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America's Next Top Model

The Measure of a Woman: Clearing Up What It Means to Be a Plus-Size Model

Whitney Thompson, Cycle 10 winner of America's Next Top Model (the first plus-size one ever!) and a model for Wilhelmina, clarifies what exactly plus-size means in the modeling industry.

Model Math: Model Size < Plus Size < Average Size

There is a lot of confusion about the standards for plus-size models. It may be difficult to grasp the concept of size six being labeled “plus” when the average woman is a size 14, but this is the fashion industry. Yes, I know, this concept is illogical. If plus is greater than a regular model's size, and the average size is greater than plus, something is wrong.

As a regular sized model in high school, I was a size four but I was still considered “too fat” to model. What it boils down to is that some size fours are skinny enough because their hips measure 35 inches, while other size fours are too fat because their hips measure 36 inches. That is the breaking point in the industry. Anything above 35 inches is too big, and goes into plus territory. In the plus world, we use sizes more than measurements. I don’t have the faintest clue what my measurements are now, but as a skinny model I had to measure myself every week.

Now if a size four is the where the split takes place, that means any woman larger than that (a size six) is considered “plus." With that in mind, a majority of plus girls are larger than a size six. Most plus agencies will only accept girls that are size eight or higher. Also, as 5’10” tall model, my weight could not not dip under 160 pounds in order to remain “plus" so some agencies have height/weight requirements. In additon, some agencies will only take size 12 and higher, but I have worked with “plus” models that were tiny and had six-pack abs, so it really varies by agency.

Another issue in distinguishing plus size models, is that no one is the same size in every cut of clothing. For example, I can still wear a size four to six in dresses, but my pants are more of a 10 to 12. What cut of clothing are they talking about when they measure size? Usually a pant size is the best cut to give.

I think that the most important thing that agents search for is proportion. People really like to see symmetry and hourglass shapes. It is important that plus models have a waist line, breasts, and rounded hips (and the face is extremely important as well). Plus models are supposed to be fuller because they represent “sexy” in the industry. Before there were 15 year olds with breast implants, you had curvy girls and you had skinny girls, and the skinny girls were picked on because they “needed meat” on their bones. I’m talking about the Marilyn Monroe’s (who was a size 14) and Sophia Loren’s of the world. We as a culture have always believed that size 10 to 14 was the optimal size. Now we are trying to be a size zero. What is a size zero and why would I ever want my body to be a size zero? Curvy=sexy.

Did you know Tyra was a size six when she modeled for Calvin Klein? Then CK went “heroin chic” or as I like to call it, “gross,” but they are now using actress Eva Mendes as a model now, so perhaps a curvy girl will slip in there soon and the standard will shift again.

Agencies are not looking for unhealthy women, just curvy women. There is a huge misconception in the industry that plus-size models are unhealthy or obese. You know what is unhealthy? Smoking cigarettes all day, starving yourself, and snorting cocaine to stay thin. I know many skinny models who do this. I don’t know one plus girl who smokes, does drugs, or has an eating disorder. And, all of my plus friends work out several days a week. We might be larger, but we don’t jiggle! I run to stay in shape as well as fill my meals with fresh fruits and vegetables. I never deprive myself, I just make a point to include healthy foods. Life is about balance. I go to the doctor and I am considered “healthy." I have normal blood pressure, my BMI is where it’s supposed to be. To be honest, I’m a little sick of people thinking that I am injecting my veins with butter. I do not advocate obesity.

To be clear, my message has always been that healthy is beautiful. I believe that beauty is not a size, an age, or a procedure. Everyone’s measure of health is different. What is healthy for you? Remember, there will never be one size that is accepted by everyone as the perfect size so you might as well give it up. Focus on being the best person that you can be, regardless of what the media tells you. Fashion says size six is plus-size right now, but I say wait it out. This too shall pass.

In addition to her thriving modeling career, Whitney also designs and sells candles and jewelry on her website, where a percentage of the proceeds go to the National Eating Disorder Association. You can also follow her on Twitter @WhitneyANTM.


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Related: America's Next Top Model, Fashion, Whitney Thompson

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