Full-figured, fabulous fashionistas rock the runway in 'Big Sexy'

Maybe it's penance for all those "World's Fattest Man/Woman/Teen" specials that seemed to be all over its lineup a few years ago. Whatever the reason, TLC seems to have abandoned the freak-show approach to plus-sized people in favor of portraying them as ... well, people.

The latest example is the three-part series "Big Sexy," airing on consecutive Tuesdays starting Aug. 30.

The show follows five women working in, or aspiring to work in, the fashion industry in New York. Nikki, 33, is a model. Tiffany, 29, wants to be one. Leslie, 33, is a store stylist at a plus-size clothing shop. Heather, 35, is a fashion stylist. Audrey, 23, is a makeup artist and aspiring designer.

They're all big, and they're all beautiful. And they're all fighting for acceptance by the fashion world, the world in general and on occasion, their own selves.

Some of the hardest scenes to watch in the opening episode involve the four unattached women (Nikki is in a relationship) attempting to meet men. They attend a BBW ("big beautiful women") party with a decidedly creepy vibe -- there's a thin line between attraction and fetishism, and the "chubby chasers" this event attracts appear to be on the wrong side of it. And don't get us started on the "thunder thighs contest." Three of the women attempt to get into a club but are hit up for a $30 cover, after watching smaller women get in free. (They leave.) At a speed-dating session, one fellow admits to Tiffany that he only dates big women when he's drunk.

The triumphant moments come at the end of the episode, when the women put on a plus-size fashion show, complete with swimsuits. Nikki, the aspiring model, balks at this idea but changes her mind backstage and takes to the runway in a colorful one-piece -- looking fabulous, we might add.

While the fashion industry has come a long way in recognizing that most of the market for its products does not wear single-digit sizes, it still has a long way to go, something the show hammers home with its scenes of emaciated-looking models at Fashion Week. Kudos to the large, lovely ladies of "Big Sexy" for working to nudge it farther down that road.