Labeling Fashion Models "Plus-Size" Is Officially Over

Plus-size models and their agents have stopped trying to categorize them altogether.
by Charles Manning
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"Plus-size" is easily one of the most contentious terms in the fashion industry. But, following the controversy that erupted when Elle.com used it to describe size 10 Calvin Klein lingerie model Myla Dalbesio as "plus-size," models and their agents say it may finally be out of style.

The Elle.com piece praised Dalbesio's work in Calvin Klein's new "Perfectly Fit" lingerie campaign alongside skinnier supermodels like Jourdan Dunn and Lara Stone. "Booking an underwear campaign for such an iconic brand would be a coup for any model," wrote Leah Chernikoff, "But it's especially notable for Dalbesio, who, at a size 10, is what the fashion industry would—still, surprisingly—call 'plus-size.'"

Readers voiced outrage in the comments section of the post over the association of the size 10 model with the term "plus-size." And this week, Dalbesio herself appeared on the Today show to address the controversy, rejecting the label "plus-size" by saying "I am one of many girls who are 'inbetweenies.' We're not skinny enough to be straight-size, like these size zero and size two girls, and we're not big enough to be plus-size."

If the controversy surrounding Dalbesio made anything clear, it's that there is no standard for what the term plus-size means. So it makes sense that within the industry, the term—sometimes used to describe women like Dalbesio who look anything but plus-size—is on the way out.

"It's a completely antiquated term," said Josh Stephens, an agent working in the "Curve" division of Wilhelmina Models, which represents models size 8 to 18. "Fashion is always evolving and the term 'plus-size' has meant so many different things. It used to be anything over a size 12. Then it was anything larger than a size 4, which is ridiculous."

Jaclyn Sarka, co-founder of JAG Models, a boutique agency in New York that represents models size 6 and up, also finds it difficult to define exactly what the term "plus-size" means. "Size 18 used to be considered 'plus,' but then size 10 became plus, which makes no sense. At this point the term is just irrelevant."

Models are rejecting the label as well. "It's not a term I use. Especially not to define myself," said JAG model Kamie Crawford, who is 5'9" and a size 12. "I'm just a model. That's it."

The one thing everyone does seem to agree on is that the demand for more diverse body types, from size 6 to 16 and beyond, is increasing, although it is still nowhere near the demand for size zero to four models.

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Stephens said swim and lingerie lines that cater to the size 12 and under shopper typically cast models in the size 6 to 10 range: "They look like a straight-sized model to consumers, but with a fuller bust and curves in all the right places."

There was a time when these size 6 to 10 girls might have been called in to model for brands catering to sizes 12 and up, but that too is changing.

Stephens credits this shift to the influence of social media and the ability of consumers to interact directly with brands. Through Twitter and Facebook, customers can tell companies exactly how they feel about the models featured in their campaigns and on their websites and hold the brands accountable if they choose not to respond. "There is so much competition out there," said Stephens. "Brands realize that they need to connect with and cater to their customers in order to really make money and someone who is a size 16 or 18 doesn't want to marketed to by someone who is a size 8."

Sarka has also noticed the shift towards more diverse body types, especially over the last year, with brands like Calvin Klein booking fuller-figured models for campaigns alongside thinner women like Jourdan Dunn (below), without distinguishing between the two.

 

But if diversity is on the rise and terms like "plus-size" and "straight-size" are becoming irrelevant, then what terms can the industry and general public use?

Sarka believes that we, as a culture, need to stop focusing on terminology all together.

"I think the real problem is all the negative connotations people have with that term," said JAG model Philomena Kwao. "They think 'Oh my god! I don't want to be 'plus-size!' But people attach too much significance to terms. We can't let these terms define us or our beauty."

This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.

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