H&M featured plus size model Jennie Runk wearing the new swimsuit collection on its homepage, seamlessly integrating her presence with that of her other, rail-thin counterparts.While it’s no longer unheard of to see plus-size models in fashion shoots and spreads — three even appeared on the June 2011 cover of Vogue Italia — it is often done in a very loud, “we’re trying to make a message” way.
Even in Vogue Italia, the models only made the cover when posed seductively (and symbolically) over big bowls of pasta. Rather than appearing side-by-side with “straight size” models sans fuss, plus-size models usually appear in the “curvy” or “love your body” issue or special spread. Furthermore, American Apparel’s “Next Big Thing” plus-size model contest was a testament to the flippant puns often associated with, as the retailer put it, “booty-ful” models with “full-size fannies.”
Runk is no longer on H&M’s homepage, just the beachwear section. Websites need to stay fresh with new content. Now, voluptuous post-baby spokesperson Beyonce has centre stage on the site. This normalization of a more substantial —normal — bodies shows a potential shift in the fashion world.
But it is a long, controversy-laden road with plus-size segregation, difficulties breaking into couture, and even stylists quitting over a designer’s decision to use plus-size models in runway shows.
If you look at the first 40 women on Ford Models' homepage, every single person (except one plus size model) has hips that are less than 35 inches. That's 2.5 inches less than the 1926 figure.
Twiggy's emergence in the fashion scene during the 1960s is often associated with the beginning of the industry's idolization of waif-thin models.
It wasn't until 1977 that Mary Duffy founded Big Beauties Little Women, which was the first agency for plus-size and petite models.
Slowly but surely niche shops popped up, although the models were hardly integrated in the fashion world. Bigger agencies (like Ford Models and Wilhelmina) started building plus-size divisions in the '90s.
Ford hoped its plus-size model super star Emme (right) would be the first to cross over into the world of couture.
But even though Emme, who in 1997 was 5'11' and 190 pounds, graced magazine covers, was a Revlon cover girl, and one of the highest-paid models in the industry, she never did a designer show.
Even though Emme was the first plus-size model to sign as a spokesmodel with a cosmetics company in 1998, Cover Girl didn't hire a plus-size spokesmodel until Jordan Tesfay in 2010.
Any model's weight change immediately makes headlines. Model Alice Jackson gained particular attention when she admitted to overcoming anorexia — at 5'9
Plus-size icon Sophie Dahl appeared in several major campaigns, including this famous Yves Saint Laurent Opium perfume ad that was banned in the U.K. in 2000.
Integration into runway shows is still hard. The model leading the pack down the runway is a size 12. Designer Mark Fast wanted to feature women of all sizes in his 2009 London fashion show, a rarity in the field. Some of his employees were so annoyed at working with plus-size models that they reportedly quit.
In September 2012, Ralph Lauren named Robin Lawley, one of the Vogue Italia cover models, its first plus-size model.
Nancy Upton made a profile that mocked the competition. Even though she got the most votes, American Apparel disqualified her since she was making light of the process.
That's why H&M's approach with plus-size model Jennie Runk was so refreshing. It didn't call her out as plus-size, even though she was in in beachwear.
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