The criticism, however, is reflective of industry practices, explained Bev Wilson, the Atlanta-based director of operations for Project Curve Appeal Inc., an organization that focuses on changing the distorted perception of full-figured women in the media and fashion.
“As far as the fashion industry goes, they are not taking full-figured women over a certain size seriously at all,” said Wilson, noting that some manufacturers of “plus-size” clothing actually design their sample garments worn in runway shows and photo shoots for models who are size four or six. “[Change] will take a lot more than a few photo shoots for sure.”
Even so, Sims’ journey is a start — one for which she personally fought hard. Her mother happens to be Beverly Johnson, the first black model to make the cover of American Vogue in 1974, and Johnson was totally against her daughter being a model. Sims secretly spent part of her sophomore year at Buffalo State College where she was majoring in business, starving herself and working out four times a day to lose weight.
They didn’t know her methods, but her parents were convinced by the result to let her take a semester off and go to New York, where she was immediately signed with an agency that told her she needed to lose 10 more pounds. More starving, more exercising and the introduction of laxatives got her a meeting with a top photographer. The morning of the big day, Sims collapsed in the elevator. “I pretended I was looking for something on the floor, and I stayed there until I could get up,” she said. “The whole time I was thinking, this isn’t for me. Maybe this is what my mom was guarding me from.”
Sims made the meeting, and a few months later the same photographer called to work with her, but by then she had returned to school and regained about 20 pounds. She went on to earn an MBA at Trinity in Washington, D.C., and began working as a financial consultant in Atlanta. She purchased a house and soon met the man to whom she is now engaged, but modeling stayed on her mind. On a whim, she looked up plus-size modeling and saw that Wilhelmina Models had a division. “I left my desk, and went to the parking lot and called. I said, ‘I think I’m the size you are looking for.’ ” It was a Tuesday, they wanted her in New York on Thursday. So she went, telling no one. And for the first time, when they took her measurements, they told her she was perfect. Wilhelmina signed her on the spot, and five hours later she booked her first assignment.
Ironically, her mom had re-signed with the agency as well, bringing their lives in an interesting parallel. “Our struggle is different, but it is still a struggle,” Sims said. “My mom contributed so much to society by showing that black is beautiful. Now I realize my contribution can be being a real-size or normal-size model, showing women that it is OK to have some meat on your bones and it is OK to love yourself that way.”