Plus size modeling
What is plus size modeling?
Plus size modeling can be many things. I will go over the most common types of plus modeling, the requirements for each type and the best way to find work.
Model: Anna Adrielle; Photographer: Pieter Vandeur
Plus size fashion models
The first and most known type of plus modeling is plus size fashion modeling. Here, a plus size model is defined as “a non-straight size model.” Straight-size is a term to describe “regular” fashion models, the girls sized 0-2-4. For most agencies, you are technically plus size from a size 6, and there are actually girls working as plus size models in that size, often leading to the reaction “what? You call that plus size?” But it is very important to remember that plus size models in this category are rarely plus size women. Size wise, they are average. Most models in this category fall between a size 10 and a size 16, but 8s and 18s are not an exception. Larger than 18 almost never happens.
Plus size industry models have the same requirements as straight-size industry models. They have to be tall; 5’8” is a minimum, but taller is preferred since a tall frame will carry a size better. They are also very proportionate, with great skin, a toned body, long legs, nice hair, and a beautiful smile and face. The thing that sets them apart from other fashion models is their size. I mentioned before that their size is considered average, but other than that they are not really a representative of the “real average woman,” and that is also not why they are here. Think about it, do fashion models represent the average slim girl? No, and plus size agency models do not represent the average plus size girl either, only in size. The other major difference is age. While for straight-size models it’s usually “the younger the better,” plus size models start working later and can work well in their 20s.
Most work in this category is commercial, but legitimate fashion work (like major designers and fashion magazines) is slowly finding its way into the plus size industry.
While plus size fashion models are often classically beautiful, there’s also a different, “edgier” type on the rise. In a lot of cases, these are models that used to be straight-size models, but who made the switch and became plus size models. So don’t worry if you are a plus size model with super short hair, or a gap between your teeth; the only way to find out if an agency will like your look is by applying.
Model: Anna Adrielle; Photographer: Pieter Vandeur
Styling: Michael Wauman & Nathan Murillo; Makeup Artist: Sharon de Winter
If you think you fit the requirements for an agency plus size model, apply to an agency with a plus size division online, or go to one of their open calls. You’ll find a list of the major legitimate agencies at the bottom of this article. Check the requirements on their website, and send in picture. DO NOT wait to put a portfolio together first. You’ll just waste time, and the pictures you get will probably not what they need. If they are interested and you have no pictures, tell them you don’t have professional pictures but are open to a paid test if necessary. The agency will help you develop your book. Don’t be surprised if a test will set you back $250 to $400, and only shoot with test photographers that are recommended by your agency (a lot of photographers will claim they know how to produce agency quality pictures, but are in fact not skilled enough).
You will probably need snapshots to apply. This means unedited pictures of you that show your body, build, face and bone structure. You need full body shots and shots of your face, both frontal and profile, and preferably also a shot where you smile. These pictures do not have to be professional (it is preferred even that way). Ask a friend to do it.
If they are not interested, ask for feedback (they will not always reply, but it’s worth trying and you may get useful tips out of it), try a different agency or reapply after 6 months. If you keep trying and agencies keep turning you down, don’t get frustrated, don’t take it personal. Sometimes your look is not what they need, but there are lots of different modeling opportunities for you out there, if you keep an open mind.
Examples that fit this category: Tara Lynn, Ashley Graham, Laura Wells, Laura Caterall, Denise Bidot, Bree Warren, Heather Hazzan, Naomi Shimada, Candice Huffine. Perhaps the most famous plus size model currently working is Robyn Lawley, who has worked for Vogue, Elle, MarieClaire, Cosmopolitan and Vanity Fair. She is also the first plus size ever to be used in a campaign for Ralph Lauren.
Google is your friend, and looking up pictures of these established plus size fashion models will give you a better understanding of what a plus size fashion model is, and also provide you with loads of inspirational pictures. Another inspirational fashion model is Crystal Renn, a model who has been every size between 2 and 14. Starting out as a regular fashion model, she switched to plus and reached supermodel status as a plus model. She has now lost weight again, and floats somewhere in between sizes, but her work is still a great inspiration to many.
Most of the work for these models (or for any plus size model, for that matter) is going to be commercial (think catalogue). But they also do fashion, lingerie and beauty, and the occasional runway and editorial work. No need to look down on commercial though—that’s where the money is, and it is often consistent work.
Plus size freelance models
A second category exists mostly outside of agencies, with a bit of an overlap. I will call these “plus size freelance models.” Here, a plus size model can be defined as a “plus size woman who does modeling.” The women in this category tend to be a bit bigger and often shorter and less typically model-esque than the women in the first category. But they will still be relatively tall and well proportioned. They are usually unrepresented by agencies, or are with smaller, local agencies that don’t mind their models finding their own work on the side. Compared to the plus size fashion models, they are a better representation of the average plus size woman.
A lot of industry professionals look down on this type of modeling, but there is actually a huge amount of work in this niche, if you go out there to find it. Most work here will be local, or found online with clients that rarely go through agencies, such as plus size boutiques (who often have fashion shows once or twice a year), small plus size labels (who are looking for models to model their clothes and shoot in their outfits), plus size bridal shops, plus size lingerie stores, local fashion weeks, etc. They won’t come to you–you need to go to them.
Model: Anna Adrielle; Photographer: Bianca Toeps; Makeup Artist: Joëlle Romita
To get started as a freelance plus size model, get a portfolio going, start networking and be proactive. Send local shops an email with a couple of your pictures and the message that you would be interested in working for them as a plus size model. Don’t be afraid to send another mailing after six months with updated pictures. You will get a lot of no’s, but don’t give up. Once a client in this category wants to work with you, it’s easy to establish a personal relationship and get work from them consistently. Dropping by in person is also an option, but make sure to talk to someone who actually has decision power, and bring a couple of your pictures to leave behind.
Keep a close eye on Facebook and other internet networks too; you can find a lot of castings for plus size work there. And you can even get publications, if you don’t mind working hard and networking.
Be proactive but professional. There will be people offering unpaid work, claiming it is “great exposure,” and while sometimes this is the case, usually it’s not. There is a chance they might go and find someone else, but do not let that stop you from wanting to be paid for the work you do.
Plus size celebrity models
The third major category is what I call “plus size celebrity models.” The definition for this type of plus size model can really be anything. The only consistent thing about this category is that they are a size 12 or bigger. They almost never fit the plus size mold. They can be very short, or very disproportionate, or covered in tattoos, or a combination of all that. They hardly ever stick to just fashion and commercial work, but have an overlap with different genres, like glamour, pinup, beauty or alt-modeling.
But despite not fitting any of the general requirements, they have managed to build a strong network of fans around them, and become quite famous in the plus size niche. Play your cards right, and you can get a lot of great working opportunities, such as major publications and amazing runway experiences, and become an inspiration to literally thousands of people. These models are often also spokesmodels for loving yourself the way you are, and accepting your body no matter what. Ultimately, it’s about their personality, and about their message… Their look (though still important) comes secondary to that.
Excellent examples of this type of model are Velvet d’Amour, Rosie Mercado and Teer Wayde. Google is your friend!
Of course, it doesn’t always have to be about the size. There are lots of women out there who simply enjoy having their picture taken. Regardless of your size, age, height… it is important to know that there are always be people out there, like you, who just want to have a fun photo shoot every now and then and have nice pictures, and to whom your size, age or height doesn’t really matter. You can always go out and have fun, and MM is a great place to start.
Model: Anna Adrielle; Photographer: Inge Van den Broeck
Plus size modeling, body image and criticism
When it comes to body image, the plus size industry is torn between two sides. On the one hand, they take pride in the fact that they represent models in a variety of sizes, closer to what the average woman looks like than fashion models we so often see in magazines. And pride in the fact that they can present an alternative to those perfect, glossy images we see all the time, that make people think that beauty is defined by your dress size.
On the other hand, it also receives a lot of criticism. And surprisingly enough, that criticism comes from both the straight and plus sides. A lot of people have this idea that plus size is promoting obesity and an unhealthy lifestyle, that “curvy” has become a euphemism for fat, and that “plus size” simply means you need to lose 20 pounds. Those people are wrong though. Plus size models are doing their job, and it is not their job to sell or promote a lifestyle. They sell clothes, or products, or a fantasy… Because that is what they do. And the handful of plus size models who do have a message, talk about being healthy and loving yourself.
The other type of critique comes from the plus size side. They often feel that, while the industry claims to show models that represent the average woman better, the models look nothing like them. The most common critique is about their size. “You call that plus size?” To those people I would like to say what I said in the beginning: they are models first. They represent plus size women as much as straight size models represent slim women. It’s no different. And while they may be called plus size models, that only means “not straight size,” and they are rarely plus size women.
That being said, I do think it will be important for the plus size industry as a whole to keep working on diversity, and representing bigger sizes as well. The most common size for a plus size models has gone down over the years, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But it would be sad if the relatively bigger sizes (14-16 and 16-18) go away completely.
Building your portfolio and finding paid work
Don’t be afraid to ask for TF, even really good photographers, to build your portfolio. You’ll get a boatload of no’s and no-replies, but every now and then you’ll be really surprised at who says yes. just try! And again, make sure you come prepared.
For commercial work: network network network. Check Casting Calls regularly and post Travel Notices. Get to know as many local photographers and models as you can, and try and keep contact with them. Same for international friends: you really never know when an opportunity may arise.
Paid commercial work on MM has a lot to do with likeability: aside from having the right look, you will book the job because the clients knows and likes you. I can not stress enough how important it is to network to get paid work. Especially be on the lookout for photographers and models that are active in the plus size scene: you will meet them at plus size events like fashions shows, and Model Mayhem can be a great way to stay in touch and to showcase your portfolio’s.
Markets and agencies
Like any other kind of modeling, you have to be where the work is. Plus model markets are emerging and growing all over the world. Here is a brief description of the major markets, and the reputable agencies for that market.
For Plus Modeling, it is mainly divided between NY and LA. New York tends to be a bit more fashion oriented, LA tends to be a bit more commercial. So basically the markets for plus size are about the same as for straight size.
In Europe, the main markets are in Germany and the UK. Germany prefers a more commercial, natural look, while the UK prefers a more fashion, somewhat glamorous look (of course, this is just a general guideline). The UK market prefers models that are actually in the UK, and clients tend not to book girls from other countries and fly them over. Generally speaking, in order to work in the UK market, you either need to be there, or be an established model already. Germany is a bit more flexible when it comes to this.
12plusuk, London, UK
Milk Model Managament, London, UK
Hughes Models, London, UK
Models1, London, UK
Egos Models, Amsterdam, NL
Euromodel, Amsterdam, NL
Brigitte Models, Hamburg, DE
Okay Models, Hamburg, DE
Agence Plus, Paris, FR
Home of plus size supermodel Robyn Lawley, Australia is a fairly new market compared to the others, but is doing really well. Since their fashion market in general is more oriented towards commercial styles (compared to high fashion markets like New York), plus size models seem to be blending in really well. Australian Cosmopolitan consistently uses plus size models in every issue, and plus size models get booked often for regular (so not typically plus) commercial work (instead of reserving those jobs for the straight-size girls).