Is the fashion world starting to embrace larger women?
Four plus-size catwalk models reveal how the fashion world is finally embracing larger women. Kerry McKittrick reports
It's not unusual for a Calvin Klein underwear campaign to hit the headlines. First there was the waif-like Kate Moss gracing the billboards when she was still a teenager.
Then there were the celebrities displaying their six packs - Mark Wahlberg and David Beckham, to name but two.
The legendary label is back in the news again, this time because their new ad features model Myla Dalbesio - and it's her figure, not her face that is causing a stir.
Instead of being a delicate size 8, Myla is a UK size 14 (US size 10) and although she's a statuesque 5ft11ins with a toned physique, she's considered a plus-size model.
The size of models is a hot topic in the world of fashion at the moment. Plus-size models are on the rise while Topshop recently came under fire for having unrealistic, super-skinny mannequins in their stores.
Myla herself describes herself as, "in the middle", neither plus-size or a standard model size but her inclusion as a plus-size model has nevertheless sparked debate across the media.
We talk to some plus-size models and two agency owners here about the rise of the phenomenon.
'I decided I wanted to be happy instead of stick thin'
Erin Davies (17) is a student at Belfast Metropolitan College. She lives in Antrim and is a model for CMPR. She says:
I’m a size 12 or 14 — it depends on the shop — and I’m six feet tall. I was always told I should have been a model because of my height. I started doing a few charity fashion shows for friends before being spotted in Belfast.
I went to Cast First Model Academy and they put me in touch with CMPR who asked me to be a plus-size model for Belfast Fashion Week earlier this year. It’s all taken off from there.
I actually used to be very skinny because I was very sporty, but once I stopped growing I filled out a bit. I decided I wanted to be happy and healthy instead of stick thin. I try to take care of myself, both for my own sake and the modelling. I love what I do and wouldn’t change it. You do feel at fashion shows that you stand out a little more but in a way it’s good to be different from everyone else. It bothered me at the start and I felt self-conscious, but after a while I just decided to do my own thing and be comfortable about it.
Of course, like every other teenager there’s bits of me that I don’t like, but I get over it.
I have a Tumblr account and I’m on social media a lot, so I’ve noticed that plus-size models are on the rise.
You see more celebrities like Beyonce and Nicki Minaj who aren’t stick thin. They’re the kinds of people I look up to.
My size suits my style — I wouldn’t want to go a size up or down because I would have to change my whole wardrobe.”
‘It makes women feel good’
Shannon Brown (40) is a model for CMPR and lives in Bangor with her daughter Sophie (8). She says:
I’m 5ft10ins and a size 14. It all started years ago when my mum entered me into a model competition for The Clothes Show. It didn’t happen in the end, but I did end up working for a model agency in Belfast and even one in Dublin.
At that point I was a size 10 and working as a regular model — I’m not naturally that size, though, and constantly had to battle to stay that way. I went to Paris, Milan, Brussels and New York. In Paris I was down to a size eight and eating next to nothing and they still told me I needed to lose weight.
I took a break for a while in my late 20s and had my daughter and then went back to modelling a few years ago as a plus-size model. I’m older and heavier now, but there is certainly a market for bigger models, as women want to see what clothes look like on someone their size. Most women buying designer labels are a little older.
I used to have to be very careful about what I ate but now I just live my life. It’s kind of amazing that I can do that and still get asked to do jobs.
It can be intimidating to be among all of the regular models but I find being backstage with all the young girls who are just starting out lovely. I’m very pleased that this girl is being used for a Calvin Klein campaign.
I think it’s a natural progression for the company anyway — that boyish, emaciated look is on its way out. Regular sized models empower women and make them feel good about themselves.”
‘I believe beauty is on the inside’
Lorna McCausland (37) is a plus-size model for Style Academy, and lives in Hillsborough. She says:
My modelling career started through a competition run by the Belfast Telegraph. It was my friend who put me forward for it.
It was a competition for plus-size models run by Style Academy and I had no idea I had even been entered until they contacted me. I went for a photo shoot and interview and ended up coming second — I also won Miss Photogenic in the competition.
I would never have put myself through for anything like that. My friend entered me because I was always so negative about my appearance and she wanted to prove a point, as she was constantly telling me how pretty I was.
The competition made me realise that I could be confident about my outside as well as my inside, which I hadn’t been before. I love the modelling and being with all the girls at Style Academy, particularly as we’re all different shapes and sizes.
I do wish there were more opportunities for size 16 models — we get a lot less work than the girls who are classed as ‘normal’ models.
I do catwalk and I’ve done editorial too. There is a lot of waiting around and I always think if you were doing it every week then you would be a size zero because of the adrenaline you use. I love watching all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes, seeing everything come together.
I’m a size 16-18 and I don’t find it intimidating that the other models are so much smaller than me.
I really believe that true beauty is on the inside rather than the outside and these girls are so nice. I just chat away to them and the size difference doesn’t bother me.
At my age also I’m much more confident with the way I am now. If I was 18 it might be a little different. I think confidence is the best clothing you can wear.
I’ve seen the Calvin Klein model and I think she looks really healthy and not as if she’s about to snap. She’s describes herself as “in the middle” — too big to be a regular model and too small to be a plus-size model. I wish her all the best, though.”
‘People don’t think I’m a size 14’
Donna Shields (45) is a plus-size model with ACA Model Agency. She lives in Scarva with her daughter Jenny (14) and fiance Boyd Campbell. She says:
When I started modelling I was 21. Someone suggested I do it and then I went to watch the Miss Northern Ireland competition in 1990 and decided that the next year I would be up on that stage — and I was.
I really enjoyed the competition and went on to model with Alison Clarke’s agency.
She even made me model of the year in 1994. It opened up quite a few doors too, as I represented Belfast in the second Maiden of the Mournes competition. I’ve always been between a size 12 and a 14. I haven’t always necessarily been called a plus-size model, but I can remember appearing in a feature called How To Hide The Christmas Bulges and I had to wear clothes from all over the high street.
People don’t think I look like a size 14 when I tell them. I do commercial shoots and I’ve just done a wedding dress catwalk show in Newcastle.
When you’re doing bridal you always go up a size so I was actually a size 16 for that one.
I think it’s getting more and more common to use real people in fashion these days. New Look have just run a campaign over the summer with Kelly Brook and she’s very curvy.”
‘The focus is on slimmer models’
Alison Clarke is a former Miss Northern Ireland and director of ACA Models in Belfast. She lives in Portrush with her husband, golfer Darren Clarke. She says:
We’re a very commercial agency so since day one we’ve always been asked by clients for the real looks of plus-size and older models so that they are representative of their target market. I don’t think plus-size models are on the rise.
The main focus is on younger, slimmer models but we’ve always been been able to provide that.
I think Calvin Klein’s new model is something of a PR gimmick. She might be larger than the normal Calvin Klein model, but she’s tall and toned and doesn’t have any unsightly bulges.
Size 14 is not big, anyway, and in fact is the average size of a UK lady.
This girl isn’t anything new.”
‘Work here scarce for plus-sizes’
Tracey Hall is the director of the Style Academy model agency in Belfast, where she lives with her husband Stefan Rodgers. She says:
Style Academy has just turned 24, and years ago plus-size models just didn’t exist. I’ve only really seen them in the last 10 years and in Northern Ireland work for them is scarce.
In saying that, though, when you’re doing a wedding show here all of the sample sizes are 12, which is considered plus-size in the States.
Our regularly working models are size eight to 10 and we struggle to get enough 12-14s to satisfy a bridal client. Lorna has done a front cover for a local magazine and to the best of my knowledge she’s the first plus-size model to appear on a cover here.
Clients are looking for a range of sizes and ages now. We recently did a fashion show which featured models in a mixture of sizes and ages — we used an 18-year-old plus-size model and a size 12 model who was 49. It doesn’t automatically work that because you’re older you need to be plus-size."