Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How the term "plus size" effects our cultural ideas of body size

I'm not sure how much this post will mesh with the rest of the fat-o-sphere and, who knows, I may look back on this post in a couple of years and ask, "what was I thinking?", but here goes anyway. It started with all of the buzz around the Vogue Italia issue which featured three "plus size" models on the cover. While I was with everyone in applauding their efforts in portraying a more average body type, the fact that anyone was calling these women "plus" size was puzzling to me. I have always known that "plus" size started at a 12 or, in some cases, a size 10US, but the intellectual knowledge doesn't stop it from being shocking when you actually see it.

When I ranted about this a bit on facebook a friend replied that she had been browsing online clothing stores with larger (ie, average sized) models. She had been doing it long enough that when she went to a site with normal (ie, very thin) models she was shocked at just how thin they were. Normalization is important here because it's the basis for the anti photoshopping and the body image campaigns in regards to model thinness. When we're constantly exposed to one body as a certain idea it becomes so normal that anything outside of it seems odd. In this case the thinness of the models became very clear when my friend exposed herself to average sized models. But we don't see the thinness that way when it's the only thing we see in general.

So, in the same way, if we're touting average sized models as "plus" sized then we're still essentially saying that an average body is a very thin one because plus implies larger than average. So if average sized people are "plus sized" then what are actual "plus" sized people? It's still just another way of skewing perception of body types.

More so, these publicity stunts are just that- stunts. Gimmicks. Freak shows. A way to boost sales by saying "look! We can totally be aware and sensitive to needs of women!". Unfortunately the magazines go right back to displaying rail thin models cover to back- thus ensuring that we don't forget where the normalization is really supposed to stay.

I hope, I really really hope, that more realistic sized models become the norm. I have zero problem with featuring women who are a size 8 or 10 or 14 and I think that if these became the normal sizes for models that it would do a hell of a lot of good in our culture. But can we please just stop calling them "plus size"? If a size 12 model is a "plus" sized person then what the hell am I? What the hell do you call actual fat models like Beth Ditto (a size 28) or Velvet d'Amor (who is 5'8" and about 275lbs)? This doesn't seem like real progress. What it seems like is a glittery circus act designed to distract and placate us.


  1. Plus sized fashion has nothing to do with the street women wearing them, but it refers to the models and sizes within the fashion industry. They aren't saying, "Oh since you are size 12 or more then you are a plus sized woman." It's not like that. Clothes worn by thinner models always sell more. I know you might think, "No I am more inclined to buy a piece of clothing worn by a model that looks more like me." But in practice, that doesn't work. This has been tried and tested time and times again. Thinner models and models who are either textbook attractive or interesting looks sell more product.

    It's the same for height standards as well. I am a petite model even though I am at an average height, but in the fashion world, I am quite shorter than the average model and women modeling at my height aren't selling as much as a woman who is 5'7 - 5'10.

  2. loveashley, I understand that are plus sized by modeling standards. What I'm saying is that I believe that it's detrimental to real world women. We can talk about how models are or need to be half a dozen sizes smaller than their real world counterparts.. but that's already led to a diet obsessed culture where eating disorders are so common they're almost trendy! It's time for the rules to change.

  3. *that they are. sorry for the typo.. long day

  4. I call shenanigans. I don't believe that clothes worn by thinner models sell more at all. I believe we've been sold that over and over and over that we've convinced ourselves that we believe it. It's the cultural norm, so most people just buy it without ever questioning it.

    These days, since I opted out of the mainstream attitudes towards fashion and clothing, and look to my fellow fatties for inspiration, I am less likely to buy something I see in a catalogue (and never a magazine spread), but very likely to buy something I see my ACTUAL peers wearing.

    The whole "plus-sized model" thing is another lie we're being sold. It's magazines and fashion saying "Look, we're progressive, we're edgy!" by featuring someone one or two sizes larger than they normally do (but still extremely tall and traditionally proportioned). When they are not that at all. It's designed to garner them attention and money, not make we the consumers happy at all.

    Screw that, I want to see Beth Ditto or Velvet d'Amour or Kelli Jean Drinkwater or Bea Sweet modelling clothes for me to buy!