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Why Plus-Size Models are Actually Just Average-Size

Postcards From in Between: Why It's Time to Celebrate Average-Size Women


Source: Getty / Karwai Tang

Some have suggested that 2014 was "the year of plus-size." To others, it was nothing more than a token nod in the right direction: a couple of models over a size 10 featured in big campaigns, a couple of celebrity collections that didn't stop at a size 14 (see Kelly Brook for Simply Be, pictured above), some nice things said about Melissa McCarthy during award season. It's true that we are a long way from this industry ever truly embracing the breadth of shapes and sizes of modern women, but every step in the right direction is a good one. And 2015 got off to a good start with the news that models Ashley Graham and Robyn Lawley will appear in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue — even if one of those is an ad, not an editorial.

The real strides towards body acceptance in the world of fashion have come through the blogosphere. Plus-size blogs are thriving, particularly in the US and the UK, where bloggers are collaborating on fashion lines, appearing on TV, and modelling for global brands. The Instagram hashtag #effyourbeautystandards has taken off to the point where the woman behind it, Tess Holliday, has signed to a major modeling agency despite being neither the height nor weight of your "average" plus-size model.

Because as many of us have now realised, most plus-size models are not really plus-size. At least not in the way you'd imagine. Fashion has always thrived on aspiration, and just as runway models tend to be right on the lowest end of the "straight" size spectrum, plus-size models actually straddle the middle ground — the sizes that lurk at the back of the rail in high-street retailers but also mark the start of many plus-size ranges — 14, 16, possibly 18. This has started an unending argument about what "plus-size" truly is (and a call to #droptheplus) as we question whether the models used really represent the women buying plus-size clothing (The short answer is no. Just like runway models don't represent people who buy a size 10).

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Amongst those to come under fire was ASOS, whose Curve range starts at a UK size 18. Recently the brand has made an effort to use larger models following the negative feedback from consumers, but it was only a year or so ago that Bree Warren was a frequent Curve model. Her model card lists her as a UK size 14 with a 29-inch waist. She is stunning and excellent at her job but hardly representative of the 18-plus woman shopping for ASOS Curve.


Source: ASOS

Though I'm a few inches shorter, I have almost identical measurements to Bree Warren. I wear a UK size 14. My BMI is healthy, but to many slim people, I am still considered "too fat." To the plus-size community, I am not big enough. I have had my body shape described as everything from "normal" to "Adele-sized" (for the record, all comparisons to Adele are gratefully accepted). Straddling two sides of the industry, I am what is now being coined an "in-betweener." And it looks like 2015 is our year.

The term started being used more frequently in fashion circles last year, when model Myla Dalbesio was signed for a big Calvin Klein campaign. Despite the fact Calvin Klein did not identify her as plus-size, the shock headlines quickly started anyway. A huge fashion brand was using a plus-size model for the first time! The truth? Dalbesio is a US 10/UK 14, with similar measurements to Bree Warren — and me. At 5'11", her body is completely in proportion, and in the campaign, she looks amazing. This should have been seen as a good thing, a woman with a body closer to that of many consumers was finally being represented in fashion. But because of the label, things went the other way entirely as people complained she wasn't plus-size enough.


Source: Calvin Klein

What Dalbesio told Yahoo Style about the whole furore around her size sums up exactly how I feel every time I post a photo of myself online or try on a dress in H&M. When you straddle two very different sides of an industry, making either of them accept you is tricky. For a second, it felt like being "average" actually made things harder. Here's some of what Dalbesio said:

"I can never figure out where I fit in, and I'm always making someone mad. I'm not skinny-skinny, but I'm not fat and fabulous either. I'm a size 10. There's been a whole public outcry about me not being as big as people think I should be. They say, 'What do you have to complain about? You have a great body.' But if you're a size 6 or 10 (US), that doesn't mean you don't need to see yourself represented too."

This year, I believe things are moving in the direction of the in-betweener. There has long been controversy over the so-called "glorification" of plus-size, with arguments that we have gone from one extreme to another. But is this really true, given that the majority of plus-size models are barely a size 16? The plus-size industry is a huge one that will continue to grow, and perhaps by removing the labels on models who do not fairly represent their consumers, the plus-size industry will have the opportunity to diversify even more.

Elsewhere, the in-between models should no longer be seen as token "real girls" alongside their size-6 colleagues. Putting more emphasis on the middle ground, the alleged "normal" woman seems like the logical step to close the divide. The average female dress size varies depending on the study, but most agree it's somewhere around 14 to 16 in the UK. Naysayers have often complained that rather than using models who are either size 0 or size 18 with nothing in between, we should be showing a breadth of sizes, including those in the middle. Where better to start than the average?

We are, after all, the lucky ones, even if we don't feel like it sometimes. Women who're size 14 or 16 can technically shop at more retailers than anyone of any other size. We can buy standard and plus-size clothes. However, that doesn't mean either is designed with us in mind. I get just as many funny looks from shop assistants when I walk into Evans as I did when I went into Miss Selfridge when I was 30 pounds heavier. But I have the option, something many other women are not lucky enough to have.

That doesn't mean dressing well is easy. We have to be just as creative as anyone else, despite this added choice. In-betweeners become experts at picking and choosing items from various retailers, learning what works and what doesn't from each range. As we often have larger busts and curvier hips and bums to consider, we rarely find one size fits all, and we have to shop around. We don't have many people in the public eye to look to for inspiration, because so often with fame comes pressure to lose weight and put out an exercise DVD. But we do have places to go for inspiration online, as our blogosphere is growing too. More brands are adjusting their in-store displays to reference our body types. Victoria Beckham now makes dresses in our size!

Plus, we know the real truth. Years of not knowing quite where we fit has taught us that nobody is truly average. "Normal" doesn't exist, and while every body is different, all of them are brilliant. Isn't it time more of them were represented in fashion?

Note: Unless otherwise stated, all dress sizes referenced are UK sizes. US sizes are approximately UK minus 4 (e.g., UK 14 = US 10).

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