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domingo, 21 de agosto de 2011

Belle curves: Sexy shape of now

Plus size models
Plus-size models L-R Penelope Benson, Robyn Lawley and Fiona Falkiner. Picture: Tim Carrafa Source: Herald Sun
IT ALL started with one creamy little belly in a picture way down the back of a fashion magazine.
In the shot, 20-year-old American model Lizzie Miller sits side-on to the camera, beaming in a tiny red G-string, her little stomach roll flopping free.

The image, which appeared on page 94 of the US edition of Glamour back in 2009, was so unassuming that you'd flick straight past it were it not for the naked, joyful beauty of a woman clearly happy with her size. But this could well go down as the date when the voice of women over a size 10 to 12 came into the fashion mainstream.
The response from readers was instant, and so intense it made headlines around the world. The day the magazine hit the newsstands, the internet lit up with excited tweets, blog comments and hundreds of emails to Glamour editor Cindi Leive that roared their approval and applauded the celebration of a real woman.
Slender women are real too, of course. But as models just kept getting thinner and looking glummer as the new century rolled on, the response to Miller's well-nourished image was a powerful message that consumers wanted other versions of the female form to at last gain entry to the fashion club.
Where UK society girl Sophie Dahl's short-lived plus-size modelling career failed to pave the stilettoed way for many others (Dahl shrank in the early noughties), Miller's pot belly appeared to be a catalyst. In the years since, gorgeous women previously considered astronomically oversized by the industry's skeletal standards have been embraced in the world's poshest fashion pages.
And the latest plus-sized bombshell to have her name up in global lights is Australia's own Robyn Lawley. The 22-year-old was one of three curvaceous beauties featured on the cover of none other than trend-setting Vogue Italia in its July "Belle Vere" (Real Beauties) edition. And once again, the response to the shoot (by fashion-snapper deity Steven Meisel) was extraordinary - and influential.
Lawley's agent, former plus-sized model Chelsea Bonner, describes the reaction to the image of a lingerie-clad Lawley sitting legs akimbo with two other babes and some bowls of spaghetti as "enormous - out of control". "It went viral overnight and hit hundreds and hundreds of publications all around the world," Bonner says, making no attempt to conceal her joy. "Italian Vogue is a trend-setter for the world - they start something and it filters through everywhere."
At the time, a thrilled Bonner told fashion blogger Patty Huntington: "It's just a complete validation of what I've been trying to say for the last nine years: that curves and high fashion do work. And given the same opportunities as any other model gets, the result is just as beautiful, just as amazing, just as glamorous.
"To be given that sort of opportunity, and for Robyn to blow it out of the water like she has; it's proof that it can be done and it should be on a regular basis."
Lawley had graced the cover of the curvy issue of French Elle in April, and before that had been seen in Australian Cosmopolitan, winning its reader-voted Fun Fearless Female Rising-Star title this year. She also made a big splash in a "straight" fashion shoot (that is, not specifically aimed at plus-sized consumers) in Australian Vogue's September issue, the magazine branding her "the shape of now".
Lawley is just one of many highly successful models at Bonner's plus-sized specialist agency, Bella model management, to be in demand here and in the foreign fashion capitals. Also featured in our picture opposite are two other high-profile plus-sized Australian models, Penelope Benson, the face of Playtex in Australia, and Fiona Falkiner, former contestant on The Biggest Loser. Falkiner now enjoys a thriving modelling career and is the image of two large local brands.

FOR Chelsea Bonner, seeing girls of size 14 to 16 win a place in conventional high-fashion magazines is satisfying on a deeply personal level. She saw her younger sister, Hanna, nearly die of anorexia and bulimia in her 20s. A former model booker and plus-sized model, Bonner, 37, has made it her mission to work to foster healthy body image, and bodies, ever since.
Hanna, she says, "came back from living in America and she was just frightening (to look at). We went through the battle with her for about three years and didn't know if she'd wake up in the morning. The doctor said if she didn't start eating she would be on a colostomy bag in 12 months. She grew hair all over her body and her period stopped - it was just horrifying to watch."
Thankfully, Hanna recovered. But the experience of seeing what starvation dieting is capable of doing to a mature woman's frame, and also what it can do to healthy young girls who go into modelling, pushed Bonner into starting her own "real women" agency. Before starting Bella, in her early days as a model booker for fashion spreads, she witnessed some horrifying habits among ambitious young models.
"These girls would wander in looking like they were half dead," she says. "I saw girls scraping the tiniest bit of Vegemite on a piece of toast and that would be all they would eat for the whole day. Models would walk in with red eyes and say they had a bit of a cold, but I knew from my sister that they were red because they'd been vomiting and blown all the blood vessels in their eyes. Their hair gets limp, their skin loses its glow, and everyone just styles them around it, puts more make-up on and sends them out again. I've seen things like that that would make your hair curl. And you believe her, given the recent spate of stories about models or their mothers seeing girls eating cotton wool balls dipped in orange juice to combat hunger.
Bonner is quick to point out that she does not want to push any "anti-slender" barrows, either. Her agency advocates acceptance of women whatever their size, so long as they are healthy and fit. And she argues stridently that accepting women who are larger than the sample size 8 for the catwalk, or up to size 10 for shoots, is not promoting obesity. After all, "plus size" merely refers to women who are over what fashion considers its standard size. It does not mean being much over the average Australian woman's size - 14 to 16.
All the models in Weekend's shoot are size 14 (top) to 16 (bottom) and all say they place a heavy emphasis on health and fitness. Penelope Benson, who is fit and toned, is keen to combat the idea that plus-sized models being given exposure in mainstream fashion is encouraging obesity. "That's the thing we have to get over to people ... some still have these negative associations with obesity and unhealthiness, but we are the models who represent average-sized women."
Benson's modelling career started after the plus-sized industry started seriously in Australia, about five years ago. She has never tried to be a "straight" size: "I have never really felt the pressure to do so." Like Bonner, she says it's time the small number of fashion power players who dictate "acceptable" size should move on to more realistic standards.

Ironically, Bonner and other plus-size advocates have also had to contend with criticism from the fat acceptance movement, some of whom claim that the models they promote are not plus sized enough. This perhaps misses the point that mainstream fashion accepting anything over and above the featherweight norm is surely a step forward.
Fiona Falkiner, 28, agrees that health is the main agenda among the new wave of working plus-sized models. She lost 29.5kg on The Biggest Loser in 2006, but found that without the non-stop exercise regime of the house, and very little food, her body could not keep it off. She is now a size 14 to 16 and weighs the same as she did at 16.
"I am a curvy girl, and it has taken me a long time to realise it, but this is the weight I'm naturally meant to be when I'm being healthy and active and looking after my body and my skin," says Falkiner.
"Women come in all different heights and shapes, but people should focus on the image of a healthy body, not the size. There are people who are genetically very slender and some are curvier; there can be healthy size 16s and healthy size 6s."
In emphasising that plus-size models aren't interested in an us-versus-them scenario, Falkiner echoes the words of American supermodel Crystal Renn, who made pulses race in a high-glam shoot for V magazine's "Size" issue last year. Renn, who was around an Australian size 14 at the time, said recently: "I'd like to see everyone take on the attitude that there are women of all different shapes and sizes as the beauty ideal, and that it's not one type or another. There are women who are naturally a size 2 (Australian 4) - you can't forget them and that's discrimination the other way."
Renn is vocal about the size issue, having nearly died trying to starve herself down to conventional modelling size (she lost 42 per cent of her body weight). In her 2010 memoir Hungry: A Young Model's Story of Appetite, Ambition, and the Ultimate Embrace of Curves, she wrote about her struggle to give her agents what they wanted - serious weight loss - and how her career took off after she gave up trying. Ironically, she's now facing criticism for having lost weight. She's now an Australian size 10.


THOUGH Bonner was beside herself with joy when one of her models made the cover of Italian Vogue, she is perhaps even more thrilled about Robyn Lawley's use in a regular fashion shoot for Vogue Australia's September issue. "I thought I'd be dead before I saw a plus-sized model in (a straight fashion shoot in) Vogue - not in my wildest, craziest fantasy of all time did I think I would see it. But we've done it. It has only taken 10 years!"
The pleasure for Bonner lies in the fact that Lawley's spread is not part of a size issue or a curves feature, but just part of Vogue's fashion coverage. It indicates for the booker that sizes beyond 8 to 10 may finally be making it into the consciousness of the powerful designers whose ideas dictate the entire industry's approach.
Vogue Australia editor Kirstie Clements says Lawley is featured not because the magazine is trying to make a point, but because the model is beautiful. "She's gorgeous, she's making waves and that's newsworthy," Clements says. "It wasn't a political statement for me, it was, 'She's really super special'."
The reaction to the Lawley spread has been "really great", Clements says. "I've done a lot of press and radio and it's gone global ... Without being super political about it, I think just the inclusion of a more natural-looking woman just made everybody feel a little bit better about themselves."
Clements makes a point of not including plus-sized, indigenous or any other type of model in the magazine's pages simply to curry favour or as a token gesture, but chooses models for their suitability for the job. She says when she went to the Lawley shoot, she soon felt "she doesn't even look plus sized to me any more, that just looks real".
"We're so used to tall, slender models, we've adjusted our vision of it," she adds. "Really, she's over six feet tall and she's got bosoms, so of course you're going to be around a size 14."
Clements says there is a trend towards using more real women in high fashion, but it is a slow-growing thing. Major international designers, who still prefer small models to display their clothes on the catwalk, largely set size standards.
The industry has to become more inclusive, says Clements, who stresses that it is clothes, not body sizes, that editors go to see at parades. "Recognition has to be given to different sorts of beauty and body shapes. But am I going to have a plus-sized model in Vogue every month? Probably not. If a plus-sized model suits the clothing, yes. But I'm promoting fashion, I'm not promoting bodies as such."
At Cosmopolitan, editor Jessica Parry says she is booking an increasing number of plus-sized models for fashion spreads, and she is proud to say it was a bathing-suit spread in Cosmo that brought Lawley to the attention of Vogue Italia editor Franca Sozzani.
"But I book her as an internationally successful model, not because she is plus size," says Parry. "We have to be careful not to discriminate against other sizes. I don't want to do any slender bashing, or bashing of skinny women; I've borne the brunt of that myself. I was always naturally thin and I know what that feels like."
On the thorny question of size and health, Parry's attitude is: "You can be healthy and toned and you don't have to be a size 8: that criticism about us promoting obesity is wrong. We're not encouraging girls to go out there and eat what they like, and not care about their body."
It may be surprising to some to learn that men appear to be much further along the path of size acceptance than women. Tellingly, the editorial accompanying a plus-sized models gallery on men's lifestyle website AskMen, written by contributor Miles Harvey, was all for women being seen as gorgeous even if they weren't an Aussie size 8.
"Forget the skeletal, sickly girls who pass as fashion models these days," Harvey wrote. "A true man knows that real beauty isn't found in a size zero. A growing number of 'plus-size models' are redefining what society considers beautiful, and the heroin addict-looking supermodels of today could soon find their jobs in jeopardy.
"Many of these plus-size models are relatively unknown, but we're hoping to change that ... These healthy, full-sized hotties are riding the wave of public backlash against the walking coat hangers plying the runways, and we are lucky enough to come along for the ride."
If the likes of Chelsea Bonner are right, there will be plenty more full-sized "hotties" to come. "I have noticed more and more clients using a wider variety of sizes," Bonner says. "The growth (in demand for plus-sized models) has been phenomenal. But we're still a tiny section of the market; probably still only 5 per cent of all models it uses.
"It's a fight every day: we come in here with our boxing gloves on to try to break down the barriers and get people just to see things from a slightly different perspective."


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