Recently the touchy topic of models as role models for self-image has been held up to the magnifying glass once again. Obesity, anorexia, and low self-confidence are issues Western society is constantly struggling with, especially in those trying adolescent years. So what is the answer for a 'real' model? One whom we can look to and say: "I want to look like her; she looks healthy and beautiful." The world loves it when Plus-Size models find their way into the spotlight for this very reason. But is it really healthy to have plus-size models as role models to our daughters in place of super-slim models?
29-year old Plus-Size model Tess Holliday suffered from bullying and rejection at school due to her size and pale skin. However she always had a dream to become a model and with her recent surge in new-found confidence, she began to post photos of her daily life on social media sites. A large following ensued, and recently she was signed by Milk Model Management, making her the largest plus-size model to be signed.
Needless to say this piece of news caused havoc in the Western World. A battle ensued between critics, Holliday's supporters, and with Holliday herself. Tess Holliday weighs 120kg (260 lb) and is 5 ft 5 (1.65 m). Critics argue that her so called 'body pride' is actually a danger to her health. This was summed up in once simple tweet- "I'm going to put myself at risk of stroke, cancer and diabetes, and then call it 'body pride' to excuse my gluttony." Tess Holliday responded by reminding her audience that health is everyone's personal decision and there are many medical reasons why a person may be over, or under weight.
I agree with her. It is everyone's own personal choice how often they exercise and what they eat but, you also cannot give over the image that being over-weight is okay, unless it is for medical reasons, and even so, you still have to keep fit and eat right. I can see Tess Holliday being a great role model modelling to promote fitness for the simple reason of staying healthy, and not only for weight-loss. Tess stated: "When you look in the mirror if you don't accept what you see now, and say I love me now, you never will. Self care starts on the inside and works its way out." This is 100% true. It just needs to be clearer that you 'starting on the inside' includes being fit and eating right, as well as self-confidence.
Robyn Lawley, the first plus size model to appear in a campaign for Ralph Lauren, and the first plus size model for Sports Illustrated swimwear critiqued the fashion industry saying; "why are we so focused on having the girl fit the clothes, rather than have the clothes fit the girl?" One look at Robyn will tell you she is not what is considered 'plus-size' in the real world. She has been dubbed 'plus-size' purely because she is slightly curvier than previous models for those brands. I think she is perfect.
We can never forget that the flip side to those plus size models are the anorexic models. So being obese is unhealthy, but so is being anorexic. 90% of women in the USA over-estimate their body image, with the National Eating Disorder Association recording 10 million women having eating disorders. It is a fine line we're treading and we have to find a balance for our girls who look at these models as role models for their body image.
Designer Carrie Hammer makes this her point when choosing who models her designs and walks her runway shows. She made history this month by selecting Downs-Syndrome actress Jamie Brewer to walk the runway at New York Fashion Week. "Role models, not runway models" is the mantra of her campaign which she started in 2014. Hammer believes that her models should represent the sort of customers who would wear her designs which, is understandable, and a brave move for her to branch away from the norm of 'stick-thin' models.
Model Cameron Russell gathered her courage and spoke in front of a live audience at a TEDx talk back in October 2012. The talk became one of TEDx's 20 most watched videos of all time. Her talk, entitled; "Looks aren't everything, believe me, I'm a model", focused on the fact that the real reason why she turned into a successful model was that she got the right genetics. She is tall, she is slim, she is attractive, and, she is light-skinned. Cameron also described how photographs in magazines are not representations of the truth, they are pieces of art work. The model is the blank canvas, the editors are the artists
Russell cleverly made her point visually by displaying photos of her in her daily life, taken on the same day as she had a photo shoot- and putting the two photographs next to each comparison. She also began her talk wearing high heels and a tight mini dress- not at all what we would consider modest. Cameron quickly decided to change to sensible flats, put on a wrap-around skirt, and a sweater, thus transforming our image of her as a model, and what she is like really, in just a few seconds. "Models," she says, "are the most physically insecure women on the planet...Image is powerful, image is superficial". And so it is. We have the trickytask of finding models that balance between being healthy, and being beautiful
Watch Cameron Russell's full TEDx talk below.