This article originally appeared in The Courier.
The ‘plus size’ debate is one that has raged on for many years now, with people both from inside and out the fashion industry voicing their opinions on the controversial labeling of models who don’t fit runway norms. In recent weeks there has been a flurry of discussion prompted by Amy Schumer who very publicly vented her anger at being included in a special ‘Chic at any Size’ Glamour issue. The magazine listed Schumer along side the likes of Adele, Ashley Graham and Melissa McCarthy- labelling them all as inspirations. Although this special edition could be perceived as a big step forward for the future of so-called ‘plus sized’ fashion, it was Schumer’s backlash that caught the attention of many. Schumer, although praising the issue, argued that at a size 10-12, she is not representative of a plus sized woman and thus should never have been included on the issue’s cover. While Amy may have been correct in not identifying herself as plus size (most UK plus-size brands offer clothes ranging in sizes 14- 26), people were angry at how keen she had been to dissociate herself from the issue, and more importantly, the phrase.
“The issue at its core does not necessarily lie within who is or isn’t plus sized, or what in fact defines plus sized, but in the need for society to label and segregate these women to begin with”
For some the expression ‘plus sized’ is a fairly modern phenomenon, however for the past decade major brands have been catering for women of all proportions. Evans a UK plus sized retailer began trading in 1930- at that time referring to its range as ‘clothes for stout women’. The industry has come along way since then, with plus size hitting the mainstream when magazines such as Elle, Cosmopolitan and Sports Illustrated featured Ashley Graham, who is a US size 16, as their cover star. Graham herself however, has issues with the term. In a TED talk last year she noted that with the US fashion industry’s current definition of ‘plus sized’ currently being sizes 8-16 (UK 12-20), most of the audience would not be viewed as a ‘normal’ size. This argument is further evidenced by the fact that the average UK dress size is a 16. Should then, the runway models we see in Paris, London, New York and Milan who are sizes 6-8 be labeled as ‘minus sized’?
The issue at its core does not necessarily lie within who is or isn’t plus sized, or what in fact defines plus sized, but in the need for society to label and segregate these women to begin with. As Graham said, she does not view herself as ‘plus sized’ but just ‘her size’- whatever that may be. A report into attitudes towards beauty carried out by Dove found that only 2% of women perceived themselves to be beautiful- could this perhaps be linked to the belief that the average woman, in fashion terms, is not ‘normal’? Defining people based on their weight and height is objectifying and damaging, and only encourages the pressures placed on girls to strive for, what many believe to be, the unachievable perfect.
Arguments over lack of diversity in the fashion industry are by no mean a recent development, and the problem is unlikely to go away overnight. Perhaps for now, we should celebrate the progress that has been made in celebrating women of all shapes and sizes, and try to further this success by altering our own attitudes and perceptions when defining the ‘new norm’.