Modeling change

Plus-size model Amanda Tice, AB’06, believes her work can have a positive effect on women’s lives.

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Amanda Tice, AB’06, is a plus-size model, but this past fall she did not wear her usual size 12. “Right now, I’m actually the smallest I’ve ever been. I’m smaller than I should be,” Tice says, explaining in a November interview that she had gotten married a week earlier and wanted to look a bit more “svelte” for the wedding.

I met Tice on a Thursday, at the tail end of the fashion industry’s underwear market week, when buyers from major retail outlets like Macy’s and Kohl’s come to view the next season’s designs and decide which products to stock. “I am pretty much locked in a closet waiting until someone comes in and says ‘We need you to show this bra.’” Over the course of an eight-hour day, she might work anywhere from 40 minutes to two hours, depending on the number of showings required of her.

Tice has been modeling with the Wilhelmina agency in New York for five years. The agency connects her with designers, retail stores, and other clients in print and online advertising, and she’s responsible for showing up at the job, maintaining the client relationship, and hopefully getting asked back for more work. “You really act as your own business person.”

She has appeared in magazines, in online catalogs, on bra tags. A few weeks after our meeting, I walked into Target and saw Tice on a poster, wearing a white blazer with a black splatter print.

At Wilhelmina, Tice is one of some 65 models on the agency’s plus-size board, called Curve. The majority of Tice’s business—she estimates about 80 percent—is modeling swimwear and lingerie. And since swimwear looks best on the beach, Tice gets to travel. “I just had a job a couple weeks ago where they wanted me to feed flamingos on the beach,” she says. “In Aruba.”

Plus-size work has its own unique upside. In contrast to the image of a “straight size” model squeezing into a runway gown, Tice says many longtime clients have confidence in her ability to sell their products and aren’t all that concerned with her exact size. “If I lose the weight then they’ll pin the clothes more, if I gain the weight then they’ll cut the back.”

Tice never considered modeling until after the economic crash in 2008. After graduating from the College, where she studied comparative human development, she worked as an anchor for a Fox News affiliate based in Little Rock, Arkansas.

A training program called the Pombo Project, run by News 12 The Bronx, brought her to New York. After three weeks of chasing stories—driving to the scene, filming, writing, editing video—Tice received a job offer. She turned it down. “On the last day I get called to a shooting. When I get there, [the police] can’t find the shooter,” she recalls. “So I’m at a shooting in progress. ... I knew emotionally I was not cut out for that.”

Tice found other work as a host for TV and online outlets like MSNBC.com, producing segments on “light-hearted, lifestyle sorts of things”: the surf report in the Hamptons, the top electronics this holiday season.

A photographer she had met at a previous TV job encouraged her to attend an open casting call at Wilhelmina, which set her on a new path. Now 30, Tice figures she could model for another decade or so. She still finds the work exciting, but doubts she’ll be in the industry that long. It lacks the “intellectual stimulus” she craves, although the travel and the variety of people she meets feed the same interest as her major. “It’s almost like doing field work for me,” she says. “It’s anthropological in this sense.”

Tice believes that the plus-size modeling industry serves as a much-needed counterpoint for the disregard that designers and marketers have long shown to curvier bodies. Last October the Associated Press reported that “the average American woman is about 25 pounds heavier than she was in 1960. Yet women’s plus-size clothing, generally defined as size 14 and up, still makes up only about 9 percent of the $190 billion spent annually on clothes.”

But Tice sees the demand every day. “It’s really only a matter of time before the [fashion] industry will shift its ideology and start to realize that there’s a market for real bodies, for real people.”

This past July, Ford New York, a Wilhelmina competitor, closed its plus-size board. The reaction within the industry, Tice says, was shock. After the announcement, two former Ford model agents opened Jag Models, which bills itself as “the first agency in New York that’s dedicated solely to women of all sizes.”

Still, Tice admits that her work isn’t always put to encouraging use. Consider her first print job, for O, the Oprah Magazine. In the photo, Tice is surrounded by plain white T-shirts hanging in the air, each identifying a diet: South Beach, Weight Watchers, Atkins, and so on. Tice is standing in the middle with her hands in the air—her shirt reads “Overeaters Anonymous.”

She also often models bras that promise to smooth back fat or reduce underarm bulge. “In the plus industry in general, the majority of what you’re shooting is how to fix problems.”

There are signs, though, that retailers are realizing a woman’s size doesn’t dictate her interest in fashion. Robyn Lawley, another Wilhelmina Curve model, made waves in 2012 as the first plus-size model to appear in a Ralph Lauren campaign, and recently posed for Chantelle lingerie wearing items from the brand’s line not specifically marked as plus-size.

“The industry is on the verge of making substantial changes,” Tice says. “I feel like you’ll be hearing more often, ‘This is the first-ever plus model used for X or Y or Z.’” Last year, for example, Tice became one of the first plus-size models for Frederick’s of Hollywood lingerie.

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