NEW YORK – Plus-sized models are making strides in the fashion business — but the definition of "plus" isn't exactly realistic for many women.
Some larger supermodels include Kate Dillon, size 14, featured in the April issue of Vogue and Mia Tyler (sister of actress Liv), shot in a bikini for Glamour's May issue. But these women and the plus-sized figures pictured in a recent Lane Bryant photo shoot glistening on the beach in bikinis and clingy tops may cause a double take over the "plus" label.
"I think it's common in the fashion business to use average-sized models for plus-sized advertising," said Maryanne Bodolay, executive administrator for the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. "Some lines like Lane Bryant will hire normal-sized models and pin the plus-sized clothes on them so they fit."
Catherine Lippincott, spokesperson for Lane Bryant, said she is unaware of this practice, but acknowledges that they use size 14 models for their campaigns to sell clothes to women up to size 28, and sometimes the models "are only size 14 on the bottom half of their bodies."
Those in the industry say the models in fashion magazines, whether size 2 or size 20, should look more stunning than an average American woman.
"Models are supposed to be gorgeous — that's why they're models," said Susan Georget, who founded the Wilhelmina modeling agency's "Ten 20" division, which manages models ranging in sizes 10 to 20, including some of the top names like Dillon and Tyler.
"I do speaking engagements across the country and I've never heard anyone grumble that plus-sized models look too good, and that they'll never look like that. Each model can spark a little seed inside each consumer that says 'I can wear that,' and 'I can look like that.'"
Zaftig models posing confidently in the latest styles may embolden some women, but others still dream of shedding pounds to look more like Victoria Secret's stick-thin Gisele.
"Readers, especially fat people, have a lot of self-shame and don't want to see someone that looks like them in a magazine — they want to fantasize," said Bodolay. "The average fat woman is treated horrendously in this country so they are always living in the future with what their bodies will be. They want to have that fantasy."
Bodolay pointed out that while there are increasing numbers of sized 12 and 14 women in editorials and advertising, women wearing larger sizes are still underrepresented. Mode magazine ceased publishing last year because of this reason, she said.
"Mode didn't please anybody, advertisers or readers," she said. "They weren't making any ground roads and should've taken chances adding some size 24 or 26 women."
But acceptance of varying female physiques is slowly taking place, according to fashion insiders.
"The fact that there are sized 14 women in major fashion magazines is groundbreaking," said Lippincott. "It's a wake-up call to Americans to say 'what is plus-sized?' — a morbidly obese woman eating an ice cream cone at the mall or is it Kate Dillon?"
Katrina Szish, senior editor for GQ is optimistic but realistic: "The hype always comes from within the industry itself. The average American woman who is that size doesn't finally feel liberated saying, 'Gosh, now everyone accepts me,' but it is a step in the right direction."
Despite the slow pace with which the country embraces beauty in all shapes and size, the future for plus-sized fashion seems bright to Wilhelmina modeling agency's Georget.
"It's a trend that's going to take hold and become the norm," she said.
"It will be natural to look at different body types and be inspired by the beauty, grace, clothes, and photography. I won't have a job anymore. That's my goal — to be out of work."