The inclusion of plus-size models into the mainstream modelling industry and fashion labels became a growing trend in 2015 after Ashley Graham became the first plus-size model to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue in a two-piece bikini.
Although Graham was already known in the world of modelling for plus-size fashion brands, the major magazine cover elevated her into the spotlight, and she unintentionally became a spokesperson for plus-size models.
Graham’s major magazine cover began to disprove the stereotypes and myths that women who were size 10 and over could not wear luxurious mainstream fashion labels or grace major magazine covers unless they were successful actors.
Upon the success of Graham’s Sports Illustrated cover, the sports magazine made history once more when they featured their first black plus-size model, named Tabria Majors. Majors is also known in the United States for featuring on website catalogues for plus-size fashion brands and mainstream brands such as Forever 21plus, but with Sports Illustrated being her first major cover issue, it also pushed her into the spotlight for being a plus-size model who also had a notable six-pack.
Both Graham and Majors elevated the status of being a curvy woman in the United States, and they helped to destroy the stigma surrounding plus-size women of being unhealthy and overweight. Other American plus-size models who have broken barriers since then include Tess Holliday, who became the first size 22 (South Africa size 44) model in the fashion industry.
In South Africa, the presence of plus-size models is still quite minimal, with a number of plus-size women drawing inspiration from international models and influencers, or from local influencers such as Lesego Legobane (@ThickLeeyonce), Gqom artist Busiswa and plus-size fashion bloggers Lala Tshabalala (known as @Plussizeisme) and Meg from the blog Mind The Curves (@mindthecurvesza).
In a country like South Africa, where the average size of a woman is between 34 and 40, the presence of plus-size models modelling for brands besides Donna or Miladys is still absent. The rise of the plus-sized model brings hope not only to women but also to young girls who are exposed to the “old-fashioned” societal beauty standards that have been around for decades.
The love and support of women such as Thick Leeyonce, Ashley Graham along with the increasing representation from top modelling agencies such as Boss Models shows that the media is embracing and accepting the various sizes that women and men come in.
However, in order to love our own bodies and be accepting of our size, we need to change how we look at these beautiful plus-size women. And that on its own is a task that not even the media can handle. That task belongs to the people.