Laura Wells and Jesse McNeely: Why plus size is empowering

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PLUS SIZE: It’s a term you either love or hate. On one side, you have those who believe it propagates unhealthy living or is denigrating; on the other, you have those who think it’s pretty much the only size that should exist.
Even those within the industry argue about its relevance. On the one hand, you have people like Melbourne model Stefania Ferrario, who posted a topless picture of herself captioned “I am a model FULL STOP. Unfortunately in the modelling industry if you’re above a US size 4 (Australian size 8) you are considered plus size, and so I’m often labelled a ‘plus size’ model. I do NOT find this empowering … Let’s have models of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities, and drop the misleading labels. I’m NOT proud to be called ‘plus’, but I AM proud to be called a ‘model’, that is my profession!

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On the other hand, you have people like Laura Wells, who not only loves the term plus size, but credits her success to it.
“If I wasn’t called a ‘plus sized model’ I wouldn’t have a job. There wouldn’t be a spot for me in the industry,” Wells told news.com.au as she gets ready to board a flight from Sydney to Melbourne for a job.
“That title has empowered me, it has put me in magazines where people can see me, and that wouldn’t have happened if the industry had not created that category for people like me, people who are the average size 14. The industry is forging the way for new body shapes and ages and sizes. I get a lot of positive attention from women and men, saying how encouraged they are and how good it is to see me in campaigns or magazines. Without ‘plus size’ I wouldn’t be able to empower anyone because I wouldn’t be there in the first place.”
The problems begin, according to Wells, when people misinterpret plus size within fashion to be plus size in real life. A size 14 is plus size in the modelling industry because the person is between 3-6 sizes larger than an industry-standard model. In real life, this might be considered an average size, but in fashion, it’s just not.
“I’ve never had a problem with the terminology, because it’s an industry term. That’s what people have to understand,” Wells explains.
“For me, plus size has just been a job title. I’ve never thought of it as derogatory. What the fashion world deems as plus size is not what plus size is in reality. We know that, and it’s important others know that too.

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f I stand next to a straight size model, you can see the difference. It’s obvious I’m larger than straight size models. Why say otherwise? The fact that we’re called plus size may be a point of concern to the outside world, but within the fashion world it is fine, and it’s actually empowering. We’re on the first stepping stone to having plenty of shoots with models of all different sizes.”
Ajay Rochester is a defiant opponent of plus size as a term, last month slamming The Upside for using Wells in its campaign,.
“How the f*** can this woman be considered plus size? Any idea the kind of damage you do to the minds of young girls by even using those words with a picture like this? Where is there PLUS of anything. Anything less of her and she’d be a MINUS something. Seriously this is so ridiculous and harmful! This is not empowering anyone,” she tweeted at the time.
But far from shy away from the criticism, Wells confronted it head on.
“Miss Ajay Rochester the campaign, nor I, are not bulls**t, and the fact you would put that out there is not exactly campaigning successfully or positively for body image diversity. It’s the first time a regular sized active wear brand had used a plus size model let alone anyone over a size 8AU. We need to stop shaming other people’s bodies, be happy that models like me are helping to change the tide of the industry,” she said.
“I’m in my seventh year of full time modelling and I’ve noticed a really big change in the industry,” Wells tells news.com.au. “In the last few years especially we’ve seen a lot more plus size models getting editorial work in European magazines, fashion campaigns, Sports Illustrated spreads … people are really relating to it and loving it, it’s refreshing to see different body shapes.”
“Look I think anyone with half a brain will see the plus size industry as common sense and a great reflection of society,” adds Jesse McNeely, fellow plus size model and fiance to Wells.
“When

[Ajay] was criticising Laura, she couldn’t care less and neither could I. People do things and say things to get attention, and the plus size ‘debate’ is an easy target.
“We both get a lot of people saying ‘it’s about time’ when the see us in campaigns, which is cool. A lot of people think, thank God, this puts fashion back into a more realistic realm. We don’t let an industry or a label govern how we act or feel.”

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Since entering the modelling world by chance after meeting Wells’ agent at a Christmas party (both are now signed to BGM models) McNeely, who comes from an army background, has gone on to star in campaigns for Johnny Bigg and Big W.
“It’s a no brainer that there’s a market for plus size in Australia. There are larger men in Australia, and not just in terms of fat, in terms of build. It’s about time that there’s a clothing line that’s fashionable for men,” he remarks.
“For anyone who takes it too seriously or builds it up into something it’s not, I just say, calm down, it’s just fashion. I don’t consider myself obese or unhealthy or crazy fit. I love my fitness, I’ve been in the army 12 years, but the whole debate about it has become a bit silly. Plus size as a label sits with me fine. At the end of the day I’m a certain size, like a lot of other people, and if you call that plus size so be it.”
McNeely has also starred in an Embody Denim campaign with Wells, an opportunity Wells particularly relished.
“It’s great we’ve been able to work together, and it means he’s able to understand more about my full time job and what I’ve been doing,” she says.
“I think it’s only positive that we’re able to showcase a part of our lives that makes us happy. We are normal people who do normal things. We work out together, and we work out apart as well, it just depends. We have bodies that you don’t see in the media every day, but it doesn’t mean that we’re any less.
“The most important thing is to be happy and healthy, and we are. Your dress size does not dictate your worth. Your personality isn’t dictated by your shape. You’ve just got to stop caring about what other people think.”

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