When plus size models aren’t plus enough

by  xLoveLeahx  

Padded model
Image Source: Refinery29.com

When I first heard that a lot of plus size models pad their bodies to fit the clothing they model many words sprang to mind but most of them are too rude to share here. As a UK size 28 woman, my thoughts on plus size models are already complicated. It’s galling that clothes sold by retailers for women up to UK size 32 are modelled on someone who’s at most a size 18. Discovering that these size 18 women are often really size 12-14 and padded out to conjour a Jessica Rabbit style portrait of a plus size body is even more of a smack in the teeth. So common is the practice in the plus size fashion industry well-known plus models such as Iskra Lawrence are open about the practice of packing Spanx shorts with 1.5 inch thick foam pads which widen the hips and round the buttocks, and the use of ‘chicken fillet’ bra pads to enlarge the breasts.

As if it’s not bad enough fat women are told over and over again by a fat-phobic society that our plus size bodies aren’t desirable or ‘normal’, we are encouraged to admire and aspire to the ‘acceptable’ aspects of fatness, namely a fullness of hips, buttocks and breasts. The phantom of a flat stomach and a single chin we see modelling our clothes is no more real to many plus size women than the Tooth Fairy is to an adult.

Repeatedly fat women are schooled through messages implicitly and explicitly told that unless we’re hourglass, flat of stomach and in possession of just one chin we’re too much. We are supposed to aspire to thinness in all areas of life and this is especially true within fashion. This message is reinforced every time we look at an online clothing website. Too few websites use models that plus size women identify with, which is why indie designers like Smart Glamour and Chubby Cartwheels are a welcome antidote to the sizeist bullshit we’re force-fed every day. They use a range of models in different sizes so the prospective buyer has more of an idea what their purchases will look like on them. But more than that, they send the message that there’s nothing shameful about a plus size body in all its glory. For the majority of plus size women, it isn’t possible to have wide hips and full breasts and yet have a completely flat stomach. It isn’t common to have a bountiful body yet have no cellulite, no back fat and no softness around the chin. I know at least 100 plus size bloggers of all ages, sizes and ethnicities and I can say hand on heart that not one of them shares all the qualities of the women who model clothes for us.

Laughing models showing how they pad.
Image Source: Fashionista.com

It is no surprise to me as a plus size blogger that I’m told over and over again that women have bought clothes after seeing them on my body, which although may be a different size and shape to theirs is more representative than the model on the website. I know it works because I do it myself all the time. Since I’ve been reading blogs I’ve never bought so many clothes because seeing an item of clothing on a size 12, 14 or 16 model has no bearing whatsoever on my body. A dress on a size 14 body may come down to the model’s knees but when faced with the jut of my breasts, the bounty of my butt and the swell of my stomach it can be rendered almost indecent, even though I’m wearing 7 sizes larger than the model. Even the companies who use small plus sized models know the limitations in this – why else do they seek out plus size bloggers to send clothing to model on their blogs? They know that plus size bloggers have huge influence and power to drive sales, yet not enough to use a model who actually has a tummy and a rounded butt of her own. There is so much bullshit to unpack in what fat women are expected to accept I could talk about this for weeks.


Hi, I'm Leah, a 42 year old feminist and self love warrior with a healthy appreciation for Jason Momoa, sarcasm, expletives and vol au vents. Other interests apart from writing are shutting out the outside world with Netflix binges, metal music, trying to trick cats into loving me and shopping like the economy depends solely on me.

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  1. Thank you!!! I’s rather have clothes be modeled on a a voluptuous mannequin than a so-called plus size model. At least with the mannequin I have an inkling how that particular dress will look on my body.

    1. Thanks for your comment Una! Larger mannequins would definitely be an improvement sometimes. I understand it’s not cheap or easy to use a range of models, but in an ideal world if a company sells clothes from sizes 16 to 32 they should have a size 16 model, a model of about a size 24/26, and a size 32. It seems the higher a person’s size, the more of an afterthought they are, which is a shame because size 32 money spends just as well as size 16 money.

      1. If ONLY! The largest mannequin I could find was listed as a UK16 but has the weirdest measurements! A 12 waist and 18 bust and 16 hips. But the freakiest thing is the body length is completely petite. Even the mannequins are fixed to unrealistic for most women.

        My second biggest headache is finding plus size models over a size 18 who are willing to get semi-naked on the international web for the whole world to see. It is a lot harder to find women who will expose themselves than it is to say we need larger models.

        The two idea seem to be fighting each other.

          1. Considering they use size 12-14 women to model plus size clothes, all plus size women are too fat to be plus size models. It’s a ridiculous standard the fashion industry has set.

      2. I love your article, thank you. Trouble is that nobody want to recognise real body shape of women in sizes, women themselves very often as well. It is an average size 16 in UK and what us left for women to dress above this size?

  2. I love this article Leah. You’ve hit the nail on the head! When I see something I like, I instantly google it for a plus size blogger review. I also trawl social media to see what it looks like on a body like mine! Its so hard to find a representative example in shops/on websites when buying clothes these days. Bloggers and Influencers are doing what companies should be doing themselves!!! xxxx

    1. Thanks for your comment Emma! Lots of times I’ve seen items online and liked the look of them, but haven’t bought them as I have no idea what they’ll look like on me. And then when I see that item on another blogger’s body I’m overjoyed and snap it up straight away – even if that blogger is a very different size/shape to me. It seems brands know that blogger bodies sell clothes, but still choose to use models who aren’t quite as representative. Perhaps they don’t want to turn off smaller sized plus size bodies by using larger models? Who knows, but I hope it changes soon. xxxx

  3. Utter madness! Why do this when there are so many beautiful plus size women out there just waiting to be seen and to show off how the clothes would really look…ah yes, that would be like admitting it’s actually ok not to be a size 8 or heaven forbid a size 12 which apparently is now considered plus size by some!
    Personally I’d prefer to see all clothes on more realistic shaped women, there’s plenty who are not plus sized whose shape still doesn’t conform to what we’re told it should be! Can’t see it happening in the mainstream any time soon though.

    1. Thanks for your comment! Yes, in plus size modelling it seems that anything over a size 12 is plus size, but of course by usual standards a size 12 is definitely NOT plus size. This can create confusion and make plus size women and ‘straight’ sized women feel bad about themselves. We know that a lot of plus size bloggers are sent clothes to wear to show off on bodies more representative of the reader, but that doesn’t translate to selling clothes to the masses. It’s very strange.

  4. I find it insulting that some shops sell size 18 as a xxxl size (trespass) If like myself you’re self consious about your weight those kind of sizing can’t make a person feel a hell of a lot worse. Also on a different note why don’t they do bigger sizes in sports bras. Is it because they don’t expect larger ladies to want to work out.. gah it’s so frustrating

    1. That is really daft, calling a size 18 a XXXL. That makes a 16 a 2XL, a 14 an XL and a size 12 a large. Who on earth calls a size 12 human large?! I know there’s not a lot of plus size activewear but it’s slowly getting better. Adidas recently launched a plus size activewear range, and Evans/Simply Be both do some as well. I know lots of active plus size people, so I’m glad the message is catching on.

      1. That would be trespass that sell coats with the stupid sizing. I shall look into evans when I find the nearest store. I’ve found that the sizes of clothing changes from store to store so I won’t buy on line if I can help it

  5. I love this article! Even as a SIZE 16 I am finidng more and more that I am struggling with clothes! Dresses especially are all just coming up too short with my belly but if I go up a couple of sizes my B cup boobs barely touch the sides!!

    1. Thanks for your comment Charlotte. I think we can all agree clothing is generally a hit and miss affair. When it comes to plus sizes, it seems a lot of companies feel they can throw anything at us and it’ll fill us with glee. People are demanding more, and they’ll spend their money with those who listen.

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