"People have this idea of the plus-size modeling industry that if you’re just fat and happy with a pretty face, you’ll be the next big thing," says Tiffany Bank, who stars on TLC's forthcoming three-part series, Big Sexy. "But because there are fewer opportunities for plus-size models, it's just as competitive as straight-size modeling, if not more so." She and four other plus-size women hope to prove this on the show, which they're touting as the first of its kind. Bank, who's worked as a plus-size fit model for years and occasionally books catalog work and plus-size spreads, explained what it's like to be told that her "butt is too big for fashion."
There have been lots of TV shows that portray the “real lives” of models. Is there a major difference between what straight-size models go through and what you do?
Honestly, there’s not. In the plus-size fashion industry, it’s just as competitive and the standards are just as high. You get measured, and there are size standards and a height-weight requirement.
When plus-size women are represented in editorials, particularly in high fashion, they're often shown in a very sexed-up way; like, nude or in lingerie. Why do you think that is?
Some of it is beautifully done, but there’s a difference between celebrating curves and sexualizing it. I think that people just either take one extreme or the other. It’s like, they’ll either have no plus-sizes, or very in-your-face plus-sizes.
How do you think a more moderate approach could be reached?
We need to more plus-size models in advertising. Like, if a straight-size model is selling coffee, I can sell coffee. If you’re selling perfume, I can sell perfume. When you open up a magazine, it’s all these size two girls selling cheese. I mean, I like cheese! I can sell cheese! Taking it a step further is embedding it into mainstream advertising. And that’s where people get uncomfortable, because it messes with marketing, and it messes with people’s money, and their brands, and the whole business model. People aren’t ready to make changes like that, which is where the show comes in. We want the show to stir things up.
Do you really think that the show can accomplish that?
I really hope that someone who isn’t plus-size can watch it and relate to it. I read bloggers and critics who say that we’re promoting obesity, and that’s why I’m so glad we’re doing this: people seem to have a false idea of what the plus-size woman is, and that we're very similar to straight-size women. It might make people feel awkward to see that. But you know, I’ve felt awkward for 29 years, so now it’s your turn.
How do you maintain your measurements?
I watch what I eat and I work out. I have fit modeling clients, so I try to stay the same measurements all the time, since they depend your body staying the same. If you go an inch above or under, they need to find a new model. So there’s fit models for every size in plus, and I’m a size 18. If I go a few inches up, I’m not quite a 20, and if I go a few inches down, I’m not quite a 16. So I watch what I eat and I see that I’m changing, I try to adjust to make sure that I’m within those measurements, just like any other model.
Have you ever had an experience at a casting or a shoot when someone’s said something discouraging about your shape?
I get stared at in casting rooms a lot. But I went to a casting one day and put on some pants, which fit beautifully. But when I turned around, the designer said, “Oh no, honey, your butt is way too big for fashion.” And I actually giggled to myself, because the butt is what makes me the money! My butt is what gets me fit modeling jobs, and the boys don’t mind it either.
Oh my god.
Honestly, it comes with the territory, and I’ve developed a thick skin. When I first started a couple of years ago, I would cry after every casting, but now it’s fine.
Big Sexy premieres on Tuesday, August 30, at 10 p.m. ET.