Today the 19 worldwide editions of Vogue Magazine announced a pact to work only with healthy models. It’s sparked a lot of discussion about whether the fashion industry can wean itself from ‘unhealthy’ body ideals.
I always wanted to be an agent. As the daughter of top Australian fashion model Nola Clark and actor Tony Bonner, our lives revolved around ‘The Agent.’ The most exciting part of the day in our house was when this magical person rang and gave my parents the good news about which jobs they had booked. The excitement it generated was amazing, and I knew I wanted to be the person who made that phone call.
I began working as an agent in my mum’s own model agency in Noosa when I was 16. I became a junior booker at a top model agency in Melbourne when I was 19 and by 21, I was running their commercial division.
Around that time I noticed that ‘plus size’ clients only used older mumsy models. As a young fashionable size 14, I couldn’t identify with those models, so I asked my boss if he would put me on the books as a plus size model. Within a short period of time, I was modelling all over Australia and internationally.
I took time off to model full time but I missed the excitement of helping creative people fulfill their dreams. I was approached to manage a top photographic agency, which I took up. I loved it and was privileged to help start the careers and represent some of our most well known photographers, hair and makeup artists and stylists.
The one thing I hated about my job was that I witnessed so many disturbing habits that models formed to keep them from eating, from drugs and purging food, to excessive exercise and binge-ing. However it was only when my own sister began a five-year battle with anorexia and bulimia that I realised what I was a part of and how it affected women, not just in the industry, but every women who saw these images.
In the worst grip of her illness, my sister at 5’7 and 45 kilos looked me dead in the eye and said she would kill herself if she was as big as me at size 14.
It wasn’t long after that that I had my epiphany. I could combine all my knowledge as an agent and a model and focus it on helping women, by changing the perception of beauty, to help to redefine what was considered attractive and fashionable.
And so I started BELLA, a fashion model agency for healthy, realistic sized models starting from a size 10 and ending at what we considered a maximum healthy weight was for each individual model, normally a size 16. The term plus size is a way to differentiate the kind of model we represent. Just like a petites or commercial division, it’s a descriptive term the industry uses, but many people don’t understand that a plus model is size 10 plus. We are not talking about morbidly obese women. Most Vogue readers would be considered plus size by the modelling industry, but not at all in every day life. And so my goal was to provide models that represent the majority of Australian women, not the minority.
My hope was that by introducing the fashion world to the idea of using models who are still extraordinarily beautiful, in proportion and most importantly healthy, that no women will ever feel that they would rather be dead than not look like the majority of the models in our magazines, who represent at best one per cent of the population in dress size and who, for the most part, struggle desperately to stay that size themselves.