7 Curve Models Get Real About Their Experiences in the Modeling Industry

The fashion industry isn't historically known for championing curvy models, but with a greater focus on size, racial, and gender diversity in recent years, there has, at the very least, been a palpable shift. Still, for many of the successful curvy models we see gracing ad campaigns, runways, and Instagram feeds today (especially those who have been in the industry for some time), the road to getting booked and staying booked came with greater challenges than their "straight-sized" counterparts.

Undoubtedly, the industry has finally reached the territory of noticeable change regarding highlighting images and individuals who represent the various body types around the world, versus a fraction of what consumers actually look like. While reports show that only 34 curve models hit the runways during this September's fashion month (1.48 percent of all models booked), the Versace spring/summer 2021 runway show made an example in featuring three plus-sized models, Precious Lee, Jill Kortleve, and Alva Claire, each looking stunning in their vividly colored, under-the-sea-inspired ensembles. Additionally, in October, widely loved UK-based fashion retailer PrettyLittleThing released their first "plus-specific" collection in collaboration with French model and influencer Leslie Sidora, while other brands from ASOS to Mango have also expanded their selections to cater to curvy women. But in a world where three curvy models on a high-fashion runway is big news and many retailers only offer "plus-size" options for select styles, if any, it's clear that the work is far from done.

Even in a progressing industry, it's clear to many that a subset of curvy models are preferred over others.

To get a better understanding of how far the fashion industry has come in its treatment of curvy models, how far it has to go, and what it's like to be in an industry that has historically prioritized straight-sized models, we spoke with seven curvy models about their career experiences. "I had to reassure myself every day that I was just as worthy and deserved to be in the industry," model Iskra Lawrence told POPSUGAR. "I was doing it for the younger me who needed to see a model like her." Even in a progressing industry, it's clear to many that a subset of curvy models are preferred over others. "There is more diversity than ever in the plus-sized industry, however you are still mostly seeing the same body types which are tall, hourglass, and toned," model Tess Holliday told POPSUGAR, elaborating on an idea she touched on in a recent video post to her Instagram. "There's obviously nothing wrong with those types of bodies, but it perpetuates unrealistic beauty standards, and the idea that anything that doesn't look like that is less than." Additionally, Black and other minority models face other unique challenges in addition to being curvy: "I've had brands tell me I was too big and too dark for them," model Brielle Anyea told us. "A lot of brands tend to only use plus-size biracial models to represent women of color and Black women as a whole."

In an industry that is constantly under fire for its slow transition to widespread diversity on all fronts, these seven models are among the group breaking barriers. Read ahead to learn more about everything from their early career experiences as curvy women, to how they protect their mental health at work, to their calls to action to brands and agencies to ensure the industry's progress doesn't end here.

What was your experience breaking into the modeling industry?

Brielle Anyea: "My experience breaking into the industry wasn't the easiest, as I submitted to over 30 agencies worldwide about five-and-a-half years ago, and only heard from four at the time. For the agencies that said no, it had everything to do with my size, complexion, and shape. The industry doesn't really care for plus-size women, [nor] Black women, so me being a darker-skinned, plus-size woman with extra curves made it a lot harder to break in."

Tess Holliday: "Tough. It felt impossible at times. I questioned myself and my intentions constantly, but I knew that I was on the right path, even if the path wasn't clearly laid out for me. I didn't feel represented in the industry because of my height, size, and being tattooed. No one wanted to take me seriously, and it took me being one of the first models to have a large following on social media for brands to pay attention. Then, they wanted to work with me, and sometimes that really pissed me off. But it was a foot in the door, and that's how you change things. Real, lasting changes [have] to start from inside."

Candice Huffine: "Twenty years ago when I signed my first contract as a plus-size model, the industry was a different place entirely. The representation of curve was very new, quite undefined, and very uneven in the demographic of the plus women it represented at the time. It was implied that 'she' was older, more conservative and not interested in high fashion. I feel like these kind of misconceptions about who the curvy woman was and what she wanted kept the opportunities for models to really break through at a great distance. As a plus-size model in the early 2000s when I started, there just simply were no castings for makeup brands, magazine editorials, or fashion weeks for someone with measurements outside of the industry standard."

"I finally realized I shouldn't try to change myself, but instead change the industry."

Iskra Lawrence: "My experience breaking in was ten years of being told I was too big to be straight-size, then too small to be plus-size. When I finally realized I shouldn't try to change myself, but instead change the industry, I was met with disbelief even by my own agents at the time who refused to submit my portfolio to New York agencies because 'there was no industry for me.' [When I did] book jobs, there [were] multiple times [when] I found out I was getting paid less and even half of what the straight-size models were getting paid. My body not fitting into their ideals made me a second-rate model with a second class day rate."

What has changed in how you are treated as a curvy model from the time you began modeling to today?​

Brielle Anyea: "I think when I first started, it was right before [plus-sizes] became a fashion trend, so I caught every form of discrimination and didn't work a lot. Now, everyone wants to bank on the inclusivity coin. I've been super busy as a model, and have had major opportunities offered that were originally a 'heck no' a few years ago. It's not 100 percent changed, but we've seen a major increase thanks to plus-size women speaking up, models speaking up, and brands realizing how much more money they can make off of us."

"So many brands are doing the real work with being truly inclusive. The work definitely isn't done, but damn I'm having fun!"

Tess Holliday: "People aren't as shocked anymore when I tell them what I do, and even though I still have to fight for respect, it comes a little easier. I also have more fun because I don't feel like the token fat girl anymore for brands. So many brands are doing the real work with being truly inclusive. The work definitely isn't done, but damn I'm having fun!"

Candice Huffine: "I entered this industry as a plus-size model, and have remained very proud of the recognition and support I've always felt since day one. Even if there was not an abundance of opportunity for me in the very beginning, while the industry was navigating its journey into inclusivity, I never once felt like I didn't belong."

How do you feel about the term "plus-size?"

Brielle Anyea: "I don't care about it. I've been plus-size all my life, so I came to love the term. It is a descriptive name society gave me to make me feel like crap. However, the jokes on them because now I use it as my power. You can call me [a] 'model' or [a] 'plus-size model,' as long as you add 'And she's doing dang good!' after it."

"I would love for one day to be called 'model,' but for now, I am just very happy to represent a market that helps women feel beautiful and confident in their own skin."

Chloe Marshall: "The term 'plus-sized' doesn't bother me, as there are so many women out there [who] identify with the term. I do, however, have a problem with the term being used for a woman that is smaller than a size US 14. That is not 'plus-sized.' I would love for one day to be called 'model,' but for now, I am just very happy to represent a market that helps women feel beautiful and confident in their own skin.

Leslie Sidora: I am not for it, and I'm not against it. I consider myself [a model]. If [the term] makes people happy, that's good, but I don't want [it] to be misused, thinking that plus-size is only size 16. There's so many people in between who need representation, too.

Have you ever been asked to lose weight by an agency or client? How do you handle this?

Brielle Anyea: "Yes all the time. Brands usually only have one sample size for plus-size and straight-size models, so they expect every single model to contort their bodies to fit one size for photo shoots. This is the main reason so many models have eating disorders, [and] low confidence and self worth. Their entire career is [spent] working super hard to fit into one size. That's extremely hard. I don't allow comments to be made about my body on set anymore with me present. If it's said, I immediately correct them and let them know it's not OK."

Hayley Hasselhoff: "I have been asked to lose weight before. Was it hard to hear? Yes. Was I happy I heard it when I was in a secure place with who I was? YES. I remember leaving my agency calling my mother and balling my eyes out. But I would have never shown that to my agent, as I knew I was worthy to be in this industry no matter if I had gained a pound or two. Being a plus-size model still means you have to take care of your health and your body. But every body is different, and it is normal to fluctuate with your weight at times. I always approach body remarks with kindness and care. Especially at work; you have to remember it is not about you, yet about the sample size in which they are trying to fit on you."

"The first time I ever stepped foot into an agency, I was asked to lose weight in order to be signed. I knew that was not a path I could safely walk down."

Candice Huffine: "The first time I ever stepped foot into an agency, I was asked to lose weight in order to be signed. I knew that was not a path I could safely walk down, and declined on the spot. The next day, I received a contract to be a plus-size model and signed immediately, my only question being:
'Can I just be me?' The answer was 'Yes,' and the rest is history, as they say."

Leslie Sidora: "My weight fluctuates a lot depending on my stress and eating, but my agents never asked me anything, nor made any hurtful comments. I'm at my lowest since I've started modeling, and I was the one worried about my weight loss. They've been nothing but supportive. The issue often comes with the people I work on set with who think it's OK to comment on my weight. I usually try to not give any energy to negativity, but I'm human, and sometimes it hurts. Body shaming someone because they're not up to your idea of what plus-size should be isn't OK."

Was photographing certain parts of your body ever difficult for you? How did you overcome this?

Brielle Anyea: "For me, it was my back. I'm very broad in the shoulders and have my plenty share of back rolls, too. It took some praying and getting uncomfortable to get comfortable shooting. To help me be OK with it, I started wearing backless outfits in the mirror, then outside with a jacket, and then outside without a jacket. It took me three years to get to that point! I can love something but not like it. If I want to change it, that's perfectly fine, too. Whatever I do on my body or for my body, it's because I want to, and that's nobody's business but mine. Just know that I love me regardless!"

"We all have good and bad days, but on some of my bad days, I still have to show up to set and shoot."

Hayley Hasselhoff: "Yes and no. It is part of my job to find ways to let go of how Hayley feels about her body and remember I am there to do a job. We all have good and bad days, but on some of my bad days, I still have to show up to set and shoot. With this, I have gotten very good [about bringing] along things that help me reconnect to my being while I'm in the makeup chair, and can prep my mindset. I use crystals, essential oils, and affirmations. I feel very blessed that most of [the] shoots I have been on have always been very welcoming and [encourage me] to feel great in my figure. I love what I do so much, and remember on the bad days that I am never alone. I am here for a purpose to make a change in equality in fashion."

Tess Holliday: "I never thought there would be a point in my life where I would be able to look at my naked body and feel anything other than disgust. I have multiple full-length mirrors in my house, and there were times even recently where I caught myself not loving what I saw, but then I checked myself quick [and said,] 'Stop that shit.' I started believing that I was worthy of loving my body. That was the only thing that changed. I think we are sold the idea that if we love ourselves, everything will fall into place. Once you realize that's not true, it's a lot easier to shift into a more loving space toward yourself. Also, people that love themselves and their bodies can simultaneously really dislike parts of themselves, and we have to allow space toward forgiving ourselves, and being kinder and more gentle. The road toward loving your body will never be perfect, but hopefully we can change society to make it easier for generations to come."

Chloe Marshall: "I have my down days where I don't like certain things [on my body], but more and more, those days are very few and far between. I have focused so much of my energy on body acceptance and confidence over the years."

Has your career path ever had a direct effect on your mental health?

Hayley Hasselhoff: "With the industry comes the fear of the unknown. It is something [that], as an artist, you have to understand, acknowledge and find ways to walk alongside. At an early age, I understood that I must live in a full state of acceptance, as resisting is the opposite of accepting. I know that with every negative, there is a positive, or a lesson in which will help guide me to the path I should be on. Words of affirmation have always been a great way for me to ease my mental health within this industry. To live a life of full acceptance, truth, and trust. Having a good self-care regime is also key — listening to my body when I need a day of rest and permitting myself to not feel guilty about it."

Chloe Marshall: "I have had my days when I go home and cry after a casting, but talking through things with agents, other friends in the industry, and trusted advisors always sheds light on the important things in life. I think that's the most active way I protect my mental health — keep an open dialog and always know that one person's opinion cannot and should not change the way you feel about yourself, and that should always be love."

"Always know that one person's opinion cannot and should not change the way you feel about yourself."

Leslie Sidora: "[It] definitely took a toll on me. Modeling is very unsettling. You never know when your next day of work will come, or how long you have in the industry, so there's pressure for me to make the most out of my experience, and try to help people as much as I can. I had to start taking more time for myself while still trying to figure out who I was and my purpose. COVID was a great help for me. It pushed me to learn how to relax and stop searching for what's next — what's the next big job [or] big campaign. Just [live] in the moment."

What is your message to the modeling and fashion industries on continued diversification?

Hayley Hasselhoff: "We have the power to change societal standards of beauty through fashion. Fashion is a universal language, and has the power and voice to create positive change. [It] should be designed with all walks of life in mind — it should feel inclusive with size and diversity. [Our] fight for size inclusivity is just another fight for equality for all. Make a woman feel empowered by being designed for. Don't just tick off a box one season — strive to normalize our movement. Beauty comes in all different shapes and sizes."

Candice Huffine: "Double down on your commitment."

Iskra Lawrence "I hope that the gatekeepers see their responsibility and use their privilege to not use diversity as a tokenism, but for the real reason that it changes lives when people see themselves represented and included. It doesn't need to be a PR stunt, but a normalization to see all people throughout the fashion industry. I hope I can use my platform to encourage those who don't feel represented to stand up and be the first, and continue to fight for others with my own white privilege directly and indirectly on and off set."

"Fashion is a universal language, and has the power and voice to create positive change."

Chloe Marshall: "Even though the plus-size market has grown over the years, there is still so much room for growth from how brands list their sizes (hint: maybe we just stop using the word, "plus!") to what sizes the brand goes up to, along with more tailored fits for these size ranges. I know that we are on the cusp of a huge body revolution, and I am ready and excited to see what is to come in the next few years."