05/09/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT
She has yet to vogue in the pages of Vogue
, but model Emme has no problem striking a pose to re-create for PEOPLE The Large Odalisque
, Ingres's masterpiece of 1814. After all, long before waifs ruled the runways, artists were inspired by lush lovelies such as Emme herself, who at 5'11" and 180 lbs. is four inches taller and 75 pounds heavier than Kate Moss
. Models like Moss, she says, "represent the ideal. I represent the reality."
A size 14, Emme better reflects the majority of American women (60 percent wear size 12 or larger) than do today's skeletal sirens. Flaunting her 40-32-42 form for such clients as Givenchy and No nonsense panty hose, the Ford mannequin is one of the top stars of the burgeoning large-sized modeling industry. Says Wendy Harbart of Gitano, for whom Emme has modeled jeans and swimwear: "She sets a standard that's inspirational yet attainable."
Still, Emme, who was born Melissa Miller in Manhattan 30 years ago, admits she has had to "work hard on acceptance of my own body image." Both her late mother and stepfather were highly weight conscious; Emme and her two younger siblings were weighed weekly. "It wasn't abusive," recalls Emme, "but you felt it and knew it. You had to keep your weight down." Athletics were an antidote to this obsession (Emme won a four-year rowing scholarship to Syracuse University) as was psychotherapy, which she first sought while in college. "I want to love my body," says Emme, who segued into modeling at age 27 after stints as an NBC page and a TV reporter in Flagstaff, Ariz., "and that takes a constant process that starts way down deep inside." There's no such struggle on the part of her husband of four years, 31-year-old ad exec Phillip Aronson. "I love every single inch of my wife," he says proudly.
Looking forward, she says, "to the day when we don't put people down because of their size," Emme sometimes lectures at high schools near her Leonia, N.J., home. Her message: "Don't kill yourself trying to change your body. Change the way you think about your body."