With all the attention paid these days to the newest, hottest plus-size models, it’s easy to forget about the trailblazers who came before them. Over the past few decades, there have been hundreds of models hard at work bridging plus-size, high-fashion, and mainstream culture. What’s more, these models are still working, proving their staying power and banking expert knowledge day by day. We spoke to ten models with decades of experience (each!) tell you what they think of the current industry—from fetishes and tasteful nudes to social media and self-love—and, perhaps more importantly, what they’ve learned along the way.
On the current state of the industry.
Wendy Brooks, 48, on the “right” model: “I’ve had the pleasure to watch our industry become more diverse with more shapes, sizes, and colors. However, that complicates the great debate of what size a model should be. On another note, I would like to see advertising dollars come back to the models from celebrities. When I started, Christy, Cindy, Naomi, Kate, and Linda were booking all the campaigns, not actresses and singers.”
Inga Eiriksdottir, 30, on being a role model: “The new crop of models are doing a super job of being positive role models. Realizing that young girls look up to them, they’re taking on the responsibility of promoting healthy body image. ALDA, the group I co-founded, aims to change the industry by pushing for more diversity in race, size and age than we currently see. There’s still a rather large gap between ‘plus-size’ and ‘straight-size.’”
Tonya Pittman, 39, on social (media) change: “There’s been a huge shift in the conversation around body shape and size. #LoveTheSkinYoureIn—my generation didn’t have hashtags, Instagram, and cell phones in high school. How great is it that we can all join the conversation? It’s incredibly empowering to be a positive voice in the industry showing body confidence at any size. Use Instagram as your voice.”
Marte, on tasteful nudity and natural beauty: “I’d like to see a difference in the plus-size approach to nudes. I love the whole showing skin trend, but it shouldn’t be degrading to women. As a feminist, I feel sometimes that plus-size modeling becomes too porn-ish. If a curvy model is naked, it’s almost always in a very sexual way. I want to see more natural beauty—it doesn’t always have to be overly posed with a lot of makeup and a lot of retouching.”
Maiysha, 40, on normalizing plus-size inclusion: “After many false starts, plus models are beginning to enjoy the mainstream visibility and respect that all top models should. However, I fear that this increased visibility is still more fetishistic than truly inclusive. I’d love to see an even stronger editorial presence for plus models. Specifically, the inclusion of bigger bodies should be a non-event. I hope that one day, we won’t need the term ‘plus-sized’ as a qualifier but we’re still a ways off from that.”
On what they’ve learned—and how you can learn from it.
Katy Hansz, 38, on practicing self-love: “Some of the most successful, most physically beautiful people in this industry struggle with the lowest self-esteem. It always surprises me that people think the fashion world is so glamorous… My theory is that the addictive nature of social media emphasizes and promotes unhealthy validation from peers. So, be kind to yourself and learn as much as you can about self-esteem and self-care.”
Jessica Collins, on teaching girls to be confident: “At the age of 16 I had pictures of supermodels like Angela Lindvall on my bedroom walls because I thought I needed to look like these women to have my dreams become a reality. I was completely wrong. When I switched to plus-size modeling I was finally able to be myself. I no longer beat myself up for being a failure because my hips were not 34 inches. If we can teach young women and aspiring models that having curves is beautiful and to accept their bodies for how they are made, then they can each be the best version of themselves.”
Quinn Miles, on standing your ground: “There will forever be people telling you what is wrong with you, and if you are not strong enough, they will convince you of that. I have definitely fallen into that trap during my career, but now I know better. The biggest thing that I want to remind people about is self-love. There is a lot of self-hate going around with so many distorted ideas of what makes someone beautiful. I want to remind people that they were born beautiful.”
Camilla Hansen, 27, on being tough: “Build a thick skin. I have enough shocking stories [about the industry] to write a book. Everything from an agency in Turkey bordering on escort services, to being verbally abused on a daily basis, to being burned by clients—the list goes on. But that’s all in the past, so I choose not to dwell on it. After building resilience, I am pretty happy with where I’m at today.”
Emme, 51, on not beating yourself up: “Become aware and mindful of the negative internal dialogue we choose to allow ourselves to listen to. After two decades in the business, I’ve learned that no matter what kind of body we may have, it’s up to us to embrace it, bless it, honor it, take care of it, and allow it to be uniquely beautiful. A life in conflict with one’s body is a life not fully lived nor fulfilled.”