Model Charlotte Walker has been making her mark in the fashion world.
The plus-sized model, from Newbridge, is earning a reputation as an Irish ‘go to’ girl for curvy style.
She has photographed for some of the country’s most well-known plus size boutiques, including Maybell Lady Plus in Newbridge, and has appeared in the national press and on TV3.
This weekend, she will become the only Irish woman to compete in the Miss Plus Size UK competition, which will be held in Bournemouth on Saturday, September 24.
Charlotte, 27, is mum to six-year-old Ben and is originally from the Oaks in Newbridge.
She is currently attached to LMT model management, but sources quite a lot of modelling jobs herself through photographers or boutiques. She has been strutting her stuff in photoshoots and on the catwalk for the past couple of years.
Her mum Linda was among her early supporters. “She was always saying ‘Charlotte, you’re so pretty, you could be a model’ — as biased as ever!’” said Charlotte. “Mam did modelling when she was pregnant with me, so she always said to me that I should.”
Charlotte approached an agency she found via social media, and was invited to an induction day. “Three to four years ago, plus sized modelling wasn’t a thing in Ireland, it was really hard to even find anything about it, there were only two plus-sized models I knew of in Ireland.”
She entered the UK competition earlier this year on a whim after seeing it on Facebook, and a week later got an email inviting her for an interview.
The Miss Plus Size UK contest will see the models take to the stage in casualwear, swimwear and eveningwear, followed by a question and answer session in front of a live audience at the gala event.
“If I won I would be the only Irish woman to win, and of course who doesn’t want to be Miss Plus Size!” she said. “It shows that no matter where you come from or what you do, if you have a job or no job, or a child or no child, you can do whatever you want as long as you put your mind to it. The sky is the limit for me, if I want to do it I’ll do it and I’ll put everything into it I can.”
Charlotte is being sponsored for the competition by several local businesses, including Maybell Lady Plus, Bergin’s Pharmacy and Shoe Rack.
Yet support for those who aren’t a size eight or ten in the modelling world isn’t universal. “People still have a stigma around plus sized models, they say ‘why are you advocating obesity and unhealthiness?’ and it’s not the case,” she said.
The former rugby player, who captained Newbridge RFC ladies, says she’s “always doing something”. And despite her protests to the contrary, it’s plain to see from her stories that she’s becoming a role model for young women.
“I don’t see myself as a role model, but… one time I was in Swifts on a night out and this girl came up to me, and she said, ‘Charlotte I’ve seen all the modelling stuff you’re doing and do you know what, you’re actually an inspiration’.
“And I went home and thought, ‘I am actually having an impact on someone, and they’ve thought of me in that way of being an inspiration’. That’s mad. I’ve never seen myself as a role model or anything like that, but if I can change one girl’s perception of what it’s like to be plus sized, then my job is done really.”
Charlotte today is body confident — although she’s not relishing the thought of the swimwear round in next weekend’s pageant. Yet that hasn’t always been the case.
“I used to live in black all the time — black cardigan, boots scarves everything.
“Now I choose to wear colours. I’ll go into Penneys and instead of buying a big black baggy cardigan and jumper, I’ll find something that’s a bit more fitted, a bit more tailored, and dress more for my shape instead of dressing for how I feel.
“It’s more my change of attitude and accepting my body and being happy with it. For a long time I wasn’t, obviously after I had Ben, and now I realise, I’m always going to be plus sized, I’m never going to be a size 12, but I can change my attitude towards being plus size. I said, I’m sick of the hiding.
“Not everyone is like that, it takes a long, long time to accept yourself and love yourself and just be happy in yourself. But when it does happen it’s so nice, it’s finally a relief, after years and years of self hate and insecurities, it’s just nice.”
The model criticises how many plus-sized brands market to their audience. Crazily, the modelling world categorises women from size 12 as ‘plus’.
Some brands, she says, sell clothing from size 16 upwards, but use a size 14 woman to show off the clothes.
“That’s not going to work,” said the 5ft 8in brunette, who wears a size 18 herself. “I don’t want to see someone that has like a perfect silhouette of a body.
“I want to see someone who has lumps and bumps and rolls, and shows what the clothes are going to look like naturally on a woman. So I still think they don’t get it, the plus sized term. It’s frustrating, really.”
She herself shops for day-to-day clothing from high-street stores including Penneys and River Island, who do a great online plus section.
It would be tough to earn a full-time living from plus size modelling in Ireland. Work is sporadic, and is often done on a quid-pro-quo basis, such as posing for photographers in return for being able to use the photos to boost the model’s profile on social media.
“I enjoy doing it more as something for me, for my time, rather than as career,” said Charlotte.
And it’s tough work rather than a life of glamour. “It’s hard. It’s not as easy as it looks, it’s not all glamorous,” she said.
“You’re sweating, your feet are sore and the shoots go on for two or three hours — if you’re not posing right, if the lighting’s not right oh my god. But it’s great at the end when you see the finished results.”
Family and friends will be heading to Bournemouth to cheer the Newbridge woman. Charlotte says that winning would undoubtedly be a boost to her modelling work, especially in the UK.
Yet even if she doesn’t come away with the trophy, she wants to give it her all. “I want to be able to say ‘I did that’, and have no regrets,” she said.