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Stefania Ferrario Drop The Plus feature interview model
Stefania Ferrario

Meet the model behind the Drop the Plus revolution

With one Instagram post, Stefania Ferrario started a movement – she talks stigma, body positivity and getting inspired by Andreja Pejić

2015 has brought some of the most radical changes we’ve seen in casting for a while. Trans trailblazer Hari Nef scooped a modelling contract with IMG, @jarlos420 were the first gay couple to sign to an agency, and Lorde Inc have been making waves championing models of colour.

But while diverse representation is on the rise, the fashion industry still often uses language that marginalises and restricts. Recent Models 1 signee Stefania Ferrario has grown tired of navigating an industry that labels her as plus-size. Her viral Instagram post, which saw the words “I am a model” emblazoned on her torso, sparked heated debate about industry terminology and the inevitable divisions it can lead to.

Ferrario has been taking the fashion world to task with the #DropThePlus campaign, a movement set on obliterating size as a descriptor of models and clothes. It’s a hefty task that demands the un-learning of all the thinner-than-thin ideals that have become so prevalent scross the industry, yet the Aussie isn’t fazed. In fact, she places firm belief in fashion’s ability to lead the way.  

What sparked you to start #DropThePlus?

Stefania Ferrario: There was a debate going on because a so-called plus-size model got bullied for making the point that she shouldn’t be called that. I started the campaign to stop the bullying that was going on and also to voice my opinion about the dangers of the label. That sparked me to put up the photo with ‘I am a model’ on me and creating the hashtag #DropThePlus. Maybe the plus-size label served a purpose to begin with, but it’s now time for complete acceptance, for us to all just be called models and to stop the industry pigeonholing us. By separating us, they’re segregating us – it’s creating a ‘them and us’ mentality.

Industry standards still attach a stigma to being a larger bodied person.

Stefania Ferrario: Definitely, because we are being sold very narrow ideals of beauty in the media, and it’s celebrating this very slender, tall body type and everyone who doesn’t fit into that ideal is being labelled with plus-size. #DropThePlus is a call to action, it's asking for a change even though its small. By removing the label we’re normalising curvier body types.

“By separating us, they’re segregating us – it’s creating a ‘them and us’ mentality” – Stefania Ferrario

Why do you think larger models still aren’t used on runways and ads as much?

Stefania Ferrario: I think the fashion industry has a bit of catching up to do and a lot of explaining to do. I think that it should represent the very audience it’s selling to, it should be celebrating diversity and it should be having fit, healthy models on the runway that come in various sizes. I think one reason might be that it’s easier to design clothing that fits for a slender body type – I guess when the body gets curvy it needs more tailoring, you need to think about it more, it needs to sit tighter in certain spots, it needs to be more flattering. I think designers should be making clothing that flatters different body types, curvier bodies and bigger women because that is the public.

Do you think there is space to celebrate difference in size within fashion?

Stefania Ferrario: At Models 1 they use ‘curve’ as opposed to ‘plus size’. I think curve definitely doesn’t carry a stigma, it’s a word that’s been celebrated for decades and decades – it’s attached to being womanly and beautiful. I definitely think it’s a better term but I would love to see us considered as just models and Models 1 definitely just refer to us as models as often as possible.

Dropping the ‘plus’ sort of leads you down a rabbit hole, because the language used to market clothing for larger bodies is often all about ‘flattering’, ‘concealing’ and ‘slimming’ – as if clothes should change a larger body to appear like something it isn’t.

Stefania Ferrario: Exactly. You know, I think it should be the other way round – I think clothing should be tighter, it should be showing off the body. I think when girls wear tighter clothing it looks far better than when they wear clothing that hides the body. Clothing should be made to flatter and show off the body, not hide it. But there’s definitely this idea that plus-size clothing is there to hide the body, slim it and put it away.

A lot of people who used your hashtag spoke of the shame and embarrassment felt when shopping in a plus-size section – do you think a large body is still seen as a bad body?

Stefania Ferrario: That’s another big problem. It’s not just in the modelling industry that the label should be dropped, it’s also in retail because it’s segregating women once again – these stores often open these sections in the back of a shop with less variety, it’s more expensive and there’s not much choice. Since we already have the number sizing system you don’t even have to call it plus, you can say size 16-20 and 20-24 because numbers don’t carry a stigma. When you start putting labels and words on top of that, then they’re going to start carrying stigma.

How has your size, or the industry’s view of your size, affected the type of projects you get to do?

Stefania Ferrario: Being a UK size 12-14, I am often pigeonholed. Fashion hasn’t acknowledged anything above a US size 4 or UK size 8. Often, designers and models also ridicule us for our size. The fact that we are segregated isn’t helping that: by removing that segregation, we will be taking a step towards appreciation and respect within the industry. The curve models that I work with at Models 1 work really hard for their bodies, they train a lot, they eat well, they’re really healthy and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be doing mainstream fashion campaigns like the other models – they are setting a good example.

It’s important you mention that, because larger bodies are typically portrayed as being unhealthy. There are certainly different ways healthy can look.

Stefania Ferrario: There’s this idea that if you’re bigger than what we see in the media then you’re fat. I remember when I was in school I used to get comments from people saying I was too fat to be a model. It was ridiculous because I’m healthy and I’m fit. I think those labels also affect how men view women as well; it’s damaging their perception of how women look and how women should look. They think women should look tall and slender like the media is saying, and anything bigger than that is big... which it isn’t.

There’s this idea that if you’re bigger than what we see in the media then you’re fat. I remember when I was in school I used to get comments from people saying I was too fat to be a model” – Stefania Ferrario

There are all sorts of industries like TV and health media that demonise people who deviate from thinness. Do you think fashion is strong enough to undo this collective damage?

Stefania Ferrario: All sorts of industries are having a negative impact and demonising anything other than a slender body type. The dieting industry, with the whole beach body or ‘drop this number of dress sizes in this number of weeks’ – there are all these messages surrounding us from a number of sources. I think fashion has a big influence and I think it can definitely lead the way to a movement that accepts different body types. A lot of young girls are exploring their style and identity through fashion, so to see models they can relate to is really going to boost their self-esteem and help them on a journey. 

Who are some of the women who inspire you?

Stefania Ferrario: Women who inspire me are ones that don’t follow social norms and do what they want. I love Erika Linder and Andreja Pejić, the transgender model, who I think is amazing. I love what she’s done; she’s made such a big difference to the fashion industry. She’s gone against the grain, she’s been true to herself and she’s managed to make a difference.

Do you think the fashion industry is moving towards a more enlightened view on body image? 

Stefania Ferrario: It is, but I think with social media the fashion industry will change. With models like Robyn Lawley doing Sports Illustrated and Ralph Lauren, we are seeing bigger models do mainstream fashion. These may be small steps, but they are also changes we haven’t seen before. I think it has to happen because the public is demanding it, and social media will definitely help.