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The empowerment of plus-sized modeling

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Opinion columnist

APRIL 11, 2019

When most people think of models, they think of tall, beautiful, thin girls — they don’t think of curvy girls like me. When I tell people that I am a model, I almost always get a surprised look in return.

After spending all of my teen years hating my body, at 19, I had finally embraced my curves and was unapologetically confident about my size. I frequently shopped at my favorite plus-size store, trying on flowy summer dresses and admiring my body.

September was near, which meant that my 20th birthday was on the way, and so I went shopping for a nice dress to wear.

While trying on clothes, I looked in the mirror and I loved how I embraced my curves by wearing colorful dresses. I turned to the sales associate and said, “Doesn’t this dress make my curves look so beautiful.”

She smiled at me and responded, “Curvy and confident, that’s empowering! You know, the modeling agents from our store are having a plus-size casting to see who can represent us in the future, and I think you’d be a great choice!”

I had never considered modeling to be an option for a plus-size girl such as myself — I didn’t fit the mold of a model. I am not slim or tall with big hair nor do I have ridiculously beautiful features that models are usually described to have.

When I got back home, I threw my shopping bag on the couch and ran to the computer. I scrolled through model openings with eagerness, thrilled by the idea of being cast as a plus-sized model. I wanted to prove to myself and to others that, modeling isn’t just for skinny girls — it’s for curvy girls too.

I was shocked to find out that a day after I submitted a modeling application, I got an email back hiring me for events. A wave of fear came over me as I thought of walking on a runway and being photographed. I began to feel like I had overcommitted myself.

Although I had no plan and no idea about what was going to happen, I was committed to rejecting the idea that modeling was only for thin body shapes, so I decided I would attend the runway event.

The next week, as I arrived at the casting event in Torrance, California, I heard the excited chatter of more than 100 curvy, young ladies who were thrilled at the idea of having an opportunity to model.

I felt ecstatic to see so many girls with different body shapes. I would always see women who were only size 2 with tall, slim bodies. But at this event, girls with spoon, apple, pear and hourglass bodies were being hired to model. For the first time ever, my body type was seen as equally beautiful as any model. I felt like, even without getting picked, I was already a model simply by standing with the rest of the beautiful and curvy girls.

Although I felt that my curves were empowered by the casting event, I was nervous thinking about walking down the runway because I had never modeled in my life. I never thought I would ever be confident enough to show off my curves with plus-size modeling!

As I stepped inside of the casting dressing room, my hands became clammy. I felt the nerves of being onstage kick in. I closed my eyes, let a big breath out and told myself not to give up now. It was hard to gain so much self-confidence, and I was not going to let my nerves get the best of me. Even if I wasn’t cast, I came to this casting here and I had put myself out there — that was what mattered.

When it was my turn to model, I strutted down the runway, moving my hips from side to side, throwing smiles at the cheering crowd of girls and at the judges. I struck a pose, flipped my hair over my shoulder and walked back toward the exit of the runway. I had never felt so powerful or so confident in my life.

After the show, I waited anxiously with the other girls to see if I had made the cut. The director read off each girl’s name and handed them a folded paper with his decision on it. When my name was finally called, I glanced down at the sheet in my hands that read, “Curvy and beautiful, you’re in!”

A smile spread across my face as I held the paper in my hand — I knew that I had done it! My curvy presence on the runway, in photo shoots and onstage was proof that someone with my curvy physique can get hired to be a model too.

Plus-size modeling is by far the most liberating experience I have ever encountered. It has helped me further embrace my body and introduced me to girls just like myself, who inspire me constantly. I feel empowered knowing that my modeling has shown the world, as well as other girls, that being curvy is beautiful. If there is no modeling representation of plus-size girls, then girls will only see thin models, which stigmatizes curves. How can we feel empowered to be our authentic selves if we don’t see ourselves in the media modeling clothes?


Shirley Ojeda writes the Thursday column on body positivity. Contact her at [email protected].

APRIL 11, 2019