No woman is immune to criticism over her body, but models have it especially hard. With professional sample sizes rarely above a size 2, the pressure to be stick-thin is constant, and it’s intense. But there are a select few women who have embraced their curves and even made a career out of them: plus-size models.
The term “plus-size models” didn’t even really exist the way it does now prior to the early 1990s, when the phrase started being applied to any model who didn’t conform to the rail-thin standards set up by Kate Moss and even Twiggy decades earlier.
However, plus-size models have been represented since the 1970s, though such activities were largely under the radar of the public eye. Nowadays, any model over a size 6 is typically considered “plus size,” while clothing size 14 and up is considered plus size amongst most average women.
Since then, the fashion industry has become relatively more enlightened, but still has a long way to go to overcome its obsession with thinness. And these 12 ladies have all helped make a serious impact in that area–click through the gallery to see 12 pluz-size models that permanently changed the game!
2. Emme Aronson
Perhaps the name most synonymous with plus size modeling, the woman simply known as Emme grew to be one of the most famous plus size models ever. She overcame great challenges when it came to her appearance, including a stepfather who used a black marker to demarcate the areas on her body where she needed to lose weight as a preteen.
3. Mia Tyler
Another one of the plus size modeling industry's most famous faces is Mia Tyler, younger sister to Liv and daughter to Steven. When she first started modeling in the mid-90s, she became important for bringing a recognizable celebrity name to the industry.
12. Crystal Renn
At age 14, Crystal Renn was told to lose a third of her body weight if she wanted to pursue a career in modeling. After a series of eating disorders wreaked havoc on her body, Renn decided to pursue plus size modeling full-time.
8. Robyn Lawley
Perhaps one of the most outspoken models in the plus size sphere, Robyn Lawley famously dropped a ton of weight to fit into industry sample sizes, before gaining it all back and returning to her healthy weight. She memorably blamed designers for the unhealthy standards in the modeling industry, even imploring them to offer more varied sample sizes to help ease the pressure.
Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images
4. Whitney Thompson
This 26-year-old, size 10 Florida native made modeling history this year when she won Cycle 10 of "America's Next Top Model," making her the first plus size model to do so.
5. Toccara Jones
Before there was Whitney Thompson, there was Toccara Jones, the first-ever plus size model to compete on "ANTM." Her curvy figure has earned her the esteemed position of being namedropped in songs by rappers like Lil' Wayne, among others.
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images for BET
6. Karolin Wolter
Karolin Wolter made headlines last year when she confessed to becoming dangerously thin to try to fit the modeling industry's standards. The photo to the left shows Wolter at her healthy weight, when her agents began marketing her as "plus size."
7. Saffi Karina
This British model is important because she just founded the U.K.'s first-ever support group for plus size models, Curve Project London. The size 10 model used to be a standard sample size model, until her label dropped her after her body changed.
9. Natalie Laughlin
Back before "plus size modeling" was a real thing, Liz Claiborne decided to cast Natalie Laughlin in their campaign for Elizabeth, the line of clothes offered for curvier women. Laughlin instantly became the first face of plus size models, even having her image put up on billboards in Times Square.
10. Kate Dillon
Another one of the industry's most famous names, Kate Dillon earned notoriety after she openly spoke of her struggles with anorexia while trying to get work as a model.
1. Jennie Runk
H&M made headlines when highers up made the call to cast size-12 Jennie Runk in its Summer 2013 swimwear campaign. It marked the first appearance ever by a plus size model in an H&M campaign.
11. Justine Legault
This plus size model's curves got the attention of Elle Quebec, who put her on the cover of the May 2013 issue, making her one of the first plus size models to appear on the cover of any Elle book.