One of the ‘new generation’ of plus-size models has revealed the secrets of her trade – turning up a photo-shoot with ‘fake boobs and an ass-enhancer’.
While most models watch what they eat before a big assignment, Ana Carbajal says she is under pressure to add to her curves and even tucks into ‘tacos, quesadillas and huge sandwiches’.
It’s a far cry from the ‘waif’ look pioneered by Kate Moss but 23-year-old Ms Carbajal, who has a 40-inch bust and a 34-inch waist, says she is still under huge pressure over her dimensions.
‘I’ve always been big, but sometimes my curves aren’t enough for what the catalogue demands,’ she told MailOnline in Mexico City, ‘so I’ll have to stuff false buttocks into my underwear.’
A controversial decision by Sports Illustrated to feature plus-size model Ashley Graham on its front cover meant a breakthrough into mainstream fashion, and a giant step forward in the acceptance of a ‘real’ woman’s body.
But it has given rise to a host of health concerns and allegations that the women’s bodies seen in plus-size photo shoots are just as manufactured as in so-called traditional modelling.
After moving to Mexico City last September to start a modelling career, 23-year-old Ana from Sonora state, Mexico, said she was in exactly the right place at the right time.
‘There has never been demand for fat models in Mexico before and I’m enjoying riding the wave. I cried with joy when I saw Ashley on the cover, because Sports Illustrated is one of the biggest achievements as a model,’ she said as she sucked on a lollipop – a treat forbidden to her colleagues at New Icon modelling agency.
‘I was very lucky to have been in the right place at the right time’, she continued. ‘I have always been chunky and I used to hate my body when I was younger’, says Ana, who blames her ‘unshiftable’ excess weight on a thyroid problem. ‘I’d hate to look at skinny models in the catalogues and know I’d never be like them’.
‘I even had an eating disorder as a teenager, so I love it when I see curvy girls like me looking sexy in the magazines’.
Taking an XL shirt size and a 34-inch waistband, Ana says that she has been encouraged to keep her curvy figure and not to change her diet by her bosses at the New Icon modelling agency, who discovered her after a photographer friend in her home town of Hermosillo posted shots of her on Facebook.
‘I love eating in the street here,’ she said. ‘Tacos, quesadillas, huge sandwiches, everything is so delicious.
‘This is definitely not a city to be on a diet, so I’m glad I’m allowed to eat whatever I want,’ she said with a smile. ‘My personal slogan is: Plus Model, Chocolate Lover.’
She says her pretend silicone buttocks accompany her to every photo shoot, and often suggests using them to the director herself.
‘When I’m modelling jeans I feel that my butt isn’t quite curvy enough’, she told MailOnline, ‘so slipping the pads down my knickers gives me that extra boost on camera’.
The silicon pads are designed in the US to take the form and feel of real gluteus muscles. Ana bought her set last year after her cousin suggested she lacked the curves required for plus-size modelling.
But for critics of the new, larger modelling trend, the message that is being communicated by plus-size photo shoots is just as unhealthy as their Size zero counterparts. They claim the use of increasingly large models runs the risk of glamorising ‘unhealthy’ models and encouraging over-eating and obesity.
Former Tory MP Edwina Currie is one of the most outspoken critics of the plus-size industry.
‘It seems to me that plus-size models and extolling them and making it seem normal to be obese is just as dangerous and unhealthy as the zero models, the very thin ones,’ said the former health minister.
‘Whether it’s attractive or not, it’s unhealthy. What you’re doing if you’re that sort of size, and I’m not as slim as I should be, is you’re heading for diabetes which is awful, you’re heading for hip problems and knee problems, and all the other issues.’
For Professor David Haslam, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, the growing trend is not necessarily a sign of an impending public health disaster.
‘We will have to wait and see if there are adverse affects along the lines of promoting obesity and over-eating,’ he told MailOnline. ‘But health depends on more than someone’s size, so if someone is keeping very fit but stays large they might still be healthy.’
He continued: ‘I would urge caution about models, celebrities and singers, who are obese and who have got to the level where their health is at risk.
‘I am all for models being a normal size, rather than skinny. I have no objection to models being a more normal weight, but I draw the line at obesity.’
For Maria Videl, Ana’s booking agent at New Icon, Mexico’s first modelling agency to hire plus-size models, the rise in demand took them by surprise.
‘There was very little demand for plus models, to such an extent that the majority are forced to work second jobs just to earn a living,’ she told MailOnline. ‘For instance, one of our big girls works as a kindergarten teacher during the day.
‘This change in attitude towards curvier girls has been a long time coming in Mexico, and we hope to see it continue.’
Although demand has increased for plus-size models in Mexico, Ana believes her country still has some way to go in changing its attitudes towards overweight women in the industry.
‘Mexicans always look at me like I’m crazy when I say I’m a model, and I constantly get abusive messages on social media,’ she said. ‘It means a lot to me to change the way my fellow countrymen think as one of the pioneers of plus size modelling here.’
While plus-size is undoubtedly on the rise around the world, thanks to pioneers like Ashley Graham and Robyn Lawley, international models report that opinions about the trend still differ widely from country to country.
‘In Germany, people still think in extremes,’ German model Jana Azizi told MailOnline. ‘So if you’re a plus size model you’re obese, and if you’re a skinny model you’re anorexic.
‘But in the UK and the US people understand diversity and they don’t think in extremes.
‘I’m thinking about the people on the street, when they hear I’m a plus-size model they are really shocked. People have an idea of what a woman’s body should look like.’
Although based in Germany, 26-year-old Jana has arrived in London with Bridge Models to find out what opportunities the British market can offer.
But whatever country she’s in, the tricks of the trade are a constant.
‘Padding is a normal thing in modelling, and people should know that in this business all girls are using tricks and everybody’s working with that. And every picture is photoshopped,’ she said.
‘Even girls I know who are really plus-size girls that wear a 14 or a 16, use padding. So they might not have much of a bum for example, so they still put padding in their jeans for a shot to give it the perfect shape.
‘I think it’s really about the image that it’s communicating to the outside. [Even if the model uses padding] it’s still a curvy woman and it’s still a big difference to the women who are not skinny.’
The use of padding and photoshop has caused critics to complain that the plus-size industry offers a representation of women’s bodies that is no more real than regular modelling.
But the most important thing about the plus-size industry for the models who work in it, is the opportunity it offers for them to be comfortable and healthy in their own bodies.
‘Sure I have doubts about the perfect body size,’ continued Jana. ‘You find yourself thinking about what sizes the majority of clients are booking. I used to really think about that and want that.
‘But it’s my body. You will never have the perfect size for every client, and it’s normal in this business that some clients are looking for girls who are bigger, but I have decided to be the size that I am.’
Australian model Mahalia Handley, from Darwin, agrees about the message that the plus-size industry and its models are promoting.
‘It’s a wonderful body positive message. It’s about acceptance and loving your body and it’s a really powerful message,’ the 23-year-old, who is also represented by Bridge Models, told MailOnline.
‘The town that I grew up in was quite little, and I definitely had battles trying to get my message across but the older I’ve got the more comfortable I’ve got.
‘Australia is becoming much more accepting of plus-size models. But the UK is definitely more exposed to it and much more accepting. I think it helps to be near to the US and Europe.’