Working very much behind-the-scenes and without cameras documenting the process, fit modeling is an invisible but invaluable segment of the fashion industry. Each Friday in the coming weeks, we'll share the stories of eight fit models, past and present, who will divulge the fascinating minutiae of this little-known but very integral (and well-paid) line of work. Next up: Model, mom and Darling magazine editor Sarah Dubbeldam. You can read the rest of the models' testimonials here.
"I worked as a commercial model for about four years, and I did campaigns for brands like Target, InStyle and Crocs so I was working in that space already. I found out about fit modeling because, for modeling in general, you have to get measured for certain body parts, and someone suggested that I meet with a fit modeling agency to get measured and 'screened,' basically. So I did; they measured my neck, the top of my shoulders, middle of my bicep, forearm, wrists, four different places on my waist, my top thigh, middle thigh, lower thigh, knees, calves, ankles ... literally every single part of your body and compared it to a perfect size four.
I did a lot of one-off [sub] fit modeling, where I'd come in when a model was out of town or on maternity leave that had the exact same measurements as me, and I'd fill in for them. I also had regular clients, but I could usually only do tops with most companies, because they thought my bottom was a little too large for a size four. For denim, my legs were long enough, my hips were a bit too big, but I had a small waist. For my regular clients, I'd come in every day or every other day and basically hold still for hours. But you get paid really well.
I was trying to be an entrepreneur, so fit modeling was great for me: I could just go stand for one hour, sometimes I could even be on my phone, and get paid really well for it. It was almost better than commercial modeling sometimes because it's so consistent. It pays really well because it's valuable for designers to have someone to build clothes off of; a live mannequin. So it seemed like a great opportunity, but how it made me feel was not great.
I'd dread that moment when the designer has you put on a sample pair of pants and they're pulling a little bit on my thighs. I'd tell them if I was PMSing or a little bloated, since everyone gains water weight, and I'd be self conscious of that, or I hadn't worked out in two weeks, I was always thinking in the back of my mind, 'Am I thin enough? Are they going to let me go?' From time to time, [the design teams] would say things like, 'Oh, you look like you've gained a bit in your arm, let's measure that really quick.' The anxiety connected to that, of constantly wondering, 'Am I going to be skinny enough today?' is the most terrible feeling ever, and I'd have that feeling every day.
Part of me understands fashion, measurements, and that our bodies all have proportions, but there isn't just one set of proportions for a body. The idea that your legs have to be so long is very strange to me: most people have to get their pants hemmed, so why are we using only one set of proportions to decide what a size four is?
The part I loved the most was to be able to comment on the clothing. The people I worked with would ask if I liked a top, if it was cut too low, if I wanted the buttons moved, how the sleeves felt, if the length was too short. I'd even get to help pick fabrics. A lot of fit models aren't that involved, but a lot of the designers I worked with were really open to that. You're almost helping a designer design clothes, which is really fun.
I think designers have good intentions and they want women to feel beautiful in their clothes; a lot of the people I worked with were amazing. But I think it's a larger systemic problem with our culture, that starts with the modeling industry. Fit modeling really opened my eyes to the modeling industry, fashion industry, and how it ties into advertising; the type of imagery we see as women. We're presented from a young age with a barrage of images where women all look the same, they're all a size zero to, at maximum, a size four, though that is starting to change slightly. So you're programmed from a young age to think that is beautiful and what you should look like.
With my magazine, Darling, I wanted to start to attempt to rewire peoples' brains and the type of images they see, to help redefine beauty as being broader than this one specific size. We can't get it perfect because we only have 100 pages, but how can we show women of different ages, sizes, ethnicities very broadly from issue to issue? How can we encourage other companies, from fashion lines to modeling agencies to advertisers to do the same and branch out with the idea of beauty. Then, as women we can start to see ourselves in this imagery and accept ourselves more."