A Frank Conversation About Where Plus-Size Fashion Is Headed Next

A Frank Conversation About Where Plus-Size Fashion Is Headed Next

by Gianluca Russo

Models often serve on the frontlines of fashion’s size-inclusivity movement. They witness and advocate for change in real time, both in front of and behind the camera. And while their efforts have certainly made industry — and worldwide — noise, change is far from over.

I began to understand this firsthand while writing my new book, The Power of Plus: Inside Fashion’s Size-Inclusivity Revolution. In the years since the 1990s — when curve modeling began to take form at a momentum never previously seen — models have pushed designers, brands, and industry gatekeepers to prioritize true representation and diversity while enduring hatred, stigma, and soul-crushing situations behind the scenes.

It’s because of this that I chose to open my book with a personal story from Emme, the world’s first plus-size supermodel who, among many accomplishments, was named to People’s “50 Most Beautiful People” list twice. Right before she received that honor, however, she’d taken a hiatus from modeling because of a painful situation in which a photographer stormed off set, telling her, “I’m not going to shoot that fatty.”

Emme’s story sets the tone for the vital importance of size-inclusivity, both then and now. In recent years, a new wave of diverse models have taken this industry by charge, emboldened by the societal conversations around inclusivity that can no longer be ignored. Among them is Gia Love of the btwn.

In conversation, Emme and Gia reflect on how far the industry has come, how much further it has to go and how we can effectively make these changes together as a community.

The modeling industry has made some massive pivots over the past three decades. Emme, in your view, what’s been the most exciting change to see?

Emme: There is at least a sputtering of diversity in editorial where there wasn't any before, [other than] MODE Magazine, obviously. That was like the best of everything [at the time]; it was elevated, it was really fun and great. But it's lovely to now see the masthead of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar and, not just in the US, but in the UK as well.

And Gia, as someone who is newer to the industry, how are you feeling about where plus-size modeling stands right now?

Gia Love: I grew up in the ‘90s, so I remember not seeing any reflections of me, period. We still have a long way to go. The direction we're going down is where diversity and inclusion is like a [popular] thing, so we're just using the same people all the time, rather than really being intentional about creating a space where people feel comfortable presenting themselves in an industry that reflects beauty.

From my perspective, it feels like in the '90s, we were fighting to break through the first door in modeling. And now that door’s been opened, our new battle is widening the walkway to allow for intersectionality.

Emme: There definitely was a door closed, even to my size 12/14 body. It was just horrors, “How dare you be on my set!” kind of stuff. And as you have in the book, when a photographer told me, “I’m not going to shoot that fatty.” That was just a reflection of almost every shoot. It is the responsibility of the agents and the agencies to have a larger aperture to include all, but what you will find is that it's not wide enough, and there's not enough scouting, or there's not enough agencies that can supply the marketplace with a whole plethora of people.

GL: I’m a 31-year-old Black, trans woman, and I like to call myself a “special body person”: I’m really tall, I’m very curvaceous. And I get a lot of messages from people who are very inspired to see me, and it actually compels them to buy the product that I’m wearing. Over the years, we have learned that companies and the industry are doing a disservice when they're not including people that really are on the margins of representation because there are still so many people out there who feel unseen. We need to elevate those looks and provide really intentional work all across the board, not just with the magazines, but with agencies having boards that reflect that diversity.

What is your vision for the future of not just plus-size modeling, but the industry as a whole?

GL: I want a world where we’re not thinking about the identities of people, but we are embracing the true beauty of everyone as we navigate and move through this industry.

Emme: We need to have leadership within the agencies and magazines that are more diversified so that their reflections can be reflected within the pages and campaigns that go out. And we need more young people in those roles. Young people really do understand the pulse of what's going on and can take away the exclusivity of fashion, because fashion is truly for everyone.

Emme, reflecting on the past thirty years, what would you tell your younger self?

Emme: Don’t sweat the small stuff! And don’t let a bully [get you down]. Don’t let [the hate] permeate into your heart.

And Gia, what about you?

GL: When Emme was responding, I was thinking a lot about how it's one strategy to create important change from within, but it's another thing to create spaces and create moments for yourself, where you can feel seen and be represented, and also be the thought leader. I would tell my younger self to keep dreaming, keep living, and keep surviving. What makes me a model is not how I look, but all the things I’ve brought with me, my experiences. Everything I’ve carried since I was little watching America’s Next Top Model, hoping one day that my stories would align with those women. My ability to dream and to imagine has given me the push that I've needed to put myself in a spot that is not always the most comfortable, but is for generations after me so they can have an easier or different plight.

Photo via Getty