Plus-size but not big ENOUGH: They're the curvy models sought after because they represent real women. Yet here they reveal the fashion world's new dirty secret, they're ordered to wear padding to make them look even larger

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When Lauren Frederick first started modelling seven years ago, she wasn't given the warmest of welcomes.
Her hips were too ample, her stomach wasn't concave enough and her thighs needed to be trimmer. At 5ft 9in and, at the time, a size 12 she wouldn't — outside the fashion world — ever have been considered fat, but inside it, she was positively huge.
Then, after she had embraced her curves – and the 'plus size' side of the industry (niche, back then) — something odd happened.
She found that instead of being too big to get work, she was too small. 'It was nuts,' concedes the 27-year-old brunette who, whatever her dress size, is traffic-stoppingly beautiful. 
'The industry had changed so much that there was plenty of work for curvier models, but I wasn't curvy enough.
'I got asked to put on weight, which I really wasn't comfortable with. Then I got asked to wear padding, sort of Spanx with foam bits in it to make me look bigger than I was. 
'Sometimes, they'd want two layers of padding. I was never comfortable with that. It felt like a lie. My friends would see those pictures of me and say, 'But you are not that size.'
Where do you even get padded Spanx? It's not something women in the real world tend to need.
'I still have no idea,' says Lauren. 'The agencies get it in. The first time I was asked to wear some, I panicked because I didn't own any. Left to my own devices, I'd have been padding myself out with pillows.'
What an insane state of affairs, suggesting that the fashion industry — for so long accused of misleading us by over-zealous airbrushing to make already thin models even more rake-like — has found another way to fool us. Those 'real' bodies, in all their voluptuousness, might not be so real after all.
And while efforts to open the modelling industry up to those above a size 6 or 8 must be applauded, have we now found ourselves in a situation where extreme thinness has been replaced by extreme obesity?
It follows the furore of the recent Cosmopolitan cover when plus-size American model Tess Holliday — all 20 stone of her; no padding required — appeared on the cover.
Critics such as Piers Morgan accused the magazine of going too far with its 'fat is beautiful' message and actually promoting unhealthy lifestyles.
Yet is it any wonder the fashion industry is wooing bigger models? The plus-size market is worth a staggering £4.7 billion, and women buying those clothes want to see themselves, or glossier versions thereof, reflected in advertising campaigns.
Lauren Frederick found she was considered too fat when she first started modelling seven years ago, but has recently been shocked to find she needs to bulk up
Felicity Howard, size 20, says they are role models for young girls to wear whatever they want
Lauren Frederick (left) found she was considered too fat when she first started modelling seven years ago, but has recently been shocked to find she needs to bulk up; Felicity Howard, size 20 (right) says they are role models for young girls to wear whatever they want
A fascinating Channel 5 documentary, Curvy Girls Stripped Bare, is exploring this curious new world. 
The programme, which goes behind the scenes at Milk Management (the agency that represents Lauren), shows how bigger models are all the rage, landing not just big contracts with plus-size fashion houses on the High Street, but with major, mainstream companies. The biggest hitters can now earn up to £20,000 per day.
In last week's episode we met models including Hayley Hasselhoff, daughter of Baywatch actor David. 
A generous size 18, Hayley was filmed sitting on a crate during a photoshoot. She crashed through it, reducing it to splinters. A decade ago, she might have been mortified. Now she just laughs.
This week brought even more food for thought — quite literally.
The cameras follow the scouts of the London-based model agency as they go in search of stunning girls to sign.
Felicity Howard on the new Channel 5 show; she said: When you say, “I’m a model” they literally look you up and down and I can see their head working thinking, “This girl ain’t a model, she’s fat.”’
Felicity Hayward on the new Channel 5 show; she said: 'When you say, 'I'm a model' they literally look you up and down and I can see their head working thinking, 'This girl ain't a model, she's fat.'
Traditionally, the places modelling agencies find new blood is in stores like Topshop, or at music festivals, magnets for willowy young lovelies. Where does the scout head today? McDonald's, on the basis that bigger girls like burger joints.
The head of the agency, Anna Shillinglaw, acknowledges that times have changed. 'I've never personally scouted in McDonald's, but when I was in there recently I did notice how many beautiful people there were.'
By beautiful, she doesn't necessarily mean thin. Anna, a former model herself, and one who struggled to keep her weight down to the 'old' requirements, was determined to have her cake and eat it with her own business.
While around half of the girls on her books are standard-sized models (ie, waifs), the 'Curve' board, where all the photos are pinned, accounts for the other half. 
A Curve model, though, can be anything from a size 12 to, as Anna puts it, 'the sky is the limit'. 
To the untrained eye, though, some of the smaller Curve models don't look curvy at all. Anna explains: 'A Curve model is someone who is not your standard sample size. 
'That may be a size 6-8 in the UK. Our board ranges from a size 12 upwards. There is no stopping it — if we fall in love with a girl, it doesn't matter what size she is, there are no rules.'
Anna is followed as she interviews young hopefuls — and gets them to parade up and down her office, often in just their underwear.
It's more difficult than it looks to spot a potential supermodel with wobbly bits. Fat is fine, but ideally it is fat in the right places.
'The ideal is that they still have an hourglass figure; you want to have everything in proportion, although there really aren't any rules. 
What we are looking for is character, a face that is interesting. We are looking for personality. There will always be a place for standard-model size, but if everyone is the same size, it can get boring.'
She says she 'nearly fell off her seat' when model Sonny Turner, 20, walked into the Milk offices.
'I was with another model, but my jaw literally dropped. I thought, 'Who is this goddess?'
In the flesh Sonny is indeed a complete stunner. Half-Jamaican, she has big hair, full lips and an even bigger sense of fun writ large on her astonishing face. And she is making a killing from this new fashion era.
'This fat is making me money,' she says, with a nod to her 38E chest, 32in waist and 46in hips. 'I do feel like if I was as slim as I was when I first started then I wouldn't have as many jobs.'
Like Lauren, Sonny was asked to 'pad up' when she first began modelling. She was a size 12 then. 
Now she is a size 16. What happened? She, too, found McDonald's. 'I left home and like many people I didn't have the best diet. I was eating McDonald's every day — so after a while, I didn't have to pad up,' she says.
One of the most interesting developments in the modelling industry, though, is that a new sector is emerging — typified by girls like Lauren and Sonny. 
They are, says Anna, classic 'in-betweenies', models who don't fit easily on to either the 'Standard' or 'Curve' boards.
'There is a definite market for the bigger girls — the true size 18-20 girls, but what I'm talking about here is the girls you'd look at in the street and think they are healthy, 'normal' sized girls.
'Because models tend to be tall they might wear a size 14 or 16, but there is no way they'd be regarded as 'big' by most people.'
So, um, normal, then — probably more representative of real women than either of the other extremes?
'Absolutely. But in the last year or so we've been seeing girls like this do very well. They don't have to pad up. They don't have to slim down. There is a market there, and it's a booming one.'
In the past few months, several of Anna's 'in-between' girls have landed major campaigns and found giant-sized versions of themselves on windows in Oxford Street and on buses. 
You will have seen Sonny's face in adverts for Primark, ASOS and The Body Shop. Lauren landed a job modelling underwear for Ann Summers, posing alongside a size 8 girl, no less.
This is the Holy Grail, agrees Anna. 'Being able to send girls to castings simply because they look stunning, rather than because they are a specific size.'
For the girls, it has taken some adjusting, though. 'Sometimes I'm the only bigger girl among a load of size 8 models, and in the past that felt awful, but it's definitely changing,' says Lauren. 
'Now, I know that my size isn't necessarily a barrier. When they want you for you, it's a great feeling.'
Sonny simply oozes the kind of body confidence that so often feels more like a marketing concept than a reality.
'So you have cellulite — so what? We are fed an image that cellulite is bad or ugly. 
Who has decided this? I do think we need to start reassessing what is beautiful. Who decided that you couldn't be beautiful if you had cellulite? Because it's rubbish.'
Lauren's Instagram account is full of to-die-for images of glamorous settings and gorgeous people (her work has taken her to New York and Cuba), but it also features copious cellulite, and poses where (quite deliberately) no care has been taken to hide the flesh rolls. 
While there will always be criticism that such images are fetishising fat, she argues they are providing much healthier images to young girls than anything seen before.
Interestingly, some of the girls in the programme admit they are still met with incredulity when they say they are models.
Felicity Hayward, who is a size 20, is miffed by this. 'Do you know how many times someone says to me, 'Oh what do you do for a living?' 
And when you say, 'I'm a model' they literally look you up and down and I can see their head working thinking, 'This girl ain't a model, she's fat.'
She argues that she should be out there, as a 'role model for younger girls who just wear whatever they want'.
'People are understanding that the world is not one type of person. Girls come in all shapes and sizes and you need to have representation.'
Sonny says she has seen a shift in attitudes, though. She does talks in schools about body confidence. 'When I say I'm a model, no one says 'really?' Particularly the younger girls, they accept it and think it's cool.'
There is certainly something quite zeitgeisty about what is happening. Anna Shillinglaw recently got some of her most sought-after girls together for a beach shoot.
All are wearing underwear and her favourite shot is of them walking along the shoreline. 'It is gorgeous!' she says. 'There is a 50s feel to it, and it just sums up what we are trying to do, but it also feels new and fresh.'
Have we reached a watershed, then? Perhaps, but only to a point. While the High Street has woken up to the fact that not everyone is a size 8, the designer end of the business is not quite so accommodating. 
The programme follows Anna trying to get some of her girls on catwalks at London Fashion Week. She fails miserably.
'That's where things haven't changed as much, and it's frustrating,' she admits. 'Things are better in Paris and Milan, where they have had bigger girls on the catwalks. London is trailing behind.'
This answers our question about whether thin is dead in the modelling world. What's clear is that the skinnies now have hefty competition.

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