I’m back with the smart and beautiful plus size model Sara Alloy, who was nice enough to talk to me about modeling, body image and all sorts of things. Without further ado…..
Let’s talk a bit more about the plus size modeling industry. What advice do you give to aspiring models?
If somebody writes to me, I say I’m not an agent, and it’s completely subjective so it’s hard for to say. I could say “you’re beautiful” and they could go to an agency and get turned down, so my opinion is only worth so much. I ask them how tall they are and what their measurements are and let them know the basic requirements. If they’re 5’9″, that’s a great starting point. Next I say that it’s important how proportionate you are. The taller you are the bigger you can be. So if you’re 5’11” being a size 16 or 18 is more acceptable. If you’re 5’8″ or 5’9″ they want you to be a 12 or a 14. I tell them examples of the type of work I’ve done and expect to do. A lot of them get the wrong idea from shows like America’s Next Top Model as to what you can do.
Where do you tell them the most opportunities are?
Mostly print and web work, some editorials. There are very few runway shows for us these days, which is why Full Figured Fashion Week is so great.
I went to Full Figured Fashion Week and one of the retailers there was talking about how they would use smaller size women and then pin the clothing in the back to make it look like it fits. Have you seen that?
Absolutely. They want to show the clothes as fitting who will be wearing the clothes. Sometimes they can’t get a sample that will fit the model, so they will pin the clothes. I don’t think pinning is as controversial as padding to size up.
Women at Full Figured Fashion Week said that they had done research and plus size consumers don’t want to see plus size models that look like them. Instead they want to see smaller models that give them something to aspire towards. Would you like to comment on that?
I think most women idealize a slightly smaller size, whether or not they admit it. I might be a size 14, but often times I’m shopping where the models are much smaller. Naturally you envision yourself reflecting what you see in the advertising. I’m putting on my advertising hat when I’m speaking like this, but honestly, what they are doing is good marketing. You are ultimately selling people a dream. Even if you are comfortable with who you are, it’s so drilled into our heads that we should be thinner than we are that when you go shopping you automatically look at a mannequin or model and see yourself reflected in whatever advertising you’re looking at.
So do you think that a size 20 wants to see a size 20 or that a size 20 would rather see a size 16 or 18?
They say they want to see a size 20 but honestly every time they try to use a size 20 or other bigger sizes they don’t sell the clothes. If a company books a size 18 model and the clothes aren’t selling, they aren’t going to book the model again. I’d like to see more diverse models used, but the retailers aren’t going to respond to what customers say, they’re going to respond to what their sales say. As consumers we all need to be better about voting with our dollars.
What do you think would change that?
I think the shoot Steven Meisel did for Vogue Italia was very helpful. Rosie Mercado who was the face of Full Figured Fashion Week 2 years ago, she’s larger but she’s so beautiful. She’s tall and carries herself with such confidence that clothes look great on her. They could use someone like her, and have Steven Meisel shoot her and put her in a high fashion spread and show that ideal of beauty.
Do you think the change will come from retailers or designers or consumers improving their body image so they want to see models that look like them or a combination?
I think it’s a combination because on the one hand you have imagery drilled in our heads from the time we are little girls, you’re seeing the actresses on TV from the time you start watching it, you’re seeing them in magazines, you are being told everywhere that you need to be a certain way. So that is a problem, that girls are being bombarded. We’re conditioned to think that skinny is beautiful.
On top of that designers don’t cut clothes for bigger girls. Agents won’t book bigger girls so it seems as if they feel it’s a waste of time to put bigger girls on their boards. So there are no bigger girls to shoot campaigns should they decide to use bigger girls. It’s a cyclical thing.
Do you think it’s inconsistent to want to lose weight and love your body? Can you have a positive body image and be supportive of the plus size community and promote acceptance of larger women? Some activists say you shouldn’t want to lose weight and love yourself the way you are or you are abandoning the cause.
When I hear stuff like that it kind of reminds me of the feminist movement where they said if you had anything to do with men, you’re going against what you should be standing for. I can be a feminist and love men, the same as I can support size acceptance and still want to lose weight. I want to be healthy at the end of the day. So if I go to the doctor and he says your BMI is really high and you’re at risk for heart disease, I don’t want to be like that. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love myself but I want to be healthy and live a long life.
I don’t think you need to be thin to be healthy. But I also think you have to try to be healthy. Like over the past year I lost 90 something pounds. I was a size 26 and I had arthritis in my knee. I had trouble walking, so I lost the weight to be healthier. I want to lose a little more but I’ll never be thin. I’m a 16/18 now; maybe I’ll get down to a 14/16. I’m not looking to be a twig but to be healthy and my knee not to give out when I walk. I wasn’t taking care of myself.
That’s a great example. When it comes down to it you have to listen to your body. For some people, that’s an excuse because they aren’t working out or eating healthy. They say I’m comfortable being a bigger size and who I am, but they need to take care of themselves.
There’s a model on West Coast, her name is Katie Halchishick, who started a modeling agency called Natural Model Management. They have a great blog called Healthy Is The New Skinny. She represents a range of girls but she is all about promoting a healthy image. For example she showed polaroids of well known fashion models without retouching and makeup and some of them are so skinny it’s are really scary, they aren’t healthy just because they are skinny. It goes both ways.
Let’s talk a little about Big Sexy. I really enjoyed it. What did you think?
I know a few of the girls on the show and I’m so happy for the opportunity for them; Nikki is one of the first people I talked to about modeling. She’s both a model and a photographer; she shot the Abby Z campaign I did. I love that they are showing that not everyone wants to be a size 2. You can be happy and jump in the pool in a bathing suit and not feel like you have to wear shorts or a long shirt. You can rock a bathing suit or a bikini.
I actually just tried out for a reality show which I’m not doing. They were asking a lot of questions like “what has been your worst experience plus modeling?” I said “it’s been a really positive experience; I haven’t really had bad experiences. No one has slammed the door in my face and called me a fatty or kicked me down the stairs.” They want that drama. I’m not going to make it up to make you happy. I don’t know what kind of edits they made for Big Sexy, but it looks like it’s showing a positive message.
I had a little trepidation when I heard about it. I thought are they going to take advantage of these women. So much reality TV is kind of crap. But when I saw it I loved it. I heard some criticism about how they were talking about how much they wanted to meet men and the problems they were having, as well as some of them not wanting to wear a bathing suit in the fashion show. They thought the insecurities shown somehow took away from the idea of strong confident women.
At the end of the day we are all human. What woman doesn’t worry about meeting a guy? It doesn’t matter how beautiful you are you worry about it. About the bathing suits and cover-ups, wearing a bathing suit has to be one of the most bare, out there things. I have thin friends who cover up at the beach and I ask them “what are you covering up?” But that’s how they feel.
I recently went on a trip and I bought bathing suits. I wasn’t comfortable with a bikini so I bought a tankini. Some women won’t even wear that. That doesn’t mean I’m not comfortable. I can stand in front of a camera in a bathing suit but it’s different in real life.
I feel like if it’s all bravado with no insecurities, it doesn’t ring true. So I liked how they showed them as human.
That’s true. Everyone has insecurities and nothing will bring them out like a bathing suit. It’s realistic. When you’re on a closed set doing a job instead of in front of random people that’s different. People expect plus models to always be on and always have that bravado and confidence, like you said. Sometimes I still get nervous when I’m going to a casting. I don’t know who I’m going to meet or what they are going to ask me to do. We’re human.
Anything I didn’t ask you that you’d like to talk about and itching to say?
I think that people need to understand that the fashion world is a unique beast and we are a teeny part of it. We aren’t your stereotypical models but we are still models. We have to conform to the fashion world in a certain way. People kind of expect us to do double duty. I’m in the fashion world. So yeah, I want to lose 10 lbs. and wish I were an inch taller. People are always judging me and I’m aware of that. It’s the nature of being a model. People don’t think of plus size models as models first, they think of us being plus size women first and models second, whereas I think a lot of us think of ourselves the other way around. We’re plus size models first and plus size woman second. Maybe that’s a bit controversial to say, but people have to remember this is a job for us, so the way you think of your job and the way of you thinking of your life are completely different.
Another thing we didn’t cover is that it’s a lot harder for plus size minority models to be successful. A lot of times they only pick one of us for a campaign. There will be 3 or 4 white girls and only 1 black girl. And there are even less really well known models of color who are Latina or Asian. Like there’s a gorgeous Asian American plus size model named Maggie Brown, and Grisel who you interviewed a few weeks ago, who is Dominican. There are not as many opportunities for us, and what opportunities we do have, we’re all competing against each other for so few jobs.
That’s true in the modeling industry generally. Every year Jezebel actually does a count to see how many black models they use during Fashion Week. It’s no different in plus size modeling. Even though they are more accepting of your size they aren’t diverse otherwise. I had a friend who went to an open call for a modeling agency and they literally told her they weren’t hiring anymore black girls.
What sort of look are plus size designers looking for?
Plus designers are very conservative so plus models need to be. They want you to be very neat, no tattoos. Straight models can get away with piercing and things like that a lot more. I have my cartilage pierced, but I would never wear my earring to a casting. Nails have to be really short and no polish or French manicured. I like to wear a discrete nude color, or sometimes a pale blue. But that could be pushing it, depending on how the casting director feels. It’s a very specific image; they judge you in the first 30 seconds.
I’m in my 20s. For modeling, I’m a little older. But a great thing about plus size modeling is that you can be older and still successful. There are more opportunities for older models, so our careers don’t end at 25. And you’d be surprised, some models who model for a younger demographic are actually much older. Of course looking younger can only be helpful in a job where your appearance is everything.
Where do you see the plus size community and fashion going?
Hopefully the way it has been, with more designers and stores and brands being aware that they need plus size divisions. Or who are expanding their sizes and not just to a 14, but to an 18 or to a 20 and the truly bigger sizes. Just because you don’t want to see a plus size woman in a mini skirt doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to wear one and it’s not up to you to make that decision. Don’t put us in muumuus because that’s what you think we should be wearing.
Then maybe it would be more open for plus size models that aren’t so conservative.
Definitely. Like the spread I did for F3 was wild. I have the black makeup and huge blonde hair. I love it, but it’s not typical of the kinds of stuff we usually do.
So you’d like to see designers push the envelope more.
Definitely. Like I’d love to see plus size designers doing high fashion campaigns. Like a black label, a high end label. Other designers do both high fashion and ready to wear. Design pieces just for the show and do something cool and interesting. Then do the scaled down version and put it in your store. Why not?