In a country where 162 million women are labelled according to their dress size, there's a Trinidadian in the United States of America who stands out with a vengeance. Natalie Laughlin is a supermodel who has been at the top of the "plus size" modeling game since 1995.
Laughlin was born and raised in Trinidad until her teen years, when her family migrated to Miami. This brown-haired, brown-eyed 45-year-old beauty has a significant accolade to her name in the world of fashion and beauty -- she is the first plus size model to be featured on no less than five consecutive billboards in New York's famous Times Square for American designer Liz Claiborne.
At the time, those massive Times Square billboards were controversial and became the talk of New York simply because she was the first woman of her body size to be featured in this way. This led to another first -- Laughlin became the first plus size model to grace the cover of the American edition of Glamour magazine. Today she's still right up there with the world's top ten plus size models -- in Maimi she's known as "the Cindy Crawford of the larger size modeling world."
Laughlin began her modeling career aged 15, eventually signing for ford Models, in Miami's South Beach district. Her early career saw a concentrated focus on getting modeling contracts in Europe because the American agencies were still in love with all things desperately skinny -- she says she was considered "too sexy" for the American modeling circuit. She has since appeared on the covers of several magazines, including Glamour, Grace and Mode, and has posed for many leading catalogue companies. Laughlin is also a regular on the American daytime television circuit often representing women who have overcome eating disorders to lead successful lives.
It was a fairly rough ride for this Caribbean-born beauty to reach the top of her game. A lengthy battle with an unhealthy obsession with her weight began with a doctor unbelievable prescribing diet pills at the tender age of eight. In her biography, From Hunger to Happiness, she writes that "I had this routine with a girlfriend. Together we would starve ourselves Thursday through Saturday, so that we would be thin for the boys when we went out drinking in the clubs. Then we'd binge Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and start the fasting process all over again." Laughlin now speaks openly about these struggles, and was given an award from the Academy for Eating Disorders for her services to helping young women with self-image issues.
In true outspoken Trini style, Laughlin famously wrote an angry letter of complaint in 1996 to five global fashion magazines after seeing yet another photo of the waif-lik British supermodel Kate Moss on the cover of Vogue. "I said they needed a wider representation of women on their pages."
A pivotal moment for Laughlin came when she joined Overeaters Anonymous. At the meetings she confirmed the link between eating and emotions (she would eat when she felt fearful). Years later she told the New York Times "finally, in my 20s, I gave up 'thin' for happiness and took control of my life." Ironically this was when the offers poured in leading to a lucrative and successful career as a plus size model. She was constantly in demand at companies like Saks, Macy's, TJ Maxx, Just My Size and Liz Claiborne.
For young Caribbean women considering a modeling career, Natalie advises patience above all else.
"It can take years to find your way to the right clients," she told PlusModels.com.
"Stand up for yourself and, dare I say it, do not be bullied by your agent, but do create a good relationship. The reality is, if they don't like you, you ain't gonna work."
Today she is the face of many leading designers who happily embrace larger (or normal) sized women, inclduing Marina Rinaldi.
A more mature, married Laughlin says that these days her mantra is 'style is sizeless," and she speaks regularly to college girls all over the US about her life story, urging them to create a grand vision for their lives.
Her advice to women now is "know that in self-love, as you reach for yur highest possibilites, there are no limits."
Source: Zing; October-December 2010