Recently, I was working on a part of my PhD thesis wherein I had to describe why my research about body image is important for the broader public. Piece of cake.
But my supervisor wasn’t pleased with the final product: “You need to make it crystal clear that body image is a hot topic in the Netherlands right now. You need concrete examples. Like Nienke van der Peet.”
What makes van der Peet so unique compared to most models? She has a size 42-44 (US 12-14) — the size of the average Dutch woman. She’s a self-proclaimed “curve model” and “healthy body image advocate,” and wants to show that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.
For this next season of Holland’s Next Top Model (HNTM), fans could vote for the model that they wanted to see in the competition. From the top ten, the HNTM jury would select one. My supervisor told me that van der Peet was surpassing all of her competitors by a long shot. “This is a good sign,” she said. “Dutch women want to see a model that looks more like them. They’re making their voice heard.”
van der Peet came out way on top: She received nearly 11,000 votes — over 7,000 more than her nearest competitor. Everyone expected HNTM to choose van der Peet. It would be the first time that a so-called “plus-size” model would appear on the show.
That’s why I was shocked to hear that HNTM has chosen another model from the top ten. Their reason? van der Peet “didn’t fit the HNTM look.”
Like many others in the Netherlands, I feel extremely disappointed.
HNTM had the chance to set a good example, to show that beauty isn’t size-dependent. Instead, they’ve thrown that chance away, sending the message that average-size women are less desirable. They could’ve taken a step forward in increasing model diversity. Instead, they’ve taken a step back, and have decided to play it safe.
I also feel very angry. van der Peet was a clear-cut fan favorite — the Dutch fans proved that they wanted to see a model break the mold. For HNTM to choose another model seems inexcusable.
I’m still inspired by the overwhelming support van der Peet has received, but it’s clear that some things will be hard to change — like the opinions of those in charge of the modeling industry.
Even though the belief that “thinness sells” has been scientifically debunked, people still stubbornly hold onto it. Further, fatphobia remains rampant: Model Ashley Graham was told numerous times that she’d never make it big — because of her curves. And isn’t it very telling that van der Peet and Graham — women with average–sized bodies — are labelled “plus-size” by the modeling industry?
America’s Next Top Model has regularly included larger models since 2008. HNTM: Isn’t it time for you to catch up?
Jessica Alleva is a PhD student at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Her research focuses on interventions for improving body image. She is also passionate about research on the impact of media and sexual objectification on body image.