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Thirteen years ago we kicked quick-fix diets from the pages of Cosmo and we shut that door. Forever. At the same time, Cosmo also started featuring “plus-size” models (which is silly industry speak for a girl bigger than size 10) to showcase body diversity.
To this day, more than a decade later, I’m proud to say Cosmo remains diet-free and one of the only magazines for young women that features women of all shapes and sizes in every issue. Here’s why this is so important.
Each year, usually during fashion week or when a super-thin model gets used in an advertising campaign, the skinny-model debate fires up again, and the modelling, magazine and fashion industries play a well-rehearsed game of pass-the-parcel.
It goes like this: fashion editors say they can only use size-10 models in their shoots because that’s the size of sample garments made by designers; the designers defend this by saying that size 10 is the industry standard, and that the fabric required to make larger sample sizes is too costly; the modelling agencies say they are simply meeting the demands of the magazines and designers, who request size-10 models; and the models scream that size-10 girls get all the work, we need money, so get off our backs. But let’s be honest here: this size 10 I speak of is usually size 8 in disguise.
All the while Cosmo, Australia’s highest-selling magazine for young women, gets inundated with requests and complaints from readers about why a lot of clothes featured in magazines aren’t available in their size.
So enough. Let’s turn off the music and stop passing the parcel for a minute. Yes, we feature size-8 girls in Cosmo. But we also feature girls who are size 12, 14, even 16, in every issue. And we have done this for more than a decade.
It’s not about a token nod to curvy girls, either; showcasing body diversity at both ends of the spectrum has become part of Cosmo’s DNA. But here’s our problem: every month when I meet with Cosmo’s fashion team, we hit the same roadblock when looking at clothes for our size-14+ fashion stories: very limited options.
Because few brands make sample garments in larger sizes, we either have to squeeze a size-14 girl into a size-10 outfit and leave the zip open at the back (which is awesome for her confidence) or choose from the minuscule offering of clothes we do have in size 14, which are normally in-store pieces. (This means by the time the magazine is on sale, a lot of the clothes are no longer available in shops. And that’s bloody annoying.) Alternatively, we have to shoot our size-12+ girls in lingerie, because at least undies aren’t size-ist!
But in the spirit of not passing the buck, we want to do something about it. And we want you to help us. This month we’re launching a new campaign called Cosmo Size Hero. We’ve asked some of Australia’s most loved (and body diverse) celebrities, bloggers and models to come on board as ambassadors, and we are petitioning Aussie designers and retail stores to expand their sizing range.
We have already been in contact with many brands, and we’ve had some positive feedback, but now we need your reinforcement. You can read all about Size Hero and our retail investigation on page 66, and I urge you to sign our petition here.
At my end, I am committed to featuring women size 6 to 16 in the pages of Cosmo every month, and I’ll do more of it if I have the clothes and size range available. I want you to pick up Cosmo and see bodies like your own and clothes you can actually wear, whatever size you are.
To the critics who will read this and think what we’re doing is just a token gesture, we know there’s more we can do but the conversation has to start somewhere – so help us take the message further.
Supporting our Size Hero campaign are Australia’s most prominent plus-sized modelling agencies: BGM Models, headed by Darrianne Donnelly, and Chelsea Bonner’s Bella Model Management.
Chelsea Bonner, director of Bella Model Management
Do you think designers/retailers have put plus-size fashion in the too-hard basket? I feel like it has been in the too-hard basket for a long time, but I can see the changes over the past few years. My belief is that because of the global financial crisis and the advent of social media, retailers and designers have had to rethink who their customer is. Many studies have come out over the past few years to back up our long-held belief that women will spend more money on clothing/products if they can identify with the model in the pictures, and so I think we’ll continue to see big changes in sample sizing going forward. I know many companies are addressing this issue, as our models are booked for more and more fittings for patternmakers. For example, Witchery and Sportsgirl have changed their patterns to better reflect the modern shape of women. We are not just getting bigger, we are also a lot taller than generations before and so these basic blocks [patterns] will have to change or fashion retailers will literally size themselves out of the market. With 80 per cent of women being around a size 14, that’s a huge and undervalued market.
Who does it better overseas? Germany, in particular, has always been on top of the game as far as using more realistic sizes in fashion campaigns. And they still produce more fashion catalogues than anywhere else.
What do your plus-size models complain about when shopping for clothes? Lack of decent size ranges is the biggest complaint I hear, particularly if you want something fashion-forward and on-trend. Robyn Lawley [Aussie model who has appeared on the cover of Italian Vogue] spent an afternoon in Paddington, Sydney, recently trying to buy some great Australian designer pieces to take back with her to New York to wear to events. She was devastated and a little frustrated that after hours and hours of shopping, she only found one dress and one jacket that fitted. I hear that same story all the time – and I’m a size 14 myself, so I know how it feels personally.
In your opinion, do online retailers do a better job? I do believe that the reason online is doing so well is because women don’t have to spend a humiliating day trudging around asking, “Do you have my size in this?” desperately in every store. You can shop online, look at the size chart, and quickly move on to the next purchase without any shame attached to the experience.
What retailers do you think are doing a good job? It’s still the department stores I feel have the best size ranges because they have a broad range of labels under one roof, and you can go from rack to rack and find fashion from size six to 24.
Finally, what do retailers/designers have to gain by expanding their size range? To be frank, a massive financial gain. When online retailers are strangling bricks-and-mortar stores, I just cannot fathom why you wouldn’t do it. Retailers/designers have the potential to increase their profit margin by a whopping 80 per cent if they offer two more size ranges – it seems like lunacy not to!
Darrianne Donnelly, CEO of BGM Models
What do you consider the major stumbling blocks to plus-size models getting work in Australia? It’s designers not making the samples in a size that’s big enough for a model to be photographed in for commercial and editorial purposes. The consumer wants to buy the clothes, but we’re not seeing enough representation of the different shapes and sizes because the samples are too small. We’re now seeing a trend towards more plus-models being seen, however we’re still a long way short of making this the norm in magazines. Cosmopolitan has and always will be the forerunner in body acceptance and size issues. We have had countless shoots with BGM Models and Cosmopolitan and it continues to this day.
Are there retailers who are trying? Would you like to single any one of them out? Our clients range from major department stores to online only e-stores to small start-up businesses. All these clients aim to produce fashion-forward clothing that women want to wear, some get it right and some get it wrong. Myer, for example, has fuller-figured mannequins and the clothes that they wear reflect the season’s trends, which makes their larger customer feel that they’re treated like regular customers. Another new brand, Harlow, is geared to a younger demographic, which is an area of fashion that I feel is being neglected. Clients such as The Iconic are definitely making inroads into changing our shopping habits and at the same time showcasing on-trend designers for their Curvy section.
How does the retail experience compare overseas? The fashion market for plus-size in Europe and the US is inspiring, with entire floors in department stores dedicated to plus-size customers. Once, when shopping in New York at Macy’s, I stood in amazement at the selection of clothes from casual, evening, swimwear and lingerie – it was all there on the one floor and the choices were unlimited.
What are some of the complaints your plus-size models have about shopping here? Clients use our models as “fit” models for their new ranges and it’s interesting how a size 16 from one client’s measurements is a size 14 for another, so there’s discrepancy in sizing and this is part of the issue. It’s also disheartening for women to go from one store to another and see the range in clothes can be two or three sizes the difference. The biggest complaint is finding things in their size range and when they ask the shop assistant if they have more in stock, the answer is usually, “No, we sold out. But we only bought four in that size, anyway.” Lingerie is the biggest challenge as so many bra companies change their sizing and it gets very confusing. We really need to have an Australian standards sizing that everyone adheres to.
Finally, what do retailers/designers have to gain by catering to a variety of sizes in their designs? My wish list would be for retailers and designers to consider the benefits of catering for larger sizes across their ranges, as in my opinion this would guarantee more sales and a general feeling among women of not being omitted when it comes to fashion because of their shape and size.
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