Is the term “plus size” degrading? Is it segregating women? Is “plus size” a dirty word?
We have asked these questions before but this is a conversation that seems to not go away. The term has been around since 1922, when Lane Bryant started using the term in advertisements for “Misses Plus Sizes“. Prior to that, the retailer referred to their customers as “stout“. Across the pond in the UK, Evans was founded in 1930, using the term “Outsize” instead of “plus size“. [source]
The original intent for the term “plus size” was for it to be used as a descriptor term for clothing but decades later, it has also become a term that is describing women and their bodies. And some of those women are not too happy with being referred to as plus size.
While she acknowledges that the plus size industry was instrumental in her rise to fame, she states:
“It shouldn’t be about labels. I don’t want to be called a label, I want to be called a model.” [source]
Graham also made some comments during her appearance on Ellen a few weeks ago about her feelings of the term “plus size”. She told Ellen she’d prefer being called “curvysexylicious”.
Yet, she was one of the faces of Lane Bryant’s #PlusisEqual campaign last fall.
Editor-in-Chief Madeline Jones says:
“There are so many important topics that need to be discussed: Anti-bullying, discrimination, body confidence and here we are talking about getting rid of a term that brought us together and has catapulted many careers in the industry. Ashley Graham is a beautiful model, but she does not speak for me and I’m disappointed that she has made this her platform when she could be using her status to bring the industry together and not pull it apart.”
Here’s some of the comments/feedback we received on Facebook when discussing Ashley Graham wanting to not be referred to as “plus size” anymore:
“Telling women that they’re ‘plus-size’ is sending the wrong message – that there is something wrong with them. If we continue to use that term, which was created by the fashion industry, we are segregating huge numbers of women. We should get rid of it.”
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I am a model FULL STOP. Unfortunately in the modelling industry if you're above a US size 4 you are considered plus size, and so I'm often labelled a 'plus size' model. I do NOT find this empowering. A couple of days ago, @ajayrochester called the industry to task for its use of the term 'plus size' by making the point that it is 'harmful' to call a model 'plus' and damaging for the minds of young girls. I fully support Ajay and agree with her. Let's have models of ALL shapes, sizes and ethnicities, and drop the misleading labels. I'm NOT proud to be called 'plus', but I AM proud to be called a 'model', that is my profession! Visit droptheplus.org for full explanation of the dangers this label carries (especially on young impressionable girls). #droptheplus
We don’t disagree with that because Ferrario is reportedly a size 8 and plus sizes start at size 14 in retail. However, the modeling industry is quite another conversation when it comes to what plus size truly is.
Many other models have said they should not be labeled plus size but have become successful by modeling plus size clothing and working for plus size retailers in the industry. In a fashion industry where women over a size 4 are considered plus size, is the problem with the term or with how size is perceived by the industry?
What we noticed was that most of the models that are making these public declarations against the term are either not visibly plus or a size 16 and under.
These same women continue to book jobs, modeling plus size clothing for retailers. Some of these retailers offer clothing up to a size 34W, yet use size 6/8/10 models in campaigns.
With 67% of American women a size 14, it’s a no-brainer that these women would not want to be considered plus size, as they are the size of the average woman or under. However, they cannot possibly speak for those women who are above a size 16 because they are not having the same experiences that those women encounter at their size.
It seems as if these models that want to do away with the term “plus size” were okay with the term when they were booking jobs with plus size retailers (clients), but now with their desire to go mainstream, the term seems to be a negative one.
Since Ashley Graham currently graces the cover of Sports Illustrated’s 2016 Swim Issue and no longer wants to be called plus size, does this mean she will not be working with plus size brands anymore?
Plus size is not just a descriptor term. It’s a community. So when you denounce that term, it comes off as if you do not want to be a part of that community. Many plus size women proudly claim they are plus size and proud. They wear that term as a badge of honor in a world that criticizes them, ridicules them and discriminates against them. The term has given them confidence, strength and helped them accept their bodies as they are.
“The fact is that the term PLUS SIZE is a fashion industry term. When there were no bloggers, magazines and limited clothing companies to offer us clothing WE (the plus size women) used our voice to demand for more. The reason why the industry is where it is, is because we found our pride and created our OWN fashion week Full Figured Fashion Week , our own magazines and get inspiration from plus size bloggers. We adopted this label because we were invisible in the fashion industry. Many of us embrace it and wear it as a badge of honor because we have come from the darkness and are being seen.” – Madeline Jones, PMM Editor-in-Chief
Let’s look at the three key factors here: Shopping, the modeling industry and how the term affects young girls.
Some say they would love it if all women could shop in one place without labels and descriptor terms. However, if that happens, what about those stores that don’t offer above a size 14/16? How will those women looking for larger sizes, shop? Those women will feel even more defeated, shopping alongside thinner women and not finding their size. Taking away the descriptor terms will not make things better for the shopper. We all want to know where to shop.
Also, what would happen to those retailers who only sell plus sizes? Will they have to be done away with too? Or are they expected to change what term they use?
It seems as if a descriptor is needed and some have tried to replace the term, in hopes of using something more pleasant.
Retailer Modcloth retired the term from their website last fall, citing the feedback they received from customers coupled with their belief that women should be able to shop all together as reasons why they made that move. Their plus sizes have been renamed Extended Sizes and are no longer featured in a separate section.
Keyword here is Extended Sizes.
In the latest issue with Redbook Magazine, which features actress Melissa McCarthy on the cover (who also doesn’t care for the term “plus size”), Editor-in-Chief Meredith Rollins states in her editor’s letter titled “Pluses and Minuses“:
“Great style doesn’t discriminate by body type, and all women deserve to feel confident and beautiful in their curves. To that end, we feature curvier models and non-models in our pages constantly… In addition, to make sure you know we’re finding the best fashion for every figure, we’ve been marking some items with a ‘Comes in plus’ icon. But the more we thought about it – and the more we listened to you – we started to realize that ‘plus size’ doesn’t feel right. It’s a label, and I’d like to hope we’re living in a world where women shouldn’t be labeled because they wear bigger clothes.”
“Yes, I know, rejecting one set of words isn’t earth-shattering, but it’s a start. We’ll still mark clothing that comes in extended sizes, and we’ll always make sure that every woman, whatever her shape, can use REDBOOK as a shopping guide. We’ll just do it in an even more welcoming, inclusive way.”
Key words here are “plus size doesn’t feel right” and extended sizes.
Is “extended sizes” a better term than “plus size”? It’s still a descriptor, a label. It’s just replacing another term. Will women feel better saying they wear “extended sizes” instead of “plus size”?
Both Modcloth and Redbook state that the decision to drop the plus was made from listening to their customers. Who are these customers? Are they women of ALL sizes or just under a size 18?
#2: Modeling industry
As we mentioned before, any model above a size 4 is considered a plus size model in the industry. Therefore, of course, these women who are sizes 6 – 12/14 are fired up by being called plus size because they aren’t plus size.
“To me, the term ‘plus size’ is simply a descriptive one and not an offensive one. As much as “petite” isn’t. It’s a way to describe my size. Obviously, I won’t find clothes for me in most regular shops. I get why smaller girls find the term offensive, I guess. They are simply NOT plus sized and most people find the label negative, or long for inclusion, be that a personal need or a professional one. I personally don’t feel that need as well as I don’t deem the term to be negative, nor do I think there’s something wrong with the way my body size is described in order for me to find where to shop.”
Alex Larosa shared her thoughts on the term “plus size” in our exclusive interview with her in our February 2016 issue:
“Practically, I think that the term ‘plus size’ is a tool used by brands, designers, and shoppers to communicate with each other about the size of clothing offered in a specific space. But personally, the term is something I hold dear to my heart. It is in the plus size fashion industry that I have had the opportunity to make my dreams come true. It is as a plus size model, that I have been able to inspire and encourage women to feel powerful and beautiful in their bodies. It has been within the plus size community that I have learned to be confident with my voice and in my dopeness. I recognize all that the term “plus size” has done for me and I appreciate it thoroughly.”
Before getting rid of the term, the industry on a whole has to reevaluate its sizing structure. A size 6 is not plus size. Once the mainstream fashion industry embraces more diversity and expands on its sizing, then we can talk about terms and such.
The problem does not lie with the term “plus size”, it lies with the people within the industry that place that term on sizes that are not plus size.
#3: How The Term Affects Young Girls and Body Image Overall
The term “plus size” is used as a descriptor when women shop for clothing. So when models who we have seen in campaigns for those same retailers are now denouncing the term, what does that say to customers, particularly young girls?
We’re referring to those young girls who are shopping in stores like Forever 21 and Charlotte Russe in the plus section. What example does that set when those young girls see someone they idolize and look up to, such as Ashley Graham, saying the term “plus size” is outdated and that “curvysexylicious” is a better term?
It can come off as if you’re telling these young girls that something is wrong with them because they are shopping in the plus section and Ashley Graham hates the term. Also, is it appropriate for young girls to say they are “curvysexylicious”?
It’s worth noting that these same models who are denouncing the term and trying to fit in the industry without being labelled, are the same models who are still considered not straight size in that industry.
They are still considered “fat” and will still be called horrible names like “pig”, “slob” and “disgusting”. We saw so many comments such as those when Sports Illustrated announced that Ashley Graham would be on one of their annual swim covers. It was terrible since Graham is a beautiful and healthy, curvy woman. Cheryl Tiegs, anyone?
Before we can denounce the term, we have to look at the industry on a whole and really determine why those terms exist. We have to look at how size is divided into categories. We have to delve deeper into the size discrimination that goes on within the industry before we can put all the blame on the term itself.
Many women are empowered by the term “plus size”. To them, it’s a label they welcome because they are proud of their bodies and not ashamed of who they are.
It is for those women and the industry on a whole, that we have decided to create The Shape Issue. It will be a future issue of PMM that will showcase women of all shapes and sizes. We want to show the world that plus is not a bad word.
However you view the term, “plus size” has been a term that has helped size diversity become more front and center. It has been one that has created a community where we are accepting of each other’s bodies and we celebrate each other’s differences. The mainstream fashion industry can take a lesson from the plus size industry. Many of us are Proud to be Plus. So we hope you will answer our call for support when our Shape Issue launches.
What do you think of the term “plus size”? What do you think of Ashley Graham’s comments? Let us know below and let’s talk.
PMM Archives, March 2016 Issue
Photography by Luke Jones
Produced by Madeline Jones
Stylist Spry Lee Scott
Hair Stylist Alicia Fajardo
Makeup Artist Tara Taylor
Makeup Artist Deneal Kelly
Hair Stylist Masha Jeramaz
Assistant Photographer Ivory Jackson
Social Media Assistant April Shari