Nicky Park

Editor of Life & Style.

Plus-sized model wants to do away with the 'dirty word' (+photos)

Penelope Benson is the face of Playtex underwear.
Photo / Supplied
Penelope Benson is the face of Playtex underwear. Photo / Supplied

Australian Penelope Benson strides up to me backstage at the New Zealand Fashion Festival.

The black haired, blue-eyed beauty is a size 14 and considered a "plus-sized model" - although she tells me anything over a size 10 fits in to that category in the fashion world. She'd like to do away with the figure-defining term.

"It doesn't bother me, because I know the definition of it, but I think it still confuses a lot of woman out there ... it's kind of like a dirty word," says Sydney-based Benson.

"When someone hears 'plus-sized' they immediately associate it with an unhealthy picture of a woman. Maybe we should do away with it. I'm comfortable with it but maybe we should think of a better word to use.

"I don't consider myself a plus-sized woman, but I am a plus-sized model."

Benson touched down in Auckland this week to strut her stuff as the face of lingerie label, Playtex. She says these days she's as confident parading around in her knickers as she is hanging out in a dressing gown, but as an early developing teen with broad shoulders, she wasn't always so proud of her curves.

"When I was young I was never really confident about my body and I did struggle a lot and there were many summers that I didn't go to the beach with my friends just because I was so self conscious," she says.

"I got to a certain age and I didn't want to hate myself.

"You have to want to love yourself and you have to want to live a certain life.

"One day I just decided enough is enough and I had to start making positive changes."

She embraced her body, took a year of a communications degree and sought out a plus-sized agent. She was able to call modelling her full-time career two years ago and next month will fly to New York to give it a crack in one of the biggest fashion scenes.

"When I started modelling, the first couple of years weren't the easiest transition," she says.

"I don't think it was the coolest thing to be a plus-sized model."

She says "straight models" (the waif thin girls that dominate the modelling business) still get more opportunities, but "people are opening their minds, they are seeing that size does not matter. Fashion doesn't discriminate."

"I refuse to listen to anyone that says fashion is fantasy because I've never fantasized about being tiny or anyone else than I am right now.

"I think a woman who is a size 14 or 16 can look just as good, if not better, than someone who's tiny.

"I've created a career out of my body now so I don't think it's anything to be ashamed of."

"I'm double the size of straight sized model if not more, but when I'm photographed or on a screen I don't look that different and it's not such a big deal.

"I am probably a healthier representation of a healthy sized woman or a real woman."

* Penelope Benson will be hitting the catwalk at the New Zealand Fashion Festival this evening. We'll have video from the event and more from our interview coming Thursday morning. Life & Style editor Nicky Park will be tweeting down there. Follow her here.


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