Growing up in Enumclaw, Barbara Brickner agonized over her body. Like other girls, she dieted, drank Tab and dated boys who pressured her to lose weight.
“The sweet victory I have within myself is that this body they didn’t accept has taken me to Italy, France, Germany, Canada, Mexico and all over the U.S.,” said Brickner. “Over half our population wears size 14 and up, and even though I think our society is thin-obsessed, we’re the normal people.”
Brickner, who is now 29, married and living on Camano Island, is one of the modeling world’s “big girls.” She’s a 5-foot-9 beauty with brown hair, hazel eyes and a girl-next-door smile. She wears size 14.
Eight years ago, Brickner was discovered at a singing contest in Seattle. Bill Heffner, head of Heffner Model Management—the city’s largest modeling agency—was a contest judge and gave Brickner his card.
“He said I should be a plus-size model and I was extremely offended by that,” laughed Brickner. “I didn’t understand what it meant to be a plus-size model and my first conclusion was that ‘plus size’ meant fat—and that’s not at all true.”
A few weeks later, Brickner met Heffner at his downtown offices to look at composite cards of other full-figured women.
"They were just really beautiful people with measurements the same as mine,” Brickner said. “They were calling them plus size but I think ‘plus size’ is such a negative way of describing a curvy woman.”
Since then, Brickner has modeled sexy lingerie and glam evening wear; she’s posed in jeans and midriff T-shirts, turtleneck sweaters and sleek suits.
Her work regularly appears in MODE magazine.
While Brickner does a few local shoots for Nordstrom and The Bon Marché, she spends at least half her time abroad. Germans, she says, are much like Americans in their reluctance to show a full-figured woman’s body. Italians and French Canadians, however, are ahead of the curve.
“In Italy, they’re very conscious that a woman is supposed to have breasts, that little pooch in her belly and hips—and they celebrate that,” she said. “I also love Montreal. My clients there believe showing curves is beautiful and that it’s not something to be ashamed of.”
Brickner points to plus-size supermodels like Emme, Kate Dillon and Natalie Laughlin as women who’ve made “amazing progress” in pushing the fashion industry to accept and celebrate full-figured women.
“There’s this incredible camaraderie (among plus-size models) and the sense that we’re doing something positive,” said Brickner.
“The plus-size industry is shooting through the roof and we know we’re going to help some young girl flipping through the catalog. It’s just this whole sense that we’re making a difference.”
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