These days, the world of plus-size retail is ever-changing. As more and more brands embrace the need for higher quality, trendier and more varied clothing in sizes 14 and over, we're reaching a level of options that had previously been though of as an unattainable and naive goal. What we have today is not perfect, but it's something — and model Ashley Graham's new lingerie collection for Navabi is only adding to the progress.
There's no doubt that several things have contributed to the changes in plus fashion in the last few years, including body-positive and plus-size bloggers; ModCloth's success after launching a plus-size range; campaigns like "Meet My Love" by Addition Elle, whose primary message was to showcase that love exists and can be found no matter your size; not to mention Stop the Beauty Madness, a campaign that is combatting body snark and self-loathing on a new level. But a lesser discussed, and no less important, contribution to the positive changes in plus-size fashion are in fact plus-size models, Ashley Graham included.
Debates and criticisms regarding plus-size models not actually being "plus-size" are a common occasion. People look at women like Candice Huffine, Leah Kelley or Felicity Hayward and think, "Those women aren't remotely fat. Why are they modeling plus-size clothes?!" What this critique fails to take into account is that these ladies are usually somewhere between a size 10 and 16, and that when it comes to modeling, that is simply the divider between straight-size and plus-size. No one is calling them fat. Their modeling doesn't represent all that is wrong with the fashion industry. They're simply fuller-figured than your average straight-size model, and in turn, they make their names in the plus-side of things. The reality is that a lot of brands and designers stop stocking clothes after a size 10, so these women do in fact face some of the struggles we face as plus-size women on the larger end of the spectrum.
When you look at Ashley Graham, one of plus-size modeling's current "it" girls, you could say the same thing. She isn't at all fat; she's just an average-sized woman with killer curves and olive skin so beautiful it makes you blush. But by the standards of the modeling world — and plenty of designers out there — being over a size 10 makes her plus-size. The 26-year-old, Nebraskan-native has been modeling for over 15 years, and in those 15 years she became the face of Lane Bryant, featured on the cover of Elle Quebec, not to mention in the pages of Vogue, Glamour and Harper's Bazaar. So to say that she isn't plus-size belittles her career and all that she's achieved as a voluptuous babe in the industry. And that she's designed and launched a collection of plus-size lingerie only further indicates her support of plus retail and desire to be a part of it.
Graham has teamed up with British plus-size brand Navabi, and as of last week, the collaborators released the new collection: a nine-piece set of bras, knickers and a lace chemise. To put it simply, the collection is sexy. It brings to mind an old Hollywood glamour feel, and relies heavily on blacks, whites, and greys (ideal for pairing with a deep, red lip, of course). True, these colors are those typically associated with plus-size fashion rules because "black is slimming." But these designs don't at all say, "I'm a plus-size woman so I should hide away in baggy layers and slimming colors." These designs are meant to be seen, and to create an ora of confidence and glam. Their size range extends from 36DD-44DD in bras, whilst the panties and the chemise are sold in 10-20.
When the collection launched, Vogue U.K. was quick to call Graham, "The new role model," for women everywhere. It's a conclusion they've come to, no doubt, because Graham is — at the end of the day — an average-sized woman. She is not incredibly slender, nor is she fat. She has stretch marks and "imperfections," just as most of us do, and she's not afraid of showing them off. "Of course I get called a 'fatty' on Instagram and I always get comments saying, 'Why didn't you airbrush out your cellulite before you posted that picture?' But I don't care," she told Vogue. "I've been doing this for 15 years so I just laugh at it and I'm happy with who I am." More often than not, body-positive movements or brands are led by women much larger than Graham, so to see someone like her (an in-betweener, if you will), embrace imperfection and normality (because things like cellulite are normal) is definitely inspiring.
Toward the end of her interview with Vogue, Graham discusses the fashion industry, and says, "You'll know when girls have made it in the industry when there are multiple girls everywhere and not just one golden girl. But people are coming to terms with it. I think that people don't like change — but change is happening." The reason we know the names of so many plus-size models today is definitely because change is happening. Maybe women like Graham, Huffine, and Hayward aren't fat. But they don't have to be to fat to represent women. That they fall somewhere in between straight-size and plus-size (the larger side of plus-size, that is) already makes them special, because they're representative of so many women who don't often get to see girls who look like them in a magazine. If the industry came to a place when all women, from Kate Moss to Ashley Graham to Tess Munster, had a place on billboards and on the cover of Elle, well, that would be a pretty damn good day. So is Ashley Graham a role model? Yes, because she's getting us closer to that size-inclusive day.
Images: Courtesy Navabi