That’s a line I had heard since I was about 8 until I finally decided to take the first steps to become a plus-size model. Becoming a model has been a dream since I was in middle school, and I had made so many excuses not to do it: I’m too fat, I have eczema, modeling is only for teenagers, etc. One day, though, after doing a particularly empowering boudoir photoshoot, I decided it was time to take the first steps to become a plus-size model. Many things were much as I expected, but others took me by surprise — including how easily modeling can harm your body-positive attitude.
I’ve always been one of the biggest people in the room, and I knew that would still be the case when modeling. Sure enough, at my first runway casting I was easily six sizes bigger than everyone else in the room and a couple of years older than everyone else as well (granted I’m in my early 20s, but everyone else was 18 and 19). As my eyes darted around the room I began to wonder if I made the right decision. My confidence immediately began to slip.
It’s amazing how something you spend so much time and energy on can be put to the test by something as simple as a room full of women who don’t look like you. I remember spending hours every week telling myself great things I love about myself, why I’m worthy and how I deserve to take up as much space as I need. And now, I thought I had lost it all by simply putting myself out there.
What I did not realize is that I was simply having a moment of humanity where I doubted myself, because I am indeed a flawed human. Instead, I had convinced myself that I was somehow failing in my body positivity journey because at that moment, I did not like myself and I was very aware of it. I needed to remind myself that I feel that all the time in elevators, folding chairs and at concert venues.
The only difference was the setting. While in an elevator I could remind myself that no one was there to judge me and that if they did that’s their problem, not mine, but at a casting, the judges are there to judge you. It’s their job, and the hardest part for me was knowing that they were judging me on my appearance. Not my personality, not my intelligence, not my writing skills, or my educational level, but just simply on how I look. Knowing this can be destructive to the body-positivity mindset.
I found that I had shrouded myself in the mindset that part of my own body image issues were simply me being hyper-aware of those around me. When I started to realize that most people weren’t looking at me, it became easier for me to go on the body positivity journey because I was no longer concerned with the opinions of others, but with the opinions of myself. Overall, this is a healthy outlook. The only person who can ultimately take care of me, is me. I think we often believe others see the things we don’t like about ourselves.
The truth is, body positivity is not always just about not caring about the opinions of others. I hadn’t failed myself because I was afraid of what others were thinking about me. I hadn’t failed myself at all. I was living the human experience. We don’t all feel 100 percent confident about ourselves all the time, and we don’t have to. If you have a moment where you look at others and you think, “Oh, I look very different from everyone else here, and I wish I looked like them,” that’s normal. That’s just being a human.
In terms of the audition, this meant that not only was I showing up there as the largest person in the room, but I was now no longer confident. I truly believe the judges picked up on that. Unfortunately for me, in terms of runway modeling, confidence is key. If you can’t get up on that runway and think, “I’m here, b*tch,” then you aren’t going to have a successful show.
So, as expected, I didn’t get the spot, and I wasn’t even considered as a backup. I just got a straight up “no,” and that’s OK. There have been and will be other auditions and opportunities, and with time the auditions will become easier, and I’ll get comfortable with being the biggest person in the room when everyone in the room is being judged on the way they look.
The same goes for the body positivity journey. You’re not going to feel body positivity all day every day. You’re going to have moments where you don’t want to look the way you look. You’re going to have moments when you’ll want to be in a different body, and that’s OK. It’s about moving past those moments and reminding yourself that with time, things will get easier, and that body positivity is a lifelong journey with many different destinations.
Models, especially plus-size models, truthfully, want each other to succeed, but there is a strange hierarchy within the plus-size modeling world. I want to put a disclaimer here. I am not bashing on plus-size models with hourglass bodies and flawless skin. You ladies have worked hard and I see your efforts. They are needed and appreciated, and many of you have paved the pathway to have women with various body shapes represented.
With that being said, producers, stylists, designers and fashion industry professionals gravitate to the “perfect” plus-sized body, which seems to be big hips, big breasts and a smaller waist. They seem to be looking at this conventional beauty standard and just want it on a larger woman. The same dimensions, just expanded by 10 inches.
The thing about having a larger body is that there’s more room for variation, and many plus-size women don’t just have a large bum with no stomach. Many people don’t look like that, and I don’t know why, but I was surprised to see that even in the plus-size world there’s a preferred body type. Where I thought I would find a wide variation of people and acceptance, I found that it is simply harder for plus-size women who do not have an hourglass shape to succeed in this industry.
When it comes to myself, I would say that I have the curves that the industry is looking for, but I also have a stomach, stretch marks, dry skin and a double chin that can’t always be hidden. At first, this was a detriment for me. I thought that because I didn’t look exactly like the plus models who I had once looked up to, that the industry wasn’t made for me. I then realized that I do have what some designers, agents and producers are looking for.
Ultimately, I’m lucky to have my body shape, but I will continue to advocate to have women who don’t have my body shape represented. For my own body positivity journey, I follow all different kinds of plus- (and straight-size) models. In doing this, I can see the success that different people are having, and remind myself that just because I don’t look like one particular model, does not mean that my body, talents and abilities are not marketable, it just means that I might have to work a little harder to be represented.
With that being said, we are seeing change. Through the decades of hard work of models that have come before me, we are seeing women of many different shapes and sizes represented in all aspects of fashion. The thing that I want to see is more of this. I hope that the body positivity movement will continue to influence the fashion industry and models of all shapes and sizes will be seen on runways, in high fashion magazines, on billboards and in advertisements. I want the unexpected to become the expected and to watch the industry grow and expand to create more space for all of us. This starts with body positivity within us, and each other.