Model issues warning about disturbing industry practice that can 'harm everyone': 'I’m going to reveal a secret'

·8-min read

When 25-year-old Karoline Bjørnelykke signed with her first modeling agency in New York, she did not expect the job to come with a fat suit.

But that’s exactly what the company gave the Norwegian model and told her to bring to photoshoots.

“[The agency] bought me this padding,” she told In The Know. “And took [the cost] from my salary after. Of course, nothing is free for models.”

Karoline, an Oslo native currently studying chemistry, stands at approximately 5’8” and wears between a U.S. size 6 and 8. This is much smaller than most plus-size clothing, which typically begins around size 16.

But, rather than hire a real size-16 model to advertise plus-size clothing, many brands will instead cast models that are Karoline’s size and have them wear body padding in order to fill out garments.

In a Tiktok exposing this insidious modeling industry “secret,” Karoline (@coolquinn) explains the bizarre practice while demonstrating exactly how she uses the padding to make herself look bigger.

“I’m going to reveal a secret from the modeling industry today,” she begins. “I’m a ‘plus-size model,’ which means that I sometimes work for plus-size brands. These brands typically carry size 44 (XL) and up. Which, if you have eyes, you can see that I’m not that size.”

She proceeds to fill up her nude bodysuit with what looks like bra padding until her frame expands by a few sizes.

Putting on a button-down shirt to demonstrate the final look, Karoline adds that if the clothing is still too big on her straight-size frame, they will pin the garment in the back to make it fit properly before a shoot.

“If the clothes look really good from the front, [they] probably look like s*** from the back,” she adds. “It’s because [brands] want the neck and the face to look really slim and sharp, which doesn’t just create unrealistic standards, but impossible ones.”

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Karoline’s clip has since racked up over 600,000 views and infuriated hundreds of TikTokers.

“The model industry really hates plus-sized models,” one user commented.

“This explains the midsections that never make sense,” another noted.

“Oh, the jawlines make sense now,” wrote a third.

When some users attempted to condemn Karoline for participating in the practice, users immediately came to her defense.

“[To] the people blaming her; she’s just one model,” one user wrote. “Blame the brands that practice this. Not the individuals just trying to earn a living!”

It’s not just image retouching

In another recent viral TikTok, model and disability advocate Jess Quinn (@jessicaemilyquinn) shows a woman wearing padding to make her butt look more toned and sculpted as she models a matching workout set.

“This is the behind-the-scenes of many photoshoots,” Quinn explains. “People see these photos, feel insecure, compare their bodies and go get surgery. But they don’t actually realize what they’re comparing themselves to doesn’t actually exist.”

“It’s not just image retouching,” she adds. “It’s these manipulations that happen even before these images are retouched. It is so disturbing.”

Alan Lemire is a professional photographer with over 30 years of experience working for major brands. He confirmed to In The Know that the modeling industry uses this type of padding “pretty universally” as a way to make garments “fit better” during shoots.

“Sometimes there will be a seamstress on set to make sure [a garment] looks and fits correctly, but other times you have to work with the clothing that you have, and the only way to make it look like it fits is the use of pads,” he said.

Perhaps the use of body padding is reasonable when attempting to adjust the fit of a garment slightly. But the practice has apparently gotten so extreme that Karoline says she’s been fired from gigs for being too small, even with all of her padding.

“On one occasion, I was booked for a plus-size job in Germany. The clothes were way too big for me. They tried to pad me up to that size, but it was still not enough. So I got sent home from the job instead,” the model told In The Know.

And this experience certainly isn’t unique to Karoline. In 2018, Refinery29 spoke with six models who were asked to wear similarly excessive fat padding for multiple jobs, including Iskra Lawrence, a prolific plus-size model.

If you’re wondering why a brand would not simply cast someone over a size 8 to model its plus-size clothing, you’re not alone.

Karoline is open about her distaste for using thin models in padding instead of offering the job to models who are the proper size. She credits the trend to dated industry beauty standards, which assert that “clothes fall better on a skinny person.”

Another factor, Karoline explained, is that “having a sharp angular face” is one of the most valuable assets in the modeling industry. And thinner models are more likely to possess this feature.

‘I can imagine plus-size women being so disappointed’

Industry rationale aside, this practice serves to hurt both consumers and brands.

The entire purpose of modeling clothing is to show customers what a potential purchase will look like on their bodies.

The figure of a size-8 model wearing a fat suit is significantly different than the actual body of a size-16 person. Body padding cannot account for natural weight distribution.

Where body padding might expand a model’s measurements evenly and smoothly, an average person is more likely to gain weight disproportionately in certain areas of the body.

By failing to show customers real images of plus-size women modeling plus-size clothing, brands are more or less setting themselves up for customer dissatisfaction. After all, there’s nothing more frustrating than ordering something online, only to try it on and discover that it looks absolutely nothing like the listing photos.

“I can imagine plus-size women being so disappointed when ordering clothes that don’t fit on them like on the models they bought it from,” Karoline said. “With all the fatphobia and discrimination plus women have to go through, they really don’t need this on top of it. I think they deserve more realistic representation.”

‘These manipulative tactics harm everyone’

The negative impacts of body padding in the modeling industry go far beyond a confusing shopping experience.

Dr. Samantha DeCaro, a doctor of psychology who serves as the Director of Clinical Outreach and Education at The Renfrew Center for eating disorder treatment, explains that the practice also perpetuates manufactured body ideals that are not “realistic, attainable or sustainable for most of the population.”

By conning customers into believing images of straight-size models in padding are depictions of actual plus-size models, brands encourage plus-size shoppers to subconsciously compare their bodies to the proportions of a figure that doesn’t actually exist.

As Karoline noted in her viral TikTok, the jawline of a size 8 may look different than the jawline of a size 16. Which is natural, as bodies come in all different shapes and sizes. Still, a plus-size shopper should not feel bad for lacking the jawline or face shape of a straight-size model.

Dr. DeCaro says these comparisons can invoke feelings of anxiety and encourage people to “buy new products, pursue plastic surgery, engage in disordered eating and/or exercise excessively in an attempt to manipulate their measurements.”

“These manipulative tactics harm everyone, especially those with eating disorders or body dysmorphic disorder,” Dr. DeCaro explained. “These disorders are associated with intrusive, obsessive thoughts about appearance, including a tendency to compare body parts, body size and perceived flaws to others.”

‘They contribute to the erasure of fat bodies’

Exposure to edited images on social media is well-linked to increased body dissatisfaction, especially among young women. A bombshell Wall Street Journal report revealed in September that researchers at Instagram have long known that the app actively causes teen girls to feel bad about their bodies.

Dr. DeCaro argues that the use of body padding on models throws gasoline on the fire of existing body dissatisfaction. It may lead people who view such images to engage in dangerous behaviors, like restrictive dieting and over-exercising.

These, in turn, can snowball into full-blown clinical eating disorders, which are some of the deadliest mental health conditions. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) reports that as many as 10,200 deaths each year are the direct result of an eating disorder.

It is clear that the modeling industry needs major reforms to protect consumer mental health. Plus-size shoppers deserve better than marketing that sends a subtle message that their bodies are not acceptable as they are.

Similarly, there is much work to do to improve fat representation in the media. Especially considering the use of padding on thin models robs actual plus-size models of job opportunities.

“These practices are not size-inclusive; they contribute to the erasure of fat bodies while also discriminating against the models who actually wear those sizes,” Dr. DeCaro noted.

Karoline believes that the best solution here is perhaps the most simple one of all.

“My suggestion is just to use real plus-size women because there are so many gorgeous [plus-size] women out there,” she suggests.

“And I have one more wish,” she added. “Can a plus-size brand please for once not make something that is horrifically ugly?”

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