The Secret Behind Why Plus-Size Models are So Skinny?

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You’re happy to see more representation of plus-size models on the fashion runways. The only problem is, although these women are showcasing plus-size clothing, their bodies don’t look much like yours. The models are very skinny! Why is that?

There are several reasons plus-size models are so skinny:

  • Some of the models might not actually be plus size
  • Their weight is distributed more to certain areas like their chest and rear
  • Their faces are slimmer 
  • They still follow a strenuous diet

That clears up the confusion a little, but you’d still like more information. Well, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll further explore why plus-size fashion models don’t really fit an average woman’s definition of plus-size and how much importance you should put on this area of the modeling industry. 

Let’s get started! 

Why Don’t Plus-Size Models Look Plus Size?

Because They’re Not Plus Size

Sometimes the most obvious answer is the right one, and that would be the case here. The top reason plus-size models fail to meet the same plus size definition as the average woman sees it is because the model is not plus-sized.

We’ve discussed this on the blog before, but a woman needs to be between a size 12 and 14 to be considered plus size. That’s in the real world where we live and shop. In the fashion world, you’re plus-size if you’re a size 8, says The Everygirl.

That’s right, a size 8. Which, we want to stress, is a perfectly normal size that almost no retailer considers plus size.

It’s also very far away from the size of today’s woman. Beauty site Byrdie states that the average woman is a size 16 to 18. About 10 years ago, the standard size was 14, but it’s since increased. 

So if a model is plus size at a size 8 but today’s real plus-size women are at least a size 16, that means the model is literally twice as small as you.

The size 8 standard shows you that the modeling world doesn’t have even a relatively healthy viewpoint of what constitutes plus-sized bodies. 

This other Byrdie article tells the story of Elianah Sukoenig, a model. She says that when she fit into size 2 clothing, some agents told her she still had to slim down. She couldn’t find much modeling work even at such a teeny-tiny size because the industry didn’t perceive her as teeny-tiny. 

Sukoenig also tells the story of how, at a size 0, she was being portrayed as a plus-size model, mostly because she had large breasts. Yet even still, she didn’t fit in. Here’s how she explains it to Byrdie: “One of the first castings I went to was for a plus-size clothing brand…The models I mingled with were confused as to why I was there, as was I.”

There are many factors compounding here that make this such a confusing situation. For one, modeling agencies focus more on sizing, yet if you’ve read this blog recently, you know how a size 14 for one brand can be a size 12 for another.

The other issue is that the modeling industry is very black or white. Many women, including Elianah Sukoenig, find themselves in a situation where they’re too “big” to model for straight sizes yet too slim for curvy or plus-size modeling. Sukoenig says her measurements would be taken incorrectly or that she’d be told to lie about size just to get plus-size modeling jobs.

There’s also the fact that Photoshopping is going to be done on any model’s photo, further distorting her true body shape. Oh, and if you think that agencies and photographers are the only ones who do the ‘Shopping, think again. 

These days, any person can download an assortment of apps and tools to edit their photos right on their phone. Models, feeling the extraordinary pressure to look the way they’re perceived in the media, will slim themselves down in casual photos on their social media feeds. Even already skinny models and Instagram influencers do this, making you feel so much bigger by comparison. 

As a caveat, not every model self-edits her photos, but enough of them do that it just distorts the overall picture even further. 

Their Weight Is Appealingly Distributed

Although sizing disparities and sometimes outright lies account for the bulk of why plus-size models look skinny, those aren’t the only reasons. Another could come down to simple weight distribution.

The parts of your body in which weight goes isn’t really something you can control, at least not for the most part. Some women (and men, may we add) gain weight in certain areas due to genetics or aging or even their gender. Lifestyle factors can affect where the weight goes too, such as lack of exercise.

If your weight is distributed more towards your belly, thighs, or butt, then you’re going to have a different shape than a woman whose weight goes elsewhere, even if you’re both the same size. This is how women can have pear shapes, inverted triangle shapes, and so on. We wrote about the different body shapes in a post recently, so go back and read that if you missed it!

One body shape we have to talk about is the hourglass. As an hourglass, your waist has curves yet it’s narrow, especially compared to your hips and bust. Your buttocks are rounded, you have slightly round shoulders, and your upper and lower body are considered proportionate.

We’ll say again what we did then, the hourglass is considered the perfect body by many. What do modeling agencies look for when hiring talent? Yes, that’s right, the perfect body. 

Keeping that in mind, if you have two models who fit into the plus-size category, one with a pear shape and one with an hourglass shape, who do you think is going to get the job? That’s right, the hourglass model. Her body is perceived by society to be more attractive.

Since she’s “bigger” at a size 8 (but probably not plus size as we know it), she gets promoted as a plus-size model. The shape of her body makes her figure look even more unattainable. 

A study published in UK news source The Independent found that just eight percent of women are considered hourglasses. Far more, 20 percent, are pear-shaped, with a larger bottom half. Only 14 percent of women have the inverted triangle shape and 46 percent are rectangular. A rectangular shape is like the polar opposite of an hourglass, as it’s far less curvy.

Let’s put all this information together. You can’t really influence your weight distribution, yet the hourglass shape remains the beauty standard for women’s bodies. Even still, only eight percent of women fit into that mold. 

It’s no wonder your body looks so different from a plus-size model’s! 

They Have Slim Faces

Another place where weight distributes is your face, especially around your chin. Double chins, which are officially called submental fat, can occur in people who are slimmer too, especially if they have loose skin or are genetically prone to a double chin. 

As a plus-size woman, you may have a double chin yourself. That’s perfectly natural, and double chins are pretty cute. Yet you won’t see them on a so-called plus-size model. If anything, her face looks almost unnaturally slim. 

Why is that? There are a few reasons. One of them could just be that the model is genetically blessed, which is definitely true of a lot of models. Weight distribution comes into play again, like we said, as does diet, which we’ll discuss in a lot more detail in the next section.

Once again, Photoshopping is also a factor, even on a model’s Instagram account, so don’t necessarily believe what you see. Even still, the slimmer face and body of a plus-size model can really distort what it means to be plus-size to the general public.  

They’re on a Strict Diet

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether a model is closer to a size 14 or if she’s a regular size 8, competition in the modeling world is cutthroat. The model has to look a certain way or she’ll lose out on jobs. Gaining weight is a model’s biggest fear, so many of them diet and exercise, sometimes to the point of obsession. 

Showbiz Cheatsheet says that Heidi Klum, one of the best-known models in the world, would at one time consume only 1,200 calories a day. Now, we know Heidi Klum isn’t a plus-size model, but it goes to show that a model’s diet is crazy restrictive. Could you imagine how hungry you’d be if all you ate is 1,200 calories?

Another model named Bridget Malcolm who’s mentioned in the Showbiz Cheatsheet article says she’d eat 800 calories a day for a while and that her nutritionist told her to! We’d fire the nutritionist, stat.

How many calories a woman should eat per day does vary based on how much exercise she gets, but it’s never anything extreme like 800 to 1,200 calories. According to WebMD, women who are 19 to 30 years should stick within a limit of 2,000 calories a day. If a woman that age is more active, she can eat 2,400 calories.

Between the ages of 31 and 50, sedentary women should consume 1,800 calories a day, moderately active women 2,000 calories, and active women 2,200 calories. 

Even if we use the baseline of 2,000 calories a day, that’s more than twice what Bridget Malcolm was eating. It’s also 800 calories more than Heidi Klum’s diet. In other words, you could combine the diets of those two women and that’s how many calories you’d eat in a regular day.  

Should You Pay Attention to Plus-Size Models?

Now that you know why plus-size models are slimmer than us everyday plus-size women, you have to admit, you feel a bit better. You’d see those women on Instagram or in billboard ads and your body image would tank. You’d wonder why a woman who’s plus size like you was so much skinnier.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that five percent of women in America fit the “ideal” standards of what a woman should look like. That means a whopping 95 percent of us will never look like that, even women who aren’t plus size.

Having plus-size models on the runway and in TV and magazine ads is a double-edged sword. It’s good that plus-size women are being recognized and have more fashion options, yes. Yet the average person who knows nothing about plus-size bodies sees those models and expects all plus-size women to look like that. Then they meet a real plus-size woman and wonder why she’s so much bigger. This can deepen fatphobia.

Although we know that what we see on social media and in advertisements isn’t reality, it’s easy to forget that. Countless studies have shown that playing the comparison game between your body (or life) and another person’s on social media can lead to depression and feelings of inadequacy.

Surrounding yourself with a support network of people who accept the real you is always best. Pay no attention to the models!


Plus-size models are skinny since most of the time, they’re not even close to being a size 12 or 14. These women may be anything from size 0 to 8 to be considered plus size. They also tend to diet to maintain their figures.

You shouldn’t view plus-size models as a body type to attain, as you may never be able to achieve it thanks to genetics and a whole host of other factors. Remember all the editing that goes into those modeling advertisements and then remind yourself that you’re an amazing, powerful woman just the way you are!

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