Plus-size models are disappearing from the runway. Maybe that’s a good thing.

In life, there are some important firsts that stick in your mind like chewing gum in a toddler's hair.

The moment your feet touch the ground during your first overseas trip. The moment you start your first full-time job while still feeling like a child cosplaying as an adult. That first time a kiss leaves you a little breathless. Or the first moment you realise your mum was right and you can't actually go from brunette to blonde in one night via a $5.99 box dye.

And then there's another type of first. The one where, if you live in a body that is outside the realm of what the world deems appropriate, you see yourself represented for the first time.

A moment that feels like whiplash; the unique sense of being pulled in instead of being pushed out.

For me, as a plus-size woman, this feeling hit the first time I started seeing women with visibly bigger bodies walking runways, on magazine covers, and flooding my social media feeds in a blaze of confident poses and striking outfits.

With barely a black sack dress or a bedazzled shapeless T-shirt to be found in the mix.

In the last couple of years, it felt like the wheels had really started to turn when it came to body inclusivity in media and fashion.

Different body types appeared on runways. Advertising campaigns suddenly started to look out of place if they featured only a row of identical smaller bodies. Clothing brands began to slowly extend their sizing ranges... online only and in a limited range, of course, but it still felt like a tangible change within an industry that had previously seemed willing to die on this particular non-inclusive hill.


Then, in February of this year, things began to feel very different.

The first clue that something was amiss was uncovered during New York Fashion Week. As for most of us, it's an event that has never exactly had a huge impact on my life. And not just because my chances of ever being invited to it are as likely as William and Kate jetting off to California to hang out with Harry, Meghan and their rescue chickens.

Instead, I had always viewed it as a world of glamourous yet unattainable fashion, and I was happy to wait until the trends trickled down into more muted chain-store finds than lust over a pair of shoes worth more than my (admittedly in bad condition) car.

Yet this year, the disappointed murmurs around fashion week were hard to ignore, even from the outside. All because the conversation around it was dominated by the inescapable fact that plus-size models, which is a model typically defined as size 14 and above, had all but disappeared from the runways.

According to the Business Of Fashion, in previous years the number of plus-size models walking in New York Fashion Week had risen steadily, from just four in the Autumn/Winter 2016 season to 51 in February of last year.

But while New York Fashion Week had historically been the industry leader when it came to size inclusivity, just 31 of the more than 3,000 models to feature in catwalks for AW23 were considered curve or plus size, a downward spiral in comparison to previous years.


Then in March, according to Vogue Business, it was found that the Autumn/Winter 2023 season on a global level had failed to make progress in terms of size representation on the runway.

A Vogue report found that out of 9,137 looks across 219 shows in New York, London, Milan and Paris, just 0.6 per cent were plus-size (US 14+) and 3.8 per cent were mid-size (US 6-12). This means 95.6 per cent of looks presented for AW23 were in a size US 0-4. Vogue also reported that across the entire fashion week season, only 17 brands featured at least one plus-size look.

This lack of plus-size models not only stripped away a 'first' for someone living in a bigger body who may have been tuning into these runways for the first time, but also incited a knock-on effect for how the fashion industry would work going forward.

Because if curve models aren't on the runways actively showing the clothes, then buyers will be less likely to purchase brands' full-size ranges, even if they do offer inclusive sizing.

More recently, Vogue Business released a new report into size inclusivity in the Spring/Summer 2024 season, combing over the numbers from 230 shows and presentations that took place across New York, London, Paris, and Milan over the past month.

The report found that out of 9,584 total looks, only 0.9% were shown on plus-size bodies (which, in Australia, is classified over a size 18), concluding that plus-size models accounted for less than 1 per cent of the representation at Spring/Summer fashion month. 


 Ashley Graham, one of the few plus-size models included in recent shows, walking at Milan Fashion Week. Image: Getty.

Meanwhile, here in Australia, our industry unfortunately appears to be strutting down a very similar runway.

Last year, Australian Fashion Week had one dedicated plus-size runway show called The Curve Edit, staged by Bella Management CEO Chelsea Bonner, marking the first time an inclusive runway show had taken place at the event in its 26-year history.


This year's Melbourne Fashion Festival program included an independent event at the Footscray Community Arts Centre, called Fabulous And Trendy (F.A.T), which featured models sized 16-24. However, there was commentary surrounding the main runway shows that not enough body diversity had been used in the casting choices.

Following this wave of statistics, there has been global criticism and concern over the fact that the fashion industry, once barely daring to dip its toes into the inclusivity pond at all, appears to now be running away from the idea altogether.

And while this wave of concern is valid and important, I can't help but let one particular thought enter my mind.

Plus-size models are disappearing from the runway? Maybe that’s a good thing.

Not because their bodies don't belong there, of course, but because for many months, the glitzy sheen of body positivity plastered across media and fashion has not accurately reflected what's really taking place on the inside.

Models with bigger bodies might get booked for runway shows as a gesture of goodwill to the public, but when you look a little closer at the brands, they are not wearing pieces that are part of the available size ranges. Or items they plan to make readily available to stockists.

Fashion media outlets might share diverse body images to their social media pages in order to boost the algorithm, but when you actually click into their sites or buy their physical magazines, these models or inclusive fashion ranges are nowhere to be found.


In the entertainment industry, which so closely aligns with the fashion one, the rollout of new TV shows and films is more lacking in body diversity than ever before, and size representation on red carpets feels like a distant memory. 

Even performers who used to live in bigger bodies have quietly been making them smaller over time, no doubt to align with an industry that appears to have moved on from this conversation.

So even though the disappearance of plus-size models feels difficult to talk about, maybe it's also the shock we needed. 

To have people across the fashion and entertainment industries face up to a public truth that has been churning away in the background for so long.

To have consumers look beyond a shared image on their Instagram feeds and question why these industries have stalled, instead of moving forward.

Because you can't be what you can't see, and you can't buy what never makes it down a runway.

Laura Brodnik is Mamamia's Head of Entertainment and host of The Spill podcast. You can follow her on Instagram here.

Feature Image: Getty.

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