A plus-size model dreams big

By Wei Jia
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, 12 05, 2017
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Even off-runway and in casual clothing, a fashion model stands out from the crowd with their shapely long legs and impossibly well-proportioned body. When you see Zhi Hui in real life, you wouldn't guess she models for a living. 

Weighing 85kg with a height of 170cm, Zhi Hui is not every BMI-obsessed girl's ideal figure. Yet, she has more than 60,000 followers on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter and co-founded her own lingerie brand. 

Zhi became a plus-side model about seven years ago when she was in college. After stumbling across some pictures of plus-size models flaunting dresses for online shops on Taobao, China's leading e-commerce platform, Zhi gave it a try and began modeling on a part-time basis. 

"At first I felt not as self-confident as I do now in the company of professional models, who struck better poses," said Zhi. "It wouldn't do if I just imitate them because I'm a plus-size model. So I must find my own ways to model that suit my figure." 

Zhi Hui during a photo shoot. [Photo credit: Zhi Hui]

To find her groove in front of the cameras, Zhi threw herself into as many photo shoots as possible. "When you are a rookie, the photographers could soon lose patience, especially if they were paid according to how many photo shoots they were able to finish in a day," said Zhi. "You could see they were not happy and in some cases, they shot deliberately unflattering pictures to sabotage your chance of being selected by a client. You had to grow, and grow fast."

Zhi became a full-time model after graduation. When Zhi's modeling career was showing promising signs, Zhi's father had a stroke in August 2014. The timing couldn't have been worse as Zhi was booked for busy photo shoots of autumn and winter wear. 

Even though her boss had sympathy for her, being the only model at her company, Zhi couldn't just leave her engagements behind and be with her father. The medical bills in the aftermath of the stroke also meant Zhi had to work even harder to help out her family. 

"I'm thankful to my mom and husband for taking care of my dad when I was buried under work," said Zhi. "I still feel regret that I didn't spend as much time with my father as I would. If I had, it would have helped him deal with the suffering. Now, I try to be with my parents as often as I can." 

All the sacrifices paid off when Zhi co-founded her own lingerie brand in 2015. Fully aware that a model has a sell-by date, it had been Zhi's long-held ambition to open her own store, but all the engagements left her little time and energy to plan her future after modeling. 

Encouraged by the positive feedback to her leap into lingerie modeling, Zhi finally made up her mind and her brand was born. It was a breakthrough on two levels: instead of modeling for dresses, Zhi now flaunts her body in underwear; shifting from full-time modeling, she began to learn the behind-the-scenes aspects of modeling and fashion. 

Helped by a committed team, Zhi is going great guns, posting gripping videos, in one of which she plays all three characters in it, advertizing her brand and answering her fans' questions. Asked about her career goals, Zhi said that she wishes to model even when she was in her 70s and 80s. As for her brand, Zhi hopes people will think of her when talking about plus-size lingerie or plus-size models.  

The challenges on Zhi's road to success are many, not the least of which is that Chinese women tend to be smaller in size compared to their Western counterparts. But that could be an observation of overgeneralization that leaves out bigger Chinese girls. 

The scourge of body shaming and stigma attached to being fat mute larger girls' demands for well-designed underwear, but they are not gone. Flashing a bright grin and cavorting in lingerie without a shade of self-consciousness, Zhi is the perfect example that women of all sizes can be beautiful if they could brush aside the shallow ideals upheld by glossy magazines.

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