Plus-Size Asian Models Say the Industry Still Has Work To Do

Walking down the New York Fashion Week runway wearing a C’EST D tartan miniskirt, P.S. Kaguya, 32, was one of the rare plus-size Asian models at the event. “Size 18, Asian, height 5 feet 5,” reads Kaguya’s modeling resume.

Back in 2015, when Kaguya first considered moving from behind the camera as a photographer to a new career in front of it, she thought she had something to offer. “I didn’t see any plus-size Asians in high fashion, so I decided to put myself out there,” she tells Teen Vogue.

It took six years of struggle in an industry that favors thin and Eurocentric for Kaguya to make it to New York Fashion Week. As a second-generation Korean American, she encountered constant resistance to her weight and stigmas about her identity. She quickly discovered, she says, that the same stereotypes associated with Asian women were reinforced for Asian models: to be petite and obedient. 

Kaguya, on the other hand, is outspoken and determined to provide a positive role model for bigger women. “People never liked me,” she recalls. “I’m not skinny, not doing what a model minority should be doing. ”

Kaguya grew up in a traditional Asian family in Florida, where her parents worked at a local supermarket in an underserved neighborhood. As a child, Kaguya felt belittled all the time. She was the only Asian girl in preschool, was constantly bullied by her peers, and often called fatphobic and racist slurs.

Earlier in her life, Kaguya never thought of becoming a model. “As a photographer, I used to choose models based on a very shallow standard,” she says. “I thought that was what the industry wanted.”

But Kaguya started her modeling career in 2015, serendipitously, because she needed money to finish her last year studying photography at the School of Visual Arts. She posted some modeling photos on Craigslist, and a photographer agreed to pay her $50/hour for figure modeling, posing for art classes. “It was a lot of money for me at that time,” says Kaguya. “That’s how I started modeling.”

Photo by Sangwoo Suh. Jewelry design by Hanna Cho. Makeup by Annie Kim.

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