Bree Warren, Melissa Valensise and Laura Wells: three of the hottest Australian plus size models to crack the international modeling scene. Together, they are proving you really can be curvy, healthy and happy!
Words: Jas Rawlinson
Once dominated only by those who fit a particular mould, the modelling industry has in recent years begun tearing down the stereotypes that once equated beauty to a tiny size tag. Considering the average Australian woman is a size 14-16, models such as Bree Warren, Melissa Valensise and Laura Wells are a welcome sight in our fashion industry; redefining the notion that beauty and health are defined by one size.
In industry terms, the label simply refers to models larger than the standard sizing (0-4), however it is also the cause of much confusion. Often many wonder what this means for the average sized Australian woman who doesn’t necessarily see themselves as ‘plus sized’.This issue, Melissa, Laura and Bree chat to Provoke about their thoughts on the industry, some of their beauty secrets, and how you can celebrate your unique body shape while being the healthiest version of yourself.
Australians are well known for having a thicker skin and knowing how to have a laugh at themselves. Do you find this true for you personally, or do you struggle with the criticism that comes with modelling?
Laura: I have always separated myself from judgement in the industry – it’s never really affected me because I understand that the industry is based on [an artistic] vision; ideals and looks. If a client doesn’t choose you for their shoot it doesn’t mean you’re not a good model, or less pretty, sexy or smart – it just means that you don’t fit their vision for that particular shoot.
Melissa: I think regardless of who you are, what you do, what you look like, there will always be people who will criticise, judge or find flaws… luckily I have always had thick skin, maybe because of my Italian background, so [I generally] don’t find it difficult to deal with criticism. I don’t take harsh or negative comments seriously from people who don’t know me.
Bree: It’s so strange when all of a sudden everyone has an opinion on your figure. I went from being quite happy in my own little teenage bubble to my body being debated online. Sometimes I read comments on my Instagram and I’m like “WHAT!” or my friends send screenshots of ridiculous things, but I really don’t spend much time thinking about it. I guess I am very Australian in that respect. I just go with the flow and accept it as part of the territory.
“I want young women to know and understand size diversity, that we are all naturally built differently – and that’s OK.” – Bree Warren
What are your thoughts on the controversy surrounding the term ‘plus size’? Do you worry that young girls might develop insecurities from seeing a healthy woman such as yourself labelled that way?
Laura: I think no matter what we are called it will always be a bone of contention, and of course there are certain negative aspects of how the words ‘plus size’ are interpreted, but I do wonder how and why it became so negative? ‘Plus size’ is basically just industry terminology, much like a job description, [that allows for people to] identify different divisions within the modelling and fashion industries. When compared to an industry standard model I am well and truly a ‘plus size model,’ because at a size 12US I can be up to 6 sizes bigger [than non plus-size]. The terminology doesn’t have to be viewed [negatively] though.
Bree: I think the fact that those young girls are seeing me in the first place is a step in the right direction, but I’m the first to admit that calling me plus size is a bit silly. People don’t realise just how tiny most models are in real life, so they see me and find it hard to match up. I have been on both sides of this debate – too small for plus sizes but too big for mainstream.
Melissa: To be honest, the division doesn’t bother me personally, and I think it is time for people to resolve their issues with the title. The demand for curvier women has certainly grown in the recent years – which is a positive thing – but let’s also understand that anything above size 4- 8 (formerly, and still, the most commonly used models) only means that we have more curves; we are in no way overweight. Nor do we plus size models believe we are overweight! These are just words and hopefully people will become more accepting overtime.
What advice would you give to young women struggling with their self-image? How did you learn to appreciate your curves?
Melissa: My greatest advice is to not compare yourself to other girls and women – each and every one of us is unique, and we all have amazing attributes. The problem these days with social media is that women (and of course men) post photos of themselves looking their best; they filter and airbrush and sell themselves to appear like they “have it all,” but this isn’t always the case. If young girls and women compare themselves to these other girls then they will always feel inferior, because often what they think they’re competing with isn’t actually real. I believe that young women should focus on all their wonderful qualities instead of focusing on all the things they dislike about themselves. After all, perfect is boring!
Laura: The best thing to do is stop reading tabloid magazines and advertisements and really view them for what they are worth…nothing. Magazines that purport extremes and unrealistic body stereotypes are so harmful to the psyche of men and women of all ages. We are not all supposed to look the same, we can’t all lose 20 pounds in a week, and we shouldn’t have to feel guilty about our food choices 24/7. While I am happy with myself, I have days and times where I don’t like a certain thing or want to change something – I think that’s normal for anyone, but when it takes over your life and your happiness that’s another story. Learning to love yourself is a long road and one that is ever evolving. For me I stopped listening to what magazines were saying and found my passion – the environment. It gave me something else to focus on and be a part of; something bigger than myself where looks don’t matter and it’s all about what you give back.
People need to stop worshipping celebrities, actors and models. They are not the be-all and end-all of society, they are not the epitome of beauty, brains or what is right or wrong. We should not be modelling our lives on those who – just because of their job – are in the spotlight. We should be looking up to people who give back to society, who are attempting to change the world and make it a better place. We should not want to model our lives around those who only care about designer clothes or if they have the latest trend in shoes, but rather those (regardless of their appearance, height, weight, or dress size) who go out into the world and challenge the outdated societal norms of beauty. [They are the people who] create beauty through their actions.
Bree: I want young women to know and understand size diversity, that we are all naturally built differently – and that’s OK. I grew up with only one body type represented in the media, but now that I’m part of the industry I can help to change that. I think it’s about opening up the market to show a broader representation of women. I am all about women supporting women. We are our own worst enemy sometimes.