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Curves Ahead: Have Plus-Size Models Really Made a Comeback? Really?

Are fashion and beauty images featuring curvy women more commonplace? Or are plus models still, for the most part, token beauties trotted out to make "statement stories" for press coverage?
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Candice Huffine_plus model poses nude

Model Candice Huffine has made news again for posing nude, this time on the cover of Italian magazine S Moda. Yet it seems to me that with all these much-discussed plus-model covers and shoots in Elle, Vogue, Vogue Italia and so forth, there hasn't been all that much change in the day-to-day visibility of models larger than sizes 0 to 6.

Liis_Lush Magazine

I admit, I'm not as in touch with the industry as I was when I was sort of in it years ago, before 2001. Back then, curvy models appeared regularly in catalogues and ads for major department stores such as Eatons, Sears and Holt Renfrew, and retailers like Avenue, Talbots, Eddie Bauer, and more. A couple of times a year, Canadian Living and Chatelaine did a feature, usually starring top Canadian model Liis Windischmann (above), now an advocate for size-acceptance and diversity (including age) as well as a director at Ben Barry Models. And there was Mode Magazine, a good-looking glossy fashion magazine that celebrated women size 12 and up, and featured stunning beauty and fashion stories that were on trend and aspirational.


Then 9/11 happened. After that, the plus industry stalled -- shrinking budgets, uncertain times. Mode folded. Ads and editorials featuring plus models dwindled. And "also available in plus sizes" replaced models in many a catalogue (catalogues are unglamorous, but they're the bread-and-butter of much of the modelling industry).


Sure, today there are definitely more gorgeous, high-profile editorial shoots showcasing curvy models (above: Tara Lynn,Ă‚ Candice Huffine and Robyn Lawley), often shot in various states of undress (nudity -- or partial nudity -- is an easy way to get around the still-frustrating lack of larger fashion-forward sample sizes, which are costly to produce, apparently). Since 2009, Marie Claire has featured a regular column by plus stylist Ashley Falcon (no relation). There are more digital offerings, such as Plus Model Magazine, a fashion and beauty site, and Runway Revolution, which showcases plus model editorial and advertising shoots around the world. There's more talk about model diversity (you must read Ben Barry's recent piece for Elle Canada). And plus-size clothing options have improved (although a recent sweep through a plus retail store made me want to weep at the plethora of cheap fabrics, gaudy patterns and sub-par construction).

Robyn Lawley_Vogue Australia

"Canada has a eager plus-size market that is still lagging behind the US," agrees Liis. "Having been in the industry for 20 years, and being a consumer myself, I've seen many improvements to the styles available, but the quantity is still not there. Amazing boutiques like Lola & Gigi and Gussied Up are definitely filling a much needed gap in the market, but when most curvy Canadian consumers I've spoken with in the last month have placed orders through US online sites, it says a lot about availability here. We should be able to run to a major department store to find a last-minute outfit, but still can't."

Candice Huffine_S Moda

Liis is pleased to see curvy models landing beautiful covers and editorials, of course. But like me, she's also aware of the industry's same old limitations. "Every editor 'takes a chance' by using a larger model, and every shoot pushes the boundaries a little more each time. But, the fact still remains that these incredible crews of talented individuals can only work with what clothing is available and often times the sample sizes are too small."

So more than a decade after the plus industry's heyday, such as it was, has there really been much advancement? Are fashion and beauty images featuring curvy women more commonplace? Or are plus models still, for the most part, token beauties trotted out to make "statement stories" for press coverage?

Do you think we'll ever see more of a balance between images of regular size models and plus?

First and last images via SModa; image of Liis, Lush Magazine, via LiisWeb; Vogue Italia cover and following image of Robyn Lawley via Vogue Italia.