As soon as the sky clears one rainy summer day in Guangzhou, plus-size modeling hopeful Wang Jialin hurries out for a test photo shoot. Passersby stare as she poses on the busy street.
“I’m used to it,” the 20-year-old mumbles. At 165 centimeters tall and weighing 94 kilograms, she stands out in Chinese crowds. The long black floral
dress she wears is size 5XL, while most stores only carry small, medium, and large.
Wang had never considered becoming a model until her mother, who works in the clothing export industry, came across a plus-size modeling agent and suggested that her daughter give it a try.
“Chinese people think of beauty as slenderness
,” Wang tells Sixth Tone. She doesn’t remember anyone ever telling her she was pretty until she met modeling agent Huang Fei.
Huang is one of the plus-size modeling industry’s pioneering agents. She sees plus-size modeling not only as a business opportunity with real growth potential, but also as a way to change popular perceptions around fatness, beauty, and health.
In China, plus-size modeling is a relatively new business that only surfaced around 2010. Now, the city of Guangzhou has become the center of the plus-size modeling industry due to the southern coastal region’s flourishing garment
export sector and its status as a hub for online women’s fashion retailers. Plus-size models can make over 10,000 yuan ($1,470) per month, twice the average monthly salary in the city, according to state news agency Xinhua.
However, strict beauty standards apply, even in the plus-size modeling world. Huang looks for pretty girls who are at least 1.65 meters tall; are under 25 years old; and have a relatively slender waist, a long neck, and — most importantly — a small, photogenic face. “These requirements rule out most big girls who want to be models,” she says.