How the plus-size modeling industry sometimes uses surgery and padding to achieve “perfection”
When you think plus-sized models, you think “real women.” You think girls who embrace their natural bodies, and don’t turn to unhealthy measures to stay in shape.
Well, what if that wasn’t the entire truth?
We spoke to current and former plus-size models and learned that some of the “Photoshop-free” plus-size models you see have either had plastic surgery to get their insane hourglass figures, or they’re wearing body pads to achieve the same effect. Plus-size models are under just as much pressure to be “perfect” as their straight-size counterparts.
Don’t get us wrong, the growing mainstream acceptance of plus-size body types is definitely good for our culture at large. But the underlying truth is that unrealistic body standards exist for models — and women — at every size.
“I definitely know that [the majority] of girls that are booking work have been altered,” says Emily Nolan, an ex-plus size model who has had surgery herself. Of course, there are no stats to back up these claims, but there are certainly other ex-plus sized models who have admitted to getting surgery.
Emily was one of those women. After working in the plus-sized industry and feeling like she couldn’t stack up against the curvy girls she competed against at castings, she underwent $25,000 worth of surgery to be more successful in the industry – boosting her from a size 14 to a 16.
Many plus-size models have breast implants, says Emily. Fat redistribution is also popular.
“What they’re doing now is taking the fat from the waist line and adding it to the hip,” she tells Galore. “Not just on top of the butt or the back — which they’re also doing — but now they’re adding it [to the sides] so when you shoot them from straight on they’re hugely curvy.”
Emily says in the plus-size modeling industry, instead of pushing models to be a size 0, agencies push them to be a size 14 or 16 – but only if they have the right measurements. In the industry, it’s called a drop ten, which is a ten inch difference from your bust and hips to your waist. Emily was a drop 11 in her peak.
“You never know, some people do have those crazy bodies,” says Emily. “But I will tell you, there are like 10 girls that have told me all of the girls that have had [surgery].”
This is harmful to consumers because many brands that employ plus-sized models will boast that they’re showing “real women.” But having larger measurements doesn’t always mean a woman is more “real.” These brands are capitalizing on the body positivity movement while depicting models whose bodies are just as unattainable as those of straight-size models.
“People are like, ‘Whoa, your body is so insane, we can’t wait to book you because we want girls without Photoshop and we love your curves,'” explains Emily. “And people like the average consumer have no idea [that these women have been professionally sculpted by surgeons]. They think these girls — who are booking all the work, by the way — are naturally like this.”
This isn’t meant to shame the plus-sized models who have gotten surgery. After all, plenty of straight-sized models have gotten surgery too. The problem is that plus-sized models are being labeled as “real” and promoting messages like “love your curves,” when in reality, the average plus-sized woman does not have the proportions of a Coca-Cola bottle.
“Honestly, I think [plus size models getting plastic surgery is] a topic that has been under the radar for a very long time,” she says.
She clarifies that she has no qualms with women who get surgical enhancements, and that it’s whatever makes someone happy and confident that’s important. But she does note that if someone has gotten surgery, it “defeats the whole point” of a Photoshop-free ad.
“And,” she adds, “that shit [plastic surgery] is expensive.”
But if you’re not trying to go under the knife, there’s another option for faking your curves that doesn’t necessarily involve Photoshop. Erin Henry, a model who, like Emily, was “too big” for straight size modeling, but too small for plus size modeling, was given a fat suit. Literally.
“I was a size 8/11,” she says. “So, immediately it was like, ‘Okay, here’s what you have to do. You get the [breast-enhancing pads] and you get a fat suit made and you get this fake butt from Frederick’s of Hollywood and you just take it everywhere with you in the plus-sized world.'”
And she wasn’t the only one.
“Everybody carries around some form of like, the big boob cutlets and the butt and like, extra thigh padding or whatever you need to do to fill out the clothes,” says Erin.
She echoes Emily’s statements that pressure in the plus size world can be just as immense as in the straight size world.
“If you’ve got a big butt, they also want you to have big boobs,” says Erin.
Obviously, this isn’t a plus-sized modeling issue only, and Erin says she had even more pressure to go under the knife while modeling straight size.
“I had more pressure to get more plastic surgery [when I was straight-size than] when I was plus because with plus it’s just so much easier to carry around the fat suit and the fake stuff,” she adds.
She also adds that it’s not the plastic surgery that’s the problem, it’s the fact that consumers don’t realize they’re looking at surgically altered bodies under the guise of body positivity.
“I know plenty of women out there doing the body positive stuff and I know what they did to get there,” says Erin. “Maybe they’re not photoshopped, but you know it isn’t 100 percent natural.”
But not every source I spoke to was as eager to talk about what may go on behind the scenes in the plus size modeling industry. In fact, one woman I spoke to got seriously offended when I asked her about plus size models going under the knife.
“I know no model [who has gone under the knife] other than girls who have had their breasts done throughout the years, other than a nose job, and honestly not even that anymore,” said Bernadett Vajda, an image consultant who previously modeled for ten years and who says she was the first curvy model in lingerie to ever be on The View. “I only know girls who get their breasts done now, but that’s always been their own personal thing, I know a model who had her breasts done because her agent told her she would get more lingerie, and she had them taken out because it’s not who she was.”
She went on to say none of the plus size models she knows have gotten work done and that many just wear Spanx and know how to pose for the camera.
“Depending on the type of modeling you’re doing and what your goals are and what your industry is and what your market is, I think that may be true for some girls, but the girls I know are definitely not going under the knife,” she added.
It’s possible Bernadett works more with models who are booked for jobs where they can’t hide padding under plenty of clothing. Again, this is not something that every plus-size model is doing — but it’s happening frequently enough that many in the industry know it’s going on.
Just as the straight size industry has models claiming their best diet secret is sleeping eight hours a night and drinking plenty of water, it seems like models in the plus-size industry are under the same pressure to claim they achieve their hourglass proportions with little effort. It’s expected from the straight-size industry, but when the plus-size industry preaches body-positivity and “no Photoshop,” it’s important for girls to know that might not be the full story.
Just like you shouldn’t hold yourself to looking like a Victoria’s Secret model at a size 4, you also shouldn’t expect to look like a Lane Bryant model at a size 14. No matter what size the model, when you look at an ad and see a woman with a “perfect” body staring back at you, there’s a pretty good chance you’re not seeing the whole truth.