FASHION’S DEFINITION OF
beauty is finally expanding. In appearing on Cosmopolitan Australia’s cover in 2000, Natalie Wakeling made history as the first plus-size model to do so.
Yet despite her success both here and in the US, Wakeling believes the industry still has a way to go. “The day I buy a magazine with a curvy model on the cover and don’t hear about it in the news the next day, I’ll know we have finally achieved a sense of calm within the curvy space and general community,” she says.
Perth-born Sophie Sheppard agrees. She worked internationally for more than six years, gracing magazines including Vogue Italia, before moving home, and dislikes the “plus-size” tag.
“I do the same job, with the same photographers, the same magazines, the same agents, and the same setbacks and triumphs as the rest of the modelling industry,” she says. “Plus-size doesn’t translate to real life.”
Another Vogue Italia habitué is Robyn Lawley, our most recognisable curvy export. She was also Ralph Lauren’s first plus-size campaign model and has appeared in Sports Illustrated. Her take focuses on the positive. “I’ve been so impressed by the growth and change within the media. I never thought I’d book Sports Illustrated, that just seemed so out of reach,” she says.
Chelsea Bonner is helping shape that change – as a former curvy model herself, she now owns Bella Management, which represents the country’s top plus-size models.
“I hope to continue to push the boundaries for diversity,” she says. “My hope is that it becomes a totally normal and accepted part of the fashion industry that needs no explanation or discussion.”
Jessica Vander Leahy founded Project WOMANKIND, a movement that encourages positive body image. “It would be nice to see modelling contracts be extended to the curvy model community, without it feeling like a publicity stunt or tokenism,” she says. “Within the next decade, I would like the modelling industry to have a different landscape and see diversity everywhere, from size and age to race and gender. I think it will get there; social media has handed power to the people and what people want is to be represented, not excluded.”
New York-based Ljubenka Milunovic, who has appeared in campaigns for Levi’s, Tommy Hilfiger, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and Victoria’s Secret, is equally optimistic.
“I’m proud to have been part of the process that paved the way for plus-size models; when I started in the industry 25 years ago, plus-size was taboo.”
That stigma, it seems, is finally being broken down.
Natalie Wakeling, 36 Chelsea Bonner, 42 Ljubenka Milunovic, 45 Robyn Lawley, 27 Jessica Vander Leahy, 28