Jennie Runk for H&M

There are several broad divides in the world of modeling. There is editorial and there is commercial. There is mainboard and special bookings. And then there is ‘fashion’ versus ‘plus size’: ‘fashion’ encompasses size 6 to 8, ‘plus’ size 12 and above; arbitrary categories. All sizes are fashion sizes, as we all wear clothes, whether a size 6 or 16, and to be considered a ‘plus’ is a rather strange notion – plus what? Plus flesh? Plus a few extra inches that divides the catwalk from the occasionally more encompassing campaigns? These labels are necessitated by market. Samples must be made and clients have to choose the models to front their brands. But the fashion norm is still narrow in both measurements and image, being restricted to a very singular type of beauty. The use of ‘plus’ suggests something additional or out of the ordinary.

Thus ad campaigns such as the one fronted by Jennie Runk for H&M’s swimwear line deserve all the positive coverage they receive.  The fact that the brand launched the photos without a fanfare was all the more heartening. This wasn’t about tokenism; the images were their own message and Runk looked amazing. The responses recently collated by the BBC are testament to the impact that such a campaign can have. The fact that Runk has also spoken about the strange boundaries between body sizes, the valuing of curves over skinny or vice versa, is fantastic. She proved that beauty comes in a variety of inner and outer forms. However, in her article (also for the BBC) there was one comment in particular that snagged my attention:

“I was given the option to lose weight and try to maintain a size four (a UK six or eight), or to gain a little – maintain a size 10 (a UK 12 or 14) – and start a career as a plus-size model. I knew my body was never meant to be a size four, so I went with plus.”

This observation hooked my attention so fully that I spent the next few hours thinking about it. There was a number missing in-between the two categories: UK size 10. My size. Neither lithe enough to be considered in line with supermodel statistics, nor possessing the measurements to push into the plus-size bracket. Not quite between a rock and a hard place, but still stuck somewhere in the middle of two publicly acceptable shapes. The very fact that Runk had to put on weight suggests that the fashion industry is still creating rigid ideals even as it claims to be more encompassing.

It reminded me of those frothy magazine quizzes that separate the ‘Audrey’s from the ‘Marilyn’s; skinny v curvy; boyish v womanly. There are those false separations again, with value judgments tacked on to either side of the divide.

The reality is that there are more variations out there than can be categorized. Women with tiny waists and large thighs; those with broad shoulders and smaller hips or the converse; those with long legs and short torsos; or strong calves and small breasts. You name the combination and someone will have it. Dress size can only go so far in what it says of a woman’s body, but if it is currently being used as a marker, then the question to ask is why there is a size – slap-bang between two acceptable points – that is invisible as far as the industry is concerned?

An article written by Jess Carter-Morley in 2011 still has resonance. It centered on the fact that UK designer Maria Grachvogel had been forced to start using size eight models for her presentations, as the favoured size ten body shape wasn’t catered for by agencies. As an intermediate point, it just doesn’t seem to exist in fashion media. It is just as beautiful, but fails to be (in very, very crude terms) defined as either ‘ruler’ or ‘hourglass’. So a request… alongside Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Tali Lennox, Liu Wen and Jennie Runk, Jada Sezer, Tara Lynn and Philomena Kwao, what about something in between? A recognition that when a girl or woman is scouted as a model, it shouldn’t be necessary for her to either lose or put on weight – but to remain as she is. How about that?

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Rosalind Jana is eighteen, currently at Sixth form doing A Levels and has a place at Oxford reading English Literature as of October.  She won the Vogue Talent Contest 2011 at age 16, with a prize-winning piece (a satirical take on an agricultural show written in ‘fashion show’ style) published in the magazine last year. She also gained a month’s paid work experience on the features department of Vogue which she undertook in the summer of 2012.

See Rosalind’s blog Clothes, Cameras & Coffee