The cultural definition of beauty has developed slowly and is better late than never. The fact that Ashley Graham is now widely recognized as a household name speaks for such an advance. And if you don’t know who this is now, you should fix this asap. We live in a time when people are (finally) holding brands and publications accountable and challenging what has long been considered the “classic” American standard of beauty, and I definitely love to watch it.
Of course there is so much more to do. Reason enough for us to celebrate what we see: more diversity and inclusion in the model industry than ever before. To move the needle further forward, we must all collectively move away from qualifying these newer faces as “oversized” and simply referring to them as models. The first step to a truly more inclusive landscape in beauty and fashion is not to have to do this qualification. It is almost as if by qualifying the term model with “plus” we are implying that the word itself means thin. The two are not mutually exclusive.
We must all collectively move away from qualifying these newer faces as “plus size” and simply referring to them as models.
Growing up, I enjoyed researching Fashion Week shows both to see the incredible looks and to learn all about the models that walked on them. I regularly dreamed of going to the famous tents and sitting in the front row at a show. When America’s next top model At Premiere, my family had just moved to the Connecticut suburbs. I was obsessed with the show, of course, because I felt like I was getting fashion, excitement, and a little bit of what it really took to be a model at the same time. I was confident enough to know that a. If I had to do any of what the girls do America’s next top model had to do for a gig, i would absolutely not take a day and b. I would never be thin or tall enough to be a model, even if I really wanted to.
Then season 3 introduced me and the rest of the world to Toccara Jones. It was a moment at the time because she was the first so-called “plus-size” candidate since the show started. When I think back on that day, I am reminded that I have never seen anyone call themselves a model who looked like them – or me – before. What I saw on my 16-inch box TV was a confident model with a capital letter M. It made me feel like my soft body and large breasts didn’t have to be tucked away in the tragic oversized peasant top I was probably wearing to hide my face curves. This time I felt seen – in a good way.
Years later, in July 2008, I remember picking up on the now iconic Black edition of Vogue Italy at my local newsstand. On its pages was a series by Toccara Jones, shot by legendary fashion photographer Steven Meisel, and it was the first time I saw a body like hers – a body that felt close to my own – in a fashion spread. At that time, pictures of curvy models were slowly emerging, but they were usually very normal and, as it should be noted, very clothed. Not that. This route was sexy, uninhibited and, above all, absolutely gorgeous. For these reasons and more, it will take rent-free space in my head forever.
And now this new generation of models has created exactly the same feeling for me. Thanks to the rise of social media, we can look beyond their apparent physical beauty and gain insight into their personalities, a dimension previously reserved for only the world’s best (and often skinny) supermodels. I took the liberty of summarizing this exciting group of models – some who have made a lasting impact on the industry, others who are just getting started, and others who are just beautiful to the skin they are in.