For centuries, the modeling industry had one look and very few sizes. The majority of them were thin, tall, and usually a size four or smaller. The lack of representation of women of various shapes and sizes left many women feeling inadequate, insecure, and not enough when it comes to beauty standards. Thankfully, times are changing, and we are seeing more and more diversity, reflecting more of the real world and all its beautiful shades and sizes.
There are a number of models who have made a splash in the world of full-figured modeling, opening the doors for other curvy models to follow after them. We want to celebrate them and fill you in on some of these fabulous ladies’ achievements and accomplishments. Here are 15 plus-size models you should know about!
[Additional reporting by Yvette Montoya]
When you think of the first plus-size supermodel, you most likely think of Emme. The trailblazer was the first plus-size model to be named as one of People’s 50 Most Beautiful People (in 1994), and later became the first full-figured spokesmodel for both Revlon and Clairol. Emme is also credited as the first plus-size model to appear on a billboard in Times Square, but the firsts don’t stop there. In 2017, at the age of 54, she walked for NYFW for the first time, modeling for Chromat.
Puerto Rican and Kuwaiti model Denise Bidot made history in 2014 when she became the first plus-size model to walk for two straight-size brands at NYFW. In addition to this, Bidot has modeled for several brands, including Levi’s, Nordstrom, Forever 21, Chromat, Macy’s, and Old Navy. She founded the No Wrong Way Movement, a self-love movement started for the purpose of encouraging and reminding everyone that “There is wrong way to be a woman” and #NoWrongWay to be you.”
You might have seen Paloma Elsesser stunning in all-denim at this year’s Met Gala. The Afro-Chilean-Swiss model was discovered on Instagram by makeup mogul Pat McGrath and has appeared in several fashion magazines, including Vogue, Teen Vogue, W, Elle, and Glamour. Another huge accomplishment of Paloma’s this year was landing the April cover of Vogue Mexico.
Ashley Graham is an instantly recognizable face in the modeling world, plus or not. The also television presenter has modeled for Levi’s, Lane Bryant, Target, Elomi, Hanes, and more, and has appeared on the covers of Elle Quebec and Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue. She was the first plus-size model to do so.
Some models have been able to work as both straight-size and plus-size models. One such person is Gambian/Swedish model Sabina Karlsson. As a plus-size model, she has worked for River Island, Maybelline, H&M, J Crew, Christian Siriano, Michael Kors, L’Oreal, and more.
Dubbed the “Naomi Campbell of Plus,” and “The Body,” Liris Crosse was the first plus-size model winner of Project Runway (during the show’s 16th season). She has appeared in Vogue, Vibe, Essence, Marie Claire, and British Cosmopolitan, and has modeled for brands including Lane Bryant and Ashley Stewart. In addition to all of this and much more, Liris penned the book Make the World Your Runway: Top Model Secrets for Everyday Confidence and Success and launched the Life of a Working Model Boot Camp.
If you want to know about an OG in the plus-size modeling game, then you have to follow Jennifer Barreto-Leyva. She describes herself on her Instagram as the first Latina plus-size model, as well as a “beauty diversity and size advocate worldwide,” television and radio host, fashion writer, and the editor in chief of Belleza XL magazine. After attending the Curvycon last year, Jennifer shared: “Feeling blessed to be a part of a growing industry with so many movers and shakers that care about changing social norms to become more size-inclusive! I’m truly happy to be included in these conversations and with amazing women who do the same!!!”
Colombian model Natalia Lorenzo describes herself as a traveler, influencer, and “confidence activist.” She grabbed attention for boldly and confidently showcasing her figure in an ASOS ad. Lorenzo is currently signed to Wilhelmina Models, in both Los Angeles and London, where she resides.
Chicana Rosie Mercado has done her fair share of modeling, but she is also a television personality, brand ambassador, and lifestyle coach. In 2012 and 2013, Mercado appeared in the reality TV show, Curvy Girls. Her motto is “embrace your inner beauty,” and many people are thanking Rosie Mercado for inspiring them to do just that: @jodipollakplusmodel: “I’ve been a fan of yours for years and you always inspire me to never give up on my dreams ❤️ Such a fantastic outlook, I’m going to use this to help fuel my hunger for “what I really want!”. Thank you Rosie ☺️”
With 1.9 million Instagram followers, Tess Holliday is one of the most popular plus-size models today. We’ve seen her everywhere including Fashion Week Spring 2020, where E! named her their Breakout Star, as part of her EFF YOUR BEAUTY STANDARDS Movement, or posing on the cover of Cosmopolitan.
Another inspiration is Brazilian model Fluvia Lacerda, known as the “plus-size Gisele” (referring to fellow Brazilian, supermodel Gisele Bündchen). In addition to being a model, Flavia is also a designer and an author. Her book, Fat is Not a Bad Word, was released in 2017.
Brazilian model Barbie Ferreira has over 479,000 followers on Instagram and plays Kat on the upcoming HBO show Euphoria. She has worked with brands including H&M, Moschino, Adidas, Forever 21, American Apparel, and Target.
Puerto Rican plus-size model Jakaliene Rivera was the winner of supermodel Tyra Banks’ Fiercely Real Model Search and has appeared in Seventeen and Glamour. She also competed in the Miss New York pageant in 2009 and walked the runway for Full Figure Fashion Week. Brands Jakaliene has worked with include the LaLa Anthony Collection (for Ashley Stewart), Rocca Wear, Baby Phat, Mandees, Miss Tina, House of Dereon.
Signed to Dorothy Combs, Afro-Dominican model Grisel Paula describes herself as “an entrepreneur in the making.” We think she’s doing a great job already; the brand she founded, Rebdolls, makes cool clothes for sizes up to 32 and boasts a staggering 258,000 Instagram followers.
Creator. Entrepreneur. Model. Latinx Frankie Tavares is all these things. She is currently signed to Kline Models, and is the founder of Curvy ALLSTARS, which promotes “body positivity with an active lifestyle at any fitness level.” And she also slays at providing inspiration: “Truth is, I wanted to give up so many times but I kept getting drawn back in. A random call, an email, a DM from one of you guys. When you’re supposed to do something, the universe tells you, you just have to be willing to listen. Funny thing is, it also tests the hell out of you at the most chaotic times. Get up & show up ANYWAY. Building something from the ground up is no easy task but each brick I (we) lay teaches me something new.”