Myla Dalbesio explodes with laughter on the other end of the phone. “It’s crazy!” she exclaims. “I can’t even.”
The 27-year-old model is talking about booking her latest gig, modeling Calvin Klein underwear in the brand’s latest “Perfectly Fit” campaign, which was shot by Lachlan Bailey. “It was such a surreal moment. I cried,” she admitted.
Booking an underwear campaign for such an iconic brand would be a coup for any model. But it’s especially notable for Dalbesio, who, at a size 10, is what the fashion industry would—still, surprisingly—call “plus size.” (“In fact, not so long ago plus size models were around size 10-12, but that number has recently shrunk to an 8,” said Cosmopolitan earlier this year, while PLUS Model concurs that models “between size 6 and size 14” are typically considered plus size.)
“It’s kind of confusing because I’m a bigger girl,” Dalbesio says. “I’m not the biggest girl on the market but I’m definitely bigger than all the girls [Calvin Klein] has ever worked with, so that is really intimidating.” (We have reached out to Calvin Klein to confirm.) She wasn’t sure, she said of the shoot, what was expected from her “in terms of her size or shape.” Refreshingly, what was expected of her was the same thing that was expected of the other models featured in the campaign (Lara Stone, Jourdan Dunn, Ji Hye Park): to take a beautiful picture. “No one even batted an eye,” she says. “It was very cool.”
So what does it mean for a brand like Calvin Klein—known for launching the careers of such svelte models as Brooke Shields and Kate Moss—to cast a model who deviates from the size 0 standard and not make a fuss about it?
To Dalbesio, who spent years abusing Adderall, crash dieting, and flirting with bulimia in an attempt to whittle herself to “straight size,” it represents progress. “It’s not like [Calvin Klein] released this campaign and were like ‘Whoa, look, there’s this plus size girl in our campaign.’ They released me in this campaign with everyone else; there’s no distinction. It’s not a separate section for plus size girls,” she says.
There was a time in the industry, not too long ago, when it seemed that the high fashion world was using plus size models as a headline-grabbing gimmick (see: the groundbreaking Italian Vogue cover featuring Tara Lynn, Candice Huffine, and Robyn Lawley in June 2011; Crystal Renn in a 2010 Chanel campaign.)
Related: Pirelli Calendar Gets Its First Plus-Size Model
“I feel like for a minute, it was starting to feel like this ‘plus size’ thing really was a trend, and that it was over,” Dalbesio says. “There was that beautiful Italian Vogue story, and the girls that were in that ended up doing really well [in their modeling careers]. But when that happened, we felt really excited; we thought it was going to open so many doors for all of us, you know? And it felt like it hadn’t. It was dying out.”
Now, Dalbesio is a bit more hopeful about size in the modeling industry. “I’m in the middle,” she says. “I’m not skinny enough to be with the skinny girls and I’m not large enough to be with the large girls and I haven’t been able to find my place. This [campaign] was such a great feeling.” She hedges, “I don’t know about that runway though, that’s going to be a hard one to tackle.”
In light of the vigorous response that this story has generated, both Calvin Klein and Myla Dalbesio have released statements.
From Myla Dalbesio:
I love that after working in the fashion industry for nine years, I have finally found my place, right in the middle. Neither plus, nor straight size, I love that I can be recognized for what I am, a healthy size 10.
I love that as the conversation on the internet explodes and brings greater awareness, I am receiving emails from 15 year-old girls, telling me that I have given them hope and that sharing my story has made them feel less freakish, less weird, and that they can accept their size 8 or 10 frame.
I love that I get to be a part of this conversation, about size and body image and that I get to represent a brand like Calvin Klein. They didn’t introduce this campaign for shock value, they simply included what some would refer to as a “normal size” girl in their advertising, right next to other girls of varying sizes and shapes.
I love that by opening this discussion, I can also (hopefully) open some doors for other models, friends of mine, that have always straddled the line between straight size and plus. True body diversity doesn’t mean only sizes 0’s and 2’s then jumping to size 16 and up. There is a middle ground.
From Calvin Klein:
The new Calvin Klein Underwear Perfectly Fit imagery features models Myla Dalbesio, Jourdan Dunn, Amanda Wellsh, Ji Hye Park and the face of the brand, Lara Stone, in several styles. The Perfectly Fit line was created to celebrate and cater to the needs of different women, and these images are intended to communicate that our new line is more inclusive and available in several silhouettes in an extensive range of sizes.