I’m a Plus-Size Model—Here’s What I’ve Learned About My Industry
Work ethic and attitude are just as important as aesthetic in my job, and I’ve learned to block out the negative noise with strength and confidence.
Getting into modeling was a combination of the support of others and hard work, but my first break came by chance. I was wedding dress shopping with my sister, and the moment we stepped into a fancy boutique in Cheshire, a sleek, manicured assistant looked me up and down and said, “I'm sorry, but we have made a business decision not to sell dresses over a size 12.”
I made my exit mildly angry but mostly bemused. Why in a country where the average dress size is 16 would any business want to limit their market share? It didn’t make sense. The next shop we went to specialized in plus-size wedding dresses, and half an hour later, I was in the dress and feeling superb. Lily, the lady that owned the shop, grew to be my friend over the next couple of months as I went back for fittings. One day, she looked at my reflection over my shoulder, her head cocked to one side appraisingly. "You are beautiful,” she said simply. “Would you model for us?”
That was it. My first gig.
I’ve Learned the Importance of Being Proactive as a Model
Growing up, I hated my body. Puberty hit me hard and early. My father would point to my puppy fat and disdainfully exclaim, “You have more spare tires than the Michelin Man!” When I complained to my mother, she shrugged and suggested I eat fewer sweets. For years I covered up in baggy clothes. Where the other girls at school were rolling their skirts up, I was pulling mine down, lest anyone have to bear witness to the horror that, looking back, was a perfectly normal teenage body.
Around 17, I had a “screw this” moment. I was tired of trying to disappear, tired of being depressed and decided I would give myself until I was 20 to find some kind of happiness. If that was impossible, I'd follow my father’s example (he killed himself when I was 14) and drive into a tree. After some much-needed therapy and antidepressants, I found to my surprise that I wasn’t fat and stupid—I was curvy, smart and savvy. I began to feel attractive and capable for the first time in my life.
Fast-forward to 2017 and I'm on the train to Manchester, a portfolio of images tucked under my arm and a list of agencies to visit. I walked up to the first one, located in an attractive red brick building in a smart part of town. Inside, everything was a cool, luminous white, the walls lined with hundreds of headshots of gorgeous models all looking down at me as I perched on the sofa while the model manager flicked through my portfolio, her lips thin, an eyebrow raised. I was waiting for the inevitable rejection when she suddenly nodded and smiled. “We can get you work.”
At this point, I naively thought that now that I had an agent, I could sit back and wait for jobs to come to me, but I quickly learned that this wasn’t the case. To be a successful model, work ethic and attitude are just as important as aesthetics. Being proactive is a must. Just like most other contracting or self-employed people, if I’m not managing my clients, updating my portfolio or keeping up to date with my agents, then no one else is going to do it for me.
My Job Requires a Lot of Physically Taxing Work
In terms of a beauty regimen, I have what is referred to as a “clean commercial look,” which, for me, means keeping fit and taking good care of my hair and skin by drinking lots of water and spending a lot of time in salons. The clean aspect of my look means fresh-faced and natural. Clients will often reject models with my look who have body modifications, such as prominent tattoos, piercings, lip fillers, false lashes or unnatural hair colors.
On assignment, I need to be ready to put in long days of physically taxing work. If I'm shooting images for a clothing website, for instance, I may need to wear upwards of 60 outfits during one photoshoot. Fashion shows can be even more intense, with some shows requiring you to be able to completely change outfits, including bra and shoes, in less than a minute. I thought that sounded like plenty of time when I first heard it, but I was very mistaken. Even with a dresser, it’s tough.
Seasonality is a key factor in the fashion industry, and shoots often take place long before the garments become climatically suitable. I'll often be shooting knitwear in July and bikinis in January. In short, modeling means you will always be either too hot or too cold and your feet will hurt most of the time. If you can do all that looking like you're having the time of your life throughout and without moaning, then you may have the right mentality to model. The trope of the diva supermodel is embedded in popular culture, but the truth is that no one wants to work with people who are difficult, entitled and demanding. These people tend not to last long, regardless of their beauty.
Many in the Modeling Industry Must Rely on Side Hustles to Make Ends Meet
Modeling is a multifaceted industry, so it’s impossible to generalize too much on what a model should look like. Take, for instance, the extremely tall, willowy women that walk the catwalks for the largest fashion houses; those very assets may rule them out of many assignments. While there is no defined look for models, there are some commonalities. Good skin, great bone structure and a proportional build are deemed highly desirable.
As a curve model, the proportional element is very important. I have a natural 10-inch difference between my bust and waist, giving me a natural hourglass shape. My genetics also blessed me with very pale, clear skin and high cheekbones, all things that photograph well. I’m also tall but not too tall, as most female models are less than 6 feet. I’m pleasant to look at but not so beautiful that if you were looking at my picture in a magazine, you would ignore the outfit I was wearing.
This point is critical: At its core, my job is to advertise a product or service on behalf of my client. I’m there to help realize whatever their objective is, whether that’s selling jeans or producing a corporate recruitment video. Payment for assignments ranges widely and can be incredibly lucrative, but most of us don’t rely completely on modeling to pay the bills. I have a few side hustles, including selling designer goods online, but I’ve met models who do everything from personal training to architecture. One surprising quirk to this industry is that it's one of the very few where women are generally paid more than men.
When I first entered the industry professionally, I was expecting to need thick skin and a spine of steel to counter all the cutting remarks and requests from agents and clients to slim down. Again, I was wrong. I now have several agents throughout the U.K., and not one of them has ever requested me to change my appearance or weight at all. That said, if I were to make any radical changes, then there is always the possibility that they could drop me from their books, so I am somewhat constrained over what I can do with my own body for as long as I wish to continue this career.
People Accuse Plus-Size Modeling of Promoting Obesity
I have a small presence on social media, where I share some of my pictures and promote body positivity and mental health. Only once or twice has someone written that they think I'm fat and unattractive. As some of my size 6 colleagues get the same messages from time to time, it’s fairly easy to ignore. The worst are the DMs from creepy guys sending me unsolicited pictures of their genitalia.
The accusation of “promoting obesity” is a theme closely associated with plus-size anything. I need to be in good health to do this job, so I don’t feel like I'm selling an unhealthy lifestyle. Many models openly smoke, and there is no ire aimed at them for promoting their unhealthy habits, so perhaps it has more to do with the unsettling notion of a person being happy in their own skin than genuine concern over their health.
Serial killer Joanna Dennehy said at her arrest, “It could be worse; at least I'm not fat.” Is being fat really worse than being a killer? It’s a quote that’s always stuck with me as bizarre. Do we really despise the overweight so much so that being a murderer is seen as a lesser evil, or, like the lady in the bridal boutique, would we rather turn business away than cater to the average woman?
You might think that given all this, walking out into a crowd of people at a catwalk event would be intimidating, but I find it empowering. I regularly get the biggest applause from audiences, not because I'm so stunning but because the people clapping are just delighted to see an average body shape up there. Maybe they feel a little more confident about themselves seeing someone who looks like them walking with strength and confidence. I hope so.