The Problem With Plus Size
It’s no secret that fat women are underrepresented in fashion. Go to any mall and peruse the sizing options and mannequins of a typical women’s clothing store, glance at the lineup of celebrity and fashion magazines at the checkout at a supermarket, and watch virtually any fashion show.
What do you see in common?
The glaring observation I’m sure you’ll come to is that most women in these visual representations of fashion are universally thin (and often white). This is an “ideal” that the majority of women globally cannot and should not have to attain to be considered beautiful or even to buy a pair of jeans in their size.
A beacon of hope has introduced in the form of a burgeoning plus-size fashion industry that accommodates people who aren’t a size 12 or under. As a plus size femme with a particular sense of style, I appreciate incredibly that I have at least a few options to buy stylish, age-appropriate clothing instead of boxy T-shirts and chunky sweaters from a store geared towards elderly women.
My wardrobe is filled with colourful bikinis, cute crop tops, and pants that I don’t need a shoehorn to squeeze my fat ass into; this simply would not have been possible without the growing body positivity movement and of course the willingness of increasingly specialized stores to capitalize on a marginalized market.
However, to assume the plus size fashion industry is representative of plus size women is a mistake. To look at plus-size models for example, their body types simply do not look like the clear majority of us fat gals. A quick internet search for plus size models brings top results of women like Ashley Graham, Laura Wells, and Robin Lawley.
All are white, though it should be noted that women of colour within the plus industry are making huge strides particularly through social media (check out the wonderful Instagram accounts of Olivia Campbell or Bishamber Das).
What do the former three women have in common besides their popularity? They all have relatively flat tummies, breasts that aren’t beyond a DD, “classically beautiful” faces, and tight arms. In other words, they do not represent the millions of fat women whose muffin tops, flabby underarms, and visible cellulite patches are still not represented in the mainstream plus-size industry.
Their fat is distributed in what is viewed as a desirable, feminine, and curvy body type, a type which is virtually impossible to attain for many women. They are also all towards the smaller sizes of plus-size, as it still seems quite unlikely for someone like size-22 model Tess Holliday to be gracing the covers of Sport Illustrated in the immediate future.
This is not at all to shade or degrade industry leaders like Ashley Graham (I live for her Instragram and have a massive crush on her to be entirely honest), but instead to call out of the bullshit of the plus industry for assuming that a few select women could or should represent the diverse experiences and bodies of fat women.
I could spend all day in the Forever21+ section but their models’ curves look nothing like mine. I love the work Ashley Graham is doing to design plus-sized clothing and lingerie lines but I also compare my body ruthlessly to hers when having the occasional not-so body positive moment. I look hot as hell on the beach but women who look just as hot won’t be gracing magazine covers anytime soon.
The plus-size fashion industry has undeniably made major strides for fat women, but these strides have often been at the expense of women who don’t fit a certain standard of beauty. Until all of us can feel confident, sexy, and positive in our own bodies, none of us can truly feel free and accepted.