A modeling agency that represents women of all sizes? In an industry that likes to categorize women--as "straight size" (0-2) or "plus size" (12-16)--it's a revolutionary concept. But that's just what former Ford agents Gary Dakin and Jaclyn Sarka, both of whom co-directed Ford's plus board for many years, have done in setting up their new agency Jag. "We are the first agency in New York that’s dedicated solely to women of all sizes," Dakin said. "The goal is putting girls of all sizes on the covers of magazines, in advertising, and not stopping."
The "plus size" modeling world has come a long way. (I put "plus size" in quotes because ask any model who happens to be over a size 0-2 and they'll tell you they want to do away with the phrase--as Robin Lawley, who is a size 12, recently told us, “I don’t feel plus-sized, I feel regular sized, and I think that plays with girls who look at me and look up to me and think, ‘Oh my god, if she’s plus-sized, then what am I?’”)
When Ford models opened a plus size division back in 1998 there was one "star" and that was Emme. Yes, she went by one name only, just like Cher. She was beautiful, blond, blue-eyed, buxom, and, well, everywhere. And then, for a while, we didn't hear much about plus size models. According to Dakin, in the late '90s and early '00s, plus size models were making a paltry $150 to "stand in a corner and wear an ugly sweater." "America was only used to seeing a size 14-16, blond hair, blue-eyed, very all-American concept of the plus size girl," Dakin said. "And they were a little uncomfortable with seeing the sexy, sultry, other side of it." But under Dakin's direction, America came around. He added Crystal Renn to Ford's plus board who walked the runways of Paris, starred in editorials in Vogue Paris, and landed a Chanel campaign. Ford models Tara Lynn and Candice Huffine covered Italian Vogue in June 2011.
The models on Ford's plus board were becoming more visible in the "high fashion world" and prompted important discussions about diversity of body size and health in the industry. And then, last month, Ford shuttered it, along with "classics" (read: women over a certain age) and kids.
"Ford decided to slim down and focus on their core business which is men and women’s fashion and the commercial divisions; there wasn’t really any room for [plus] anymore," Dakin said. "[Jaclyn and I] saw an opportunity to take the girls that we had developed and rebuild a brand, a different kind of brand."
That brand, Jag, won't be limited to representing one particular size of girl. "The average size of the girls [we represent] is a 14/16 but there are 10s and there are 18s and if there’s a size 8 or a size 6 that we fall in love with we'll take them on," Dakin explained. "We’re not going to limit ourselves, because the industry shouldn’t be limiting to anybody."
Jag is starting with an exclusive roster of about 30 models including Jennie Runk, Kaela Humphries (yep, Kris's sister), Kamie Crawford (Miss Teen USA 2010), Mckenzie Raley and Myla Dalbesio (she's a performance artist, too).
Runk made headlines a few months ago when she became the first plus size women to appear in H&M's swimwear campaign, modeling Beyonce's swimwear line. She became the subject of countless news stories, simply because of her size, and chose to address it in an open letter posted to Facebook writing, "People assume plus equates to fat, which in turn equates to ugly. This is completely absurd because many women who are considered plus-sized are actually in line with the American average."
At Jag, Runk hopes to continue to speak out about body image and become an inspirational voice for young women. "I feel like Jag offers...the best, most personal representation a model could ask for," Runk told us. "Not only do [Dakin and Sarka] always do what's best for my career, but they also do what's best for me as a person. Years ago, when I decided to go to college in Missouri [rather than move to New York to model full time right after high school], they never pressured me to change my mind... They did everything they could to make sure I was able to get the education I wanted without sacrificing my career. We've spoken recently about branching out from just modeling, and for me to rise up to my role as a public advocate for what I believe in. I am absolutely determined to defeat body hatred of any kind, anywhere I experience it, and they're not only willing, but excited to help make that happen."
Let's hope more agencies start following Jag's example and do away with the meaningless "plus size" categorization. Beauty is beauty, regardless of size.