Australian model Stefania Ferrario takes issue with a certain word, and it's "Plus". "It implies bigger than normal; it's already giving off the idea that this whole group of women who fall under this label are not the norm," she tells Broadly.
Last year, the 23-year-old uploaded a selfie to Instagram using the #DropThePlus hashtag, and it went viral, making headlines around the world. Since then, she's been adopted as a global figurehead for the #DropThePlus movement, which calls for the fashion industry to erase sizeist language from its vocabulary.
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Ferrario wants to be referred to as a model, full stop. "I think certain labels do have a negative impact and it's easier to completely get rid of a word than to try to change its connotational meaning," she says.
It's this type of social conditioning, particularly towards young women, that Ferrario is fighting against. Some models have praised the term 'plus size' as empowering, but Ferrario says it doesn't matter what the models themselves think—it's about the damaging beauty ideals such language perpetuates.
"My whole younger years—up until around the age of 18, when I really decided to love my body—I was convinced that there was only one type of beautiful," Ferrario says.
"And that was a very slim body type: tanned and beautiful. I was obsessed with having that body. If my weight fluctuated or went up, it would really get to me. My body changed, and I couldn't change that, so I had to start changing my mindset.
"I had to unlearn what society had taught me. It was about having to reject what had been imprinted on me from such a young age."
While the body positive movement has been gaining momentum and seeping into the mainstream, it's still often temporary and tokenistic. Ferrario recalls Vogue Italia's June 2011 cover, which featured models Tara Lynn, Candice Huffine, and Robyn Lawley wearing lingerie and sprawled across bowls of spaghetti (shot by Steven Meisel). At the time, it received international media attention. "I thought it was gorgeous and I loved the fact they were nude in the editorial. It just seemed so liberated [and] I found it pretty inspiring," Ferrario says. "But I felt like it was a bit of a one-off and I think they should incorporate that into more issues."
Since then, numerous magazines in the Vogue network have featured curve models within their pages, but cover-space has been coming up short. The American Vogue 2015 September issue came under fire for not using any curve models throughout the 832-page publication, aside from those who starred in a double-page advertisement.
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Ferrario explains that while size visibility and diversity is ultimately a positive step, it has to be done for the right reasons—not for a publication to push a point of difference or to try to be subversive. "It should just be natural and the model should be booked because she's a great model, not because she's necessarily a size six."
Dita Von Teese is one woman Ferrario admires for her inclusive casting approach, citing the performer-turned-designer as an important force in bringing size diversity to commercial fashion imagery. For the last few seasons, Ferrario has been the leading model in Australia for Von Teese's lingerie line, which is stocked in major department stores.
"In terms of bridging the gap, she's become very mainstream now; it's starting to bring that subculture of alternative beauty [into the mainstream]," Ferrario says. "Dita doesn't make a big deal out of it; she just celebrates other types of beauty."
With over 364,000 Instagram followers, Ferrario is now in a position where she holds sway—but that recognition comes with a sense of accountability. "I'm representing an audience that hasn't found that representation in the modeling industry, so I do feel a sense of responsibility," she says. "I try to be as open and honest as I can about my body and the struggles I've been through."
While she "definitely feels really, really comfortable now" in her own skin, mental health is something Ferrario says she currently struggles with, and hopes to turn her focus to next.
"I had an episode this year and it just changed my whole view on everything," she says. "The more I talked about it, the more I saw people struggling with mental illnesses. I think it should be more spoken about like it's not a taboo. It's not a big deal—it should be a normal problem and a conversation. This year I want to start making it public and talking about it."
This article is presented in partnership with U by Kotex