Earlier this week while browsing through some of my favorite Instagrams and waiting for my Forever 21 Plus package to arrive, I had an idea; Why not try to become a plus size model? I’m not entirely unfortunate looking and hey, I can rock the larger sizes when I put my mind to it. With gorgeous women like Ashley Graham out there preaching body positivity and acceptance I thought, now’s your chance, Jordan. The train is heading in the right direction. Hop on now! Sadly, after researching some modeling agencies that have plus size, oh excuse me…’curve’ models, I discovered that I’m actually “too fat” or maybe just “not the right type of fat” to be a plus size model. Which just seems ridiculous to me. How can someone who wears plus size clothing, every single day of her life, be “too fat” to wear that clothing and have her picture taken? The answer is the astounding lack of representation in the plus size fashion industry.
But first, let’s talk about the term ‘plus size’. What does it even mean? Well, Wikipedia defines it as, “a euphemistic term given to clothing proportioned specifically for people whose bodies are larger than the average person’s.” The fashion industry defines it as “a term for models who are size 8 and up”. Google defines it as “(of clothing or people) of a size larger than the normal range.” And last but not least, the most worrisome definition of them all comes from popular website Urban Dictionary. There, the top definition for ‘plus size’ is:
“A nicer way to refer to someone who is overweight, typically a female model. It is a term that tries to make being overweight seem like a GOOD thing when in fact it is not. The modeling industry has been criticized for starving its models so now some people feel the need to turn things around and make muffin tops the new trend. We come in all shapes and sizes but that doesn’t mean we need to embrace being unhealthy whether that means glorifying big thigh gaps and collar bones or saying a “real woman” needs to have something you can “grab onto” or that her belly needs to be able to serve as a natural pillow that you can rest your head on.”
I’m not even sure where to begin here. Using the words ‘average’ and ‘normal’ in definitions of plus size alludes to the fact that women who wear those sizes are wrong, different, other. And while it’s great that lately there has been this outcry of women telling you to ‘love the body you have’ and that ‘beauty has no size’, one quick look at the fashion industry tells you that it most certainly does.
The first modeling management company I looked into when I was doing my research proudly boasts that it is their “mission to let models be healthy and happy, while providing them with an opportunity to work as a model at their natural body shape and size.” You know the saying, ‘sounds too good to be true’? Upon further research into their company, I came across their blog which gives you helpful tips on ‘How to become a model!’ Right after saying that they “really try hard to create opportunities for models that are not the ideal measurements because we feel beauty comes in many shapes and sizes and should be represented.” They go on to state that they “accept model submissions for models who are a minimum of 5’7”-6’1”,” and that they “look for models who are sizes 8-18. To be more specific [they] look for a hip measurement between 39″- 47″.” So by their standards, I’m 1 inch too short and my hips are 3 inches too wide, even though I comfortably wear size 18. Interesting. For an agency that prides themselves on stuff like “beauty at any size” what they really mean is “beauty at any size as long as you’re THIS size”.
The average American woman wears a size 14. The average plus size model wears size 8-12. Where are the women who wear size 18? 20? What about 26? How are ‘plus size’ women supposed to feel when we see a size 8-12 woman advertising clothing for size 22 bodies? Are we supposed to be inspired? Are we supposed to assume that we’re going to look like that if we wear those clothes? Like, ‘oh, if I just buy these skinny jeans and that top then I’ll have that killer hourglass figure!’ Please. It’s no different than ‘straight size’ clothing advertising where they have size 0 models wearing clothes meant for ‘normal size’ women, which is apparently size…what? 6? Bullshit. Do I need to say again that the average American woman wears size 14?? One of the major issues the fashion industry has (and I fear will continue to have) is a failure to recognize that different body types exist! Not every plus size woman is going to have that ‘perfect’ hourglass shape, but that’s what the industry sees as being plus size. It’s what the industry deems an ‘acceptable’ type of fat. Meaning that women like myself, who lack that hourglass figure, are ‘unacceptably’ fat. Along with the despairingly obvious lack of different body types, there’s an embarrassing lack of different races. I don’t think I know of a single Asian plus size model. I can only think of about 4 black plus size models. But I know of about 30 different white plus size models with their long, straight hair, blue eyes, and perfect hourglass bod. Where are my beautiful women of color? Disabled women? Where are the women with flaws? Cellulite? Muffin tops? You know…women people can actually relate to.
It’s bad enough that although more plus size clothing stores are beginning to pop up here and there, for the most part a size 16 woman can walk into a store and not find a single thing in her size. Occasionally stores will have a ‘plus size section’ which is usually a tiny corner in the back of an enormous store that offers maybe 10 different ill-fitting options, but it’s usually at a higher price than the same thing in straight sizes. Fat tax? It’s totally a Thing.
The problem with the plus size fashion industry is that it still ostracizes the women for whom it’s supposedly intended. But here’s the thing. Us Unacceptably Fat™ women, flawed women, short women, are the ones who keep all of the shot callers in the fashion industry in business. We see the ads. We buy the clothing. Simple as that.