The modeling industry has long perpetuated unrealistic beauty standards that valorize thinness. However, in recent years, there has been a growing movement to celebrate body positivity and diversify representations of beauty in fashion and media. As part of this, several plus size models have risen to fame and carved out successful careers for themselves, breaking down barriers and redefining mainstream beauty ideals. But who exactly is the most famous plus size model today? Let’s take a look at some of the top contenders.
What does it mean to be a plus size model?
The modeling industry categorizes models as plus size when they are above a certain size, typically identified as US size 12-14 or UK size 16-18. However, exact definitions vary across different agencies and markets. The term ‘plus size’ came into usage in the 1970s as modeling agencies started representing larger models. Prior to this, models that were not very slim were simply referred to as ‘outsize’ models.
Some consider ‘plus size’ to be a derogatory term that promotes fat shaming. Many models and activists now prefer descriptors like ‘curvy’ to highlight the beauty of fuller figures. Regardless of the terminology, plus size models provide more relatable and realistic portrayals of women’s bodies that can help combat unhealthy beauty ideals.
Criteria for evaluating fame of plus size models
There are several key factors that determine the fame and influence of plus size models:
– Magazine covers: Appearing on covers of major fashion magazines like Vogue and Elle provides models with huge exposure and influence. The more prestigious covers a model has landed, the greater her fame.
– Brand campaigns: Being a face of campaigns for major fashion and beauty brands is a strong sign of success. Top plus size models represent brands like H&M, Target, Sephora and more.
– Runway shows: Walking the runway for designers during Fashion Week is important for models. Booking major runway shows indicates wide industry acceptance and rising star power.
– Social media following: Models with huge followings on Instagram and other platforms have high visibility and influence in the digital space. More followers means greater fame with general public.
– Industry impact: Models who break boundaries, drive diversity efforts and open doors for other plus size models are regarded as famous pioneers in the space.
With these criteria in mind, let’s evaluate some of the most prominent plus size models in recent years.
Undoubtedly one of the most famous plus size models today is Ashley Graham. Born in 1987 in Lincoln, Nebraska, Graham’s career took off when she entered a modeling competition in 2000 while attending college. In 2016, she achieved a major milestone by becoming the first size 16 model to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Since then, she has continued appearing on covers of the world’s top magazines including Vogue, Glamour, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar among others.
Graham has modeled for Addition Elle, Levi’s, Lane Bryant, and Old Navy. She also designed a lingerie line with Canadian brand Addition Elle in 2017. Beyond editorials and campaigns, she has walked the runway for designer brands like Michael Kors, Prabal Gurung, and Christian Siriano. All this cements her status as a pioneer in the industry.
In terms of social media, Graham has an impressive following of over 17 million on Instagram. She uses her platform to passionately advocate for body positivity and challenge beauty ideals. Her 2015 TED talk titled ‘Plus Size? More Like My Size’ has been viewed over 6 million times.
For her work, Graham has been recognized on several ‘Most Influential’ lists including TIME 100 and Forbes 30 under 30. She was also awarded the ‘Role Model Award’ at the 2016 Glamour Women of the Year ceremony. There’s no denying Graham’s superstar status and massive impact on the modeling world. According to models.com, she ranks as one of the ‘Money Girls’ – the highest tier of high fashion models.
- First plus size model on Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover
- 17 million Instagram followers
- Represented top brands like Levi’s and Lane Bryant
- Appeared on multiple global magazine covers
Tess Holliday is another very famous plus size model who is seen as a contemporary pioneer. Born Ryann Hoven in Mississippi in 1985, she decided to enter modeling in 2011 at age 26 – much older than typical model age. After working for a couple of years, she gained widespread attention in 2013 after launching the viral campaign #effyourbeautystandards encouraging body positivity.
Later that year, Holliday signed with modeling agency MiLK Model Management to become one of the first models of her size in the industry. In 2015, she made history as the largest plus size model to sign with a mainstream agency when she joined OG Paris. That same year, she appeared on an iconic cover of People which declared her the ‘World’s First Size 22 Supermodel’.
Since then, Holliday has modeled for notable brands like Torrid, Benefit Cosmetics, Sea by Emily, and Simply Be. Her work has been featured in major magazines including Vogue Italia, Marie Claire, SELF, and Nylon. She walked the runway for designer Christian Siriano at a New York Fashion Week show in 2016.
Holliday has over 1.9 million Instagram followers and continues using her platform to advocate self-love. She launched the #effyourbeautystandards movement into a clothing line in 2016. For her activism, BBC included Holliday in their 100 Women list for 2017. Holliday’s confident persona and feel-good spirit has undoubtedly amplified her fame and following.
- First size 22 model signed with a major agency
- Appeared on People magazine’s ‘World’s First Size 22 Supermodel’ cover
- Walked at New York Fashion Week
- 1.9 million Instagram followers
Robyn Lawley’s road to fame has several trailblazing milestones. Born in Australia in 1989, Lawley first gained media attention in 2011 when she became the first plus size model to appear in a campaign for Ralph Lauren. The following year, she appeared on the cover of Vogue Italia – the first plus size model to front a Vogue magazine cover.
In 2013, Lawley became the first plus size model to be featured in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. She went on to launch a swimsuit collection for the publication in 2014. Lawley has also graced the covers of several international editions of Elle, Glamour, and Marie Claire.
Beyond magazines, the model has worked with notable brands across fashion, beauty and lifestyle including H&M, Adore Me, Barneys New York and ASOS Curve. On the runway, she has walked for designers like Tommy Hilfiger, Lisa Marie Fernandez and Betsey Johnson.
With over 393,000 Instagram followers, Lawley continues to share body positive messages alongside modeling photos. She advocates for diversity in the industry and reminds people that health exists at every size. Lawley was selected as ‘Full Figured Fashion Week’s Model of the Year’ in 2011 thanks to her meteoric rise and impact.
- First plus size model to appear in Vogue and Sports Illustrated
- Designed swimwear for Sports Illustrated
- 393,000 Instagram followers
- Appeared on multiple global magazine covers
Candice Huffine is a plus size fashion model known for being a Savage X Fenty ambassador and landing a historic Pirelli calendar feature. Originally from Washington D.C., Huffine was scouted at age 15 while shopping with her mother. She decided to embark on a modeling career at age 18 after being inspired by plus size models Mia Tyler and Emme.
Huffine has appeared in major fashion campaigns for brands like Lane Bryant, Mango, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Dove. She made her breakthrough in 2015 by appearing in Pirelli’s famous calendar, becoming only the second plus model featured at that point.
The following year, Huffine gained mainstream notice as part of singer Rihanna’s diverse group of models promoting the new Savage X Fenty lingerie line. She also notably walked the runway for Christian Siriano at his Spring 2017 show.
In magazines, Huffine’s modeling work has been published in Elle, Glamour, Vogue Italia, W, and S Moda among others. She uses her growing social media presence to advocate for self-love regardless of size and shape. The model continues paving the way for greater inclusion in fashion.
- Featured in iconic Pirelli calendar
- Savage X Fenty ambassador
- Walked runway for Christian Siriano
- Published in major fashion magazines
Other Notable Names
While the models covered above are likely the most famous plus size figures today, there are several other prominent names in the industry worth mentioning:
– Iskra Lawrence: British model known for being Aerie’s first unretouched campaign model in 2016. 13 million Instagram followers.
– Denise Bidot: Among first plus models to walk multiple seasons at New York Fashion Week. Has modeled for Target, Forever21, Old Navy.
– Clémentine Desseaux: French model represented by top agencies internationally. Became the first plus model on a Shape magazine cover.
– Stefania Ferrario: Australian model recognized for her viral unretouched lingerie campaign. Advocate for body empowerment.
– Kate Wasley: Along with sister Georgia, the “Wasley twins” are known for co-founding a body positive shapewear brand.
– Hayley Hasselhoff: Daughter of David Hasselhoff who became British Curvy’s first plus size cover model in 2010.
The Next Generation
The plus size modeling world continues seeing fresh faces join the scene and start making their mark:
– Jill Kortleve: Dutch model becoming a runway fixture at Fashion Week and getting major magazine covers.
– Paloma Elsesser: Up-and-coming model walking for Fenty and Pat McGrath; has appeared in Vogue.
– Brielle Anyea: A young rising star recently signed with top agency IMG Models.
– Claire Foy: New face gaining traction modeling for Khloe Kardashian’s Good American jeans.
– Jari Jones: Breaking barriers as one of the first openly trans plus models, featured in Calvin Klein ad.
Landing major magazine covers is a key indicator of fame and success for models. Here are some of the most notable covers achieved by famous plus models:
|Vogue, Glamour, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar
|People, Nylon, SELF
|Vogue Italia, Elle, Glamour, Marie Claire
|Elle, Glamour, S Moda
|Women’s Health, SELF, Vogue Italia
Modeling for Major Fashion Brands
Plus size models have been increasingly seen representing major fashion and beauty brands in recent years:
|Major Brand Partners
|Addition Elle, Lane Bryant, Levi’s, Old Navy
|Benefit Cosmetics, Torrid, Simply Be, Sea by Emily
|H&M, Ralph Lauren, Adore Me, ASOS
|Lane Bryant, Mango, Dove, Saks Fifth Avenue
|Aerie, Perfect Fit Brand
Walking in Fashion Shows
A key milestone for plus models has been walking the runway at major fashion shows:
|Notable Fashion Show Appearances
|Michael Kors, Prabal Gurung, Christian Siriano
|Tommy Hilfiger, Lisa Marie Fernandez, Betsey Johnson
Social Media Followers
Here are the Instagram follower counts of top plus size models (as of October 2023):
When considering all the key markers of fame like magazine covers, brand campaigns, runway shows, and social media following, Ashley Graham clearly emerges as the most famous plus size model today.
Few models have broken down barriers and changed industry norms the way Graham has. She is undoubtedly a bonafide supermodel who has reached the pinnacle of popularity and success in the modeling world. With her confidence, resilience and principled advocacy, Graham has paved the way for a new generation of talent.
At the same time, Tess Holliday, Robyn Lawley, Candice Huffine and Iskra Lawrence have also achieved immense fame and acclaim as plus size models. Alongside Ashley Graham, they continue to push boundaries and redefine conventional beauty standards. The incredible rise of these models shows that diversity and inclusion in fashion are here to stay.