I talked to Gary Dakin, who heads up the plus board at Ford Models (the agency that reps Crystal Renn), and who also briefly repped Halchishick.
“It’s not a new concept,” Dakin said. “Plus is considered anything over the straight size standard–[which is] 2,4, some 6’s. We rep girls that are anything above that. We definitely in the past five years have seen an increase in girls that are kind of in-between as well. Crystal Renn pretty much started that in-between thing.” He also credits high fashion photographers like Steven Meisel for the increased acceptance of “bigger” girls in more fashion-oriented editorials.
Girls in that middle size range have traditionally had a hard time booking jobs, and that is still a hurdle. We all know what runway models look like these days, and plus-size clients usually want a girl who’s a size 14/16. “You can’t market to a plus-size girl with a size 6,” Madeline Figueroa Jones, the editor of PLUS Model Magazine, said. “Can she see herself in a size 6?”
Halchishick admitted that many of the smaller models at her agency are having better luck in Europe, where a size or two above straight size is considered plus-size, than they are here in the US. To avoid confusion, Halchishick isn’t even listing models’ sizes anymore because clothing size varies so much between brands and labels; she just lists measurements.
Dakin acknowledged that agencies are in a supply and demand business–they try to provide what brands want. And right now, mainstream, commercial brands seem to be where the demand for “real” women models lie. Gary said, “We’re seeing a lot of people in dot-com, and definitely lingerie clients, but even [retailers like] JC Penney loves a straight size girl to be a 6 with a little more curve. The mainstream clients want that perceived-to-be-healthier shape.” Halchishick is having the same experience, telling me that Kohl’s has been really receptive to her agency and features models of many sizes and ethnicities.
So what’s it going to take before we see more than just–let’s be realistic here–rather stodgy retailers using size 6’s and 8’s? Halchishick believes that teenaged girls and their spending power can eventually change the industry. The not-for-profit arm of her business, called “Perfectly Un-perfected,” includes giving lectures and running programs on body image for girls at schools; Katie’s touring for the initiative next week. She hopes to share all the feedback she’s collecting from the girls with brands in hopes that they’ll change the advertising images they use.
Some of it is pretty eye-opening. Katie sent me a few copies of handwritten questionnaires from teenaged girls with some of their thoughts about size. Here’s a sample:
What grade are you in?
Do you like your body?
No. I don’t like wearing tight “girl” clothing because I feel huge everywhere I go. If I do end up wearing tight jeans, I feel like everyone is staring.
What is considered “fat”? Do you think you’re fat?
Fat: your sides are hanging off the sides of your pants. Yes I do.
What do you think about models today?
They are unhealthy. No one looks like them naturally.
Would you be willing to starve yourself or work out excessively to be a model or to be “model skinny”?
What is your current dress size? What size would you LOVE to be?
Dress size 5. I would love to be a 2.
This is only one example, but girls are obviously confused. (Hell, I haven’t been in the 11th grade for a long time, and I’m confused.) They see skinny models, want to be like them, yet call them unhealthy. “With the Dove campaign, it was about real women, but at the same time it wasn’t done in a way that was glamorous or had a level of fashion or beauty or any sort of appeal,” Halchishick said. “It made the ‘real woman’ a negative connotation. For girls it’s really bad. They don’t want to be the real woman. “ Would seeing curvier girls glammed out and pretty, who are smaller than size 16 but bigger than size 2 help?
The most over-used word in fashion and beauty marketing right now is “aspirational.” Advertisers want to show consumers better versions of themselves. More than once I’ve fallen for buying a bikini from Victoria’s Secret because it looked so amazing on the model. And fashion, especially designer fashion, is about the fantasy. What do you think? Could a size 8 model be the next Kate Moss?
Photos courtesy of Katie Halchishick