As the pounds slowly piled on, Maxey Greene’s list of clients dwindled. At a size 14, the Jewish plus-size model was used to seeing her weight fluctuate, but not her source of income.

“My entire financial status was being ruined because I was gaining weight,” Greene said. “That was messed up.”

Losing modeling gigs took a toll on the now 28-year-old’s self esteem. But after a year of styling, shooting, and casting models for Dia&Co — a monthly plus-size clothing subscription box — gaining some weight, entering a new relationship, and gaining some more weight, Greene had a revelation.

“There wasn’t a model that I could find that looked like [Dia&Co’s] customer, knew how to model, and work on a camera.” Greene said. “I took a step back and was like, I could be that girl. Why aren’t I doing this?”

So, she did it. With her agent’s support, Greene — standing three inches shorter and measuring four sizes bigger than industry average — defied fashion norms and booked reputable gigs at brands like Target and Eloquii. And over the summer, she made plus-size fashion history as the first size-18 model to appear in an American Eagle campaign.

Since meeting Greene at fat camp in the Poconos a decade ago, I’ve followed her trailblazing career closely and watched her cultivate an Instagram community of 31k women supporting women. I caught up with her to talk about the differences between straight-size and plus-size fashion week, what her success means for plus-size consumers, and, of course, bagels.

American Eagle carries up to a size 20. As a size 18, why was your shoot so meaningful to the plus-size community? 

Until now, they’ve very much catered to a younger, smaller demographic. So it was a big deal because it was the first time American Eagle ever used someone visibly larger. They often use a plus-size model — I use that term very lightly — her name is Iskra Lawrence and she’s a size 10-12. I’m not discrediting her at all, she’s wonderful, but she doesn’t represent the largest part of the plus-size community. So it was a huge step for them to not only use a plus-size model, but to use a visibly plus-size model. It was incredible for consumers that they see someone my size in their clothes, because a lot of people didn’t even know they could shop at American Eagle.

As a plus-size model, you’re a minority in the fashion industry. And as a Jewish plus-size model, you’re a double minority. What’s that been like? 

It’s amazing meeting other Jews in this industry. I’m not a very religious person, but there’s something amazing you feel when you meet another Jew. It’s like an instant tribe feeling that’s undeniable.

When Danielle Bernstein of We Wore What went on Birthright and posted all those beautiful images of Israel, I thought it was amazing that her millions of followers were being introduced to our land.

But I guess I don’t talk about the fact that I’m Jewish, like ever. If the topic ever comes up in my career I’ll scream at the top of my lungs that I’m so proud to be Jewish, but it rarely comes up. When I worked for Mimu Maxi, a Jewish owned company, there was a reminder of like, yeah, I’m Jewish, and oh yeah, there aren’t that many of us in this industry. Or the world for that matter. So, it was really cool, and it took me back for a second. Because I should be so proud that I come from this background, even if I’m not practicing.

Has the fashion industry changed since you first started modeling a decade ago? 

Absolutely, and it’s been a few years now. Women like Ashley Graham changed the entire game which is unbelievable. There are so many little random things happening that we’re seeing huge changes in the industry. Like, there was a size-26 model who did a campaign with Jeffrey Campbell. I feel so lucky to be in my career at this point because it’s about to explode. You can just feel it, ya know?

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Throwing it back to an unbelievable moment in my life. A lot of you don’t know this about me and I’m really excited to share it with you all. For almost a decade I worked at a “fat camp”. They were the absolute best summers of my life. A lot of you might be thinking how incredibly “non body positive” that is, but for me it was everything I needed and more. . As a 17 year old it allowed me to gain the confidence I had to build my career. And year after year I went back in order to motivate other girls around me to realize the confidence inside themselves. . My goal from day one was to bring positive influences to that camp. The majority of these girls looked up women half or even a third their size. I wanted so badly to show them there were other body types (more similar to their own) that were healthy and obtainable. . I finally had enough courage to make it happen. I boldly Facebook messaged about 10 plus size models. At the time most of them were unknown to most, but to me I had just messaged 10 Beyoncé’s. Some time went by and finally a response! It was @theashleygraham . She wanted to know more. Ashley and I chatted for a bit and we put together a plan. She invited a group of incredible women to come to the camp to participate in the first “Maxey’s Model Bootcamp”. It was 3 days of body positivity to the max. Hundreds of girls ages 7-21 got to learn from a group of the most successful plus size models on how to love themselves. The girls had an open conversation about their relationships with their bodies (for most- their first time), they learned how to walk the runway, and I swear ever girl grew 2 inches. Their confidence skyrocketed. . This post is a thank you to those women involved. The working models who took time out of their busy schedules to change the lives of the hundreds of girls who needed to meet you. This photo only represents a small group of the models and photographers who came throughout the years, but to all of you who made it happen- years later you still make me cry the ugliest happy tears. I hope you realize how many lives you changed ❤️

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This is definitely an unpopular opinion but I really think the Kardashians play a big role in the way we do beauty in 2018. Like, I remember being in high school and asking if my butt looked big in a dress, as if it was a bad thing. Now all we want is big assess and big boobs. Slowly more people started coming out as thicker and it became more popular, and then Ashley Graham came along who really did cater to a Kardashian look. She has a similar Fashion Nova-esque about her. She definitely made it cooler to be even bigger, which is funny. Every plus-size model looks up to her so much because she paved the way for all of us. I’ve looked up to her for years.

What’s Fashion Week like for plus-size models? 

I’ve been to a few straight size mainstream high fashion shows, but I absolutely love going to plus-size only shows, which are very few. The difference between straight-size and plus-size industry is that everyone [in the plus-size industry] is so chill and fun and good vibes. In the plus-size industry, we just wanna have fun and eat and enjoy life, ya know? And it’s exciting to be in this industry because we’ve been discredited for so long that everyone is so excited all the time. And the fact that we have a runway in fashion week where every model walking is plus-size… it’s unreal.

Last year, at the Torrid fashion show, I saw Miss Jay from America’s Next Top Model parade in, and I was like, freaking out. It’s cool to be taken seriously. It’s nice that people of that status want to see plus-size fashion.

What are your top three posing pointers? 

Always elongate and make sure you extend your limbs. Show off your curves, and make sure there’s space between your body and arms so you can see your shape. Lastly, smize!

What’s your favorite bagel? 

It has to be from Frankel’s in Brooklyn, and I usually get an everything bagel with whitefish, tomato, and onion.

Arielle Kaplan

Arielle Kaplan is an Editorial Fellow at Alma.

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