One of my favorite fashion blogs is The Sartorialist, who recently posted some commentary regarding Lizzy Miller, a plus-sized model who made an appearance in Glamour.
As expected, the responses ranged from "good for her" to "OMG she's so unhealthy" (because you can totally determine someone's state of health just by looking at them. Take note, medical establishment). However, I would like to skirt around the Miller herself (who is a beautiful person) and talk a little bit about a) the role fashion models are currently playing in the society; b) the relationship between fashion industry and a (larger) female body.
a) There seems to be quite a bit of angst directed at models -- for being too thin, for not being thin enough, for being unhealthy, for setting an unrealistic ideal etc etc. And the "ideal" bit is, IMO, the core of the issue -- we have elevated models from their job of looking on runway and having their picture taken while showcasing clothing to role models. And this is really it: we don't feel anxious and inadequate when faced with doctors, for example, because there's no expectation for us all to be able to perform an occasional surgery. However, models shifted from representatives of a certain profession to representatives of the entire womankind.
And once that happens, arguments that "models should be thin to walk runway and make clothes look pretty" become moot: we've decided that they are more than that. So if we're going to treat models as representatives of all women, yes, more size diversity would be awesome. OTOH, if they are just to do their modeling job, than one body type best suited for it is perfectly fine. It's when we conflate the two that the anxieties start.
b) Another question asked in The Sartorialist post is "However, do you think that this economic crisis has forced the fashion community to open it's eyes a little bit to what the customers want?"
Which is a good question, but the underlying assumption seems to be that models are intermediaries between the consumer and the fashion industry -- ambassadors if you will, and a plus-sized model is ostensibly a signal that the industry is ready to embrace a larger consumer.
Which is a terribly roundabout way, don't you think? How about making clothes in sizes bigger than 10 (a common cutoff point for many designers.) Women in sizes 12+ might not necessarily NEED a model representing them, although that part is nice. What they need are clothes they can fit into. And as one retailer after another is dropping plus sizes or moves them to internet only status (looking at you, Old Navy), the message is clearly the opposite:fashion industry hates fat so much that it would shoot itself in the foot. Instead of reaching out to potential consumers, they tell women in sizes 12+: "You are so disgusting that I would rather go out of business than dress you." So their pleas about suffering under recession will ring hollow, as long as they continue to ignore a significant portion of their customers. As much as I like Lizzie Miller, I don't think she can change that -- the fashion industry has to go beyond gestures to actual, you know, clothes.