The recent expansion of plus size fashion into mainstream spaces is no coincidence. Behind the growing racks of stylish clothing above size 12 are the courageous women who spent decades pushing for this change.
Plus size models have shattered barriers against almost impossible odds throughout history. By boldly flaunting their curves during times of deep societal prejudice, they laid the foundation for major retailers to finally expand sizing.
Thanks largely to social media, these persistent models slowly transformed public perception around body types and what is considered beautiful. Hashtags turned into viral campaigns against fat shaming, allowing their voices to be finally heard by a mass audience.
Beyond wearing the latest trends themselves, this diverse group of change makers use their platform to champion body positivity. Their influence extends across industries as they inspire women around the world to embrace who they are, regardless of shape or size.
Let‘s get to know the top 15 ambassadors leading the plus representation movement entering 2023!
Ashley Graham – The Pioneer of Plus
"curves are beautiful because they tell a story"
The most famous plus size model in the world needs little introduction but here‘s why Ashley Graham holds such an esteemed position. Back in 2016, she gained international acclaim for becoming the first size 16 model on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
Not only did she appear an impressive three times, but the now mother of three also walked the runway at New York Fashion Week twice the same year. This cemented Ashley as an undeniable force, bursting through barriers female models of her size faced for decades.
Since then, Ashley has landed dozens of other major magazine covers from Vogue to Glamour while fronting game changing campaigns. She designed lines for pretty little thing, Swimsuits for All and Addition Elle reflecting rising demand for plus clothing.
Followers: 14.4 M on Instagram, 524.1k YouTube
Advocacy: Founder of body positive community, Model Citizen
Awards: Glamour‘s 2016 Woman of the Year
Precious Lee – The Groundbreaking Model
“Seeing yourself represented matters"
Among the prominent faces leading today‘s diversity push, Precious Lee seems to keep landing iconic "firsts" that pave the way for other plus models. After appearing in American Vogue September 2020 issue, she became the first Black plus curve model with a British Vogue cover in 2021.
Outside of these historic moments, Lee also walked for luxury fashion houses like Versace and Coach. She uses her voice for projects like helping co-launch Lane Bryant‘s voting campaign or speaking at Dove‘s Self Love Summit.
Followers: 249k Instagram
Firsts Achieved: First Black plus model on American & British Vogue covers
Advocacy: Anti-racism in casting, co-founder of Project Start with Candice Huffine
Paloma Elsesser – The Body Positive Face
"The moral of the story is I didn’t have to change who I was, the world had to change for me."
Paloma Elsesser gained public notice after being discovered on Instagram in 2016. But portraying realistic bodies while exuding confidence took on new heights in 2021. That year, she sparked debate for appearing on one of Vogue‘s triple September edition subscriber covers.
While a glamourous norm for straight size models, seeing a size 14 woman with back rolls in magazines sent ripples across the industry. Since then, she‘s walked for Fendi and Proenza Schouler while fronting campaigns for Nike and Skims.
Followers: 536k Instagram
Advocacy: Body positivity ambassador
Awards: 2021 Forbes 30 Under 30
Kate Wasley – The Aussie Athlete
"Own and celebrate what makes YOU different"
Australian model Kate Wasley has undoubtedly made waves in her home country‘s fashion landscape. Most significantly, the straight-talking redhead teamed up with popular athletic apparel brand Lorna Jane in 2018.
As their first ever plus size athlete ambassador, Wasley sparked action across retailers to expand sizing. She went on to land a spot in Sports Illustrated‘s 2019 swimsuit edition and 2023 campaign for Lorna Jane.
Alongside friend Georgia Gibbs, the two launched body positive platform Any Body Co which now boasts 260k Instagram followers. Wasley also uses her platform to candidly address toxic diet culture and the need for self-care.
Followers: 85.5k Instagram
Advocacy: Any Body Co-founder, leading Aussie activist
Firsts: First plus size Lorna Jane ambassador
Tess Holliday – The Eff Your Beauty Standards Start
“People told me my body didn’t deserve to be seen, but I chose not to listen to them”
Before becoming the first model of her size signed to a major agency, Tess Holliday gained following for her blunt hashtags. She coined #effyourbeautystandards in 2013 after years of struggling to find modeling work due to her size 22 figure.
After publicly posting herself in swimwear, the American model sparked a wave of support from women craving such unapologetic visuals. She later made history in 2015 for appearing as the first size 22 model on People magazine‘s cover.
Since then, Holliday landed campaigns ranging from Benefit Cosmetics to trendy brand H&M. She uses her platform to candidly address haters and celebrate bodies of all shapes through viral Instagram posts.
Followers: 2.3 million Instagram
Advocacy: Eff Your Beauty Standards movement founder
Firsts: First model of her size signed with major agency
Hunter McGrady – The Boundary Breaking Beauty
“Being body positive helps me feel beautiful, even with my perceived flaws”
![Hunter McGrady posing gracefully in black lace lingerie](https://bananarepublic.gapcanada.ca/webcontent/0019/207/524/cn19207 524.jpg)
At a striking 6’2 with voluminous curves, Hunter McGrady has shattered ceilings for plus models. She entered mainstream attention in 2017 by becoming the curviest model ever to appear in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.
Her return as an official SI Swimsuit model again in 2018 and 2019 shows growing inclusivity. That same year, McGrady also notably appeared in campaigns for Guess and QVC while boasting 713k Instagram fans.
The body positive activist uses her popularity and stunning presence to advocate for mental health. As host of Model Citizens podcast with her sister, she provides a candid glimpse into her modeling life.
Followers: 716k Instagram
Advocacy: Women‘s mental health, Model Citizens podcast
Firsts: Curviest model in SI Swimsuit
Brielle Anyea – The Diversity Force
As one of few Asian plus models making strides for representation, Singapore native Brielle Anyea is a unique face to watch. She gained social media fame as a finalist in Sports Illustrated 2019 model search.
However, her influence extends beyond striking poses through voicing insights into often overlooked intersections. As a plus size model who also faces colorism as an Asian, Brielle opens up nuanced conversations.
She now lives in Australia and has appeared in global campaigns for ASOS, Nike, Nordstrom and Bonds underwear. In 2022, Anyea also launched her own funky swimwear line Misses Brie to offer trendy suits for sizes XS to 4XL.
Followers: 115k Instagram
Advocacy: Asian representation, unique beauty
Firsts: Founder of inclusive swimwear brand
Olivia Campbell – The British Babe
"Strong girls stand up for themselves, but stronger girls stand up for everybody else"
Hailing from across the pond with a sparky presence is Londoner Olivia Campbell, better known as Curvy Campbell. With 177k Instagram fans, she shares glimpses into life as a British plus model through bubbly videos.
The outspoken blonde first entered the public eye on reality series before deciding to pursue modeling full-time. She proudly walked her first catwalk at London Fashion Week in 2019 during their first ever plus size segment.
Olivia now frequently appears in campaigns for popular UK brands like Simply Be, River Island and MISSGUIDED. She also founded Curve Athletics, a trendy athleisure brand for sizes 8 to 30 designed for comfort.
Followers: 177k Instagram
Advocacy: Curve Athletics Founder, diet culture critic
Gabi Gregg – The Swimsuit Game Changer
“This fat girl made something of herself beyond society‘s wildest dreams”
It‘s difficult to discuss plus fashion without mentioning viral sensation turned model Gabi Gregg. Back in 2012 before body positivity went mainstream, her #Fatkini hashtag changed the game.
By proudly posting swimsuit photos of her size 18 figure, Gregg inspired hoards of women tired of hiding under coverups. Her unwavering confidence even amid cruel trolls sparked a pivotal turning point of inclusivity.
Since then, the red-haired icon has designed for mainstream retailers like ModCloth and Swimsuits for All. She continues to address toxic diet culture and advocate for marginalized communities.
Followers: 847k Instagram
Advocacy: Designer, Fatkini movement leader
Firsts: Swimsuits for All inaugural plus designer
10 Promising Talents Pushing Progress
While household names like Graham and Holliday still frequent headlines, a new generation of rising plus talent carries the torch forward. Let‘s highlight 10 boundary breakers making their mark with diversity at the forefront!
British-Ghanaian pioneer Philomena Kwao entered modeling 15 years ago but still slays runways today. She was one of the first plus models walking major global fashion weeks and continues to appear in European mags.
Followers: 14.9k Instagram
Korean-Australian model Taylor Tak has a goal to represent Asians with a spectrum of looks beyond stereotypes. After going viral for calling out agencies, she‘s landed shoots and Beck G music video.
Followers: 4.9k Instagram
Australian model and mom of two Lexi Placourakis overcame bullying and health issues before entering plus fashion week at age 18.
Followers: 128k Instagram
With over 15 years under her belt, Candice Huffine boasts many firsts like ELLE magazine cover and major haircare campaign with Pantene.
Followers: 250k Instagram
Miami-born model Denise Bidot has walked the runways across the Americas and Europe representing Latina diversity in fashion.
Followers: 707k Instagram
English up-and-comer Chloe Marshall has appeared in European magazines and walked for Karl Lagerfeld but opts for a lowkey presence letting her work speak for itself.
Followers: 68k Instagram
As the first plus representative to win Miss South Africa pageant, Rolene Strauss wants to shift beauty standards in her country starting with children‘s education around body image issues.
Followers: 49.4k Instagram
Dominican plus model Christina Mendez moved to New York and rose up the ranks from freelance work to international magazine covers representing Latinas.
Followers: 40.7k Instagram
Reality star Khrystyana Kazakova won ANTM before crossing over to high fashion walking the runway for Brandon Maxwell and appearing in major retailer ads across the US.
Followers: 1 million Instagram
While she‘s stepped back from modeling in recent years, Tara Lynn was a plus pioneer in the early 2010‘s appearing on groundbreaking covers of French ELLE and Italian Vogue.
Followers: 159k Instagram
By The Numbers: The Rise of Size Inclusivity
The combined social following of these top 15 plus models totals over 31 million loyal supporters. Graham and Holliday alone have gained 16 million Instagram followers showing the meteoric shift towards mass acceptance of shapely figures.
Plus size models have come a long way from struggling for casting calls to leading beauty standards conversations. While each woman carries her own inspiring backstory, collectively they chipped away obstacles for the 64 million plus size women shopping apparel in the US today.
The global plus size clothing market was estimated at $416.4 billion in 2021 after consistent rises in recent years. As spending expanded, so has representation from curvy mannequins to diverse model castings. There is still much progress needed for equal inclusion across the industry.
But thanks to bold plus models affirming women in their own skin when few others dared to, retail giants and high fashion houses alike finally respond to demands. Shopping trips have become less taxing for millions finding the perfect fit and still feeling fabulous.
While quantifying the impact through Kylie Jenner-esque Instagram counts undermines their true influence – these change makers catalyzed seismic shifts in societal attitudes. Weight stigma remains a real public health issue yet their activism saves lives by empowering self-love.
Through defiant displays of their curves, this multi-dimensional vanguard of models moves masses well beyond the flashy realm of fashion.