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Culture

Beyond Size 12

The average European woman is 5'6" tall (167 cm) and weighs 150 pounds (68 kg), even though she's surrounded by media images of models who might regard a carrot as an opulent meal. But ideas of beauty are changing.

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"Normal" models

The curtain goes up, the spotlight is on, and a beautiful woman strides along the catwalk, radiating pure sexiness. It doesn't matter that Iris Schain is wearing a size 14. Twiggy she isn't.

Schain works for "Bella Donna" in Cologne, a modeling agency for full-figured women. The 42-year-old stands by her pounds and is happy that "normal" women like her are finally receiving attention on catwalks and on television.

"When I wander through the stores, I keep noticing that certain sizes are left: 6, 8 and 10," she said. "That really says it all."

Die Chefinnen von Bella Donna, Agentur für dicke Models

Julia Wolters (left) und Renate Schmidt, head of "Bella Donna."

Women "in full form" are exactly the right size at "Bella Donna." The Cologne agency only works with full-figured models. All ten women working here wear size 12 or up. Renate Schmidt, who founded the agency, said there is a gap in the market, and women with realistic measurements -- that is to say with curves -- are conquering more and more public space. Schmidt keeps her eyes open for potential full-size models.

"Looking around on the streets of Cologne, I can't help thinking that there are really enough women with nice measurements, great proportions and personal magnetism, who are beautiful and would be quite right for the modeling profession," she said.

XL direct

In the meantime, finding clients who are interested in the full-figured beauties is not a problem anymore, Schmidt said. The XL models from "Bella Donna" get requests for photo shoots and fashion shows. Companies do not only want to advertise with skinny beauties anymore, when in reality no average woman can identify with them, Schmidt said.

Jens Hofmann, manager of a fashion store in Cologne, agrees that the majority of women don't fit today's idealized type, or petit sizes. "In my opinion, this world view has to be put in the right place." Statistics show that German women swing back and forth between sizes 10 and 16.

Casting für dicke Models

Casting for full-figured models.

Full-figured, not fat

Modern women are becoming more self-assured and have come to accept the way they look, said Hofmann, who added that he has observed new self-confidence. "Looking at young women today, many of whom are really not that skinny at all, you notice that they have a different body consciousness than just a few years ago," he said. "Nowadays you easily walk the streets in a tight-fitting outfit."

According to Renate Schmidt, corpulent women feel increasingly less like torturing themselves with strict diets and sports to achieve the super slim ideal. She's pleased they're willing to accept their love handles, but said beauty is as varied as women are. "We don't wish for the common concept of beauty to concentrate exclusively on women with a little more," she said. "But we would like there to be a second, equally approved of image next to the slender one."

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