Plus size models protest Australian Fashion Week

(L-R) Ivina Sotnikava, Kaila Conklin, Belinda Morgan, Kate Hislop, Mackenzie Sipos and Natalie Wakeling. Pic: Renee Nowytarger, Source: The Daily Telegraph

The Rosemount Australian Fashion Week (RAFW) is over for another year, but it didn’t pass without controversy. Plus size models from BGM Models – who must have a fantastic PR department – protested outside the main venue over the complete lack of plus size models in this year’s events.

After all the attention plus size fashion has received in the past twelve months, Australia seems to be – quite embarrassingly – falling behind the rest of the Western world. As BGM agent Darrianne Donnelly states, “While the rest of the world is embracing women with curves, Australian fashion is going backwards. The public wants to see themselves, in all shapes and sizes not just size 6.”

(As an aside to BGM Models: I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but can you please lay off the whole ‘REAL WOMEN’ angle? You don’t advance one group of people by tearing down another. To imply that straight size models are not real is just another way of dictating what women should and should not look like. That’s exactly what we’re trying to get away from.)

Organisers did not make official comment, instead deferring questioning to individual designers as they are responsible for the model casting for their own shows.

First of all – because I have seen this incorrectly reported on other blogs – plus size models were not featured at last year’s RAFW. Last year’s City Chic fashion show was held during the 2009 Sydney Fashion Festival. They are two completely different events (though it is sponsored by the same company) and RAFW is The Big Deal – it is the exclusive, industry-only event.

Though that’s the point, isn’t it? Plus size consumers are given a free, public show in the less prestigious runway show yet continue to be snubbed by Australia’s top designers in our premier fashion event. It smells just a little bit like tokenism.

It is interesting to see how little impact the Voluntary Industry Code of Conduct on Body Image may have. In October 2009, the National Advisory Group on Body Image – which was established by the Australian government in March 2009 – submitted the Proposed National Strategy on Body Image to the government. Among the recommendations is the Code of Conduct on Body Image, which recommends using “a diverse range of people that are appropriate to their target audience. When considering diversity, particular focus should be given to including a range of body shapes, sizes and ethnicities”. The report is currently under consideration by the government, and they are due release their response this year. You can read the complete report here or, if you’re lazy, a summary of the recommendations here.

The key word to take note of is ‘voluntary’. It is up to each magazine and fashion label to sign up to the Code of Conduct and abide by its principles. However, with Australian designers so reluctant to use plus size models, we must question what a voluntary code could achieve. With no incentives or punishments, and with seemingly no champions in our fashion industry, I do wonder how we can move forward.


25 Responses to “Plus size models protest Australian Fashion Week”

  1. 1 Veronica 10 May, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    I love reading you when you get worked up! I do hope this Voluntary Industry Code of Conduct on Body Image will have some effect, but unfortunately I believe it’s far more likely that it won’t. The industry already knows it would be better for people’s self image if they presented a more diverse group of people as models, and yet they choose not to.
    Oh, and I’m glad you addressed the Real Women Have Curves thing. That argument is really starting to get on my nerves!

    • 2 Frances 10 May, 2010 at 10:05 pm

      I really think that part of the problem is that we don’t have a champion in either our fashion magazines or fashion labels. Once a couple of people start using plus size models semi-regularly, I think that will show others that it’s not that big a deal and it’ll gain some momentum. That’s what I’m hoping for.

      Ugh, don’t even get me started on the ‘real women’ bullshit. ALL WOMEN ARE REAL WOMEN. THE END.

      • 3 Pippa 11 May, 2010 at 4:14 am

        Frances, a bit happened mag-wise while you were o/s. Madison now has a regular set of pages for ‘curvy’ women, although it’s still all expensive stuff and the clothing is very rarely over a size 16. AWW had a beauty feature using a size 14. I’m going to post it all soon.

        As for what’s new now, go pick up Shop Til You Drop, June issue. Has 5 models from Bella, sizes 10, 12, 14, 16 featured within, 20+ pages. Mind you, not a lot of plus clothing – they are wearing biggest sizes in regular designer stuff.

        Also, add me? Runway Revolution 🙂

    • 4 Pippa 11 May, 2010 at 4:26 am

      Unfortunately the FAIL is right there in the title: Voluntary.

  2. 5 Pippa 10 May, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    Frances I am SO glad you made that distinction between the showings because nobody else was going to – certainly not BGM because it wouldn’t have helped their PR stunt to work.

    Models over a size 10 have been present around the RAFW in the Sydney and Melbourne Fashion Festivals since at least 2004 – BUT for specifically plus-size clothing vendors, such as Maggie T and Myer. You’d have to go back some years to Sophie Dahl (and lesser-known US plus-size model Tracy Stern) walking for Charlie Brown to see a larger model in non-plus clothing on the RAFW (or whatever it was branded then) catwalk. But Brown was known for PR stunts; her usage was to bring hype to the brand, not because she wanted to start using larger models to serve her clientele – or she wouldn’t have switched over to smaller ‘celebs’ such as Jade Jagger and Cathy Freeman.

    So far, the only example I have seen of a designer intelligently using non-standard models in their collections is VAWK, in Canada. He just does it without fanfare, has done it two years in a row (he’s only shown 2 years, mind) and he will do it next year again because he believes in the principle of using both larger, and mature models. Will Mark Fast use a size 10 or 12 again? Depends whether he wants the publicity he got this year (i.e. not that favourable – Hayley almost tripped, Crystal looked bound up…)

    Australia may be falling behind the rest of the world, but that’s likely due to a more cautious approach – and the fact that they are a bunch of sizeist twits, of course. Rosemary Masic, I’m looking at you.

    • 6 Frances 10 May, 2010 at 10:06 pm

      I love your brain – you’ve got so much knowledge about plus size fashion and I’m jealous.

    • 8 Jennifer James 31 May, 2010 at 5:24 pm

      I have read your article, Plus size models protest Australian Fashion Week. While I agree with not tearing down other women, I believe “real women” means average. While all models comes in different shapes and sizes the super model must be between 5’8 and 108-125 lbs, the healthy weight and height chart is for a women of 5’8 is 132-173!! That 24-7 lbs. under weight!! That is not normal, these woman starve themselves and we condone it! It’s been pounded in our brain that’s what we should look like. We call plus size being a size 10 and the average is a size 12. These girls are not fat if anything they’re ordinary with beautiful faces. Ten years ago you could not find pants that could fit your curvy body comfortably, Levi jeans were a joke!! Now not only can I even go in any store and find something that will fit nicely but the models are becoming more average size (because I refuse to say plus size, ha). I’m glad some people are now taking a stand. Also I would like to say I’m glad Tara Lynn is doing well, not only did my husband go to school with her but she’s my brother in laws brother’s friend and I have met her on several family occasions. She was beautiful then as she is now and was always really nice.

      • 9 Frances 31 May, 2010 at 8:33 pm

        If they mean ‘the average woman’ then they should say ‘the average woman’. ‘Real women’ is exclusionary and sizeist and BGM Models should try harder to come up with catchy protest slogans.

  3. 10 Hidi 12 May, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Interesting post and I do agree with the “Real Women” tag line; I don’t like it. It’s hypocrisy.

  4. 11 sentrabaju 12 May, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    Plus size models protest Australian Fashion Week
    is good..

  5. 12 Pry 13 May, 2010 at 1:42 am

    Karl Lagerfeld used two plus-size models on the Chanel Resort 2011. Crystal Renn is one of them.

  6. 15 Nefertiti 13 May, 2010 at 5:20 am

    elles sont magnifiques OO

  7. 16 sizeoftheocean 17 May, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    I honestly don’t hold out much hope that the Body Image Report will change anything, even if it is adopted – specifically because it repeatedly calls for the use of ‘healthy weight’ models, and for the definition of ‘healthy weight’, it links to something on BMI. The ‘normal’ range of the BMI chart isn’t exactly what I’d call a diverse range of bodies.

  8. 18 hary p 22 May, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    Like your blog and article, I will check your site later again.

  9. 19 Gypsy Dress 26 May, 2010 at 2:10 am

    They have the right to protest – I support them :d

  10. 20 coco 1 June, 2010 at 11:38 am

    Frances, do you have a problem with BGM Models?
    Why attack the one agency that is trying to make a difference?
    Is not this blog about supporting the cause of using plus size models??

    I find it hypocritical that you among others try to pick out the small faults of those that are really trying to make a difference (not just complaining about it on a blog)

    I don’t know of any other organization or agency in Australia that is as proactive as BGM in making a change.

    As for the interview with Natalie, I think you have missed the whole point with the discussion.
    This was in response to Garance Dore who said that plus size models are unhealthy and that they are only used as publicity stunts.

    Again Natalie as been a positive role model for the use of diversity for nearly 10 years in Australia.
    She has also made a range of denim called Embody in support of her fellow curvy sisters with a range that goes to size 26.

    So why be so bitter and attack?

    Oh and as for the real women tag, we all deep down inside know what they meant.
    The use of the average sized women in advertising.
    I think it’s time to start supporting and stop bitching.

    • 21 Frances 1 June, 2010 at 1:03 pm

      You have completely misread this entire post and all of my comments.

      1. My post did not attack BGM Models. Not once. I am genuinely confused as to how you came to this conclusion. Primarily, this post criticises the organisers of Sydney’s fashion weeks and questions the effectiveness of the code of conduct. I criticised BGM’s use of the term ‘real women’ and I stand by that. This does not count as attacking the company as a whole.

      2. ‘Hypocrisy’ is the when one professes beliefs that are inconsistent with one’s actions. It is not at all hypocritical for me to criticise BGM for the language they use. To be a fat acceptance advocate does not involve blindly supporting every endeavour that has anything to do with fat acceptance. (Particularly when representatives of that endeavour say things that counter the fat acceptance movement, which leads me to point 3…)

      3. Natalie Wakeling justified the use of plus size models by saying they were in the healthy weight range of the BMI. If discussion continues to be framed around healthy weight ranges, we will not see a truly diverse range of bodies in fashion and advertising.

      4. As I said earlier, I stand by my criticism of BGM’s use of the term ‘real women’. That kind of language is exclusionary, sizeist and unacceptable.

      5. I support size diversity in fashion. That’s what this post was all about. I suggest you try reading it again.

  11. 23 Deb 1 October, 2012 at 2:38 am

    very nice ……

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