Taking up space: The rise of Filipina plus-size models

Models have always symbolized the unattainable, embodying perfection on catwalks, billboards, and magazine spreads. The confidence that these fashion muses exude have always been staples in how they are perceived—everything from their hairstyles, to their seemingly flawless skin, to the designer clothes, are carefully engineered to elicit want in everyone who lays eyes on them.

However, this perfection is precariously balanced on a knife edge. Models must strictly follow society’s narrow perception of beauty that is normally typified as tall, fair, and thin—leaving no room for anyone else.

Flesh and blood

In a culture that celebrates unrealistic beauty standards, plus-size women are shamed for their natural bodies. Teena Arches recalls in her YouTube vlog that she was often teased about her weight growing up. “I wouldn’t even play games that I wanted to play because they would just make fun of me when I would run. They would just laugh at me when I did something wrong,” she shares.

“I started to accept the fact that my being is wrong,” Arches says to The LaSallian. Eventually though, she found the camera—or rather the camera found her. In her work as a plus-size model, actress, and content creator, she got the empowerment she needed growing up.  

While her experience as a plus-size woman in media has had its ups and downs, Arches has come to understand the gravity of her place in the industry—she can write a new narrative that embraces the inclusionary nature of beauty in the modern world. 

Getting into character

“Modeling is something that’s also powerful because you can use it as a tool to make a statement,” plus-size model and entrepreneur Rona Tai states. Seeing plus-size models in former vantage points of perceived perfection sparks the conversation of body positivity. 

Tai personally believes in pushing the envelope when it comes to breaking down the barriers to inclusivity for plus-sized women. “It’s (plus-size modeling) just breaking that stigma that big women can’t wear whatever, that big women can’t be models, that big women can’t walk around, that big women can’t wear bathing suits, that we, the big women, are not beautiful,” she details.

And while the path they’ve taken is honorable, it has not been easy. Even after making her mark in the modeling world, Arches admits that she constantly feels that the skinnier models she  works with are looking down on her.  She adds, “Agents are still trying to tell me [that] if I lost weight, I could still do better.”

Furthermore, despite their growing presence in the industry, plus-size women are still usually placed at a disadvantage. Arches observes that not a lot of brands carry plus-size lines, which translates to fewer opportunities for plus-size models. 

Likewise, Tai says, “The [modeling] process [can be burdened by] very limited clothing.” As an example, she narrates an experience during a sea ramp modeling gig where her pick of ensembles was considerably smaller than the more slender models. Additionally, she said that with what little she could choose from, a huge chunk of it would feel unflattering. 

Gouging the glitz and glam

And while more and more brands are becoming more inclusive, accessibility is still a big problem. “If you were to buy something that’s just a regular t-shirt or regular shorts, cost [would be] more as a plus-sized woman, compared to some regular sizes,” Tai tells, “The excuse is they use more fabric.”

This can be traced back to the prevailing idea that women of bigger sizes must be shamed into the sidelines for daring not to conform to perfection. Clothes empower us and allow us to express ourselves, what does it tell us when we continually refuse to give the same amount of devotion to plus-size clothing as we do to smaller sizes? 

Harmful generalizations such as that body positive women are promoting unhealthy habits are also keeping plus-size women from celebrating their beauty. Tai, who is fresh from her successful stint with her husband in Amazing Race Asia, subscribes to the belief of staying “happy and healthy,” even if she may not fit others’ definition of the latter. 

Arches, on the other hand, does not mince words. “Everyone has their different health journeys, I’d say they should just focus on their own. There is a difference between being concerned and just being an ass.”

Beauty in everyone

At the end of the day, Arches is proud of the hope plus-size representation brings. “Having models of all sizes are showing diversity and acceptance towards everyone,” she says, “It makes people feel good to relate to what they see in the media.”

Consequently, engagement with brands that embrace plus-size models will bring the concept of body positivity into the mainstream. Tai points out, “The more that people support it (plus-size lines for women), then it’s going to encourage these designers or these companies to step up and provide more for the demand.”

This entails being mindful of the plus-size modeling industry’s shortcomings. Women with smaller waists, bigger hips, and flat stomachs are still considered the blueprint of how plus-size models should look. Furthermore, tokenizing a handful of plus-size models while the industry is still primarily dominated by conventional beauty standards only limits opportunities to showcase body diversity. 

Faithfully rendering the idea of body neutrality,  the idea of positive body image rejects reducing women’s bodies into products. Instead, they are made to feel good about themselves despite societal expectations. This results in a healthier worldview of self-validation that transcends one’s physical features.

Ultimately, rather than a woman’s appearance, the promotion of body diversity emphasizes her actions and the positive impact she provides to the world around her. “We are all fearfully and wonderfully made by one God and He sees us as beautiful,” says Arches.

Andy Jaluague

By Andy Jaluague

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