Gina Davidson: Striking a body blow in world of fashion

TAKE a look at the girl on the right. Your reaction? Probably "beautiful girl", probably not "model material".

For a start her cheeks are plump, rather than concave. Her eyes sparkle rather than give off that skeletal "I'd kill for a sandwich if only I had the energy to move" look. She has breasts and hips and even, God forbid, a tummy.

Yet, this dark-eyed, curvaceous 30-year-old is one of a host of "real" women snapped up by lingerie tycoon Michelle Mone for her latest advertising campaign.

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Hayley Matthews, from Hillside in Edinburgh, is 30, a size 16 (like 40 per cent of the female population), and one of 14 women who have landed the job with Ultimo after a Facebook competition. The part-time radio presenter for Kingdom FM in Fife will now have her face and body on giant posters in Debenhams stores all around the UK.

For her it's a validation of refusing to "conform" to beauty stereotypes. "I have always been a size 14-16," says Hayley. "I used to get called names like tubby at primary school, ironically by kids who were fatter than me so it never made any sense! I'm 30 now and I think after all the teenage years and all the rest of it, you just have to go with what you have got and make the best of it.

"I think that men love a bum to hold on to and boobs to look at. We are so obsessed with how people think we should look, instead of just being happy with how we look.

"The Ultimo campaign sends out such a positive message to 'real' women like me. I love seeing curvy women - that is the female body and we need to embrace boobs and bums."

Certainly it seems that the fashion world may finally be allowing itself to do just that. Despite there being no weightier issue in the appearance- obsessed world of catwalks and photo shoots than that of size, proportions do seem to be creeping up.

Michelle Mone is never one to avoid hitching her wagon to a trend, which is why Hayley was picked from 2000 "real women" to model the Ultimo Couture range of cocktail dresses. Mone says: "As a company we've always strived to use models that our customers can relate to, but we wanted to do something more explicit with the potential to make a difference; to inspire people to embrace a broader definition of what constitutes beauty.

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"What we're trying to demonstrate is that all women are 'real women', which is why we made a point to include girls of every size ranging from a size 8 to an 18."

It's a message that American supermodel Crystal Renn is also delivering. Six years ago she was an unknown "normal" size model, weighing seven stone and easily fitting into size 0 designer samples. Now she is one of the best-known, best-paid "plus-size" models at size 14, weighing 12 stone.

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She has said she resents the idea that everyone has an opinion on the breadth of her thighs. "If they judge me for not being big enough, is that not the same as judging me for not being thin enough?" she says. "I'm a curvy girl. You can't erase it."

Even in super-slim Paris, recent editions of French Vogue and Elle have featured "plus-size" models. A winner of America's Next Top Model a few years ago was also a size 14 and it's claimed that the number of plus-size models in the catwalk industry has quadrupled in three years.

That in part is perhaps a reaction to the death of Uruguayan model Luisel Ramos, 22, in 2006, and her sister Eliana, 18, a few months later. Both apparently died from heart problems related to starving themselves so they looked thin. Organisers of some fashion shows responded by banning size zero models while others, including London, brought in strict new rules to ensure the models were healthy.

Michelle Coulter, manager of Scotland's The Look Agency, says: "We have girls from size eight to size 16. Yes, sample sizes tend to be for smaller sizes, but that is because it's what the designer is looking for, but that does change as trends change.

"In Scotland, there's definitely more demand for plus-size girls."

Susan Ringwood, chief executive of the eating disorders charity Beat, says she's noticed improvements in the modelling world. "Three years ago, people within modelling and fashion were reluctant to acknowledge there was a problem, let alone do anything about it, but that is changing."

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As for Hayley, she says she would love to do more modelling. She says: "I got made redundant 18 months ago from a media company and I haven't found full-time work, so this opportunity has given me a real confidence boost because my confidence was rock bottom, but to know your picture is going to be everywhere is quite overwhelming."


Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses and in the UK around 1.6 million people, mainly aged 12 to 20, suffer from them. Of that number, 1.4 million are female.

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The three official categories of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and eating disorder not otherwise specified (Ednos). People with Ednos do not have the full set of symptoms for either anorexia or bulimia, but may have aspects of both.

Anorexia was first written about by physician and minister John Reynolds in 1669 and philosopher Thomas Hobbes in 1688. Bulimia was not recognised as a clinical condition until Gerald Russell's paper published in the UK in 1979.

Anorexia accounts for just 10 per cent of eating disorders, bulimia for 40 per cent. Currently about one in 20 young women have an eating disorder. Binge eating, or compulsive eating, affects about three per cent of the population..