Curves and confidence: the shift towards plus-size

By: Brianne Smith

Plus-size line, Allistyle, held the first Canadian plus-size fashion show at Toronto Fashion Week in 2012. Photo from Real Style.

Plus-size line, Allistyle, held the first Canadian plus-size fashion show at Toronto Fashion Week in 2012. Photo from Real Style.

Plus-size modeling is on the rise among women throughout North America, challenging beauty ideals, embracing curves, and empowering women alike.

B&M Models is a boutique agency of all sizes, in Toronto. It has been in business for over 34 years, representing both male and female models. It has distinguished itself for its work with plus-size women, setting it apart from typical modeling agencies.

In the fall of 2014, B&M Models re-launched its plus-size division, changing the board of profiles from “above average” to “curvy.” The board is where clients, such as retailers, can look to choose women they want to model their merchandise. The board has since become the largest of its kind in the city.

“The reason we changed it from ‘above average’ to ‘curvy,’ was that ‘above average’ insinuated that larger-sized women weren’t the average and that’s not the case anymore. Body types have changed quite a bit and the average is no longer a smaller frame,” said Andrea Evans, an agent at B&M Models.

Currently the “curvy” board has 16 models, who range from dress sizes eight to 20, but Evans said B&M is always looking for more talent.

She explained that more people are interested in working with curvy models, but weren’t grasping the concept of “above average.”

“Curvy has a different connotation to it—a sexier, cooler, shorter, abbreviated, more relatable name,” she said.

More retailers are beginning to cater to plus-size women. Stores such as Pennington’s, Hudson’s Bay, Old Navy, Reitmans, Ricki’s, Addition Elle and Laura Plus are just a sample of companies offering clothes in plus-sizes.

“What’s set B&M apart from other traditional fashion agencies in the city is that they’ve always seen outside of the strict fashion sizing,” Evans said. “There’s never been a limitation here, so when the demand for plus-size girls came about, it made sense to have that board come alive.”

Meghan Bradley, 48, is featured on B&M’s “curvy” board. She said she started work as a plus-size model at age 26 when a friend suggested she give it a go after noticing an advertisement featuring plus-size women. Bradley had never modeled before, but attended a casting call where she was interviewed and instructed to walk.

“The next thing you know I was taken on and my first booking was the next day!” she said.

“Back when I started, it was very much about fitting a size and there were only a handful of stores I would work for because there was so little opportunity to even shop for plus-size,” Bradley recalled.

A highlight of her career came when she was 33, with Bradley becoming the first Canadian plus-size woman to walk the runway in the “Ready-to-Wear” collection for Toronto Fashion Week.

“When I first started out we were just a size, we were just representing a size in a store… Now it’s more of a movement,” Bradley explained. “It’s not just about whether you’re wearing a cute skirt or a blouse. It’s about how you’re wearing it. There’s a confidence movement happening.”

Young, high profile models such as Tess Munster (size 22) and Ashley Graham (size 16) have inspired girls and women across North America with their confidence and success in the fashion industry. Munster and Graham have garnered international attention for their work and greatly contributed to the changing attitudes towards curvy models in the media.

In 2012, Toronto held the first ever plus-size fashion runway show as part of the World MasterCard Fashion Week. The plus-size line, Allistyle, gained instant media attention. It was greatly endorsed by America’s Next Top Model winner, Whitney Thompson, who became the face of the line.

Big name retailers and magazines are beginning to take curvy models on. Calvin Klein’s recent “Perfectly Fit” campaign featured size 10 model Myla Dalbesio, and size 12 model Robyn Lawley appeared in Sports Illustrated’s 2015 swimsuit edition.

Lawley was the first model of her size to ever be featured in an edition, which attracted international attention. Despite the positive shift towards curvy models, both Calvin Klein and Sports Illustrated’s efforts were met with criticism for suggesting Dalbesio and Lawley were plus-size women. In today’s fashion industry, plus-size is generally seen as size eight and up.

“What makes me sad is the fact that we’re even talking about size eights and tens being plus – I think it’s just awful that the bar is being lowered,” Bradley said. “And what is that doing to our young impressionable women?”

Diana Di Poce is the founder and editor-in-chief of DARE, Canada’s first plus-size magazine. The idea for DARE was developed as a part of her fourth-year thesis project in university. She explains that she launched DARE because she felt it was important to feature women of all shapes and sizes in forms of advertising and media.

DARE magazine's cover of this year's spring issue. Photo provided by DARE magazine.

DARE magazine’s 2015 spring issue. Photo from DARE.

“Being plus-size all my life, I understand the challenges that young women face with their body image,” Di Poce said. “It’s important for them to know that they are beautiful no matter what size they wear. They cannot let the industry’s beauty standards dictate how they feel about themselves.”

DARE is geared entirely towards curvy women and has worked with leading plus-size fashion bloggers, designers and body-positive artists.

“I didn’t feel that plus-size women, especially in Canada, were being catered to as I thought they should be,” Di Poce said. “As a plus-size woman who loves fashion, I’ve always wanted to see women who look like me on the pages of magazines and in advertising.”

Bradley noted that the fashion industry has come a long way, but there’s still work to be done when it comes to catering to all body types.

“I hope we don’t ever have to refer to it as plus-size modeling,” she said. “I hope that in the future when someone is doing a campaign, that they pick old, young, tall, short, diverse ethnicity, every size. I just hope it becomes more about who that person is than it is about whether the garment looks good on them.”

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