Imagine you’re an alien sent to Earth to learn about the diversity of its people, places, and cultures in order to report back. You’re learning about the things that these humans put on their bodies to adorn themselves, protect themselves from the environment, and transmit their social status – clothes.
You realize that some clothes are more exclusive than others, capable of being owned by a limited number of individuals, even though they’re objects that all people desire. Humans come in every shape and size imaginable, but you soon realize that these highly sought-after items are only available in a narrow range of sizes that only the smaller humans can fit into, regardless of their purchasing power. Confused, you try to reconcile these opposing ideas, but can’t. Not only does the realm of luxury carry with it the sheen and suggestion of exclusivity because of its price points, but there is an added – and unnecessary – obstacle to access: size.
But you don’t have to be an alien to see that the fashion industry has a glaring problem when it comes to size inclusivity. In recent years, this barrier is being dismantled by powerful women, like model Candice Huffine. Regarded as one of the industry’s foremost “plus” models, Huffine has been challenging the status quo since she first joined the modeling world and refused to lose 20 pounds to be accepted in the regular modeling category. Little did she know that her choice would send seismic waves through her own life, and then extend beyond her personal parameters to touch the lives of hundreds of thousands of women. They called her “brave” for taking a stand, but Huffine was just doing what she knew to do best: staying true to herself no matter what anyone else said.
Despite the fashion industry’s snail pace, inclusivity has picked up steam as women like Huffine and brands like 11 Honoré have become vocal advocates for the movement. The model took a broad look at the fashion industry and the way it shoved women above a size ten into the corner of the shop, “othered” them, pretended like they were all on the same quest to become skinny, and treated their clothing options like less than an afterthought. A woman labeled “plus” by the industry might be bitter, but not Huffine.
Instead, she has become a beacon in the dark, a warrior for size justice, and a designer in her own right. As we sat down with her for an interview, we constantly alternated between full-body goosebumps and tears as she shared her perspective and story. It might sound like a bold statement, but we’re convinced that what you’ll read below is one of the most inspiring things you’ll read all year. So what are you waiting for?
Is this your first time in Dubai?
It is. I love it. I got here Thursday night, and I recovered from jet lag on Friday. We did the big 11 Honoré shoot yesterday, and we were in Old Town and out in the desert, so I feel like I’ve gotten to see a little bit of the city. I know there are incredible things I’m missing, but I know we’ll accomplish a lot. I feel right at home.
How do you feel about the use of “curve” versus “plus”?
I think ‘curve’ is a little more palatable for everyone to identify with. There are also curvy women who are a size six – it just reaches a broader audience. ‘Plus’ comes with its own connotations. It’s stuck in someone’s head as a negative thing. There are also women who want to take back being called fat. They’re totally comfortable with it. But the ‘plus’ woman has a negative connotation. Her rack is in the corner of the store, the idea being that she’s wearing a plus size temporarily because she’s ‘on her way to her perfect body’. I don’t think women who are a size four lead conversations with, ‘I’m a skinny woman’. You don’t lead with a description of your body in any other part of life.
I had to retrain myself to just say, ‘I’m a model.’ I used to say it, but then I’d see them glance over me, and I’d self-correct by saying, ‘Oh, I’m a plus model.’ And then they’d understand. But then they would ask, ‘So, who do you model for?’ – as if it’s clear that I’m not a real model. It’s a box that you remain in. It’s going to take a lot of work from both sides to blend the two, to break down the wall. Every brand is doing resizing. It’s like breaking a bad habit. They’re not sure what the best way to conquer it is. On one hand, it’s incredible that they see us, but they’re still putting us in a different place.
Right, no matter what, being given a separate label is still “othering”.
There should be no separation, whether it’s a label or a link on a website. It’s just a regular behavior that we’re used to. While there is a lot of progress that is opening many doors for modeling – and it’s noticeable even with celebrities – we still have a long way to go. The conversation is vital to make sure everyone gets what they deserve to have. Fashion is not a luxury, it’s a right. Fashion has been an exclusive club for too long.
It’s interesting that there’s been this notion that curvy women don’t want to be fashionable. Why would we be different from anyone else?
Because someone defined us a long time ago, and it’s been so hard to shake. Not every curvy woman just failed at being skinny. That’s not the aspiration of our lives. Someone must’ve passed a memo that said, ‘This is a stopover body for them. They’re not going to invest in fashion because they’re not staying this size forever.’ That has been the theory for decades. People are only just realizing that she will invest in these things. It’s a monumental moment.
I just sit back and smile because I knew this is who she was and what she wanted all along. I’m just happy that proof of concept is there. She’s waving her money around like, ‘Dress me! I’m living a phenomenal life, and I need the clothes that match that!’ No one else can make the choice for her anymore. She’s in charge of her body, who she is, and the life that she has created – and you’re going to set her back because you won’t give her the dress she wants? That’s just crazy. I will say that 11 Honoré absolutely gets it. Patrick [Herning] was the first one to really get it and provide stylish, high-fashion clothes for curvy women. And because he was so early to it, 11 Honoré has been so successful. It means a lot to be working with them.
Not every curvy woman just failed at being skinny.
And walking its first runway show at New York Fashion Week.
Yeah, that was a life-changing moment.
What do you feel when people call you brave?
It’s so odd to be called brave for living in the skin you’re in. I will never turn down an imposed label. I never had a problem with being called plus. I certainly don’t have a problem with being called brave – I think it’s really flattering. If it will help another woman on the other side to see me and build her confidence, that’s a huge win. That’s a part of this job that I would’ve never guessed would come 18 years ago, when all I wanted to do was take a pretty picture.
Still, it’s a label that separates me out. Why am I brave for living in my body? Because it’s bigger? You think this is a struggle? It makes you feel like you’re behind a wall. You feel like your every move is being watched. And if you have a single moment of what appears to be the rebellion of loving yourself? ‘Wow, she’s so brave.’ With that said, if anything that I’m doing resonates, I want to keep continuing that conversation. If we want to talk about what it looks like to be brave in our skin, I’m completely open to that. I just think that to be called brave for wearing a bikini creates another divide.
When you were starting out in this industry 18 years ago, is this where you saw yourself heading?
No, I was 15 years old when I started and, honestly, my biggest goal was to be in a Sears catalogue and Seventeen magazine. I wanted to make maybe enough money to go to college. I didn’t know that I would never make it back to school, or that I would make a full-time career out of this. I most certainly didn’t know that the importance of who I was would play such a major role. I felt like I had no plan B when I was just seeking to be a model, and there was nothing else I wanted to be. It was all or nothing, but interestingly, not all or nothing to the point that I was willing to lose weight for it.
I was rejected by eight agencies at first. They told me to lose 20 pounds. I was like, ‘Ew, absolutely not.’ I was signed the next day as a plus model. I wondered what the catch was because you’re telling me I’m in a separate world, but it’s not. I can still have all of my dreams, yet it’s separate. They said, ‘Of course, you’re going to be in magazines. Of course, you’ll still be modeling. You’re still a model!’ So it was an interesting, unexpected start, but I’m really proud that I didn’t bend for my dream. I stayed true to who I was, even though I didn’t realize taking the stance then was the right time for the industry. We were at the perfect crossroads. The plus industry grew up exactly at the same time.
Where was the plus industry at when you were starting out?
There was only one agency with 14 girls on its roster and, every day, it was trying to convince American brands that this market is important. There was no market for me in America at the time, so I worked a lot in Europe, which was way ahead of us. I didn’t start working in the US until about eight years into my career.
That’s absurd – such a missed opportunity.
It is, but everything really does happen for a reason, and it happens exactly at the time it’s supposed to. There’s the common question: ‘What would you say to your younger self?’ I don’t have anything to say to her. She knew what she wanted and she went for it, and I am going to remember that attitude forever.
In times when I’ve lost that, I’m going to remember her at 15 and say, ‘No, that’s unnatural. That’s not for me.’ Because I feel like a common ending to that story would be ‘… and then I lost 20 pounds and lived happily ever after.’ I completely rewrote the script and took it a different way. Everything happens for a reason. If you give me a platform and tell me you want to see what I’m doing, I’m taking that very seriously because maybe I wasn’t going to be here. It’s important that it’s effective.
Do you think size/age diversity is just a passing trend, or is it here to stay?
It’s here to stay, for sure. I feel it from the inside that it’s here to stay. I do think that, in many ways, it didn’t make sense for a curvy girl to be on the runways of brands that didn’t offer those sizes. You can always sniff out if they’re doing it for the wrong reasons – like if you see plus-sized models at Versace, you would instantly know the brand was just looking for headlines. Now that we’ve got the ball rolling, curves are on the runway, and we can never go backwards – not even from a runway standpoint.
It would be a shock to see any part of the diversification in fashion take a turn back to the old ways. Women want to be seen and represented, we demand it. We’ll speak with our voices, and we’ll speak with our wallets. We’re also very loud and proud, and have platforms that we can share our voices on. As soon as a woman is not feeling appreciated or represented from a consumer standpoint, no one will accept that. And I hope the brands are listening because it would be in their best interest. I would like to think that everyone will come around. If you are a brand for women, shouldn’t you represent all women?
You’re also responsible for the push from the commercial side because of your athletic wear brand Day/Won, especially because of this whole notion of ‘you’re not active if you’re curvy’.
That was such a slap in the face. I couldn’t understand why everyone was so intrigued that I wanted to start running. People were so shocked. I thought, maybe they’re just not used to seeing a curvy girl run. Maybe they think that we don’t. Or we can’t. Then when I really dove in and realized the same issues exist in the fashion world as well. I was shocked, and not that shocked at the same time. Athletic clothes are always represented with a tiny, fit, petite Olympian body and it makes you feel like, ‘If I don’t look like that, then I can’t do that.’ So it’s like they assume we don’t want to, which means they’ve kept us from completing the biggest goals of our lives.
I couldn’t understand why everyone was so intrigued that I wanted to start running.
If I’m being honest, I set a million goals that I’ve never seen through. Technically, I should be playing the guitar very well by now [laughs]. And so, to set the goal of running and put in a lot of hard work for it, I needed to not be worried about an outfit in the moment. I needed the tools to get me there, and they just weren’t there. It was such a knife to the heart. Whether you’re training for a marathon or going to a group workout class for the first time, it’s terrifying. Putting yourself out there in that way is out of your comfort zone – just like the way putting on a dress boosts confidence, the same thing goes for the clothes you put on to conquer these goals.
If you’re self-conscience going into this, you’re just going to quit. Then what? I had to quit my goal because things don’t fit me? Literally fabric is setting women back from conquering the biggest goals of their life? So not to humble-brag, but Day/Won was the first and only fully-sized inclusive activewear brand on the market when we launched in 2017. I had no idea until someone mentioned it in an interview. I was asked what it feels like to be the first brand of this kind, and I just responded with ‘sad’. Our sizes 16 and over are our top-selling sizes. It’s proof.
Let’s say that this conversation stays hot, that things start changing at an even more radical level. Part of your identity now is that you’re a curvy model. My hope is that this qualifier drops off some day, making you simply a model. What other passions do you have that will come in and fill that void for you?
I’ll keep going into design. That was always something I was passionate about. I thought my first attempt at being on the other side of things would be a ready-to-wear line. It just so happens that I took on this interesting turn of events and became an athlete. We can make all the plans in the world, and then it will get sorted out in some way we never expected. I took up running on a dare – I never planned to be a runner. I did finally get to step into the role of design. It just happened to be activewear.
So yes, design is 100 percent the direction for me. I think that once we’re in a place where I’m not just identified as a curvy model, clothes are placed together in stores, and there’s fashion availability for all, I don’t lose my identity – the only thing I would lose is press like this because I’m not going to be doing anything revolutionary because we’re all now in the same world. That’s not something I’m afraid of. I want to get to a day that this is not news. Knowing full well that this would mean my name goes out of the headlines. That’s progress.