UK: Zimbabwean Size 18 model notes ‘backward change’ in industry promoting ‘smaller is better’

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By The Mirror UK

LONDON: A size 18 model says progression made with the body positivity movement is being reversed – with bigger plus-size models being left behind in the last few years in favour of smaller shapes.

Netsai Tinaresse Dandajena, who goes by Tinar, appreciates brands including different body types in recent times, but she and others in the industry are now noticing a ‘disheartening backward change’ with a preference for smaller plus-size models, such as a size 12, promoting the overall message in fashion that ‘smaller is better’.

This London Fashion Week (February 17 to February 24), Tinar, who has been in campaigns for Glamour magazine, Missguided and In The Style, says it is crucial for representation on the catwalk to inspire the younger generation.

Tinar Dandajena

While the beaming model is now a body positivity champion, the 35-year-old learnt to build back her confidence after it was shattered during her teens and early twenties – when she was told she was ‘too big and too ugly’ by her own family.

Knowing the damaging impact this can have on someone’s self-worth, she now hopes to inspire young women and girls to believe that ‘big is beautiful’ and has called on the industry to catch up.

Tinar, originally from Zimbabwe, moved to the UK at 13 – at a time when she was going through puberty.

She was always bigger than her peers, both in height and weight, developing noticeably bigger hips and breasts.

At school, while she was never bullied for her size, she would wear her sweater around her hips to hide her bottom.

And in one Year 11 class where the students had to be weighed, her teacher told her she needed to lose weight after stepping on the scales.

“I remember that stood out. I lost a lot of weight after that,” Tinar recalls.

“It was the first time someone told me I was too big and then the whole class laughed.”

The comments about how she looked were more common at home, with male relatives making inappropriate comments at family functions, resulting in her mother having to jump to her defence reminding them that she was just a child.

It was her auntie, who she lived with for a period whilst her mum was away, who made a lasting negative impact, shattering her confidence.

“During that time [living with her] she would go on about how big and ugly I was,” Tinar admits.

“I say it’s actually a victory for me because those things didn’t break me. I was so lucky to be able to pick myself up – after you’ve lost all that confidence and then finding myself actually changing my life.

“You have to go through it to stand up for the next girl so she doesn’t have to go through it.”

UK-based Zimbabwean model Tinar Dandajena

She left her hometown of Coventry to study drama at university, hoping to fulfil her dreams in London.

But once she graduate, her auntie continued to cloud her judgement with doubt.

“I went from a kid wanting to take on the world to just losing myself completely,” she says.

“I was so excited for the world. But she looked at me and said stuff like ‘for a black girl you wasted your years studying drama for a white man’s television.’

“I’d moved to London, but I had no dreams anymore.

“I thought I was going to work at Topshop forever. I was shattered at this point, no self-confidence, and I didn’t realise at the time but when you look back, I was broken.”

Her parents suggested she moved back home and shortly afterwards, her mum and sister signed her up for Ms Curvaceous UK modelling competition – where she learnt everything she now knows about modelling.

At the casting Tinar was told that she was “more than a model” – which she says rings true as she has since found herself taking part in body diversity workshops and talks.

After coming third in the competition in 2014, she has worked with campaigns for Glamour magazine, Missguided, Pepper Girls Club, and Pretty Little Thing, and is now with an agency looking to return to acting too.

“Given these opportunities made me feel seen,” Tinar says.

“I went from thinking I was so ugly and not worthy to being chosen to be a beauty standard for the UK. It helped me heal.

“I have women message me in my DMs and comments [on Instagram] saying ‘I feel beautiful because I see you and you look like me.’ That changed my mindset.

“Now I don’t rely on what people have to say and people’s words don’t affect me anymore. I see the value in me, it’s self-love.”

Laughing, she adds: “If it’s a compliment then thank you but I don’t let it get to my head, I accept it and if someone says something that isn’t nice, that’s their opinion.

“What someone says about you is not who you are, what you think about yourself is who you are.”

But Tinar, among other plus-size models, has been disheartened in recent years with work opportunities dwindling as progression in the body positivity movement appears to have slowed down.

She even knows of size 12 models being cast for photoshoots but then fitted in size 16 clothing – with clips holding together the fabric at the back so brands can say that the model is in a size 16 on their websites.

“It’s bitter-sweet,” she continues.

“So many brands were buying into the body positivity movement and they were inspired to change the industry, but once again, from 2021 to 2022 it’s changed.

“From a model perspective, we’ve gone from being involved in so many things to hardly getting so many opportunities. We’re all fighting for that one role.