Staying Hungry: "I had to starve myself to learn the big fat lesson that I can be a happy person at any size." As a teenager, Crystal developed anorexia—eating fewer than 1,000 calories a day, doing eight-hour workouts—in pursuit of her modeling dreams, and finally, she says, "my body just said no. I was killing myself."
A Happy Medium: "Plus doesn't mean fat. It is a freeing word—if I gained or lost 10 pounds, I would still work. A regular model has to be size 2 or 4; the plus range is 12 to 24."
Fashion Diversity: "There are no shopping 'can'ts' for me. I wear shorts, no problem. I love belts that show off my waist." Designer clothes aren't as minuscule as they used to be, and runways are more hospitable to average bodies, says Crystal, who has worked with the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier and Dolce & Gabbana.
In the wake of the European backlash against ultrathin mannequins, there may yet be minimum-weight guidelines for models in the United States, although so far the Council of Fashion Designers of America has issued only general statements about promoting "healthy-looking" images.
Get Up, Stand Up: "Child, stop complaining," Pat's mother would tell her. "God made you tall so that men would look up to you." Although Pat still has insecurities about her height—"When I was young, the other kids treated me like a freak''—her husband (over six feet tall himself) encourages her to walk tall: "Put on your heels!" he says.
High Style: Pat's heels and skinny jeans emphasize her endless legs—nice to look at, difficult to shop for. "It can be hard to find pants that are long enough," she says. "Sometimes I wear men's." She avoids miniskirts ("I don't need extra drama") and likes her hair long ("It softens my profile. With short hair, I look too androgynous").
The Big Idea: A former runway model and junior track-and-field Olympian, Pat conducts health and beauty workshops in elementary schools. Mental strength, she argues, is crucial to self-acceptance: "I tell the girls to send themselves positive messages—I'm beautiful; I stand tall. Mirrors are an important way to talk to yourself."
The Sporting Life: Athletics changed Tracy's physical image from shrimp to powerhouse and gave her early confidence: "I played soccer, tennis, and golf, and I did gymnastics. I still exercise every day. It's important to have an interest or passion to rely on for your sense of self-worth, so you're not just obsessing about looking good."
Tracy doesn't dwell on her small stature. "Once people engage with you, they forget about it almost immediately." On the plus side, she adds, a short woman doesn't seem intimidating, which can be useful.
Shopping Shortcuts: "I don't struggle to find clothes," Tracy says. She's figured out which brands work for her body and which don't. Of course, she has to get pants and skirts hemmed (that's where the tailor comes in). She prefers fluid styles, nothing boxy or stiff, and a close, precise fit: "You don't want too much fabric."
Shoes Stay Grounded: "I have to be comfortable; otherwise I'll feel horrible all day. I've worn sneakers my whole life—I must have 35 pairs. I also love ballerina flats. I wear heels sometimes, but for reasons of style, not to look taller."
Runway Pioneer: Stella's size didn't slow her down: In the '90s she modeled for Jean Paul Gaultier and Thierry Mugler, and appeared in Madonna's Sex book and video. "I used to walk around in a tight dress, looking gigantic, alongside skinny supermodels like Kate Moss, Claudia Schiffer and Naomi Campbell. I felt totally confident because of my inner strength."
Weighty Issues: Despite a recent 40-pound loss—"No big deal; I just wanted to be lighter and healthier"—Stella isn't interested in sylph-hood: "I'm not about to be a size 8. I'm still a big girl. I like to say that my hourglass figure is more like an hour and a half!"
She Knows Drama: Stella isn't the tailored-suit type; she's inspired by Old Hollywood glamour (red lips, plunging neckline) and advises larger women to avoid oversize clothing: "It's so wrong to cover yourself up." Nor is she shy about jewelry. "A teeny band on my finger would disappear; my look demands something chunky."
Family Values: "I'm super top-heavy, with a slim bottom, and clothing was a problem when I was growing up: Things didn't fit, or they looked too provocative. I was teased a lot." Her parents saved the day, making her feel "beautiful and comfortable"; her mother remade entire dresses so that Shoshanna could wear a bra underneath, and suggested that her daughter wear two bras during athletic activity so she wouldn't jiggle.
Technical Support: Shoshanna has a mission—helping busty women look great in things they thought would never work on them, like strappy dresses and swimsuits (hers have built-in boning). But her designs aren't just for the big-breasted. "I want to embrace all body types," she says. "Our swimsuit tops go from A to DDD."
Discreet Charm: "I feel uncomfortable when someone stares at my chest," Shoshanna says, so instead of low-cut tops, she does strapless—a way to show her bust that doesn't involve a lot of bare skin. She thinks that women with sexy bodies gravitate toward "wholesome fabrics" (like the seersucker dress here) to reduce the va-va-voom factor.
Blonde Venus: Amy still remembers the names she was called as a kid: Daddy Long Legs, Amazon Amy, Jolly Green Giant. But her mother urged her to be proud of her statuesque proportions, and that helped; so did voluptuous actress heroes like Sophia Loren, Anita Ekberg, and Mae West. "I'm the quintessential big blonde—the only time I've felt like a shrimp was next to [seven-foot-tall basketball superstar] Patrick Ewing."
Club Queen: A glamorous presence on the nightlife circuit ("I have 20-hour days—I don't need to go to the gym"), Amy has been clubbing since she was 15: Her extra-long legs came in handy when she was a New Jersey teenager sneaking out her bedroom window to make the Manhattan scene.
Learning Curves: "It's important to embrace who you are," Amy says, "and I'm never going to be a skinny girl. It's sad: I love fashion, but it's not necessarily inclusive." She works her cleavage, adores Donna Karan ("She dresses women of all sizes"), and eschews anything bare ("I have to wear a bra") or super short ("I hate my chub knees").