I Was a Size 0 When a Modeling Agency Labeled Me "Plus Size"

Truth be told, I admired Elianah Sukoenig from afar long before we ever spoke in person. She works at The Break, a boutique vintage shop on my block—one that offers curated, diverse clothing at an affordable price point. I’m in there more often that I’d prefer to admit. Our relationship went from chatting in the store to DM’ing on Instagram, a very modern way things tend to flourish these days, I suppose. Not soon after, I noticed she’d often post about her difficult experience in the modeling industry.

Let me be clear, Sukoenig is stunning. And she has a beautiful body by anyone’s standards. Hard stop. There is nothing about her physical features that would ever lead me to believe she’s been subject to judgment and exclusion. Though, perhaps that’s the point—the fact that anyone, anywhere, who looks any type of way, has dealt with negative experiences in relation to their shape. Surely, an involvement in the modeling industry amplifies things, but it’s true women of any profession are exposed to cruel, discriminatory criticism. It would be impossible not to internalize it in some way or another. Sukoenig is outspoken about the size gap—how when you’re not a “straight” size (a term the industry uses for models who fit the traditional sample size) or “plus” (an often controversial word for sizes above a 12, though models in this category can be as small as a size 8), you’re all but banished from the industry. It’s like no one knows where to place you, so they forget your existence entirely. And let’s not forget this dilemma is in reference to women who fit a size 4 or 6. With the average U.S. woman wearing a size 16 to 18 (according to this 2016 study), that is purely ludicrous.

Inspired by Sukoenig’s candor, I reached out with a few questions about her experiences. Below, she shares her thoughtful words on representation and empowerment in the face of perceived failure.