The fashion industry has long exploited its discomfort with larger body sizes. However, since about 2015 leaps have been made towards creating a more inclusive world for models and consumers. Or at least we thought. At the end of 2021, a model revealed that during her plus-size shoots, she is “very much encouraged” to wear padding. Her TikTok exposing this truth gained the attention of thousands. Unfortunately, this isn’t a first for the industry.
Cherry Picking Plus-Size Measurements
European model, Karoline Bjørnelykke, exposed a modeling industry secret to the heavy populated social media platform TikTok. She shared that she is often hired for XL through 5XL clothing ads. In the clip she stated “If you have eyes, you can see I’m not that size. So how do we fix this problem?” Karoline shared “Well, basically I have to bring to work something called padding, which is basically a fat suit in separate pieces.” She then stuffed it into her clothing to show how it works. The redhead model explained that casting agents will hire thinner women over curvy women because “they still want the neck and face to look really slim and sharp.” TikTok users left comments on her video, “Oh, the jawlines makes sense now.” Another wrote, “I just realized how many times I have fallen for this by being ashamed of my double chin.” And a third person chimed in with “This is why I’m so self-conscious about my face shape.”
Unfortunately, the industry is no stranger to this practice. The New York Post spoke with plus-size models back in 2019, giving them the space to get real. A 22-year-old model exposed “They want you to have small arms, a beautiful jawline, a slim waist, but you can have all the boobs, a**, and thighs you want.” They also explained that it’s an endless cycle of “what’s going to be the trendiest size.” One woman shared “The standards for beauty are just as rigorous for plus-size models. There’s times where I’m like, ‘Should I lose or gain weight?’ I’m always wonder what the industry is wanting next.”
’15 to ’22, Has Anything Improved?
In 2015, Refinery29 shared conversations of six women who work(ed) as plus-size models. The women discussed the morale of the industry and opened up about the padding phenomenon.
- Sabina who was 26 at the time told Refinery29, “I gave up straight-size modeling four years ago because I couldn’t keep it up—I was never skinny enough. It just got to a point where I was so exhausted, working out three times a day—not even eating oatmeal just because [I thought it] was unhealthy.” She continued to talk about her experience using padding as a plus-size model and how she didn’t mind it if the clients were happy. However she did include “I would prefer us to not have to wear pads. When I was straight-size, I wasn’t skinny enough, and now I’m plus-size and I’m not curvy enough. It would be nice to be like: I’m this model, and this is me. For society to know that curvy models don’t have the same sizes … you can be curvy and a size 12.”
- Michelle, 24 (at the time), shared “I started off plus-size, and I’ve always been curvier. I always had a booty and boobs … Over the years, clients have been going from looking for smaller plus [models] to suddenly they want bigger … they go for more 14/16. And then, sometimes they love a 12.” She compared adding padding to clothing as a similar technique to pinning back clothes on straight-size models. Michelle explained that having 50 outfits in a day and them all having a different fit, it can help out the stylist. The model continued, “There is a big range. Some of us have to wear padding … I, for example, only wear it every now and then – not for every client. But, yes, my agency [has] girls starting at a size 6. Unfortunately, sometimes the smaller girls don’t work as much. I would hope that does change. That’s the middle range that people are missing.
- Lauren expressed her viewpoint through the purpose of modeling to begin with. “It’s about making the clothes look good,” she told Refinery29. “There is definitely a plus-size ideal, which is why plus girls pad. But, [I] don’t think striving for that ideal by using pads has bad intent. I pad on set because I don’t have a very curvaceous bottom half; the pads make the clothes look better.” She continued, “10 years ago, the girls, the agents, and the clients in the industry never would have dreamed of what’s happening now. And, it’s happening as such an accelerated rate; we can only dream of what will happen in another 10 years. Hopefully, there will be an industry where there aren’t any categories as all.”
And as we sit here just three years away from that 10-year mark, do you think the industry is on track to that type of reality?
High Fashion Model Reveals Her ‘Fat Suit’
Karoline Bjørnelykke has walked the runway for major fashion houses such as Louis Vuitton and Armani. She has also taken jobs that call for a plus-size model, which she recently exposed for perpetuating harmful body standards. Bjørnelykke told Insider “I want the consumers to know about this since I believe a lot of the power lies with them if we want to change the industry.” She continues, “They can make better choices and also don’t feel bad when not looking like the models in the ads.”
The TikTok was inspired by a conversation with a friend about their modeling career. Despite being “very thin” as Karoline described, her friend was still on the plus-size/curve board and was only getting work while using padding. Karoline told Insider “[This] doesn’t only create unrealistic standards. but impossible ones. My suggestion is just to use real plus-size women because there are so many gorgeous plus-size women out there.”