Curve models are increasingly visible in the U.S. fashion industry, with models like Ashley Graham and Tabria Majors gracing the pages of Sports Illustrated and going out of their way to promote body positivity.
In many Asian countries, though, fashion industries are still obsessed with thinness above all else. That’s especially true in South Korea, where the starting point for “plus-size,” or extra-large, is a Korean size 66, the equivalent of a U.S. women’s 8, according to Racked.
South Korean curve model Taylor Tak knows this firsthand.
The 26-year-old is one of a handful of models who hopes to challenge the unrealistic beauty standards that women in South Korea are expected to live up to.
Many models ― Graham included ― prefer the terms “curvy” or “curve” rather than plus-size, but in South Korea, the labels haven’t caught on.
“In South Korea, they’d call me fat, not curvy,” Tak told HuffPost. “Curvy there is basically a slim, thick body ― no belly, big boobs and big butt. So many girls are working hard for A4-size waist, no-thigh-gaps, long and thin arms.”
Representation in print and on the runways could change that.
So far, Tak has posed for publications such as Cosmopolitan Korea and Queen Size Magazine and has worked with clothing brands including Fashion Nova, Curvy Sense, Hotping and Romwe.
Tak ― who’s represented by the Aussie-based model agency NAM Management ― got her start when she was noticed by a professional photographer in London. He asked to take a few photos of her. Though cynical at first, Tak eventually agreed.
“Initially I thought, ‘You must be kidding me’ or like, ‘Is this how a photographer tries to flirt?’ but he was serious,” Tak said. “We took about 50 or 60 shots, and I really loved being in front of a professional camera.”
A year later, Tak was nabbing modeling jobs and promoting body positivity, posing confidently in size 14 clothes. Recently, she moved to Sydney, Australia, in search of more modeling opportunities
After years of feeling uncomfortable in her own skin, modeling was a welcome change. At age 10, Tak was sent to a summer “diet school” where she was restricted to about 600 calories a day for months. Now, she embraces her curves.
“My hope is that young girls see my photos and realize that your weight and your size don’t define your self-worth,” Tak said. “Losing weight shouldn’t be your life goal. You’re not born to just lose weight. You don’t have to change your look for a happier life.”
Tak isn’t the only one eager for change in the Korean modeling industry. Last year, an association of six women’s rights groups protested Korean clothing companies for exclusively using thin mannequins and producing limited sizes in clothing.
K-style online sites have been quicker to offer plus sizes, but Tak is waiting for the day a Korean girl can go to the mall and find her size.
Size isn’t the only thing that matters when it comes to creating a more diverse and inclusive fashion industry. Even in the U.S., there’s a long way to go before Asian models are offered the same opportunities as their white peers, Tak said.
“It’s always like, there are no Asian models at all or there is one Asian model among eight or 10 models and she is always with this typical look: skinny, tall, black hair with bangs.” she said. “On top of that, most of these plus-size Asian models in mainstream are mixed.”
As a recent all-Asian NYFW runway show proved, there is incredible diversity within Asian communities, if the fashion industry would only highlight it.
“As a curve Asian model, sometimes I feel like I don’t belong anywhere,” Tak said. “We need diversity everywhere in the fashion industry.”