Soft, curvy, and subversive
In news that has received a fair bit of publicity, the venerable British plus-size agency Excel has just been integrated into Models 1, which is one of the top modelling agencies in Europe in the minus-size field. Excel now comprises Models 1's plus-size board. (It may be worth pointing out that in the article linked in this paragraph, only one of the eight pictured models is actually represented by Excel.)
At the Judgment of Paris, Excel has been overshadowed in recent years by its British rivals, which represent fuller-figured plus-size models. Hughes, for example, won particular fame by signing lovely Kailee O'Sullivan, and now also has a model on its books with 49" hips. More recently, Milk Management has exploded onto the scene, assembling by far the most impressive board in Europe. Milk currently representing no less than three Judgment of Paris favourites: Sophie Sheppard (with a 48" hip measurement), Justine Legault, and Valerie Lefkowitz. No other British agency has ever amassed such a trifecta of talent, giving it a position of distinction comparable to that of any plus-size board in the world.
As for Excel, its current roster seems little changed from its former stand-alone state, except perhaps for the addition of a few new faces. As of yet, it still lacks any models listed at a U.S. size 16, let alone a size 18. Perhaps its new Models 1 affiliation will make it possible for the board to expand, literally and figuratively. It could certainly benefit from the addition of a few fuller-figured girls.
However, the real reason why we have devoted a post to this topic, apart from wishing Excel well and encouraging it to include bigger girls, was because of a quote that appeared in the initial news story (linked at the top of this point) about the Models1/Excel merger. We note this because it indicates where plus-size modelling could go very wrong; indeed, where it has gone wrong in the past:
Perhaps the comment was simply an offhand utterance, but if we take the statement at face value and consider it carefully, we realize that it indicates precisely the wrong course for plus-size modelling to take.
Think about the quoted terms: "strong, edgy and acceptable." Rather, plus-size modelling at its best should be the very opposite: "soft, curvy and subversive."
Let's consider these ideas one at a time.
1. "Strong"? The fashion world is filled with "strong" models whose androgynous, ropy-muscled figures are the product of endless days spent in gym prisons. These models populate numberless "fitness" magazines and appear in endless gym-torture advertisements. Such models and body types are abundantly represented in the industry; indeed, there seems to be no end of them.
Rather, what the fashion world still lacks--except for a very few of the most gorgeous plus-size goddesses--are soft models: models who embody the timeless feminine aesthetic, with naturally untoned physiques. These are the types of models who are the most beautiful, most aspirational for curvy women, and the most popular with the public. The real "gap in the market" to which the article alludes is for beautiful models who are soft, not "strong."
2. "Edgy"? Anyone who seeks "edginess" when thinking of plus-size models is poisoned by straight-size-industry thinking. It is the bony, skeletal, minus-size models who are all "edges" and "angles." Ideal plus-size models are the opposite of "edgy": they are curvy. They have plump contours rather than hard edges, and the fuller-figured their physiques, the more attractively rounded, less unpleasantly edgy, their bodies become. The only way for plus-size models to become "edgy" is if they are diminished to the point of being as skinny as straight-size models--and tragically, this is exactly what has happened in some parts of the full-figured fashion industry, to the endless frustration of plus-size customers, who rightly regard the use of such faux-plus girls as an affront.
Furthermore, if one applies the term "edgy" in its aesthetic rather than bodily sense, then it is doubly true that "edginess" is anathema for plus-size models. The anorexic size-0 cadavers of the minus industry appropriately inhabit "edgy" settings of urban blight, where the grim, grimy backdrops reflect their own post-apocalyptic, famine-stricken frames, and in which they wear freakish clothing that echoes their own repellent ugliness. But plus-size models look most attractive in gorgeous settings of elegant, classical architecture or in lush, fertile landscapes, where the locales harmonize with their own Old World beauty and where the opulence of the environments echoes the rich luxuriousness of their well-fed appearance.
3. "Acceptable"? This is the most troubling aspect of the quoted statement. Acceptable to whom? Clearly not "acceptable to the general public," because the public unanimously expresses a wish to see fuller-figured, more naturally beautiful models, not "edgy" faux-plus mannequins. No, alas, "acceptable" seems to mean, in this context, "acceptable" to the anti-plus bigots who dominate the upper echelons of the fashion industry--the Anna Wintours. But this is precisely the kind of wrong-headed thinking that results in plus-size models being whittled down to a size 6 (i.e., the size of the straight-size models of the 1980s and 199s, who were already slated for causing eating disorders due to their unnatural thinness, and who suffered from eating disorders themselves). As we have seen time and again, the curve-o-phobes who dominate "high" fashion find visible female fullness completely unacceptable. They only find plus-size models "acceptable" when these models are no longer plus-size. In other words, they only accept plus-size models who resemble straight-size models. To make plus-size modelling "acceptable" to the thin supremacists who comprise the fashion elite is thus to eliminate the plus-size body from the fashion word.
Rather, the finest plus-size models are those whom the fashion establishment would find most unacceptable, the ones who are the most visibly the opposite of their minus-size aesthetic, the ones who break all of their anti-plus rules, the ones who are soft rather than "toned," curvy rather than angular, who exhibit fleshiness not bone structure, who have round faces rather than oval ones--who are, in short, most visibly feminine rather than androgynous.
A plus-size model who is "acceptable" to people who hate plus-size modelling is, by definition, not much of a plus-size model. No, the finest plus-size models are subversive rather than acceptable, for they contract the modern, thin-supremacist aesthetic and embody an alternative to the unnatural straight-size preference--an alternative that is so compelling that it prompts the public to realize that in fact it prefers classical, full-figured beauty to modern androgyny.
4. Finally, the quoted statement expresses a desire to take plus-size modelling to "to the next level." But in what way? To make it even smaller, even closer to minus-size modelling, even less subversive, even more conformist and thus "acceptable" to people who hate feminine curves and seek their eradication? This would be the "next level" of plus eradication, of plus obliteration. It would not be progress but extinction.
Rather, the true "next level" for plus-size modelling is that which we saw at this year's Full-Figured Fashion Week: The "next level" is the acceptance of gorgeous size-18 models like Katherine Roll and Lindsey Garbelman--and ultimately, models even curvier than that. The "next level" is the acceptance of plus-size models who are 5'5, like Tenille Roberts. The "next level" is to make plus-size beauty even more subversive of the anti-feminine, anti-plus standards of the "high" fashion industry, to make it more acceptable to the general public, to make it more celebratory of traditional beauty.
The finest plus-size models are those who adhere to the opposite aesthetic of the one that the article voices: not those who are androgynously "strong," freakishly "edgy," or conformingly "acceptable," but soft, curvy, and subversive.
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