Pioneers of the Plus-Size Movement

By , Melissa Rudy, Health & Fitness Journalist

From Sports Illustrated swimsuit covers to curvier Barbie dolls, so-called "plus size" physiques are making headlines this season. But that leaves millions of women questioning the true meaning of that term.

While there's no hard-and-fast definition of "plus size," it generally indicates people (typically women) who are fuller-figured and/or larger than the "straight size" garments worn by fashion models, which tend to range from size 0 to 4, model Lauren Chan told Elle magazine. That means the "average" woman, who wears a size 12 to 14, would technically fall into the plus-size range. For those who are struggling to lose weight and lead healthier lifestyles, this classification can be demoralizing. Fortunately, thanks to some brave and beautiful women who have had enough of the unrealistic labels, "plus size" may soon give way to "my size."

Just who is leading the charge? Allow us to introduce just a few of the pioneers of the plus-size movement, who are helping to normalize the body types that were never abnormal to begin with.

Ashley Graham

This size 14/16 model has come a long way since ABC declined to air her Lane Bryant commercial in 2010. In February of this year, Graham was chosen (along with two other models) for the coveted Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover. And she's more than just a pretty face—a longtime advocate of health and fitness, Graham launched an online workout in 2014 called Curvy Fit Club. The model has long discussed her desire to denounce the "plus-size" label. "Curvy models are becoming more and more vocal about the isolating nature of the term ‘plus size,’" Graham said during a speech at Berklee Valencia in 2015. "We are calling ourselves what we want to be called: women, with shapes that are our own."

Myla Dalbesio

This Calvin Klein model created a buzz in the beauty industry when she landed a gig modeling the brand's 2014 underwear campaign. Looking at Dalbesio, you wouldn’t think anyone would classify her as "plus size"—but at a size 10, she is outside the runway realm and more indicative of a "real" woman's physique. After years of struggling to lose weight through crash diets, prescription drug abuse and other unhealthy tactics, Dalbesio was thrilled to be accepted as she is.

Meghan Trainor

Pop singer Meghan Trainor has always sung her body image views from the rooftops—literally. Many of the tracks from her albums feature lyrics that praise self-acceptance regardless of size. In her first single, "All About That Bass," Trainor assures her listeners that "every inch of you is perfect, from the bottom to the top." Last year, Meghan partnered with, lending her image to the plus-size e-tailer's #OwnYourCurves campaign.

Tess Holliday

In 2015, this blogger-turned-model scored a major triumph for the body-positive movement when she appeared on the cover of People magazine. Even after years of being bullied as a teen and getting rejected for plus-size modeling gigs, Holliday persisted in pursuing her dream of becoming a model, and in 2015 she became the first size-22 model to land a contract with a major agency.

Holliday maintains that while self-improvement is admirable—she works out with a personal trainer four times a week—the key is self-acceptance at all stages. "It’s all about accepting yourself the way you are,” Holliday said during an interview on the "Today" show. "If you want to work toward a better you in whatever regard, do it. But you’re okay just the way you are today.”

Candice Huffine

This 31-year-old, size-13 fashion model made headlines when she scored the cover of Italian Vogue in 2011. Most recently, she took her curves from the magazine to the runway when she modeled Sophie Theallet's Fall 2016 line.

Huffine believes that fuller figures are becoming more widely accepted as the rule rather than the exception. "In the past couple of years, the curvy community, designers and magazines have taken a really great stand at committing to showcasing diversity and different body types. Us models have taken on this responsibility of being active role models and spreading our message as well," she told Teen Vogue. "Women just want to see a variety of women, because that's how we're made! We're all unique."


Okay, so she's not a real woman, but we can't help but recognize Barbie's 2016 transformation as a significant step toward full-figure acceptance. After nearly six decades of producing only one body type—which many felt portrayed unrealistic physical ideals for young girls—Mattel introduced three new doll shapes in January, including a curvier figure. Additional changes include more skin colors, eye colors and hairstyles.

"These new dolls (are) more reflective of the world girls see around them," said Barbie brand manager Evelyn Mazzocco. "The variety in body type, skin tones and style allows girls to find a doll that speaks to them.” Fellow pioneer Ashley Graham raved about Barbie's new physique, saying "I don't know what took them so long."

How Can "Real Women" Join the Revolution?

These are just a handful of the confident, inspiring women who are breaking size stereotypes. You don't have to be a fashion model, singer or actress to make a difference. Below are some of the ways you can encourage positive body image in your family and community:

  • Stop complaining and start celebrating. Your own body image is the single most important influencer of how your daughter, granddaughter or niece feels about her own physique. Treat every body part like the miracle that it is, not a problem to be solved.
  • End the scale obsession. Focus on health and how you feel, not the numbers at your feet.
  • Banish bullying. If you witness or hear about anyone being bullied because of his or her weight, talk to school or work administrators and take steps to put an end to the behavior. Consider implementing an anti-bullying program if you are able.
  • Debunk the magazine myths. Make sure the girl(s) in your life are aware that the models they see in magazines and on TV do not represent a normal, healthy physique, and that a healthy body is a "perfect" body regardless of size.

What do you think of the recent emphasis on fuller figures? Who is your favorite plus-size personality?

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DEFARGE2 10/10/2020
I would love to see the fashion industry adopt accurate uniform sizing that was more size inclusive rather than size exclusive. Hate the fact that the larger sized clothing in most stores is awful- either looks like something a great grannies would have worn in the 50s, or in such hideous cuts/colors that no woman would consider. I end up sewing a number of garments for myself (especially formal occasion wear) because the stuff on offer is hideous. Who wants to wear nothing but black, or navy shapeless bags designated as formal wear only because the clothing manufacturers slap a few sequins on it and call it a day? And then, since I'm making it for myself, I label my clothing as a medium no matter what the actual size. Since clothing manufacturers can be arbitrary in their sizing, so can I. Report
DEFARGE2 10/10/2020
I would love to see the fashion industry adopt accurate uniform sizing that was more size inclusive rather than size exclusive. Hate the fact that the larger sized clothing in most stores is awful- either looks like something a great grannies would have worn in the 50s, or in such hideous cuts/colors that no woman would consider. I end up sewing a number of garments for myself (especially formal occasion wear) because the stuff on offer is hideous. Who wants to wear nothing but black, or navy shapeless bags designated as formal wear only because the clothing manufacturers slap a few sequins on it and call it a day? And then, since I'm making it for myself, I label my clothing as a medium no matter what the actual size. Since clothing manufacturers can be arbitrary in their sizing, so can I. Report
Tess Holliday isn’t body positive, she’s fat acceptance. That’s the pro-Ana side of being big.
BIKE4HEALTH 4/7/2020
thanks Report
DEE107 12/4/2019
thanks Report
Thanks for reminding me that beauty isn’t measured by size. Report
It’s encouraging to see beauty in all sizes. Report
Very interesting. Thank you Report
Great article. Thank you! Report
difficult to place on a healthy living/weight loss mentality.... I've been obese all my life... we are here to better our health and body conditions.... we accept who we are... for most of us losing weight is a struggle.... it is difficult... requires commitment and help.... it is not about accepting who we are.... Report
Being curvy is one thing. Being morbidly obese is another. You simply cannot include Tess Holliday in a discussion of curvy but healthy. Look, we all come here to SparkPeople to get healthy, to get advice on how to become healthy, howto stay healthy, and for many of us, probably 99% of us that includes some weight loss. I’d guess maybe 50% of us need a little attitudinal adjustment on self love as well. But Please, SparkPeople, Don’t include a Tess Holliday in this discussion. She is so much of what we need to not be that she doesn’t belong here, unless she is trying to get healthy, like we are. Report
Everyone deserves to wear clothing that fits without other people judging them. Report
Sorry, I'm not a fan of admiring curvy. For the most part it just isn't healthy. It'd be better if we just showed "normal" women and men in ads and not photoshop making almost everyone doubt themselves. Barbie doesn't need to have 30 extra lbs on her to look more like most women. Report
Well, I liked the article. The fact it raised so much anger surprises me. These are women with their own stories to tell. I can accept that. Report
There are a LOT of judgemental comments in this thread! Quit hating on people because they are curvy, plus sized, overweight, or obese. If people weren't working on their problem they wouldn't be here. And we are all aware of the health risks of obesity. You don't need to point them out. No one is more judgemental of their size/weight issues than the person having them. You, who are posting judgemental comments are NOT the fat police. We all walk a different path. And we're all works in progress. Let's support one another instead of pointing fingers. Report
Would have been nice to see photos of these people mentioned in the article! Report
thank you Report
I don't understand all the anger displayed on this article. It's a very insightful article! Thank you for sharing this information! Report
Meghan Trainor is a bully. In her song, It's All About the Bass, she sings how her mama told her that boys like booty her size, that she's no stick figure silicon Barbie doll etc. ALL women are perfect and we need to stop bashing one size over the other size! There are not leaders and shakers, these are women who sold out to the fashion industry as much as models who are on the thinner side. If society didn't insist that men have to tall and muscular; women have to thin and tiny, we wouldn't have this issue. Fashion doesn't led the way, society does.....and society has done a poor job.
I can't believe there's no mention of how men treat women who are plus size--including ones who are maybe a size 12/14! I'm down to a size 22 now, from a size 30+, and can't go anywhere without wondering what kind of comments I'm going to hear from them! I try not to let it bother me anymore, but when I was younger that's all it took to give up whatever diet I was on! Now I know that they're just too ignorant or just don't care how hurtful they're being. Either way, their insults don't matter. I know I am more valuable than our male dominated society tells me I am. I just can't believe in this day and age we're still judged by our looks, and they all seem to think they're 10's! Report
This article brings out strong emotions. As a wonan who has gone from a aize 34.5 to a 14, I am thrilled with myself. I was also thrilled when that size became a 30, 24, 22, etc. Yes, I love the cuter clothes I can wear, but I love more the things I can do - walk 3.3 miles in an hour, lift 70 lbs weight, ride a bike, walk up stairs and down normally, play Twister with my 6 yr old granddaughter, be off all presciption meds for GERD and depression, have a BP in normal range. At 64, I am healthier than I have been since early childhood. Every one is on his/her own journey. I respect the journey. Report
When I am done with my journey, I will just be happy if I can fit my butt into a size 16 jeans or even a 14. I have a bigger lower body. I know I will probably not fit into the lower sizes than that, but if I can get below an 18 I'll be more than happy. I'll be ecstatic. Report
Glad to see that they are realizing that all are not like barbie dolls and are not all the same size as the runway models. Runway models are not the average women. Report
I like this article. We should love ourselves, and that is why we want to better our bodies. It's o.k. to be a size 10, or 12, or 14, if you're eating healthy and working out. It's also good to be a size 2 or 4, or 6. Just do your best for you. As a size 18, I am currently doing everything in my ability to be healthier and fitter. If I lose a few pant sizes, great. If I go out right now, I don't want others to unfairly judge me. How do you know if I haven't already worked hard to get where I am? Report
I think you should be able to mix and match when it comes to suits. I have less than fond memories of the late 80's, early 90's "fitted" skirt, pans and jacket style since I had big hips, big bosom, small waist. I notice that style is making a comeback back. Also, before accusing someone of having surgery on the front, look at the back. I don't know too many women who get their hips enlarged. On the flip side, telling someone with large hips they should get their breasts reduced is stupid, because the reduction will make their hips look out of proportion. I take a look at the whole figure, the whole lifestyle before I make a comment. I know ruddy well a 4 '11, small framed, 21 year old whose 7 day workout schedule is Intense, Moderate, Intense, Moderate, Light, Rest, and makes wise food choices is going to slide into a size 4 no problem. I'm not going to avoid her, I'm not going to make judgmental comments, I'm going to enjoy working with her and support her, even it's something as simple as saying "Grab a couple of packages of vinegar, a couple of pepper packets and put it on your salad" when she heaves a sigh of discontent because she forgot her salad dressing. Report
And let's not forget about the air-brushing! Report
Well I like the article but I'm not too crazy about some of the comments I've read. Yeah, size 22 is pretty big but she IS working out and trying to take care of herself. Nobody that big is going to drop 5 sizes overnight, give her a BREAK!!! It's like Cheryl Tiegs being all critical of Ashley Grahm because of her waistline; COME ON! This is not helpful and has really got to stop! I just read an article about Wentworth Miller, an actor who got depressed and turned to food about 6 years ago, went from looking buff to looking like Seth Rogan, but he was depressed and suicidal at the time. Stop and think about what you're saying! When you're depressed it's just that much harder to do something to help yourself - perhaps Tess Holiday's real message isn't "it's okay to be fat," perhaps it's that you can do more with your life/health/whatever with a positive attitude. I for one am tired of being unhappy with my weight and looks. Even though I'm still trying to lose a few lbs, I can at least be happy with some part of myself instead of hating myself because I haven't lost any weight. Yeah, I'm also a size 10(ish), somewhere between "thin" and "plus-sized." It's not a bad thing, and there's no reason for lots of self-loathing. You don't have to be a size 22 to be full of self-loathing, though - take it from me. I shouldn't be hating myself because the scale says 148 instead of 135. Just reading that makes me realize how stupid that is. I still want to reach 135 lbs, but I can work towards that goal without the self-hate, which just leads to self-defeating attitudes. I hope someone out there gets what I'm trying to say, sorry 'bout the rant. Report
I can't believe that they call the size 10 model a plus size. I pulled up her picture and she definitely doesn't look fat. She is slender. I really think it stinks that they just keep changing sizes and they push for starving yourself so much, too. Nowadays women are even doing so much plastic surgery I saw one who has had her ribs taken out to make her waste smaller, totally destroying her health. Report
Where is Elly Mayday? Report
I like the idea of "my size". And I agree... why do all the cute clothes stop at such low sizes. I'm really thankful that a few clothing lines are making cuter clothes into larger sizes and not just juniors and misses.

Here's something that does annoy me. I have a cousin who has been anorexic pretty much all of her life. Seriously, she could share clothes with my 5 year old. She was horrified when she moved into a size 2 ::gasp:: when she was pregnant. 2 years ago we happened to go out to the beach together and there were some girls that were slightly curvy... like a size 8 or 10... and she's there complaining to me and her boyfriend how people "like that" should be ashamed to be walking around in a bathing suit. I was a size 18 at the time. I don't even think she realized how offensive she was being. It's people like her that really need to change their opinion of what is "healthy". I'm not entirely fond of being the size that I am, but at least I'll never be hospitalized for being malnourished.

Now if only we can have "my size" knee high boots. I hate that I can't ever pull them or zip them over my calves. Report
I am surprised by some of the comments here. I think Rambler61 is downright nasty. Not into fat shaming? Can't prove that by your post. We are here to have the support to lose the weight we need to lose and become a healthier individual. If I wanted nasty fat comments, I need only recall my childhood and high school years. And yet, when I see pictures of myself from then, I don't see it. It took time to realize that because I was not a size 2 or 4 that I was not fat. At my lowest weight of 126 at 5'6" I was told by my doctor to add some weight. I looked emaciated. But with my body make up it was the only time I wore a size 9/10 pant. Only one pair. All others were 11/12. I added 10 pounds and I still felt fat again. So shame on you for your comments. I have gained weight due to medication I have to take for a nasty disease that I have. Every day is a struggle. A little empathy goes a long way. Report
These women have a confidence that is inspiring. We are slowing making progress. Report
I'm honestly disappointed to see an article like this on SparkPeople. I'm not into fat shaming or anything like that. You are who you are. But if you ARE obese, and have turned to SparkPeople to help you rectify that situation, this is the LAST message you need. It is one thing to love yourself no matter what, but if you really love yourself and you are obese, you'll love yourself enough to do something about it, instead of promoting obesity a the new thing. And don't call plus sized curvy! That is offensive to women everywhere! My sweet, very fit wife, whose BMI is a healthy 22, has plenty of curves. Classifying her with Ashley Graham, the unhealthy weight/BMI (and obviously unfit) model, is offensive. Chris, please take note of what your folks are posting here. Report
Not all skinny women are fit, that is true, but unfortunately, whether you call them plus sized, or curvy, a 5'2" woman in a size 16 is still obese...

I do not think that this new so-called movement to glorify obesity is a good thing. How about focusing on getting your weight down at least to the point of overweight (according to BMI) and body fat percentage into the "acceptable" range? I don't think Ms Graham qualifies for this designation. Report
Wow, what a topic...I have been trying to formulate a response in my head that honestly conveys how I feel. Easier said than done. I have walked in morbidly obese shoes, not an easy path. Emotional eating ruled my day, yet I was never really bashing my body image...probably because I honestly avoided looking in all mirrors. My journey to health and wellness has been a looooooooooong one. My overweight self actually sees my imperfections now because I look at my reflection and notice them. Irregardless, I so respect the journey and the process that has brought me to this point. As a society, I would hope we would support and accept all people... irregardless of size. Said acceptance does not mean that individually we feel complacent about taking the best possible care of us! We live during a time when food is often the answer to most anything, when in reality it is rarely the solution. Feeling better about whom we are as a person is such a good thing, just not sure a new label or movement will accomplish all that is touted. Whose vision of "real women" will be accepted...a scary thought... Report
Clothes for every size woman should be available. EVERY woman is a REAL woman. The fashion industry has responded to this demand since 2/3 of society is now overweight, obese or worse. They are in business to make money and have responded accordingly.

Unfortunately, their response has been “sizing creep.” Look at the measurements, not the size printed on the label. The average women’s waist size in the 1950s was 26 inches and she wore a size 12.
Now it is 32 inches and she can still wear a size 12 (from some companies anyway)

In 1960 the measurements of a size 10 were 32.5 25 34.5
Today they are 38 30 40

That’s why they had to add sizes 0 2 and 4. We used to call them sizes 6 8 and 10.

Making me feel good about myself as I padded my bottom did me no favors, but it did pad their bottom line.
I receive catalogs from Women Within and Roaman's and there's not a plus sized gal to be seen. For that reason I am not inclined to spend my hard earned money buying anything from them. I prefer to buy from QVC and HSN who, at least, show a few bigger, beautiful women. Report
I just wish we could walk into a store, pick up our size (be it a 2 or a 22) and have it fit. The inconsistency in sizing is crazy! A 10 in one store is too small while a 10 in another store is too big. Make a standard and stick to it! Report
Wow, it's shocking to see so many negative comments on this...The only one of those women who are actually "plus size" is Tess Holiday. It's not promoting obesity, it's making women know they don't have to feel like sh*t if they don't fit the mold we're constantly shown. I wear a size 22 in some brands, but I definitely don't look like her. I'm fairly proportional, and I've always been heavy. Smallest I've been since puberty was a size 12 at 150 pounds. Now I'm right around 230 (which honestly doesn't look terrible on my 5'7" frame if I could get rid of my post-baby belly). My measurements are 48/39/51 so I know I'll always wear a bigger size, if only because of my hips. Blood pressure is usually 115/78, glucose is good (last non-fasting was 110), cholesterol is 160, so I don't really have any health effects from being heavier, though my body fat % is too high (35%). I just want to lose weight so I can be comfortable and do everything a normal size person can do. And find cute clothes that fit me. Report
Obesity is a serious health risk, and shouldn't be encouraged. Stop focusing on what you look like, or what you think of others' perception of you; focus on your health. Report
I think this allows too much acceptance of obesity which is a serious health risk. Report
When I was in my teens/early 20s (I'm now in my early 60s) I wore a size 14 which was considered "normal". Plus sizes were considered to be 18 or 20 and up. The notion that has come about in the last number of years that a size 14 is a "plus size" I find completely ludricrous! I will never be a size 0, 4 or even a 10, that is not my genetic make up. I am naturally curvier and have a bigger bottom half than top half. That doesn't mean I can't be slimmer than I have been the past number of years or fitter with more exercise which of course is why I'm using Spark. Women come in all shapes and sizes, and should be accepted as they are. However being content with an unhealthy weight and level of fitness (as I was for too long) is probably not a good idea for long term health. I think it is important to encourage those who need to develop a healthier life style while being accepting of the shape that they are at currently. Report
Bottom line: let your health be your guide. When I was obese (5'3" and 215 lbs), I felt fine and so thought I was okay until I went to my doctor for a routine thing (bronchitis or something) and he took my blood pressure - it was way, WAY too high, and I was only 30! He told me I had to lose the weight or I'd be dead by the time I was 40. I thought about it... about how I'd get out of breath climbing stairs, walking over the sand dunes at the beach, etc... the pain in my knees and ankles... and decided enough was enough. I asked for his help, and I got it - I lost the weight and my numbers all went back to healthy levels. I FEEL better.

One size does not fit all and we are all have our individual "ideal" body composition, but we need to be extremely careful that we are not trying to lull ourselves into a false sense of security, like I'd been doing. Get regular physicals and listen to your doctors. If you're winded climbing a flight of stairs or if your joints hurt, your body is being taxed by the extra fat you're carrying around and, if kept up, will cause injury or worse. Report
Please, can we stop using "Real woman"? In your description of Myla Dalbesio, this is how you describe her. Women of ANY size, shape, age, orientation, etc. are all REAL women. Someone who wears a size 0 is no less of a woman than one who wears size 16. Please, let's stop using such divisive language. There's no need to put down one group to make the other feel better. We're better than that, aren't we? Report
Thank you Sparkpeople! As a woman who, at her goal weight, is at a Size 12, I'm tired of all these people who assume that 'plus size' means overweight and unhealthy.

To all the naysayers in the comments - YOU ARE THE PROBLEM. The point is that we are all human beings who have a choice in how we spend our lives. Yes, some people choose to be healthier in body - but what are you doing to exercise your mind? Your creativity? Your socialization? Your career? We all make choices based on what is important to us - and it is IMPORTANT that everyone be represented at whatever point in their life journey they are on. Besides, physical health can be measured in so many ways, there's no way for you to absolutely say you are healthier than another simply because you have smaller pants.

It's about avoiding judging others by your own stick. Get your eyes on your own papers and stop worrying about the choices of others.

The only dislike I have about this article is the choice of the phrase 'real' women. Women naturally at a size 0 are real women as much as women who are a size 30. Report
Being that almost half of the US is overweight or obese, I think people are fully aware that a size 0 is not the norm. And while there are some fuller figured people that are not unhealthy, I doubt that is the case for most. I find it sad that there is now a large section in the kids department for larger 'husky' children (even a larger selection of clothing than the 'standard' sizes in some stores) and I think that is sad. Regardless if you call it "plus size", "my size" is besides the point. I think it shows that as a society we have given up and are accepting the passing down of obesity to our future generations as "accepting ourselves". Report
We all know that being overweight is not the best for our health. But if your genetics blessed you with curves and then fuller curves you can still be a plus size. We also know that healthy bodies come in all sizes not necessarily size 4 and down. And some of us, no matter what, will never, ever, be small. Healthy bodies & minds come in all shapes & sizes! I'm almost 6 foot tall, I will always be categorized at a plus size. I could never get small enough to be a size 4, EVER. If I could I'd be extremely unhealthy. Some people will also be overweight forever. Exercise & Diet will make them healthier but size 4 will never be in their future. Sometimes no mater the fight you just can't totally beat extreme bad genetics. Healthy weight is a relative term to each person if you think about it. The size we feel best at may not be at what the text books say we should be. Report
I think there is a world of difference between somewhat larger women who truly promote and follow healthy lifestyles and some of the women in this article like Tess Holiday.

I really do not understand what the purpose of a site devoted to people pursuing a healthier lifestyle is holding a woman like this up as a role model.

As for the plus size "movement", a lot of it is dedicated to accepting mediocrity, not actually pursuing health, and enabling disordered relationships with food and exercise.

Shame on you, Spark for even posting this article. Report
If the fashion industry is backing off from the walking-clothes-rack look, that's great, but let's not kid ourselves. "Plus size" in fashion industry terms is size 6-12-- hardly obese, or even much overweight, considering how tall models are. The Tess Hollidays are going to be few and far between. Report
I embraced my obese body first and learned I was worthy to be loved and healthy then my transformation began. I have shed 150lbs plus and I am 5 years in recovery from obesity.
Positive self image is important and can be transformative when we are honest about what we are doing to ourselves.
For example, I told myself I was beautiful and eventually I realized beautiful people who love themselves don't not overeat to survive their day, marriage, emotions, etc.!
So what do I think about these new ads and movement towards embracing fuller figures? I choose to embrace the TRUTH, I wasn't happy, healthy, and whole at 300lbs.
That ended my Binge Eating Lifestyle. Report