Frustrations of a Plus Size Model

Navigating the modeling world as a plus size model has been nothing short of tough. It started as a little bit of fun and a confidence boost – but there are a lot of ridiculous and pointless roadblocks to becoming “successful” despite walking a London catwalk, having a photo on Vogue Italia website, and a collection of glossy magazines with my face in them as long as my arm.

We need models with wobbly bellies and stretch marks, laughing through double chins, enjoying life and not giving a damn about anyone else. I got into modeling to show other women – and more importantly, the next generation – just where their beauty lies, and ways we can choose to honour ourselves, and other women. I put my images out there in the public eye in the hope that I can inspire others to find their own beauty.  We need to celebrate beauty and humanity in all forms.


The Problem with Agencies

The truth is, I faced a harsh reality when I started to build a portfolio 8 years ago. I was told by the photographers I admired that I shouldn’t dream too much of being a model because even by plus size standards I was both too big and too short. I was informed to “just enjoy yourself”. I so wanted to prove them wrong, and to an extent, I did.

The more success I had, the more I wanted to push myself, but the more closed doors I’ve found, the more demoralized I feel. I found the agencies ignoring me. The major agencies, too, remain somewhat limited on the models they take in. When advertising defines “plus models” as a narrow ideal of beauty as tall and “proportionate” in a UK size 8 to perhaps a size 14, maybe a 16. If you aren’t the Ashley Graham, hourglass, topping out at a UK size 16 ideal (the very beginning of plus size), from my experience, agencies don’t even dignify you with an answer. Tess Holiday is what seems to be the only exception.

It can sometimes feel that the same faces are chosen to represent or become spokesmodels to companies time after time. The rate of representation in agencies is disproportionate. Agencies seem happy to have their “token” plus size model. While these models have clearly worked hard to get to the top, once there the agency does very little to open up the forum to others. Really, if I’m honest, there aren’t many diversely sized plus size models about that don’t fit the traditional hourglass aesthetic, with little to no belly, the smallest amount of rolls and not an inch of cellulite. One of my designer clients often complains bitterly that she can’t find diverse models of larger sizes and has given up going to agencies altogether.

God forbid you even mention the problem! Indeed, when I vented on my personal page and made the mistake of naming one model I felt I was in the shadows of, I unwittingly opened myself up to a barrage of comments basically insinuating that I was expecting instant success, and was made to eat humble pie for even daring to consider myself in the same light. At least, that’s how it felt, and it sent my mind to a dark place for a while. It makes me wince, somewhat, to be referred to as a model since then despite being in Italian Vogue.

Location, Location, Location!

I recently spoke to someone I shot with quite regularly while I was at university. We spoke about the current state of modeling in London, he is making a well-earned living doing what he’s always loved doing. During that conversation, he told me that absolutely, London is the place to be to take what I do to the next level. Generally, 9 times out of 10, it’s been difficult to be seen beyond the handful of models that reside around the London area; there is an immediacy there that frankly won’t be achieved by hiring someone like myself. I live in Cornwall and it certainly does make things tougher. I could take myself on a train to anywhere, no problem; but when there are so many popular models close by, why bother looking further afield.

Being Your Own Agent

Being a plus size model, there is a lot of self-promotion involved. One of my latest portfolio shoots fell apart piece by piece as members of my team dropped out eventually making it impossible to continue. If it’s not the odd paid advert on Facebook, I am, quite frankly, sticking my nose in and offering myself, contacting companies myself. After all, how does anyone know I’m there if I’m not making my presence known?

UKPSFW London Catwalk for Abigail Tyrrell Lingerie
UKPSFW London Catwalk for Abigail Tyrrell Lingerie

The Body Positivity Scam

Body positivity has become the latest trendy buzzword. Just recently, Boohoo’s #allgirls campaign fell short rather recently, despite not featuring a single plus size model. Several large and successful companies loudly wave the body positive flag and end at a size 24. Or worse, Forever 21’s recent “inclusive” line up to a 3XL which turns out to only be a UK 18. Countless more companies are following the lead of major agencies and opt to use a straight size model and pad her out, so even a plus size woman isn’t fit for the role of plus size model. Indie+Design has had a couple of rants on this already (padding plus sizeinclusivity myth). What hope do we stand to find a model that represents us if even the plus size models aren’t plus size, really?! 

This has been somewhat difficult; to know where to put my energy. Companies paying lip service for the sake of money isn’t one of them. Neither are agencies who promote only the one token plus size model. I feel we need better examples of plus size models out there instead of models that want to remove the term “plus size” and replace it with “curvysexylicious”, models that are body positive “so long as you’re healthy”, and models who disrespect their fans and snub them in the street. If we want recognition of plus size to be permanently in the mainstream we need more representation at the agency level otherwise plus size will once again, go to the back of the closet.

*Cover photo from Vintage Life




Steff Benton

Steff is a Cornwall based model, musician, teacher and writer with a love for vintage. She lives with her partner and a cat named Jack.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *