What do you think of when you hear "plus size" model? Do you think of someone unattractive or slightly overweight? Or perhaps someone with sensual curves, a la Marilyn Monroe?
I'm not writing this post to cause a debate or make a statement or take a stance. Instead, I just wanted to share a couple of thoughts on my interactions with the topic. What got me thinking about this was earlier this year I was photographing this stunning woman (seen below) from the model agency Muse NYC. I love Muse. They have great women, are very professional, and are great to work with-- a fantastic agency. I was excited when I got to do a natural beauty test with Kristyna. A natural beauty test means that I am taking photos of her for fun (not publication) and basically just this model as she appears in every day life-- no crazy hair, makeup, or wardrobe. These shots are more about the essence of the model, her soul, her personality and her beauty. In my avant garde shoots the images are much more graphic and about current fashion trends. Natural beauty tests are really just me, the model and my camera.
When I was photographing Kristyna, she made mention that she had been added to Muse's new division: Plus Size. I stared at her a bit confused... She was tall, and striking... and had a beautiful body. I asked her what size she was, and she was a women's size 10. At first I was a bit appalled, since that is certainly not what I had considered plus size and that makes most women I know fit into that category. That being said, I absolutely understand how that makes sense. When a designer makes a collection, they design this collection at 'sample size'. This is typically size 0-4. The reason that there is a typical size is that when you only have the resources to make a single piece for your collection, you want to be sure it fits the typical model. For this reason there is a consistent model size. That way I know when my wardrobe stylist pulls clothes from a showroom (gets clothing for one of my shoots), I can gaurentee that it will fit my model. They all have general measurements from height, hips, waist and even shoe size. If a woman is striking but some of her measurements don't fit sample size, then she might work with a physical trainer to help her get to that size. Otherwise, she can model but not runway or for fashion. That's just how it works.
Recently a lot of modeling agencies have realized the importance of the 'plus size' market. Modeling agencies don't make their money from having models in Vogue or bizarre fashion editorials in big magazines. In fact, that pays almost nothing. The big money makers are in commercial advertising and catalog. Commercial advertising has had a big push for plus size models as this segment of the industry grows, and therefore agencies are adapting to this demand. One of my favorite photographers of all time has even recently done some nude images of famous plus size models, giving a nod to this major industry change.
Here are a few major agencies that have plus size divisions:
Here is where I currently stand in the situation. I photograph professional models all the time. Yet what I find interesting is many of them are not what I would traditionally find attractive anywhere other than in the modeling and fashion world. The professional models I photograph are often very tall, have small chests, and are almost alien-esque in their features. They may have big eyes, or unusual bone structure... but either way they are striking creatures. In fact, as you may know, many of these models without makeup are far from what we call 'traditionally' beautiful. That being said, their bone structure allows them to be molded with clothing and makeup into whatever vision I have for them. When I shoot for my style, I am generally not intending you to connect with the personality and soul of my model. Instead, my models are meant to be almost 'too perfect' and that help make my images about the clothing, graphic lines and other elements of high impact. You aren't meant to find them sexually attractive or even relate to them. I turn them into pieces of art.
In 'real life' the women I find alluring and attractive are completely different than what draws me to models, and thats okay. I love women with curves and sensuality. When I look at fine art nudes or boudoir photography, its not the stick thin women that captivate me, but instead women with shape and a curvaceous femininity to them. I do not find these differences between these two aesthetics to be contradictory. The purpose of my fashion model selection does not require the same attributes as a women that we outside of fashion find attractive.
Kristyna is one of the most striking women (in person) I have met, and she photographs beautifully. You can see some of the images I made of her in the couple of hours we spent together. Her natural beauty, without over the top hair and makeup is striking. I am planning a couple upcoming shoots where that are vintage-inspired... these shoots are much more playful and you are meant to interact with the subject. In this case, a plus size model or more shapely woman might be perfect. In other words, it all depends on the goals of your shoot. When I want your eye to be drawn more to the graphic elements and impact of the photo, I will select a more traditional fashion model. If I want you to connect with the beauty and soul of the model, then size doesn't matter. Its all about the type of beauty you are seeking and the role the model plays in creating that beauty.