The day Vogue Italia released a cover featuring three plus size models is one I still remember vividly. The June 2011 issue brought Candice Huffine, Tara Lynn, and Robyn Lawley to the forefront. They were curvaceous women whose butts and thighs were thicker than those of the vast majority of models I'd seen up to that point. Although Gossip singer Beth Ditto had appeared nude on the covers of NME in 2007 and LOVE in 2009, her fat rolls beautifully unconcealed and her tummy unflattened by Photoshop, this was Vogue: The crème de la crème of the fashion industry; the kind of magazine issue that'd be seen the world over. Its celebration of three curvy models felt revolutionary — and maybe, for the times, it was.
Back then, it didn't much matter to me that these models were not necessarily representative of the average plus size or fat woman. No, their backsides weren't wide like mine. Their legs didn't seem to touch from top to bottom. They didn't have visible rolls atop their love handles or accessorizing their stomachs. But they were different from the norm. I believed they were a step towards equal (or at least more balanced) inclusion and representation of women of all sizes in the fashion industry and in media intake at large.
Fast forward five years or so, however, and we've arguably stagnated when it comes to diverse representation in plus size modeling and plus size retail. Household names are Ashley Graham and Iskra Lawrence — women who, like the Vogue Italia models before them, are indisputably talented at their work and undeniably curvy, but who are also not totally relatable to visibly fat people like myself. When it comes to the "plus size fashion revolution," relatable, visibly fat models are precisely the kind that the world needs. The world has needed them for awhile. This is why 17 plus size women on all ends of the spectrum believe it's time for the size 28+ model to shine in retail advertising.
1. KC Slack, Size 26/28
Although writer and Bad Fat Broads co-host KC Slack tells Bustle that she is "never going to think that models are in and of themselves the revolution" regarding fat activism, she does believe that "there's something magic about seeing yourself in the world." If we treat fashion as we might any other artistic medium, then it should follow that fashion has the potential to allow us to "imagine another world, one better than where we currently live."
"I know fashion talks about 'aspirational' bodies a lot, but I want to suggest that we could aspire to something other than thinness," Slack adds. Utilizing representation in style could mean that many more humans are able to envision "a world with so much more space to create and imagine, a world where there is possibility, a world full of interest and possibility that fat women (and trans women and dark skinned black women and nonbinary people and so many others) can imagine ourselves in."
In moments of hardship, Slack believes that "our imaginations are vital." But when we see images we can relate to — images that seem to convey the simple notion that our bodies are not cause for intolerance — we might just be able to feel like that better world isn't purely imaginary.
2. Debz Aiken, Size 28
As Debz Aiken of the blog The Not So Secret Diary Of A Wannabe Princess tells Bustle in an interview, "Every day I have to see clothes ranges, advertising campaigns, and social media campaigns from companies boasting that they offer something great for 'all shapes and sizes,' only for my body shape and size to be excluded." All it takes to realize that exclusion is a common phenomenon is a peak at the supposedly inclusive brands celebrated for catering to "women of all sizes," like Zendaya's line, which stops at a size U.S. 22, or Khloé Kardashian's Good American jeans, which stop at a size 24. At a U.S. size 28, Aiken adds that "it can feel isolating" to feel ignored by so much of the plus or "size inclusive" market.
"The companies that want my money should be doing more," she adds. "Why should I open a clothing catalogue, browse through hundreds of pages, and not see a single body that resembles mine? Companies are consistently letting down their customers [but] I deserve to see my body shape represented."
And should her body type actually be represented — in both a brand's sizing and advertising alike — Aiken has no doubt that she'd respond by purchasing said company's wears. Although almost no brands have yet used a size 28+ model in campaign imagery, she frequents Lady Voluptuous for producing "vintage-style dresses up to a size 28," Scarlett and Jo for using "a range of different-sized models and bloggers to showcase [its] clothing," and Topsy Curvy for designing up to a size 28 and "actively pushing [its] suppliers to offer more." These are a far cry from many plus brands that cap out at a size 20 or 22.
3. Lisa Schoenberger, Size 28
Lisa Schoenberger, the blogger behind Mustang Sally Two, feels that representation of plus size women above a size 28 would serve a key role in deconstructing sizeism. "I think the inclusion of size 28+ models in fashion will take away the stigma that plus size women of a certain size and who are not an hourglass shape currently feel," she tells Bustle in an interview. "It breaks my heart sometimes to see the comments women post on photos of me that are shared by brands. They are desperately looking to be able to identify with someone who is wearing the clothes that they are buying. They want to be able to visualize what the clothes will look like on them."
When Lane Bryant recently re-posted a photo of Schoenberger's on Instagram, she found it "particularly profound and overwhelming" how many positive responses her image yielded. From comments like, "Love seeing a beautiful model in a beautiful dress in a body I can relate to," to "You've inspired me to go try on this dress. I never wear dresses and this is breathtaking," it quickly became clear that folks who rarely feel represented by their plus size fashion imagery had seen themselves in her image.
"Being a size 28+ is nothing to be ashamed of," Schoenberger adds. "We shouldn't be embarrassed and hide in the corner like the plus size department gets hidden in many brick and mortar retailers. And while it's fine to use celebrities for major campaigns, I think it would be more impactful to see an everyday woman. I think retailers would also find that they would make more money."
4. Marcy Cruz, Size 26/28
Writer and blogger Marcy Cruz of Fearlessly Just Me strongly believes in projecting the notion that style does not have to stop at a size 22. As a fit model and reviewer for Gwynnie Bee, she is the only person her size on the site and "customers read my reviews the most, from what I was told," she shares with Bustle. The rarity of seeing larger plus size bodies represented ultimately means that when they are, people respond.
By putting out imagery of visibly fat, stylish women into the universe, Cruz also believes that we can send the message that many plus size women "are not afraid to wear what we want." In doing so, we can encourage plus size women in the day-to-day to feel exactly the same — and not just the ones below a size 24 who already have quite a bit of representation.
"I have heard some brands say that customers don't want to see larger bodies in campaigns," she adds. "But I refuse to believe that because whenever I see an image posted online of a larger body wearing a swimsuit or dressed in a manner where confidence is oozing from the image, it gets so many likes and comments."
Showcasing size 28+ models would also mean helping trump the narrative that visibly fat women "are not good enough." It would prove that we deserve to be seen and that "everyone has a right to fashion."
5. Chastity Garner-Valentine
Style blogger and CurvyCon co-creator Chastity Garner-Valentine of GarnerStyle firmly believes that "representation of any marginalized group matters," she tells Bustle. "Specifically, seeing that representation says to person, 'There is nothing wrong with me.'"
When it comes to plus size bodies, marginalization undoubtedly increases the more visibly fat a person is. So when we place the focus of plus size fashion on the size 14/16 woman, we forget the women who need even more options and even more tolerance.
In amping our levels of representation, Garner-Valentine also thinks that we encourage "the next generation of plus women by trivializing any negativity from [the] mainstream and possibly fueling creativity that will fuel the next generation of plus creatives, designers, and fashion that will be inclusive of the size 28+ woman." Sparking long-lasting change that might affect the body image and creativity of future women is irrevocably meaningful.
6. Suma Jane Dark, Size 26
Writer, photographer, and artist Suma Jane Dark tells Bustle that "it would have meant the world to my younger self to see models my size working with major brands — looking sexy or active or powerful. I held myself back from doing so many things for so many years simply because I could not picture my body participating or taking up space in those ways [...] The idea that my body, at a size 26, could be normal was unimaginable to me."
Representation, she believes, is key to normalizing larger bodies. Although she's waiting for the day when seeing someone over a size 26 in an ad is "as normal as seeing anyone else of any other size," she thinks that we first need to offer equalizing and rampant imagery that disproves the notion of the "thin woman within" who must be unleashed from the depths of fat women's bodies before their lives can truly be lived.
"I want other people to see those ads and know that they, too, have normal bodies, no matter their shape and size. I want them to be able to picture happy lives, also feeling sexy or active or powerful, and then to live free of all the shame and invisibility that larger people have had forced on them for so long."
7. Velvet D'Amour, Size 30
The lack of representation for individuals sizes 28+ (if not sizes 16+) and of non-hourglass proportions is one of the main reasons model, photographer, and editor Velvet D'Amour started her publication Volup2 Magazine five years ago. Unfortunately, she tells Bustle that "nearly five years later, there hasn't been a huge amount of change in that representation, particularly in any ad campaigns or retail."
D'Amour believes that when designers and brands incorporate plus size models of varying sizes, "It sends a message not just acknowledging our actual existence, but allowing for our reality and instilling a sense of worth." When plus size women are constantly bombarded with imagery meant to represent them, but that is free of visible fat in the "wrong places," cellulite, stretch marks, and body parts that jiggle, it's still far too easy to feel othered in one's body.
"I see from the experience I have of shooting genuinely diverse body types for Volup2 that the images I take of women who are size 28+ are quite often the most shared images I have," D'Amour muses. "[It's] because we are the least represented in media yet — guess what? — we exist and will continue to do so."
8. Em Smyth, Size 14
It isn't just plus size women above a size 28 who are demanding more inclusion from their clothing companies, either. The value of greater representation is one felt and championed by woke bloggers and fat positive activists of all sizes, Em Smyth of Terrible Tumbles included.
"In the fashion industry, putting your products onto the body of a size 12 woman is seen as 'brave' and 'radical,' but we've done that now, haven't we?" she tells Bustle in an interview. "Well done, round of applause, now let's keep it going."
"When I look at my friends on a purely aesthetic level, I see a smoking hot group of women, some of whom just happen to be over a size 28," she adds. "They'd be just as smoking hot on the pages of a magazine, and I want to see that. I want to see folds, skin, and VBO just as I see them in the actual real life that I actually live in where these women actually exist."
Folds, skin, and VBO on plus size babes of all sizes? That's something plenty of fat women — on all sides of the plus spectrum — can clearly get behind.
9. Emily Dominguez, Size 26/28
For Emily Dominguez of the blog Amply Emmy, the importance of retail usage of models sizes 28+ comes down to practicality. She tells Bustle that the reason she started incorporating fashion into her lifestyle site was to "help show women my size (26/28 and 30/32) where to shop and what those clothes look like on a body like theirs." Nothing grinds her gears quite like "designers who say their clothes are for all women when they stop at size 24." After all, women's bodies don't stop at a size 24, and the imagery being used to sell them their clothing shouldn't either.
10. Jonquel Norwood, Size 16/18
Even if we leave social justice out of the conversation for a moment, body positive illustrator Jonquel Norwood feels that representing plus size women sizes 28+ in fashion branding should be the obvious course of action. After all, "If you plan on making money from a group, you should at least pay them the respect of good representation," she tells Bustle.
Given that the existence and success of plus size fashion brands depend on plus size women buying their clothes, it should follow that all potential shoppers feel visible and catered to.
11. Amena Azeez, Size 16/18
Although she's on the smaller end of the plus size spectrum herself, Fashionopolis' Amena Azeez is no stranger to feeling othered. "As a plus size women of color who lives in a non-West country, I can completely understand the lack of representation," she tells Bustle. "Not only are plus size women not adequately and correctly represented in my own country (India), but globally [...] we hardly see any women of color from developing nations as part of the narrative [in fashion]."
The only way Azeez feels we can stop a body type or skin color or identity from being marginalized is to actively celebrate it. Repeated exposure to imagery is one way to "normalize all bodies and celebrate them," she says. And that definitely goes for size 28+ figures.
12. Vicky Jones, Size 22/24
By representing models across the plus size spectrum, blogger Vicky Jones of This Is Plus Magazine believes brands can help break the mold of "acceptable" fatness. "I am beyond irritated when a plus size range stops at 24," she tells Bustle in an interview. "It [promotes the] idea [that] under a size 24 is acceptable fat."
Unfortunately, the reality of much of plus size imagery being used in the world of fashion is that it ends up creating a mold for what an acceptable plus size body looks like: This is a body with fat "in the right places," that is of hourglass proportions, and that doesn't have much in the way of visible rolls or cellulite. Plus size women are tired of good fatty archetypes, though. It's time for much more.
13. Amanda Williams, Size 26
Amanda Williams, blogger of Bella Moxie and Marketing Director for SWAK Designs, tells Bustle that she believes in "the confidence clothing can give you when you feel beautiful." In order to take the plunge into purchasing an outfit that has such potential, however, she believes women must first see what the styles will look like on their bodies. It's the only way they can see the possibilities.
"I want to see a woman of my size wearing jeans and a T-shirt as it will a: give me an idea of what it will look like [and] b: give me self confidence. Because heck, if she can do it, so can I."
More than the practical effects of representation, Williams believes inclusion can send customers the simple message that there is nothing shameful or wrong about having a visibly fat body. "I want the store I shop to not be ashamed that I am fat, or round, or big," she says. "I want to walk into a place where I feel like I fit in; a safe space. One where I know they believe my body was made for fashion, too."
14. Rebecca, Size 28
Blogger Rebecca of The Plus Side Of Me tells Bustle that the inclusion of size 28+ models in campaigns and ads would make her feel as though "the intended customer is actually me." "The first time I saw bloggers my size, I realized that I could participate in fashion too," she adds. "And it unlocked a lot of possibilities for me. I imagine the same would happen for customers."
Far too many plus size women spend much of their lives believing that fashion is not for them — even if they are interested in it. They learn this from dominant cultural narratives, yes, but the messaging is only reinforced when not even the brands meant to cater to them are actually doing so. As was the case for Rebecca, however, seeing beautiful clothing on bodies that actually looked like hers was a major game-changer.
15. Kitty Morris, Size 22
Blogger and fashion photographer Kitty Morris of Kitty Rambles A Lot admires brands like Ready To Stare, Society+, and Smart Glamour for giving customers realistic representations of what their clothing will look like on a variety of bodies. She tells Bustle that she does not believe "hourglass figures are the norm outside of modeling, so seeing models with big bellies and small boobs, with no waist and big arms, makes me want to buy from those retailers so much more."
The potential for instilling confidence and body positivity in a consumer base is one she feels brands should be aware of as well. "If I could have seen bodies like mine in the media when I was younger, my journey to self-love would have been easier without a doubt." Quite simply, she implores plus retailers to "give me back fat and belly chub."
16. Courtney Mina, Size 26
Courtney Mina, writer and blogger of The Glitter Thread, recently modeled for Addition Elle's extended sizing launch. While shooting, she was reminded of the role that seeing unapologetically fat models can have on actual fat women. "As gorgeous as the size 12 models are, they aren't the main customer for a plus size retail store," she tells Bustle. "Real fat women are shopping at these stores, and it's important to see them be represented by the company, too (not just the thick Ashley Graham types)."
Ultimately, seeing your body type represented means feeling a little less like the messaging around you is constantly dictating that your body is "wrong." Although it'll take quite a bit of work to break down fatphobia in society at large, we should at least be able to hold the stores selling us our clothing to a higher standard of inclusion.
17. Rebecca McCormick, Size 28
Books blogger Rebecca McCormick sums up the need for representation of larger plus size models quite succinctly: "It's important to see clothes on all sizes that are available because it helps us as consumers to see what a piece would look like before we buy," she tells Bustle. "And because it helps to normalize bodies like ours."
Ultimately, to include the size 28+ model is to be cognizant of the changes that are still so needed in not only fashion, but in representation of women at large. It's to address the notion that there is nothing shameful to be found in fatness that doesn't live in the "right places" alone, but that's inescapable across an entire body. It's to cater to the communities that have so long been neglected, and to show that listening to actual consumers will always pay off. It's to be unafraid of backlash: Unafraid of fat shamers or concern trolls who might disapprove of this new kind of inclusion. Ultimately, it's to demonstrate the basic kind of human decency that would suggest that a fat shamer is not someone who needs catering to; but a plus size woman with visible fat on her body, who wears a dress size above a size 28, and who has long felt left out of fashion is.
That's the kind of change plus size fashion needs. And it's the kind that will be remembered as more than a baby step.
Images: Courtesy Mustang Sally Two (1); Courtesy Interviewees