Plus size model Whitney Thompson believes there is still a long way to go before the fashion industry becomes more accepting of fuller figures.
"Do I think Karl Lagerfeld is serious about loving plus size?," she said in an exclusive interview with HELLO! Online. "No, absolutely not. He just wants the money."
Whitney was the first ever plus size winner of hit modelling show America's Next Top Model. The blonde beauty has since enjoyed huge success in the modelling world and has campaigned to highlight the need for healthy, fuller figures in the industry.
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She is now a spokesperson for the National Eating Disorders Association, spending most of her time speaking to University students about healthy body image, and she is the face of plus-size brand Slink.
Here, Whitney chats to HELLO! Online about how she came to love her curves, how her life has changed since winning ANTM and what she thinks of Kim Kardashian's post-pregnancy Atkins regime…
As the first plus size winner, you inspired a lot of women to feel good about their bodies. Do you think the high fashion industry has changed its views on fuller figures?
Definitely. When I started modelling, nobody had plus size… Now Chanel and Forever21 are among the many brands that do plus size. Not to say that it's all my doing but certainly being on a TV show that airs in 114 countries has made an impact. I'm still the only plus size winner in its history, which is quite a big deal.
Do you think there is still a way to go before the industry sees healthier, fuller figures as beautiful?
Undoubtedly. Like I said, we've changed in some ways, but it's almost become a 'jump on the bandwagon' kind of thing. It's popular right now so a lot of people want to do it, but do I think Karl Lagerfeld is serious about loving plus size? No, absolutely not. He just wants the money.
I think we have to work on that, and the problem really is that plus size isn't plus size. When Tyra Banks was a size six (UK size 10), she modelled for Calvin Klein. Now size six is considered a plus in the States but the average American woman is a size 14 (UK size 18) and we're saying that if you're half that size you're still too fat. That’s the problem – it's not realistic.
How does it feel to be considered a role model?
I love it, it's so rewarding. My fan mail is not just 'You're pretty and I like you', it's 'my daughter had bulimia and refused to seek help until she saw you on Top Model. Now she's fully recovered, how could I ever thank you for that?' and that is just amazing.
Who's your role model?
That’s a tough question. I definitely look up to women who are in the industry like Tyra Banks who have longevity in their careers but I'm not sure I could be so much in the limelight. I look to my mother for inspiration, to people who are genuinely good people who have happy lives because I’d much rather have a happy life than be hunted by paparazzi constantly.
You're very body confident. Do you have any tips for women who might not feel as comfortable in their own skin?
I like to tell people to take what society has deemed a flaw and turn it into a positive. I used to hate my thighs so much and I would spend so much time staring in the mirror and trying to make them go away. Then one day, I looked in the mirror and said, 'My mum has these thighs, and my grandmother, and instead of putting myself down about something I can't change, I'm going to celebrate them because they keep me from looking like the girl next to me'. They make me unique, and that, in the end, is what makes me more beautiful, being different.
Do you ever follow a 'diet'?
There's a $40billion diet industry working against us that want us to think that we're fat so I don't even like the word diet because I listen to my body. If I'm craving an apple, I'm going to eat an apple, and if I want steak and chips and candy, I'll eat that too. Because I think life is too short to pine away after a dessert or food and now allow yourself to have it because the second you tell yourself now, what do you want? Exactly that! So I don't ever tell myself no. I eat what I want when I want and that's it.
Speaking of the diet industry and the various regimes on offer to us, Kim Kardashian recently revealed that the Atkins diet has helped her to shed her baby weight – what do you think about that?
The diet industry openly take in celebrities who are curvy and will pay them a boat load of cash and will have them say "I use Hydroxycut or Weight Watchers, and I used to love my curves but now I’m happier than ever since I started Atkins". Yes, Atkins is proven to shock the body and yes it does make you lose weight rapidly, but then the second you stop doing the diet you gain it all back. Ninety five per cent of dieters gain all the weight back in five years — if not more than that! So why are we still looking at these diets and thinking 'that might work'?
I say everything in moderation. I think you need to listen to your body – it knows better than any doctor, scientist or Kardashian!
You mentioned that you're an ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association, can you tell us a bit more about what you do for it?
I travel around the country to different universities and I speak on healthy body image. I feel like I really have an impact and I feel like I have a lot to say about the industry that maybe people don't know.
What aspects of the industry do you tell them about?
I tell them about how it's an illusion. The majority of runway models are under the age of sixteen. We're putting girls on the runway who haven't hit puberty yet because they're naturally much thinner and we look at the girls and say "well I want to be like that". Well of course you want to be that size but no matter how much you work out, you can't take back puberty!
Can you tell us a bit about Slink Boutique and Beauty and Curves?
Slink started as a magazine and recognised that there was a need for plus size clothing that was good quality so they went to America and worked with designers all over internationally and bought them back here to the UK. Right now we have a pop up boutique and they are also working with Beauty in Curves – secret sculpt jeans designed for curvy women that have a secret panel to slim and shape.
How did your life change after winning America's Next Top Model?
Well, I was a student at university when I went on the show – I was actually discovered to go on the show, it wasn't part of my plan! – and now I'm an international plus size model and I work all over the world. I'm also a spokesperson for the National Eating Disorder Association. Things are quite different!