body positivity movement, Iskra Lawrence is a model known for untouched photo shoots. The British beauty is the face of lingerie brand Aerie, and has walked in runway shows for the likes of Chromat and L’Oreal.
Her social media presence is huge — she has 4.5 million followers on Instagram — and is filled with self-love statements and inspiring health videos. Lawrence has openly discussed her decision to shift away from conforming to modeling standards to focus on being healthy and happy at any weight.
While fashion still has a long way to go, it’s refreshing to see more curvy, body-positive women in the game. Even industry leaders are starting to highlight the importance of diverse representation.
In a recent open letter to fashion designers, the president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America asked them to “please remember to promote diversity and inclusion, on and off the runway.”
“Diversity and inclusion are not a trend, but the way we should all be operating going forward,” Steven Kolb wrote.
After all, things won’t change unless people speak out — and force society to reexamine what it means to be a model.
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