Plus-Size Models Strutting Fashion Week Runways

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Perhaps the only thing skinnier than the runway models at Fashion Week are their stilettos.

But this is a fashion first. No plus-size clothing line has ever graced the catwalk at New York Fashion Week, until now. This major fashion moment for full-figured women is part of a trend to represent real women’s bodies in the retail industry.

Meet Jennie Runk. At 5’10” and a size 14, she isn’t what you typically think of as a bikini model. But she’s the red-hot poster girl for this year’s H&M campaign for Beyonce’s swimsuit line.

“It seems to be getting more and more positive, and less of a negative,” said Runk. “Ultimately it should just be an acceptance of every body. People have been waiting for someone to introduce a swimsuit model that's not a size 0. People have been waiting for it and happy to finally see it.”

She’s part of a movement that believes the fashion industry will suffer if they continue to treat real-sized fashionistas as second-class citizens. After all, the average American woman weighs 166 pounds and wears a size 14 or 16. Now curvier celebs like Kate Upton and even Adele are gracing the covers of Vogue.

A new modeling agency is seizing the moment. They represent “real-sized” models, whether it’s a size 8 or 18. JAG Models was founded by Gary Dakin and Jaclyn Sarka who used to run the plus-size division of Ford Models in New York until it was shut down.

“We're seeing new clients pop up and existing clients using plus,” said Dakin. “But we're also seeing the day rates of existing girls going up.”

In a few short months, their business is buzzing. They cherry-picked a roster of 30 models whom they had groomed and brought over from Ford.

“This is very personal for me,” explained Dakin. “There was a size-ism issue. We were going to break the ceiling. And we did. And we got on covers. And we got the rates up.”

The stakes are high, so JAG is selective. Retail analysts expect plus-size clothing sales to jump more than 5 percent a year for the next five years. Celebrities like Queen Latifah are launching their own lines of hip clothes to cash in on the $17 billion plus-sized market. Retailers are catching on too, with high-end designers like Michael Kors, Calvin Klein and Vine Camuto getting into the game.

So plus-size models are banking on more high-fashion runways to join the real-sized revolution.

Kamie Crawford is a former Miss Teen U.S.A. She’s gladly trading her pageant days for the model life.

“That was the most difficult part of competing,” Crawford recalled, “Trying to be small and be the size 0 that I know that I'm not. And that's why I'm so happy with where I am now because I can wear a size 10 and still feel as confident now as when I was a size 0.”

Now a size 10-12, she’s adjusting to a surprisingly more relaxed lifestyle as a model who can indulge – in croissants, breads and French fries. Within reason, she said, since the goal is to maintain and stay toned.

A large part of success in modeling, Dakin said, is owning your body, regardless of its proportions.

“Ultimately, one day we'll get rid of the size,” said Dakin. “That's the goal so we can go more on the merit of the girl and what she brings to the table.”