People: Model Ashley Max-Dixon
Last year, in front of some of the biggest names in fashion, Ashley Max-Dixon strutted down the runway at the United Nations in New York wearing original pieces from "Project Runway" superstar Christian Siriano. Just a few years prior, medical professionals weren't sure she'd ever walk again.
"At 440 pounds, everything hurts. My doctors told me if I kept going the way I was going, I'd be bed bound in five years," Max-Dixon said. "I just wanted to get my life back."
The mother of four had toyed with the idea of modeling in her early 20s, participating in the Torrid model search and attending meetings at plus-size retailer Lane Bryant. But after her son was diagnosed with autism in 2008, Max-Dixon fell into a deep depression and turned to food for solace.
"You go through stages when you find out an official diagnosis. You're sad, and then angry, and then you're trying to find answers," Max-Dixon said. "Food is there for you when you're happy or sad. It's consistently a good feeling."
The weight gain prompted Max-Dixon to leave modeling and start working behind the camera. As a photographer with Heyman Talent Agency, Max-Dixon used her previous modeling experience to coach her subjects. By 2010, doctors told her she could end up bedridden, and Max-Dixon decided to move forward with gastric bypass surgery.
"Most people say, 'When I get the surgery I'm going to lose this much weight and look a certain way,' and so on," she said. "But I just wanted to live. That was a turning point for me. I didn't know what was going to happen on the operating table, so I let go of all my hopes and dreams and just focused on wanting to live through it."
Max-Dixon survived and pressed forward with a new outlook on life. She hadn't really contemplated her next move when she got a call from Lane Bryant's home office asking her to fill in for a fit model who had quit unexpectedly.
"I didn't even know what a fit model was at first," Max-Dixon said. "Sizes are standardized, so you have to be the exact same measurements to match the [mannequin] form they base their sizing around. I was shocked that I had the exact numbers."
Max-Dixon agreed to work with Lane Bryant for a two-week trial period, but that quickly turned into two-and-a-half years, culminating in the Siriano show. But for all the exciting things Max-Dixon gets to participate in, she is most excited about the changing landscape of the fashion industry and the body-positivity movement that has been gaining traction in recent years.
Sports Illustrated featured plus-size model Ashley Graham in the swimsuit edition, Marc Jacobs teamed up with Gossip's Beth Ditto for a line and plus-size designer Ashley Nell Tipton won season 14 of "Project Runway." In addition to plus-size industry leaders like Lane Bryant and Torrid, brands like Old Navy, Forever21 and ModCloth have embraced larger sizes, making fashion accessible to everyone.
"Back in high school, all I could wear were Nike T-shirts. I was so jealous of my friends who could just walk into a store and buy something and look great," Max-Dixon said. "This year I was so excited to see all the plus-size girls slaying head-to-toe at prom, which shows me there are people who are really changing the face of plus size and paving the way for these girls. I hope that I can help promote more size acceptance."