Could stick-thin models be on their way off the runway?
That's what some are wondering after Whitney Thompson became the first plus-size model to win "America's Next Top Model" last week.
Thompson, 20, is a size 10. She's not at all fat by conventional standards; she's slimmer than the 34 percent of Americans older than 20 who are obese. But compared with the impossibly thin models dominating runways around the world, she's big, and she's considered plus-size in the modeling industry. She's heard that her entire career.
"I've stood there in the middle of an agency with everyone pointing at me and saying 'four more inches off the hips would be great,'" Thompson said. "I don't recommend any girl putting herself through that, but I did and I stand here unchanged, physically.
"Right before I left to do the first episode in L.A., I was with one of my best friends and she said, 'You're fat. You are not going to make it in this competition,'" she continued. "So every week that I made it, I was like, 'Ha!' Obviously, we're not friends anymore."
Thompson is the latest plus-size woman to make waves in the modeling industry. Earlier this year, Chloe Marshall became the first plus-size woman to make the finals of the Miss England competition.
"I know I will stand out from them, but in a good way," the 5-foot-10-inch tall 16-year-old said in March. "I want to bring plus sizes back, and I want to show teenagers that you can be beautiful whatever size you are."
The British media don't agree. In April, columnist and former Miss England judge Monica Grenfell lashed out at Marshall in London's Daily Mail, writing, "Who does she think she's kidding? What she's demonstrating isn't bravery but a shocking lack of self-control. Instead of flaunting her figure, Chloe ought to own up to the truth. She is fat, and she got that way by overeating."
Thompson has her critics, too. A day after she scored the title of "America's Next Top Model," her Wikipedia page was hacked to say "Anya Kop [a stick-thin "Top Model" finalist] should have won you fat b**** ... you don't deserve this." (Thompson's page has since been restored.)
But big's not a bad thing. Tyra Banks, former catwalk queen and host of "America's Next Top Model," made it her mission to stamp out the "flesh equals failure" mentality after tabloids dubbed her "America's Next Top Waddle" and "Tyra Pork Chop."
In an industry struggling with impossible standards for skinniness, it may be time to get over heroin-chic and welcome back the Rubenesque. Starting in September, the British Fashion Council will require models to present a medical certificate of good health. And in 2006, Spain banned models with a body mass index of less than 18 from its catwalks.
"I personally would welcome more flesh on models," said Simon Doonan, creative director of Barney's and author of "Eccentric Glamour."
"I think that the cadaverously thin models on the runways right now are unattractive, not alluring; they're starting to look old. It's starting to become tired. And fashion is intrinsically cyclical. It makes sense that there should be a shift toward a fuller figure. They couldn't get any thinner than they are now.