The fake plus-size models, hired by brands to communicate how accessible clothes are to those with more abundant shapes, are an example of inclusivity washing. It is showing initiatives of inclusivity without a real strategy that seriously involves minorities, which effectively nullifies any differentiation in the face of diversity and which addresses the public avoiding any discrimination.
Norwegian model Karoline Bjørnelykke brought to light the case of fake plus-size models in fashion campaigns, telling in a video on Tik Tok:
I’m a plus-size model. Which means that I sometimes work for plus size brands. These brands typically carry size XL-5XL. If you have eyes, you can see that I’m not the size. So how do we fix this? Well, I have to bring something called padding work, which basically is fat suits. In pieces. Do you just stuff it? Like this, which makes you look a lot bigger, and if that isn’t enough, you just pin everything in the back. So if the close looks really good from the front, it probably looks like **** from the back. It’s because they want the neck and the face to look really slim and sharp, which doesn’t just create unrealistic standards, but impossible ones. You know, my suggestion is just use real plus size women because there are so many gorgeous women out there. And I have one more wish: can a plus-brand please for once not make something that’s horrific?
A pair of flesh-colored buttocks, chest and thighs, along with a spandex belt: it’s the fat pad kit for mid-size models. In a shoot where you are required to wear dozens of dresses, it is the easiest way to make clothes fit snugly, just like clothespins hidden from view and used to enhance the fit of garments in high fashion editorials.
There are many stories of women working as plus-size models using padding. These shots from Refinery29 show the difference between “with” and “without”:
The sector trend
The concept of plus-size models is to represent women in an inclusive way, and to be close to real people, moving away from the classic diktats of perfect bodies in fashion, not very representative of reality. In recent years we have seen a huge increase in visibility for plus size models on the runway, in advertisements, in fashion shoots. Many brands, including H&M and Abercrombie, have added plus size lines to their collections, increasing sales volumes. In the wake of the “diversity and inclusiveness” trend, such as green, the big brands have integrated the offer and included these themes in their marketing campaigns.
How much do brands make fun of us?
Another story: another cheat?
Placed third in America’s Next Top Model competition, plus-size model Khrystyana Kazakova was delighted to be working with a top-tier agency. Her enthusiasm soon faded, when she was told that her size 8 US (44 IT) wasn’t enough for the most tempting offers. “I was told that if I gained more weight, I would make more money”, Khrystyana says. So she changed her diet and exercise routines and gained weight, but not as the agency expected. “They want you to have an hourglass shape, she explains. “Before firing me, [they] implied that I looked bloated” (Source New York Post, July 2019).
In search of a new unrealistic beauty canon
Agents and clients look for a specific body shape: the chiseled hourglass shape, embodied by Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez. The problem mainly concerns “in-betweenies” models – sizes 10 and 12 US (New York Post, 2019). According to Chelsea Bonner, former model and founder of Bella management:
We’ve created an avatar of what is allowed to be plus-size. So you’re allowed to be curvy as long as you have a really tiny waist and no cellulite.
Paradoxically, real plus-size models struggle to work. We have come to outline another canon of ideal beauty that is difficult to find or achieve, because it is different from a real plus-size female figure: abundant body, breasts and buttocks but thin waist, face and wrists.
We ask for strict standards even for plus sizes: there is no peace for real women! Whether they are thin or plus-size, they have to contend with diets, the gym and body changes to gain weight or lose weight. We move away from the mentality of thinness at all costs to pursue another ideal that is almost impossible to embody.
Does everything start from design?
Does the ideal shape sought in campaign models come from how the clothes are designed? If brands produce dresses for a perfect hourglass figure that most normal or curvy women don’t naturally have, they look for modeling campaigns that enhance them. Designed for perfect shape, they will look their best on perfect bodies, no matter how fake they are.
Sizes of plus-size models vary by brand and agency. As a general rule, plus size models are defined by the fashion industry as those from a size 6-8 US and up (indicatively 42-44 IT). The average size of women in the United States is 14 US (50 IT), so sizes 6-8 cannot be considered “strong”. In our country, the most representative female size is 44, which becomes 48 between the ages of 50 and 64. The insiders therefore define plus-size as normal sizes. Nowadays, however, pressure is building up, leading the sector to consider as plus sizes those a little more in line with the public, at least from 16 US (52 IT) onwards.
The “one token curvy” model
This is what brands adopt when they advertise a single plus-size model to represent the totality of real women, while the other models instead follow the classic standards of thinness. They send us the message of being inclusive, but it actually seems like a sop with the air of a sprinkling of inclusiveness.
Not to mention Photoshop
How much difference photo retouching can make and how misleading social media can be! Photoshop is a tool, but excessive use on social media, erasing any imperfections, can lead to insecurities. Applied to curvy women, apparently hired to represent the average woman, it helps to create an ideal too far removed from reality.
The models’ accountability
What should models do? Refuse to be complicit in the deception? Or are these works of art? Is it understandable that they agree to wear the pads to work? Write us in the comments or via email what you think (firstname.lastname@example.org).
In an article by Refinery29, here’s what some of them say:
“Unfortunately, sometimes the smaller girls don’t work as much. I would hope that does change. That’s the middle range that people are missing” – Michelle Olson, JAG Models.
“There’s always some form of padding used — it’s like you’re sculpting your body. Is it realistic? It depends. If you look at it as artistic, then I can respect it. But, as an ideal for women? It’s unhealthy, because not a lot of women are going to look like that” – Brittnee Blaire, JAG Models.
“The whole padding thing started on the mannequins, because the mannequins are all shaped the same. But, it never bothered me. I’m not the one that shows up on set and is like, ‘Am I really wearing that?’ You can put me in anything, and as long as you pay me, I’m good. The padding pads me in areas I wish I had. Like butt padding. Everybody does it, surgically or not. What about collagen in your cheeks or lips, which lots of people are doing in the industry? That’s permanent padding. But, it’s all about feeling better about yourself.”- Kristina Wilson, JAG Models.
“I get backlash on social media for saying I’m a plus-size model. If I say I’m a model, they say, ‘Yeah right, you wish.’ But, if I say I’m a plus-size model, they’ll say, ‘No way, you are way too slim!’. I’m more of a 12, and plus is more of a 14 or 16. I didn’t want to put on more weight; I wanted to stay really healthy, and I think this is a good size for me. I would love to campaign for girls my size — I’m really proud of the size I am and the curves I have.” – Iskra Lawrence, JAG Models. (Fonte Refinery29).
The right direction
Is a way of tricks and deceptions the right direction for fashion? It is a path that leads to a lack of trust on all fronts: in the commitment to ecological issues, respect for workers, inclusion, diversity, and inevitably also in the product. The hope is in the brands that honestly take these issues to heart. Brands with a more truthful and inclusive vision of female beauty, diversifying body shapes on the catwalk and in the media. Brands that contribute to abandoning the ideal of perfection and making us embrace defects. Because there are brands that do it. To those we can turn our attention and our wallet.
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