I was 17, 135 pounds and a size six.
I used to weigh less, much less, while working as a high-fashion model in Tokyo just a year and a half before. I was 5’11, a size two, and weighed 120 pounds. This weight was still considered “too big” by my agency who suggested that I tone-up.
But those days of eating hard-boiled eggs and plain yogurt were behind me. I scaled back on modeling and was interning in Manhattan during the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. I contacted my mother agent to see if I could meet with agencies in New York. My agent agreed and sent me to seven top agencies in the city.
Most of them were kind, but I could tell they didn’t want me. They said that they would be in contact if they were interested. My mother agent never got any calls back, but I still had one more agency to see.
This particular agency represents some of the most famous models, making it one of the most reputable agencies in the business. I waited nervously in the lobby, before the New Faces booker came out to greet me. He flipped through my book, occasionally nodding when he saw a picture he liked, and slid the book back to me once he was finished.
“You have a great face and look,” he said. “But, you aren’t exactly the size we are looking for in a new face.”
He stood up from his chair and paced around the conference room, staring out of the large office windows.
“You should try plus-sized modeling,” he remarked in a casual tone as he pulled out his phone and began typing, ignoring the fact that I was sitting right across from him.
I laughed. Partially out of the sheer awkwardness of the situation. But mostly because of the absurdity of those five words.
“Call us when you’re ready for that.”
He handed me my book, suggested I gain a few pounds to look a little “curvier,” kissed me on both cheeks, and sent me on my way.
As I walked out of the conference room, I saw a plus-sized model getting new Polaroids taken. I changed out of my heels and put on my flats as I watched this “curvy” model who was probably in her early twenties stick out her hip and stare directly at the camera. She was maybe a size eight.
I stuffed my heels into my bag and headed to reception. I saw another girl waiting in the lobby. She was skinnier than me and looked like she just finished middle school. Her grin was so innocent.
“Good luck,” I said as I pushed open the glass door and hit the elevator button.
How could I be a plus-sized model? I thought. Sure, my butt was bigger than the average high-fashion model, but that didn’t really matter, did it? God, my mom will not believe this. Should I tell my agent back home about this? Do I try to lose weight?
The elevator opened and I walked out of the lobby to the roar of buses and taxis. As I crossed the street away from the agency, I saw a model. She was famous. Not only did I recognize her, but the Chanel purse on her shoulder also signaled that she had made it. She was so skinny. Skinnier than she looked on last month’s Vogue Italia cover Meisel shot.
For the first time in my modeling career, I went and got an ice cream cone. I sat down on a bench and let the ice cream drip onto my hands as I balanced my book in one and my dessert in the other.
Was it really worth it? I wasn’t content with being placed into yet another arbitrary category that modeling creates for different types of women. At 17, I’d gone from practically starving myself – essentially trying to prevent my body from developing into adulthood – to being called the modeling industry’s version of “fat” in a matter of months.
Modeling a young age gave me a thick skin, which I still have to this day. But being called plus-sized before I’d even graduated from high school was something I wasn’t ready for. It felt like a was being told to tick a box marked “other.”
Now, looking back, I actually see this experience as a blessing in disguise. Since that hot June day, I was able to move on from my two-hour workout and diet-focused self.
I let go of the measuring tape and now lead a fuller life. Currently, I am a sophomore at The University of Georgia. I recently returned from a semester studying at Oxford, where I read classic Greek philosophy and studied human rights. At university I was able to feed not just my body, but also my mind.
Ironically, I ended up pursuing “plus-sized” modeling work that this agent put into my mind. I was reluctant at first, but it was the first time in my modeling career that I did not worry about fitting into a dress or “toning up” my thighs.
Plus-sized modeling has allowed me to accept my body, but I still don’t like the label. Separating models by their size is where the problem lies. I think that having one category without labeling whether models are “plus” or just traditionally thin (technically called “straight-sized”) would alleviate the pressure models face to fit into one end of the spectrum or the other.
I’d love to see female models of various shapes and sizes appear side-by-side on their agency’s website and be labeled as what we are: women.