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Singer Lizzo’s confidence and embrace of her body signal that plus-size clothing is the future of fashion, reporter Gianluca Russo says, but there is still a way to go. Photo: Instagram

Sports Illustrated model, influencers on being plus-size in fashion – the world is less fat-phobic now (thanks, Lizzo) but there is still far to go

  • Celebrities like singer Lizzo are not afraid to show off their curves and there’s been a ‘size inclusivity revolution’ in fashion, reporter Gianluca Russo says
  • Still, more needs doing, he argues. Models share with him their stories of the struggles they have faced and their lack of role models growing up

Size equality in fashion has come a long way from the days of Abercrombie & Fitch and Victoria’s Secret outwardly shaming those who are not a size 0. But the fight for inclusivity is not over yet.

Fashion reporter Gianluca Russo’s debut book, The Power of Plus: Inside Fashion’s Size-Inclusivity Revolution, couples his experiences covering the world of fashion over the past five years with his interviews with dozens of models, influencers, designers and advocates about their own experiences in the industry.

It also outlines the issues plus-size fashion still faces, with actionable steps for how to fix them.

“There were so many stories that were untold and that hadn’t had their time to shine but that were so impactful on a personal level to me and to other people in this community,” says Russo. “I wanted to find a way to celebrate all these people who have contributed to this size inclusivity revolution over the years.”

Gianluca Russo is the author of The Power of Plus: Inside Fashion’s Size-Inclusivity Revolution. Photo: Instagram
Many clothing brands, including Abercrombie and Victoria’s Secret, have shifted away from excluding anyone who wears over a size large. Many major fashion magazines and fashion weeks have become more inclusive in recent years, too. Celebrities like singer Lizzo are not afraid to show off their curves on social media.

But there is still plenty of room for growth, Russo argues.

Celebrities like singer Lizzo are not afraid to show off their curves on social media. Photo: Instagram

Russo began writing The Power of Plus in Covid-19 quarantine during 2020. Famous models including Iskra Lawrence, America’s Next Top Model alum Toccara Jones, Gabi Gregg and Tess Holliday offer horror stories about working in a still-often fat-phobic industry.

They explain how those experiences are worse for those who are not white, a “palatable” size in the plus range and whose identity does not conform to their biological sex at birth.

“The modelling space as a whole often only feels welcoming when you fit neatly into one category,” Russo writes.

Model Iskra Lawrence contributes her own stories to the book. Photo: Instagram

“Choose from the list of identities and maybe, just maybe, you’ll be deemed worthy of having a seat at the table. But if you exist somewhere between multiple intersections, far too often the doors remain closed.

“For plus-size hopefuls, that means the boundary has already been laid; your body is the obstacle to overcome.

“Add on another ‘difficulty’ – like gender, ethnicity, disability – and you’re disqualified from the race.”

Influencer Jordan Underwood recounts how people on set can be “really horrible about transphobia and misgendering”. Photo: Instagram

Model Jordan Underwood says in the book they often have to “pretend that I’m a girl for the day” when booked for a modelling gig because of people working on the set being “really horrible about transphobia and misgendering”.

“People are so willing to use marginalised people if it helps their profit or supports their brand, but they’re not willing to do the work to make sure that they’re hiring people who are going to treat us properly,” Underwood adds.

But the book also highlights how the resilience of plus-size advocates has positively impacted not only the models trying to succeed in the industry, but people across the world who have historically been taught to hate their bodies through the images they see and the lack of clothing available to them.

Model Tess Holliday offers horror stories about working in a still often fat-phobic industry. Photo: Instagram
“How awesome would it have been when I was younger if I was able to open a magazine and see someone who looked like me?” Hunter McGrady, known as the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue’s “curviest model ever”, says in the book about her first photo shoot for the magazine in 2016.

“I think it would have saved me,” she adds.

Where does inclusivity in fashion go from here?

Model Hunter McGrady says seeing “someone who looked like me” would have “saved” her when she was younger. Photo: Instagram

Russo highlights the need for fashion brands to ensure that inclusivity is reflected behind the scenes, which means hiring a diverse range of plus-size designers, photographers, marketing specialists and executives.

And it is not enough for fashion schools to merely offer plus-size design as an elective course.

Russo points to brand collaborations like Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty and Priscilla Ono x Eloquii, as well as designer Christian Siriano. All have made diversity not just a priority, but an inspiration and something to be celebrated.

Ultimately, Russo writes, the movement to normalise plus sizes in fashion has succeeded because of the community working together, particularly the black women who fought for size inclusivity before the concept became mainstream.
Model Gabi Gregg contributes her own stories to the book. Photo: Instagram

“I hope that this book inspires people to keep pushing for change even when it feels like change is not happening,” Russo says.

“If you look over the past 30 years, there have been low points and there have been high points. We’ve gone backwards and forwards. Nothing is linear … it might take 30 more years to get to the point of size equality, but all that matters is that we’re in the fight together.”