The Rise of The Curvy Fitness Model

When you think of a fitness model, what do you imagine? Do you imagine the cute girl next to you in yoga who seems to be able to bend into every pose with ease? These days, that girl could be long, lean, with chiseled abs. She could also be the average size 16 with a killer headstand practice. 

We have witnessed the rise of the Body Positivity movement -  a concept now used by big brands to market to curvy women - one of the fastest growing demographics. The average American woman now wears a size 16–18, according to a recent study, and women’s plus-size clothing sales have been growing faster than total apparel sales in the US, according to market research firm The NPD Group (NPD).

The results? We now not only see curvy models in beauty campaigns and fashion magazines, but on every big athletic brand website, disrupting what society has come to understand as what fitness and strength should look like. 

STETTS curve model Colette demonstrating a perfect headstand for Dia&co

STETTS curve model Colette demonstrating a perfect headstand for Dia&co

This new wave of models demonstrate that there is no longer an “ideal” image when it comes to what qualifies as fit. When I began modeling almost 20 years ago, it’s safe to say that a majority of the fitness models were tall and thin - not even necessarily strong. I recall trainers being hired to be on photo sets to show “fitness models” how to do a proper squat or lunge. 

Plus size, or “curve” models were typically only hired for plus size fashion labels, and even those were sparse. With such little demand, most modeling agencies did not give much consideration to a candidate if her waist measured more than 27 inches. Even the 90’s supermodels who were always celebrated as being “curvy” were a mere size 6. 

Now, every major modeling agency represents plus size models (considered size 14 and above). In my own model management company, Stetts, the curve models we represent are among the most requested. At 5’3” and a size 2X, our model Jessie (@curveswithmoves) did not fit into any standard fitness model ideal, but she is strong, fit and confident - and brands invest in the message she delivers to their consumers. 

Six packs aren’t selling athletic wear anymore, but confidence and strength certainly are. The problem? Many of these brands are not carrying the clothes in her size to model. Luckily, brands are finally starting to catch up with inclusive sizing. 

STETTS model Jessie for Refinery29 showing us what strength looks like

STETTS model Jessie for Refinery29 showing us what strength looks like

So what happened? How were curvy women so long unrepresented? What sparked the shift? Social media certainly played a part, with body positivity becoming a hugely popular theme and curvy models on instagram growing huge followings and influence. Celebrating curves is not celebrating poor lifestyle habits - on the contrary many of the most popular accounts are those curvy models who focus on fitness and healthy lifestyle. 

These women are proving that you do not have to be a size 4 to be strong, fit and healthy. Instead of encouraging women to embrace being overweight, these women are encouraging others to confidently enter the fitness world and continue to get stronger - not necessarily thinner. What is more beautiful than that?