Dropping the plus and values attached to our bodies

In case it’s passed anyone by, I’m not a skinny girl. Not any more. Not by a long shot. I can’t say I’m exactly fine with it, but working on it.

So I’ve been watching the #droptheplus debate with interest.

Here’s the thing, I get both sides, but I do lean towards thinking it’s not particularly constructive.

In case you’ve missed it, #droptheplus is a campaign started by Ajay Rochester to stop the fashion industry to stop labelling women over a size 12 “plus size”.

I’ll go over a few points, but here’s an explanation written by Ajay herself.

I do agree with some of what she says.

Young girls and women everywhere look at these women who are beautiful by any standard but when they are segregated or singled out and called PLUS SIZED, when in actual fact they represent a majority in society, then it lends itself to the notion that they are not “real” models and as such distorts others trying to achieve “the ideal” or the “accepted size”.

_81900901_stefaniaIt isn’t constructive to point at a model like Stefania Ferrario and act like she is larger than average, because she really isn’t. And labelling her as a plus size model makes it sound like she is above average size. Of course in terms of modelling she is, but in comparison to the average woman on the street? Not even close.

It’s her picture that’s being used to illustrate most stories about this, and I can see why. It quite clearly shows how ludicrous it is for a UK size 12 to be considered above average.  She’s barely got any extra fat on her. There is nothing about her that makes you think larger than average. A very good example of how harmful the fashion industries “normal” size can be, when it is so far from what most women and girls could ever be.

At the same time, using Stefania as the focus for a campaign like this is also a little problematic. For the same reasons in fact. As she is so obviously not above average, it can (and does for a fair few plus size women) feel like a way of distancing women like her from Real Fatties™.

There’s two ways #droptheplus could go, either dropping the term plus size altogether, or moving it to a higher dress size. Neither is actually a great solution though.

First of all, moving it to a higher dress size? That really is just distancing one type of woman from another. A way to say, “I’m not like those other women”. Now while I get the appeal, and maybe if I was a size 12 I’d be tempted with it too, it is pretty harmful. While “plus size” is still seen as a negative it can’t help but be harmful.

While some will argue it is merely a descriptive term, and implies no judgement, it is a loaded term because that is how society views it. Even if you change it to a new euphemism, it will still have all the same negative connotations because right now our society views plus size as a bad thing. Something unnatural and disgusting, and moving the goal posts of “plus size” will mean some women escape the connotations, but it feels like throwing the other women out as some kind of human shield.

As for doing away with the term altogether, this also has problems. These are mostly of a practical nature. As an undeniably plus size women I have found time and time again that stores who do not have a dedicated plus size range, but who go up to slightly larger sizes (eg. a UK size 20) tend to just upsize their smaller sizes with no regard for changes in proportions from a size 10 to a 20. As such I am incredibly wary of any companies who do not have a dedicated plus size range.

If we were to do away with the term “plus size” altogether then clothes shopping would be even more of a pain in the arse than it already is.

Then there’s the fact that when I am looking to buy things online, seeing those items on a model who is at least a little bit similar to my own size isn’t just nice, it’s actually important for accurate judgement. I am very likely to just not take a chance on items that are only shown on “average” models. Again, being able to label something (or someone) plus size can be very useful.

Same goes for fashion bloggers, being able to narrow it down to just plus size blogs allows me to find relevant information.

As I wrote earlier you couldn’t even change the term, as the connotations would just move right over. Because it’s not the phrase itself which is the problem, it’s society’s responses to female bodies that dare to appear outside of the accepted beauty standard.

Ajay talks about the term fueling eating disorders,

The Plus size label is damaging and misleading. […] Girls with eating disorders are forever chasing an unattainable goal and any negative images that denote a healthy body as “not good enough” is deadly to them.

And talks about girls who find buying “plus size” clothes triggers their ED. I do not doubt this, I’ve been that girl, still am sometimes. But getting rid of the label would only help relatively few girls with triggery thoughts. For me I found (and find) it far more triggery to buy something which doesn’t say plus size, but which doesn’t fit me correctly despite being the correct size. That reminds me, in the strongest possible way, that my body is “wrong”. While it might be tempting to say, “well if we eradicate the term “plus size” then retailers will be forced to carry different cuts of clothing”, and I can see why that would make sense, as someone who has been reduced to tears just trying on one item of clothing that’s been badly cut for a plus size figure, the thought of having to take armfuls of clothes in to a changing room in the vague hope that one of them might have a plus size cut with no way of knowing from the label – that makes me feel sick.

We need to focus on teaching girls and women that plus size does not mean you are a failure, or disgusting, or unloveable, or ugly. We need to teach them that it is just a different body type, one that is just as good as any other. We need to remove the value judgements from it. There’s no quick solution unfortunately, it’s going to take time, but I think getting rid of the term “plus size” is going in the wrong direction. It’s a distraction when we should be focusing on girls and women not being valued be their bodies instead.

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