Canadian model Lauren Chan says she 'wasn't the plus size ideal' of 'hour-glass shaped, blonde hair and blue-eyed' when she started modelling

'Now, it is actually much more common to have a genuinely diverse runway,' Chan told Yahoo Canada

Model Lauren Chan was raised in Brantford, Ont. (Image via Getty Images/Canva)
Model Lauren Chan was raised in Brantford, Ont. (Image via Getty Images/Canva)

Lauren Chan's journey to becoming a plus-size model and advocate for body-positivity had unexpected but inspiring beginnings. Although she was once an aspiring WNBA player on the courts of Western University in London, Ont., the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model found her calling in the world of fashion as a force championing inclusivity and body positivity.

"I grew up in Brantford, Ont. where the community is mostly Italian. I was, to my memory, the only Asian kid in my class and I was aware of that. And then I grew to be taller than everyone else and a bit bigger than everyone else and darker features than everyone else and a different looking family than everyone else. As I clocked all of those things... I felt increasingly 'othered,'" Chan began, speaking with Yahoo Canada.

A dream derailed

From an early age, Chan's aspirations seemed firmly planted on the basketball court with hopes of eventually going pro — a dream that was abruptly sidelined by a medical emergency.

"I ended up having to stop playing basketball after my appendix ruptured. I had a rough recovery," she recalled.

The sudden shift away from sports forced Chan to reevaluate her path, leading her into the realms of creative writing and, eventually, fashion—a domain she initially approached with skepticism. It was during this period that Chan's path veered towards creative writing and fashion.

"I wasn't yet driven by diversity or inclusion of any kind," she admitted. "I was really taking fashion in for what it was, which was very fashion-15-years-ago. Very one-note."

Lauren Chan modeling for Christian Siriano Spring/Summer 2023. (Image via Getty Images)
Lauren Chan modeling for Christian Siriano Spring/Summer 2023. (Image via Getty Images)

Learning the ins and outs of the fashion world

Chan's early experiences in the fashion industry were a stark contrast to the empowerment she felt playing basketball.

"In sports, it is advantageous to be bigger and stronger than people and taller than people and you're in an environment where the control of your body is yours," Chan shared. "When it came to my early days in fashion as a model, I felt the opposite."

Chan said she struggled to adapt to the ins and outs of the fashion world and felt a sense of powerless in her new profession.

"I felt like my body was not mine. I felt quite disassociated from how I looked or my physical form and I felt that it was up to other people to decide whether my body was good enough for the casting or the job," she explained. "It was up to other people to dress my body and make it up with hair and makeup and up to another set of people to decide what images would be used. In hindsight, that was probably a pretty drastic change for me in terms of how I used and saw and felt about my body."

Chan's career trajectory shifted dramatically after being signed as a plus-size model. For the first time since her days on the basketball court, she felt valued for her physical presence again. "It was the first time in my life outside of sports that I felt valued for being as I was," she said, highlighting the period of time when the fashion industry was really starting to embrace size inclusivity.

"It did wonders for my mental health and my confidence at first," Chan added. "In the new world of plus size modelling, being a size 14 and 5'10 was extremely coveted as opposed to how I felt when I would go to the bars in college when everyone was smaller than me, and getting dates and I wasn't."

As Chan found her footing in the plus-size fashion world, she soon realized that the industry had its own rigid standards.

"I wasn't the plus-size ideal, which at the time, was a size 14-16, and super curvy — to the point where they padded models like me who aren't hourglass-shaped, blonde and blue-eyed," Chan explained. "I had moments whether I was in castings or on a job, that I also realize I wasn't the plus size ideal."

Chan, who began reporting on size diversity at Fashion Week in 2014 for Vogue Italy, there was only one show that featured models over sample size (typically sizes 0-4).

"When I moved to Glamour in 2016 and continued this reporting, that number was seven. The following season for 2017, it was 27. The following season for 2018, it jumped to 208," Chan recalled.

Lauren Chan at the 2021 ACE Awards. (Image via Getty Images)
Lauren Chan at the 2021 ACE Awards. (Image via Getty Images)

Before 2018, a show that featured a model over sample size used to be headline making news.

"We were calling for the next step which was to normalize our enmeshment in fashion week. Now, it is actually much more common to have a genuinely diverse runway," she said, adding that when we look back on inclusivity, progress likely won't be linear. "It will go up over time like the stock market. Like that graph — there will be highs and lows along the way."

Chan hopes that people who choose to enter into fashion understand that it's ok to go agains the status-quo, and that the industry is growing to include "people who would not have been let in the door 10 or 20 years ago.

"So if you're looking at a closed door now, find a window. Because there are many folks before you who have proven that resilience is a necessary trait and that it is possible to create change or live out your dreams," Chan said.

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