Wednesday 20 November 2019

Plus-size Models: Ahead of the curve

They represent thousands of Irish women, but are plus-size models accepted in the fashion industry?

From left; Karen Forde, Lena Zellerhoff, Vicki Mooney and Jean Callaghan Barrett
From left; Karen Forde, Lena Zellerhoff, Vicki Mooney and Jean Callaghan Barrett
Vicki wears Jasper Conran dress, Debenhams, jewellery, Monsoon, belt and shoes, Penneys
Karen wears satin dress and coordinating shoes from Karen Millen

Alison O'Riordan

Alison O'Riordan talks to four models who love their curves.


I am a size 12-14. I decided to put myself out there and give modelling a proper go after a man approached me on the street for promotions. I took a few shots to a Dublin agency and, to my surprise, they took me on straight away.

Shortly after that, I took part in the 2011 Simply Be Curvy Competition and was crowned one of the runner-ups, which meant another huge opportunity to model throughout the country.

Lena wears strapless dress, lace shoes and pearl jewellery, all Monsoon
Lena wears strapless dress, lace shoes and pearl jewellery, all Monsoon

I would not want to lose any weight. I am very happy being the size I am and so are my agencies and clients. Losing weight would cause me a lack of work.

I believe that being either overweight or underweight are equally as unhealthy – not only because of the physical consequences, but especially because the often very negative attention that overweight and underweight people receive will inevitably have a huge impact on one's self-esteem.

As a plus-size model, I don't dress differently to skinnier models. I particularly like to wear fitted pieces that accentuate my figure. There is no difference as far as I am concerned.

I haven't had any bad experiences within the industry as a plus-size model and I am accepted by all other models; usually, the other girls are just as lovely. I often feel they might be a little fascinated by the fact that you can be successful as a model without having to excessively count calories and obsess over going to the gym every day. I love being a plus-size model simply because if I can encourage just one woman or young girl out there to embrace and flaunt her curves, that, to me, is a huge achievement.

Jean Callaghan Barrett wears tunic and disco pants, Gemma Collins at and shoes, Carvela
Jean Callaghan Barrett wears tunic and disco pants, Gemma Collins at and shoes, Carvela

I don't find it intimidating as a bigger girl in the modelling world. We are all there to do the same job: we are there to sell a product. We look after ourselves and make sure we don't gain or lose weight.

Things are getting better in regards to being booked for as many fashion shows and photo shoots as skinnier models. The demand for curvier and real-sized women out there is slowly increasing.

Crystal Renn, who was the world's leading plus-size model, complained in 2010 that a photoshoot was altered to make her look slimmer. Booking a curvy model and then retouching the shots so that the model looks slimmer defeats the purpose.

Society has come around to accept plus-size models and I am thankful for it. Real women can relate to us as we are closer to reality for them.

There is definitely a public appetite for fleshier models. It's about time people within the industry realise that we all carry responsibility. What message are designers sending out to all the young girls when they are showcasing their new collections on size 0 models?

It would be great if we could learn how to be a little bit more mindful of that.


A curvy model generally constitutes a model over size 14. I'm currently a size 18 but I constantly fluctuate between a 14 and 18. I'm most comfortable when I'm a size 14, though, and that's the size at which a curvy model tends to get most bookings.

I try not to focus on the scales too much. Either way, I try to accept myself and be confident in my own skin.

We're surrounded by so much talk of diets and weight issues that it's hard not to get caught up in it sometimes. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and it should be celebrated; it's not about the number on the scales.

There are multiple reasons why somebody might be underweight or overweight, and with each there are health risks. I wasn't built to be a size six and if I strived towards that I would be putting my life at risk.

A size 14 is very healthy for me, and as long as you have a balanced diet and are getting all the right nutrients, the focus shouldn't be on the number on the scales. People should stop being so judgmental of each other when it comes to size.

Every woman should dress for her shape, regardless of her size. It's really important to learn how to accentuate your best assets. Despite my curves, it's still very much possible to wear what's on trend. Not everything is going to suit every body shape, but it's all about taking the key elements and working it into your outfit.

I feel no different in the industry, being curvier than other skinny models. I don't feel I'm treated any differently just because I'm a curvy model. The reality is that Ireland is a small pond when it comes to the modelling world, so there is only so much work to go around.

The straight-size models will always be the norm for the fashion industry. It can be easier to dress them, so I understand why there might be more of a market there.

The average woman is a size 12-14 these days and I think the fashion industry overall should be more representative of that.

There is more of a market for bigger models. Women find it tiresome, constantly being bombarded with images of slim models whose body shapes they will never be able to achieve simply because, genetically, they weren't made that way.

I'm currently in the middle of setting up a website about my life, weight issues, fashion and beauty. I'm really excited about it and I hope I can help other women and young girls feel comfortable in their skin.

I'm passionate about helping people realise they don't have to hide away just because they don't look like a six-foot Amazonian goddess.


I'm a very curvy size 18. I never used to believe in myself because at one stage I was a size 32, weighing 28 stone. But I lost half my body weight and found enough confidence in my size-18 frame to enter a Miss Curvy Competition in 2010.

I came second behind Karen Forde, another stunning plus-size model. I was thrilled with coming second, but to receive calls from modelling agencies in the month that followed gave me the real boost I needed to embrace my body and curves even more.

I'm just like every other woman when it comes to the weighing scales: terrified if it's up and excited if I'm down a pound. Once I can stay healthy, active and fit into what's in my wardrobe, I'm happy.

I'd imagine being overweight is more unhealthy than being underweight due to the increased health risks that extra weight carries. However, in a perfect world we would all be the ideal BMI. It's far from a perfect world, though, and I believe being healthy in diet, as active as possible and having a positive mindset is a great place to be.

Unfortunately, with my extra lumps and bumps, a lot of the 'skinnier' stores don't cater above a size 14/16, so I do dress slightly different to the slimmer models. I wouldn't show off my tummy or the waistband of my trousers as I carry most of my weight there, but I can still dress as chic as the next chick.

As a fleshier model, I feel like an exception within the industry. I'm the largest model in Ireland, yet I represent a massive amount of women. However, I always feel as though there's a huge emphasis on 'plus models', be it on a catwalk or for a television slot. It's as though we're unique, when in fact we represent the average girl rocking the streets of Ireland.

Naturally, when you're stripping down to your underwear besides a naturally slender beauty like Holly Carpenter, it can be a little terrifying. My body isn't picture-perfect and I'm aware that I'm the biggest girl in the room, but that's just my own insecurities – other models pay no attention.

In the beginning, I was filled with fear at the thought of standing beside two perfect size-eight models, but it wasn't until one stunning, slimmer model told me she felt intimidated by me – by my presence, my hair, how I came across on television – that the fear subsided and I realised, beneath it all, women of all shapes and sizes have their own insecurities.

I definitely do not feel I am booked for as many fashion shows and photoshoots as skinnier models. I blame the likes of Karl Lagerfeld and his crude and negative comments about plus-size models for the lack of demand and not being taken as seriously.

I only know of approximately 20 plus models in Ireland compared with the hundreds of skinnies. One would imagine there's a lot more work for us, but between retailers favouring slimmer models and stylists who really cannot style a plus-size model, it's an uphill battle.

Two years ago, I felt there wasn't enough awareness among curvier ladies regarding which stores stock which sizes and where to find a belt for a larger waist. I found that there wasn't enough information for the curvier girl to find out how to dress for her shape or size.

So along with my curvy BFF, Anna Carroll-Browne, we wrote a book on fashion and styling for ladies of a size 14 plus. We used 15 different women ranging in sizes 14-26 and we styled them, photographed them and talked about how we did it in our book. It's called 'Curve-a-licious' and it's available in all good bookstores.


I am a sexy size 14 with real hips and a bust and I couldn't be happier with my shape. I would absolutely not like to lose weight. I am a curvy model who is consistently modelling fashion. I embrace my body and love my shape.

I focus on eating clean for my future and my energy levels, so I can live the way I want to live. There is far too much misery and objectification already in this world, with the idea of 'full-figured' encompassing negative connotations. It's complete insanity.

I refuse to join that club of body haters. My doctor is delighted with my cholesterol, white blood cell count and blood sugar. My weight is a little over average but, what gives – so are Serena Williams and Brian O'Driscoll. I'm size healthy.

Let's be clear, being underweight is not healthy. Being overweight, if slightly overweight, is not detrimental to health. The concept depends on how overweight a body is.

If medically you are deemed unhealthy due to weight alone then losing pounds becomes necessary for fitness. If tragedy struck and an illness took hold of an individual who was underweight and an individual who was overweight, albeit slightly, the person who has more protection – or fat, in plain terms – around their organs has a better chance of survival.

I have a cult following of more than 2,000 subscribers from all over the world on my social networking page 'Miss Curvy', where I update the plus-size enthusiasts of the world.

There is a huge misconception in the market regarding the term 'plus-size', as it is a size, like any other. Yet, it automatically takes a subsidiary position on our high street.

I don't wear different clothing to slimmer models. I cinch in my waist and I love skinny jeans. Style bypasses size; it is all-encompassing.

I am not a hanger, of course – I have a bust and rounded thighs, but I do not hide my shape. I embody it with suitably unique and structured clothing.

My feeling rests with the fact that if you have confidence, the world is for the taking. We are all beautiful, be it slim or full-figured.

I am not booked for as many fashion shows and photoshoots as skinnier models. This has always been an issue. It is usually a ratio of 6:1. The industry is partly at fault, but the haute couture houses are more to blame as they use a restricted sizing ratio and much younger girls. You need to put it into perspective, be aware and not compare yourself. You will succeed if you believe in your shape.

Society has a lot of pressure from the media and its projected ideals to fully integrate 'size healthy' into the fashion world, but I live in hope.

I want to shop in Topshop, but sizing is atrocious. I want to shop in Karen Millen, but the body shape they use is obviously medieval. So I find online shopping grabs my attention, with doing excellent lines. The high street could do with a shake-up and a larger variety.

I know who I want to be, and that girl is Miss Curvy.

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