It's no secret that diversity and representation is one of the biggest contemporary issues faced by the fashion industry today. Whether pertaining to race, sexual identity or body inclusivity; it's a systemic issue that the industry has yet to overcome. While we are beginning to see more overt change on the runways of some of the world's most notable luxury fashion houses, we must be reminded that real change doesn't end there. In order to encourage conversation around representation, we can't ignore the curve models who have tirelessly paved the way for a more diverse industry – particularly where body and size inclusivity are concerned.
Here, we're celebrating 12 curve models who are setting new standards for body diversity in the fashion industry.
Ashley Graham is one of the most prominent faces and pioneers in the push for body diversity. The 33-year-old American supermodel has appeared on the cover of almost every major fashion magazine, walked the runway for internationally-renowned designers at fashion week and set a number of firsts for body inclusivity. In 2016, Graham made history as the first size 16 model to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated and her influence has not slowed down since.
The model has used her platform of almost 13 million followers and her presence as a change-maker to engage and inspire conversation around normalising diverse bodies in the industry. In 2015, Graham hosted a now viral Tedx Talk titled Plus Size? More Like My Size; where she shared her frustration on the re-occurring use of the term in the industry. During the talk, "I think we need to start look beyond the plus-size model paradigms, to what it actually means to be a model in 2o15."
Two years after that Tedx Talk, Graham released her first book, A New Model: What Confidence, Beauty, and Power Really Look Like, where she spoke candidly about body positivity and the challenges of working in the fashion industry. Outside of her major projects and talks, Graham consistently takes to Instagram and YouTube to continue the conversation.
Similarly to Graham, Paloma Elsesser has become a familiar face on the catwalk and in front of the camera. The London-born model was originally headhunted by beauty dame, Pat McGrath; becoming one of her muses. Before long, Elsesser was appearing in campaigns for Nike, Fenty, Proenza Schouler and on the cover of Vogue Arabia with one Ashley Graham. The model has spoken at length about struggling with accepting the plus-size term, explaining during an interview in 2016 that using the term was her only way to qualify her place as a model in the industry.
"When people ask what I do, I feel uncomfortable saying I'm a model because I don't like to see confused faces... I don't always want to be the token big girl. I don't want that to always be part of my description."
In late 2019, Elsesser sat down with Graham for an interview on her YouTube series, Pretty Big Girl; where the pair discussed the issue of tokenism and categorisation in relation to body positivity. "I work personally really hard at producing good work, feeling respected in an industry that I thought would never include me. I don't want to be devalued or reduced to a label... I also want the same treatment, I want the same clothes, I want the same experiences as a model," she explained to Graham.
Elsesser made her Milan Fashion Week debut at Fendi’s spring/summer 2021 show and from there on, has been a regular face on the Paris runways of Alexander McQueen and Lanvin to name a few.
A face we know well, Tess Holliday has been a long-standing advocate for body positivity and diversity in the fashion industry. Holliday made her mark in the industry in 2013 with her viral #EffYourBeautyStandard campaign, which continues to gain traction on social media. She uses the platform as a place to speak candidly about body inclusivity and celebrate the work of curve models and creators across the globe.
If that wasn't enough, Holliday is also a published author; releasing her book The Not So Subtle Art Of Being A Fat Girl: Loving the Skin You're In in 2017. Not one to shy away from public discourse, Holliday regularly uses her influence and reach to call-out toxic and uncalled for discussions about her image. Most notably, in 2018, she condemned what social media likes to call 'concern trolls' – people who criticise her weight under the guise of being worried for her health. In an interview with Self, she shared; “I just refuse to go down that road, and to feel like I need to prove my health and my worth to people that don't care."
British model and social media personality Iskra Lawrence uses her platform of almost 5 million followers to speak openly about issues relating to body diversity – reminding her loyal followers that what you see on social media is almost never real. Lawrence regularly posts videos on her YouTube and Instagram channels to encourage her followers to enjoy their own skin. A combination of workout videos, self-care, intimate moments and delicious recipes Lawrence has become a constant and accessible role model for the body positivity movement.
Speaking to Shape magazine in 2016, Lawrence also reiterated her aversion to the use of the term 'plus-size', sharing; "What upsets me is the fact that if you've categorised me, you've categorised all women my size and above in the real world... Calling someone 'plus-size', it seems like it's for attention or publicity. Get over it—she's a wonderful model."
London-born, New York-based model, Alva Claire is relatively new to the runway scene, but she's already made her mark as a fierce advocate for body inclusivity. Claire first caught our eye when she appeared in Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty show for the second season running; rounding out the spring/summer 21 season by making history as one of three curve models to ever grace the Versace runway. Walking alongside Precious Lee and Jill Kortleve, her figure-hugging, pleated yellow dress was unmissable. Speaking later in an interview about that moment, Claire shared; "It’s not just about me, or any individual — we’re united. It’s about showing that there’s space for other body types on the runway. I want more doors and opportunities to open for other models.”
She also firmly believes that diverse bodies should not be used as gimmicks or as a way to tick an inclusivity box – explaining that change in the industry does not come from using a curve model for one campaign, but failing to follow through.
Candice Huffine may have gotten her start in beauty pageants, but the American model is no stranger to the nuances and challenges of body diversity. In 2000, she signed her first modelling contract as a curve model; despite at the time, being a size six US. Speaking in an interview with The Washington Post, Huffine reflects on this moment, admitting that it was her "curves" that set her apart. Since then, she has graced the pages of some of the world's biggest magazines; notably, an iconic shoot for Vogue Italia in 2011 alongside Robyn Lawley and Tara Lynn. As well as several campaigns for global brands over the years.
Speaking to Shape in 2017, Huffine passionately shared her thoughts on the industry's shift towards body diversity. "My body is not a fad. It's not a passing trend, and it's not just here for headlines for the moment." In the same year, Huffine founded her own label, launching an inclusive and sustainable activewear brand, Day/Won.
You may remember home-grown Australian model Kate Wasley as one part of the social media duo that once was @any.body_co – an Instagram account Wasley began with fellow model and friend Georgia Gibbs as a way to promote body positivity at any size. The pair also starred alongside each other in the 2018 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue; where Wasley also featured in a moving body inclusivity shoot.
Nowadays, Wasley continues to use her platform to spread information and incite discussion around body acceptance and curve models. Some of her most famous posts are her daily affirmations, which she writes on her mirror and shares with her followers. Some of the messages include, "Work out because you love you body, not because you hate it," and "Beauty, happiness and confidence aren't a size."
A face that is impossible to forget, Precious Lee first made headlines when she became the first Black, curve model to appear in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition; but as we now know, her influence did not stop there. Lee has become a regular on the Fashion Week roster; modelling for Savage x Fenty and Versace alongside Claire. She has also landed work modelling in campaigns for Marc Jacobs, Miu Miu and New York City brand, Area.
During an interview in 2017, Lee spoke candidly about how achieving body inclusivity in the fashion industry was the responsibility of all, and not a burden that curve models should bear alone.
"It’s not just the model and the designer that’s involved. You have the casting director, you have the producer, you have all of these other people in the background behind the scenes that should be asked those questions. There has to be an effort on different parts in the industry to make a visible, tangible change."
Another Australian name, Bree McCann first entered the modelling industry in 2010, when she was signed by a major curve-model division while on holiday in New York. From there on in, McCann (nee Warren), went on to star in campaigns across the globe. Her most recognisable work, is with ASOS Curve – but now, the Noosa-based model is supporting body diversity behind the camera.
In late 2019, McCann launched Code B; a new swimwear label designed to create inclusive pieces for all women. Around the time of launch, McCann opened up about how she felt she never truly belonged in the industry – sharing, "I was too big for mainstream clients and too small for the plus-size industry." Through Code B, McCann aims to inspire confidence in the women who see themselves in her, offering a size range of AU 10-20.
When Dutch model Jill Kortleve walked the Chanel runway in those pink jeans and black cape, we knew it was all over. The 27-year-old model was only the second-ever curve model to appear in one of the luxury fashion house's shows, but it wasn't the first time she made her presence known as a body positivity advocate in the fashion industry.
Kortleve made her runway debut at the Alexander McQueen show during Paris Fashion Week autumn/winter 19/20, and since then, has been unstoppable. Despite her breakout fame, Kortleve shared during an interview in 2019 that all she's ever wanted to do is, "inspire young girls and boys, and show it’s okay if you don’t fit beauty standards, it’s okay to be a brown woman and have a moustache and arm hair, and it’s okay if you don’t have a flat stomach. "
New Zealand-born Georgia Pratt first found her feet in the fashion industry on the designer side, but before long, began her highly-successful modelling career. Like a few of the women on this list, Pratt had her first big 'break' starring in Lane Bryant’s #PlusIsEqual, and subsequent #ThisBody campaigns.
Frequenting her fair share of runways, Pratt became the first-ever curve model to walk in a Christian Siriano show.
Unquestionably one of Australia's most well-known curve models, Robyn Lawley has been an advocate in the realm of body positivity since she got her start in the industry. While she has graced the covers of some of the biggest fashion magazines across the globe, Lawley first reached international success when she became the first curve model in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition history.
Her work in pushing for change has not slowed down since. Earlier this week, Lawley announced that she is launching a brand new podcast, Every Body with Robyn Lawley: Surviving & Thriving In A Body Shaming World. As per the podcast's description, the platform will be a place where Lawley redefines "physical beauty, in which she looks critically at the #BodyPositvity movement and asks: who does it leave on the margin, and what is a better call to action?"
As for her views on the dated term 'plus-size', Lawley said in an interview with ABC's Australian Story that, "I hate the term plus-size... I hate the tag. I think you should shoot a whole bunch of girls, whatever size you need."
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