‘Being plus-size does not mean you’re unhealthy’
Two women involved in the Irish plus-size modelling industry believe that retailers are moving towards a greater emphasis on more representative body types
Plus-size model Brianna Connaughton
It’s not silent, nor is it a revolution. But little by little, small victory by small victory, the Irish plus-size modelling industry is gaining traction. Women of a size 12 and over – which is the controversial industry definition of plus-size – are seeking not only to change existing standards of beauty and to educate young women about their bodies, but look good while doing it.
This story starts, like so many modelling stories, with a beauty pageant of sorts. Each year, Simplybe.ie, the Irish plus-size offshoot of British catalogue shopping giants JD Williams & Co, runs a customer-led search for its next catalogue star.
Brianna Connaughton, who has recently returned home to Ireland after a stint modelling in New York, won first prize five years ago, beating more than 6,500 hopefuls. She remembers it as a golden opportunity to meet someone she admired.
“There was an ad on the radio saying, ‘Do you want to meet Gok Wan?’ and I was like, yes,” she laughs. From there, she worked with Simplybe.ie and was quickly signed to the agency Andrea Roche Model, moving from Prima, a smaller agency in the southeast. She travels to New York every month or two for shoots.
Vicki Mooney initially followed a similar career path. She is now the head of V Plus Models, a new model agency devoted to promoting plus-size models. Mooney came second in the competition the year after Connaughton, and was also with the Andrea Roche Model Agency before resolving to push the boundaries of plus-size fashion.
“At one stage in my life I was 28 stone, so I know what it’s like for people to look at you and not really see you as a person, but more as a fat person,” she says. “So, when I lost weight and I started modelling, it was always in the back of my mind that, at fashion shows, the women were always seen as hangers and the actual girls were never represented.”
This lack of representativeness has pushed Mooney to host the Role Model Show, a model showcase taking place in the Mansion House, Dublin, on Friday, which aspires to empower women.
“I want to show that every single girl in our agency is a role model to younger women, to older women, to women who are on a journey, who are struggling,” she says. “The show itself is quite different. The girls will only have one outfit change. As the girls walk out on stage, a video will come up at the Mansion House of each girl’s personal journey.”
Connaughton, although she is not involved in the event, thinks it is admirable. “Anybody or any agency that can encourage women to view their bodies more positively, I am 100 per cent behind. The more that happens, the better.”
While successful plus-size models tend to be as tall as runway models and have the same facial symmetry and are photogenic, they also have a waist-to-hip ratio more akin to the national average than the average model.
Models such as Robyn Lawley, Crystal Renn and Vogue cover favourite Kate Upton (not a plus-size model, but considered slightly larger than the average due to her bra size) are simultaneously upbraided for projecting a supposedly unhealthy body image by some, while considered not to be plus-sized enough by others: Lawley is a size 12 and Renn has slimmed down from a size 16 to a 10.