NEW YORK CITY — Inga Eiriksdottir, 30, felt devastated at age 22 when she had to transition from being a "straight-size" model to a plus-size model.
Despite dieting and giving up tennis — which added frowned-upon muscle to her frame — the Greenwich Village beauty's healthy weight gain sent her from a size 2 to a size 6, leaving her unmarketable as a conventional model.
But after eight years with a successful plus-size career, now as a size 10, Eiriksdottir's transition has proved to be a godsend — as she and a team of other full-figured models based here in NYC have joined forces to power their way into high-paying and high-profile jobs typically reserved for models who wear a size 2 or smaller.
Eiriksdottir is one of the founders of the year-old group ALDA (which means "wave" in Icelandic), which they created last summer to promote size diversity in modeling.
"I just wanted to be considered a model, and I didn't want to be labeled," said ALDA member Marquita Pring, who has been a "curvy girl" model since she was 15. "I don't see myself any differently from the other girls whether skinny or plus."
The idea for the group came after Ford Models in New York shut down its plus-size division last summer — leaving Pring and Eiriksdottir, along with other plus-size models Ashley Graham, Julie Henderson and Danielle Redman, without representation. The models formed ALDA, which also has plans to promote healthy self-esteem in girls everywhere through workshops, lectures and events, starting with a fundraiser on Thursday night in Chelsea for Rwandan charity Komera. The group then approached IMG Models — which reps straight-size supermodels including Gisele Bündchen and Karlie Kloss — and all signed with the agency in January.
They said they saw IMG's lack of traditional experience with plus-size models — who are generally size 10 and larger — as an advantage. The agency had no specific plus-size division and only one plus-size model at the time they joined.
In recent months, agencies have begun removing the label "plus-size" from their models and have pushed them for castings in runway shows as well as major fashion editorials and advertising campaigns.
"I have literally gone on more castings in five months then in the last 10 years of my career," said Ashley Graham, 26, of Brooklyn, who has been dubbed a plus-size supermodel.
This year Graham, a size 16, graced the cover of Elle Quebec's June issue. She was hand-picked by Carine Roitfeld, the global fashion director of Harper's Bazaar, for a fashion editorial in the magazine and has four more editorials on the way.
Julie Henderson, another ALDA model, has also booked an "editorial in a major fashion magazine," but was not permitted to name it.
"I have gotten a whole new realm of 'everything is possible,'" Henderson said.
A plus-size model from Muse Management recently booked "a major global campaign," that will launch in three months, according to Becca Thorpe, who runs the plus-size division at the agency. She declined to give further details.
"There will come a time when we won't be talking about plus-size verses straight-size, older versus younger," Thorpe said.
Demand for clothing size 14 and up increased 7 percent in the past 12 months, totaling $17.6 billion in sales, according to David Riley from market researchers company the NPD Group.
ALDA's goal is to land their models in a mainstream fashion or beauty campaign with companies like L'Oreal or Pantene, coveted positions that have not yet been held by a plus-size model.
"Why don't we have curvy girls in the hair campaigns — it's about the hair?" said New York-based Redman. She also wants to see plus-size models in Sports Illustrated.
Insiders say they're already starting to chip away at another hurdle for plus-size models: the runways at New York Fashion Week.
One of IMG's first moves after signing the five ALDA members was to submit them along with straight-size models for February's Fashion Week.
The unprecedented move grabbed headlines and caught designers and casting directors off guard, according to models and fashion insiders. Still, none of the plus-size models were cast for the runways, despite big-name designers such as Michael Kors and Calvin Klein having plus-size lines in stores.
But as agencies push their plus-size models for jobs normally reserved for straight-size gals, fashion designers will be pressured to use them, according to Catherine Schuller, a former plus-size model who now runs fashion events that promote diversity.
Runway shows and editorial shoots typically rely on sample clothing, which comes from designers in a size 0 or size 2.
But as the models start reflecting normal sizes, designers will have to start making samples to fit their curvy frames, Schuller said.
"I am just waiting for a designer to have the balls to do that," she said.