The Sunday Times Magazine: Fashion sparks health row as it plumps up curvy models

01_NH28MOD_1213261kAS LONDON fashion week ended for another season, for once the health of the endless parade of skinny models on the catwalks was not the only subject of debate.

Instead the focus was on the new battleground in the industry’s promotion of unhealthy body images: so-called plus-size models.

Years after Jean-Paul Gaultier, then Mark Fast, sent plus-size models down catwalks, fashion’s lens has widened to appreciate larger women. The singer Beth Ditto has just launched a plus-size collection and Sports Illustrated’s new swimsuit issue features a plus-size model — Ashley Graham — on its cover.

Yet not everyone is convinced by fashion’s new celebration of curves. Some are starting to question whether images of larger women are as unrealistic, and damaging, as the size-zero version.

Interviewing plus-size models, I have been surprised to hear stories, again and again, about padding and image manipulation being used to exaggerate their shapes as demand for larger-looking girls grows. “The models are getting bigger,” says 22-year- old Jess Greaves, who has modelled for five years. “When I started, the sample sizes were 14, which is my size. A couple of years down the line they were telling me that I wasn’t big enough any more because the sample sizes are 16.”

As a result, Greaves has been asked to wear padding under her clothes: “I was stuffed like a teddy bear because I didn’t fit the sample sizes. I don’t have very large hips.”

Greaves’s pictures have also been manipulated to make her hips look wider and to give her a more “ideal” hourglass shape. “I’m quite uncomfortable with that,” she admits.

Blaise Simmons-Johnson, 19, a healthy size 10-12 model, said she, too, has been Photoshopped to look larger: “If you are an in-between plus-size model like I am, they may want you to look bigger.”

In one shoot the width of her hips and arms was increased. “I don’t have very big arms, so it made me look meatier. I was a bit shocked. I thought it would only really happen in the [mainstream] industry to make them look smaller. But I suppose they may want plus-size models to look bigger.”

Another model, Naomi Shimada, said the problem lay with brands wanting an ideal plus-size shape: one with curves, but also with slim arms, waist and face. “Clients are looking for girls in perfect proportion, or they want girls to be curvy but they still want small legs,” she says.

The face — and size-26 body — of the new craze for curves is the redheaded pin-up Tess Holliday. She said that in plus-size modelling padding was “a normal thing” among smaller girls. Brands wanted the classic hour-glass shape, she said, adding: “If that means enhancing their hips to make them bigger, they will.”

Critics point out that the use of airbrushing and padding undermine claims that the plus-size industry celebrates “real” women. More seriously, they allege, the use of ever-larger models risks glamourising unhealthy bodies and in doing so promoting eating problems.


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