How to Become a Plus-Size Model

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Now that the modeling world has finally started including a diversity of body shapes and sizes, becoming a plus-size model is more attainable—and more competitive—than ever. To jumpstart your plus-size modeling career, you need to build your portfolio, develop your talent, and find an agency to represent you. Learn more about these steps and discover insights from an industry professional in this guide.

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What is a plus-size model?

Plus-sized modelSergii Molchenko/Shutterstock

Just like straight-size models, plus-size models work in a professional capacity to promote and advertise products, concepts, and services. They walk for fashion brands on the runway and pose for photographs for social media, magazines, catalogs, and billboards. Plus-size models are now represented by major modeling agencies. They may also work without representation—particularly through blogging and social media platforms such as Instagram, which is how social-first models La’Tecia Thomas and Nadia Aboulhosn get their start.

“The fact that we’re still using the words ‘plus model’ [at all] is kind of stupid,” says modeling agent Gary Dakin. “They’re models. They do the same exact job as everyone else. Do we define a model by her color? Why are we doing it by size?” Dakin began his career at Ford Models’ plus division (now relaunched as its Curve division) before co-founding the all-size agency Jag Models with Jaclyn Sarka in 2013. Together, the duo carry more than two decades of industry experience, putting Dakin in a fine position to offer aspiring models of all shapes and sizes advice. 

Keep reading for more insider knowledge on plus-size modeling—or check out our guide on becoming a model for a comprehensive assessment of what it takes to get paid for your poses at any shape and size.

What are plus-size model measurements?

Plus-sized modelRODNAE Productions/Pexels

Plus-size models are usually a U.S. size 12 and up. Fashionuer reports that a plus-size model’s weight should be between 161 and 205 pounds, with a chest size of 41 to 45 inches.

How much do plus-size models make?

Plus-sized models at the beachRawpixel.com/Shutterstock

According to Comparably, plus-size models in the United States make between $10,060 and $181,237 a year, with an average salary of $35,429. Those working in bigger fashion and modeling cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Miami usually earn higher wages.

Plus-size modeling income also depends on the type of work. A modeling scout told Business Insider that plus-size catalog work makes the most money, followed by lingerie shoots, magazine editorial shoots, and finally catwalk shows. Plus-size models can also generate income through social media partnerships. For example, model Sarah Tripp told The Cut that it’s very possible to make a six-figure salary through Instagram sponsorships like her own with brands including Pink Desert and Natori.

Famous plus-size models

Plus-size models only started to receive agency representation in the 1970s. Today,  some models sign with top agencies, indicating a sea change toward inclusivity in the industry. Famous plus-size models include: 

Denise Bidot

Bidot was discovered while working as a makeup artist and soon became the first plus-size model to walk the runway for non-plus-size brands (HSN and CHROMAT) during New York Fashion Week. Signed with CAA, she has worked with Forever 21, Target, Lane Bryant, and Macy’s.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Denise Marie Bidot (@denisebidot)

Paloma Elsesser

After being discovered on Instagram, Elsesser has appeared on the cover of Vogue, in editorials for Elle, W, and Glamour, and in campaigns for Nike, Fenty Beauty, and Mercedes-Benz. She is represented by IMG Models.

 
 
 
 
 
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Barbie Ferreira

Ferreira has modeled for companies including Aerie, American Apparel, H&M, and Target, and is represented by Ford Models. In 2016, Time named her one of their “30 Most Influential Teens.” You may also recognize her as shy teen-turned-virtual dominatrix Kat from “Euphoria.”

 
 
 
 
 
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Ashley Graham

Model, author, TV presenter, and body positivity activist, Graham has appeared in Vogue and Glamour and was the first plus-size model on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Currently represented by IMG Models, Graham has been in campaigns for Bloomingdale’s, Lane Bryant, Macy’s, Nordstrom, and Target, and walked the runway for Michael Kors, Dolce & Gabbana, and Rag & Bone.

 
 
 
 
 
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Tess Holliday

Body positivity activist Holliday became the face of the A&E documentary series “Heavy” after producers saw her photos on Model Mayhem. She has been featured in Vogue Italia, Nylon, People, and Marie Claire. She became the first size 22 professional model when she signed with Milk Model Management.

 
 
 
 
 
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Robyn Lawley

Lawley has been on the cover of Elle France, Marie Claire Australia, and Cosmopolitan Australia; in the pages of Glamour and Sports Illustrated; and in campaigns for Lane Bryant and H&M. She is represented by One Management.

 
 
 
 
 
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Raul Samuel

Samuel made his name as one of the first well-known male plus-size models. He is represented by Bridge Agency and has been featured in Unilad and GQ.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Raul Samuel (@raulsamuel_official)

Jada Sezer

Body confidence influencer Sezer made a name for herself by recreating Vogue images on social media—and by running the London marathon in her underwear. She signed with Models1 Curve and was the face of the L’Oreal True Match Foundation campaign.

 
 
 
 
 
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What brands prioritize body diversity in their models?

Plus-sized modeliconogenic/Shutterstock

Many brands are making the move toward body positive imagery. They include:

  • ThirdLove: The lingerie company highlights women with diverse body types, sizes, ages, and colors.
  • Dove: The Real Beauty campaign showcasing its personal care products features user-generated “real women, never models.” 
  • Aerie: The lingerie and lifestyle brand’s #AerieReal campaign used unedited images of women with many different body types.
  • Thinx: This Menstrual and incontinence product brand’s EveryBody program promotes inclusive education and radical body acceptance. 
  • Girlfriend Collective: The fashion brand promotes marginalized bodies and features inclusive models in its ads. 
  • Universal Standard: This brand has reconceptualized clothing sizes: a “medium” is a size 18, and their Fit Liberty program allows customers to exchange items for whatever their current size is.

What do you need to be a plus-size model?

Plus-sized model posing in underwearRoman Chazov/Shutterstock

To start a modeling career, you need to look good, work hard, and exude confidence. More specifically, you should have: 

  • An appealing aesthetic: Just as with any type of modeling, a plus-size model should have a unique, attractive look.
  • Endurance: You may be asked to hold poses (sometimes uncomfortable ones) for long periods of time.
  • Communication skills: To properly heed requests from photographers, stylists, and other professionals at a shoot or show, you need to work and communicate well with others.
  • Flexibility: Schedules shift and shoots change, so adaptability and openness to change are helpful attributes. 
  • Charisma: Models should be graceful and captivating and be able to convey this through photographs and movement.
  • Passion: Interest in the industry, passion about modeling, and a body positive outlook will help you succeed.

How to start plus-size modeling

Plus-sized model in a dressstaras/Shutterstock

  1. Decide what kind of model you want to be. Just like with straight-size models, plus-size models have an array of mediums and specialties open to them. Interested in runway work? You’ll generally need to be at least 5’9”. Height matters less for fit and commercial models—for example, Holliday is only 5’5”. Other specialties include editorial, lingerie, and stock photos. You can also have a professional appraisal to figure out your type. Try reaching out to modeling agents and politely request an analysis of your look and future as a model. 
  2. Be realistic about your place in the market. “If you’re walking in here and you’re [very] ‘catalog,’ don’t expect Steven Meisel to be knocking down your door anytime soon,” says Dakin. “Some [people] are meant to be catalog, some are meant to be campaign, some can do both. Sometimes you have a niche, and it’s OK to be the [one] who makes money and isn’t going to runways.”
  3. Create your portfolio. Ensure you create a full modeling portfolio. The portfolio should have high quality photos showcasing your unique look and style, including a headshot, body shot, black-and-white shot, creative shot, location shot, and closing shot. It should also have your personal stats (age, hair and eye color, body measurements), professional summary, and contact info.
  4. Practice. Do test shoots to learn your best angle, expressions, and poses. Dakin says that when developing your modeling talent, “It is a craft so you should be looking in magazines and in catalogs, and seeing what [other professionals] are doing. Practice in the mirror so you know your angles and your body and where your body looks best. The best models practice. It sounds awkward and weird, but get in front of the mirror. Get your friend to take pictures of you.” You can also hire a modeling coach to guide you through the process and teach you how to market yourself as a model.
  5. Get your face out there. Exposure is the name of the game when you’re trying to break into the modeling industry. While getting representation is the most effective way of doing this, you can also find plus-size modeling jobs without an agent using:
    1. Social media: Follow plus-size brands, agencies, designers, and models and interact with them as much as possible. Post flattering, non-Photoshopped images and videos of yourself across social media platforms with relevant hashtags such as #plussizemodel, #modeling, #plussize, #bodypositive, #curves, and #plussizefashion.
    2. Plus-size model searches: Designers and brands, such as the Dove Real Beauty Pledge campaign, sometimes hold searches for plus-size models and for bodies of all types. Apply to those searches—even if you don’t get the part, you might be seen by someone who will think of you for future gigs.
    3. Freelance model sites: Joining sites like Model Mayhem (where Holliday was discovered) or Model Management help with visibility.
    4. Casting calls: Our modeling auditions and casting calls database offers opportunities to break into commercial, print, fashion, fit, and event modeling.
  6. Study the greats. Study other successful models, particularly plus-size models, to learn about their path to success. However, you likely don’t need to attend modeling schools. “You 100% do not need them,” Dakin contends. “I started out at John Casablancas [Modeling & Career Center] when I was younger. An agency can teach you the same things [they do]. Modeling is a [skill] that you can develop, but it comes from doing it or just having it naturally. No one can teach it.”
  7. Contact an agency. Send over digital images to agencies and attend open calls. “Send digitals of just your face, without makeup, and one full-body in a bathing suit, preferably, and your hair pulled back—very simple,” Dakin says. “If there’s an interest, we’ll call you in and sit down and have a conversation to see what makes you tick, as well as look at you physically. [We want to know] your background. How supportive is your family? [How strong is] your support system? If you’re from out of town, do you have accommodations? Do you need accommodations? The second step is to take pictures to see if [you’re] photogenic. The final step would be coming in and doing several test shoots and developing your book.”
  8. Choose an agent. “If an agency asks you for money in advance, or says you need classes or this or that—that’s not an agency,” Dakin says. “They should only make money when you do. Real agencies invest in [the individual]. The thing to ask is, who’s most excited about you? You can go from the biggest agency to smallest agency—they talk to the exact same people, so who are you clicking with? Go with your gut and what your feeling is. Don’t be impressed by the size of the office, the name of the agency, or someone’s history; go by who you feel gets you the most. We’ve had a couple of [clients] here who have had incredible successes and every other agency turned them down. [Their success] happened because we were excited about them.”
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Briana Rodriguez
Briana is the Editor-in-Chief at Backstage. She oversees editorial operations and covers all things film and television. She's interested in stories about the creative process as experienced by women, people of color, and other marginalized communities. You can find her on Twitter @brirodriguez and on Instagram @thebrianarodriguez
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