In fashion, beauty's getting bigger

Plus-size British model Iskra Lawrence among those finding fame for having healthy self-image

For years, images of impossibly slim and blemish-free women have filled fashion magazines, billboards and television screens. Now, 26-year-old British model Iskra Lawrence is waging war on unattainable beauty standards in the fashion world, flexing her might on social media.

She is among a growing number of plus-size models finding fame and calling themselves body activists, promoting health and well-being. She also refuses to allow clients to Photoshop any of her images.

"The whole concept of Photoshop is an illusion," Lawrence said during a rare spot of downtime before jetting off on her latest shoot, this time to a windswept beach in Iceland.

"We were just convinced by society and the media that there was something wrong..."

The average American woman is a size 14 to 16, and Lawrence averages a size 10 to 12, yet she was for years told she was too fat to model.

A sample size on the runway can be as small as zero.

But change is afoot.

US model Ashley Graham, who last year became the first "curve" model on the cover of the annual Swimsuit Issue of Sports Illustrated magazine, is on the cusp of becoming a household name.

In February, she became the first "curve" model to walk for Michael Kors at Fashion Week.

And on Sunday night in New York, she walked for Prabal Gurung in a show alongside Gigi Hadid. But it is not just models.

Popular culture is suddenly full of strong women proud of their curves, from singers Adele and Beyonce to comedians Amy Schumer and Melissa McCarthy as well as tennis star Serena Williams.

Following repeated scandals about anorexia, French holding companies LVMH and Kering, which own dozens of top labels from Christian Dior to Saint Laurent, recently pledged to ban size zero models from their advertising and catwalk shows.

Now based in New York, Lawrence jumps on a plane multiple times a week and has starred in campaigns for American Eagle and its Aerie lingerie line.

She has 3.7 million followers on Instagram.

She said that six years ago, a London booker laughed in her face and told her she would never get to New York to work.

"That hurt," she said.


But she was signed by JAG Models, an agency set up in 2013 to represent larger models, walked in New York Fashion Week and appeared on an unretouched billboard in Times Square.

"Seeing those images raw and real really helps people understand they do not need to be perfect and they are good enough as they are," she said.

She has also taken her message to schools in Britain and the US to promote good physical, emotional and mental health.

"Every day on social media, I get these messages from girls saying I have saved their lives from eating disorders or suicidal thoughts.

"It is a wonderful, positive movement," she said.

Yet, even if curvier models are more common, they are still relatively rare, particularly in high fashion, where few of the most prestigious labels adequately cater to the plus-size market.

"There is still such a long way to go. A lot of people do not want a 'fat girl' in the show," said JAG Models co-founder Jaclyn Sarka. The agency represents around 65 girls, the largest of whom is a size 20.

Ms Lynne Webber, managing director of Marina Rinaldi, a leader in the luxury plus-size market and part of the Max Mara Fashion Group, agreed.

"I think there is a definite transformation process," she said.

"I think in great part that is also due to the growth of social media, so it is a far more democratic channel of communication, and that has given a lot more visibility for a lot more types of women." - AFP

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