How the industry is changing one body type at a time
The ever-evolving world of fashion has seen many changes throughout the years. From what started as an industry that was ruled by the beautiful, small and curve-less, has been slowly transformed to a place where women and men of all body types can find a job. This change has been a slow one though, and there have been many struggles to get different body types into the ads of top designers. As mainstream media has gotten more involved with the idea of body issues, the modeling industry has had to adapt to new thoughts and put out a change on their typical sample sizes.
The most recent issue of Sports Illustrated came out this past month and with it came three covers that were unlike the covers that Sport Illustrated normal put out. The first cover featured Ashley Graham, a plus size model who has taken the industry by storm. When Graham first learned about the cover, she said, “I thought Sports Illustrated was taking a risk by putting a girl my size in the pages, but putting me on the cover? They aren’t just breaking barriers; they are the standard now. This is beyond epic,” (Bakkila, 2016). Graham is the first plus size model to be featured on a major magazine’s cover and she has created a conversation around what traditional beauty means in the modeling industry. Ashley was not the first of her kind though, as many plus size models have attempted to break into the industry through other avenues.
Jag Models, a New York based modeling agency, boasts for being one of the first plus size modeling agencies of its kind. Their roaster includes well-known models Amber Tolliver, Iskra Lawrence and Georgina Burke. These models has been seen in H&M, America Eagle and other top advertisements and have been involved in changing the industry. Jag Models “is an agency catering to women of all sizes,” (Jagmodels.com). With the rise of agencies coming into the industry, curvy models have been given a chance to book jobs that they normally would never dream of.
Recently, IMG Models, one of the world’s largest modeling agencies, followed in the footsteps of Jag and created a plus size men’s division within the agency. Zach Miko is now the “world’s first plus-size male model,” has gotten tons of press lately for joining IMG’s brawn models. It’s very interesting that IMG chose to use the word “brawn” instead of “plus-size” which I think does a great job of taking away a word that does not belong in the modeling industry. In an article written for GQ.com, Ivan Bart, IMG’s CEO said, “The body positive messaging and size diversity is something that’s relevant and something that continues to be on everybody’s mind. We have to extend the conversation for men,” (Mauoi, 2016). It is great that this conversation about body types in the industry has extended to women and men and that people seem to be serious about making a change.
Dani Braun, a local Utah model had moved to New York City in 2013 with the hopes of modeling in the Big Apple. Braun was fasted with a quick realization that this industry was not what she expected. “I have been modeling for over six years in Utah and the surrounding states and have never been told that I’m too fat or that I don’t fit a company’s image, but after being signed by a boutique agency in New York, I felt like that was all I heard.” Braun goes on to tell me about the time her agent told her she had to lose three inches off her hips in order to attend a casting. “It was devastating. I had moved to a new state and didn’t know anyone and was constantly being told that I wasn’t good enough. It made me hate what I had moved there to do.” Dani has since moved back to Utah and works regularly here, where the industry does not keep up with big market standards.
I actually lived in New York for two years and while I was there, I worked in the fashion industry in menswear. I was in charge of casting models for our photo shoots, whether they were for e-commerce, ad campaigns or smaller social shoots. I had to set up casting calls and with them came the stereotyping of bodies. The great thing about the company I worked for was that the typical male model was not what the designer wanted. He wanted someone who was relatable, fit (but not too fit) and who had boy next-door charms. During castings, I would take polaroid’s of the models, their measurements and ask them about their experience. It was an eye opening few years and I learned a great deal about what it takes to succeed in that industry.
A good friend of mine, Alice Magill, moved to the United States in 2009 to work in the ski industry while taking a break from school. This girl is beautiful, at 5’10’’, 110 pounds; Magill was a walking, talking runway model. She has unique features and could have been gracing the cover of every magazine. I encouraged her to reach out to modeling agencies and see if it was something she was interested in. Little did she know that New York agencies would come knocking on her door.
In 2011, Alice flew to New York City to get her first taste at the modeling industry. Many high profile agencies, including Elite, IMG and Next, wanted to see her so she hopped on a plane to see what would happen. While she was there, she was given the opportunity to sign with Elite, but turned it down. “They told me I was great, but then asked me to lose five pounds. It was crazy. I wasn’t going to turn down fries and a burger just to maybe appear in the pages of a magazine. It wasn’t worth it to me and I’m happy I turned down the contract.” It amazes me that only a few years ago the industry wasn’t going to budge from the standard sizes that grace the runway, but now, in 2016, the industry is finally making headway.
With the rise of Gigi Hidad, Kylie Jenner and other influential social figures, the modeling industry has been able to take on what they would say is beauty and their new standard. Yes, these girls might not be a size 16 but they are still breaking the standards by being involved in fashion. Hidad is known for being curvy and for being the model who isn’t afraid to stand out. She loves her body and isn’t afraid to let others know that the sample size world needs to be gotten rid of.
In November of 2014, Calvin Klein revealed a lingerie campaign featuring size 10 model, Myla Dalbesio and after the release, media sparked controversy about the use of the term “plus-size.” Dalbesio appeared on multiple talk shows to discuss the campaign and the controversy about her appearing alongside the likes of Lara Stone and Jourdan Dunn, who are both “sample size” models. “I think that Calvin Klein has done something that’s really groundbreaking, which is they released this campaign with what some would say is a normal-size model, a size 10. And size-10 girls, there’s not a lot of spots for us to fit in in the fashion industry,” (Hyland, 2014). With so many well-known companies breaking the mold, the modeling industry is being given a change to redefine what it means to belong in this crazy industry.
There is always another side to every story, and for this piece it’s that of the designers. A lot of the reasons behind the industry take awhile to catch up with other industries is because of designers needs. It is a lot easier to create a full run of your collection in the smallest size, as it saves money, time and effort. Plus it usually showcases the pieces the best when they are on a hanger.
An article written by Connie Wang of Refinery29.com covered the pros and cons of creating clothing for the plus size or should we say, average size woman. “When you’re designing for straight sizes, you’re basically designing for rectangles, and that’s easy,” says designer Trudy Hanson. “You don’t really have to contend with the fact that you’re taking a two-dimensional item, like fabric, and putting it on a three-dimension thing, like a human body. If you think about a hanger in a store, it just displays the item like a rectangle. Plus sizes are not like that at all. If you make a flat front and back for plus sizes, you get a shirt that has horrible dragging lines around the armpits. On top of that, garment production is a really expensive business, so minimizing any waste is hugely important. There’s just more stuff going on, like darts, seams, and shaping, not to mention more fabric, and each extra part costs more money to produce,” (Wang, 2016). This is not something the average consumer is thinking about when they don’t see plus sizes in every story. There is a cost behind everything, and like Hanson said, the small material you are using, the more something is going to cost. It is common sense.
It can happen though; there can be change. Designers can look at the plus size industry as a way to expand their creative work and to try new things. At least it might not seem like something they should be doing, but in reality, the average size American woman is a size 14, and most stores don’t carry beyond a size 12. As soon as you start to see the people making the clothing shift to different sizing, the industry will start to see an even bigger change. More models will be allowed into the secret society of modeling and more diverse body types will grace runways and glossy magazine pages. Just look at how far some large companies have come in the last few years. It can happen and it should.
You hear people talk about models and usually the subject matter is not a very positive one. People target the modeling industry and the advertisements constantly seen in media. No matter where you turn you have young women and men talking about these normal people in such a negative light. The industry is not going to change overnight, but slowly it will evolve into whatever it decides to become. It might never get rid of the sample sizes that you see on display in showrooms, but the world might get to be more exposed to the Ashley Grahams and that would mean it is getting better.
– Ashley Graham; her personal website where she talks about body image and how to handle the pressure of this industry
– 12 Plus Sized Models Who’ve Made History; learn about the models who are making a difference in this industry
Bakkila, B. (2016, February 13). Ashley Graham Makes History as the First Size-16 Model to Cover Sports Illustrated: ‘This Is Going to Change My Life Forever’ Retrieved March 21, 2016, from http://stylenews.peoplestylewatch.com/2016/02/13/ashley-graham-sports-illustrated-cover-2016/
Mauoi, Z. (2016,March 21). Zach Miko is the world’s first plus-size male model. Retrieved March 21, 2016, from http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/article/plus-size-male-model-zach-miko