‘Plus size’ problems

‘Plus size’. It’s a term that really p*sses me off. It’s not inclusive. Why do we insist on labelling each other? If we’re gonna do that, then, may I suggest we try a system of; ‘size sexy’, ‘size gorgeous’, ‘size lovely’, that kinda thing. That way, everyone’s appreciated for what they are without being ridiculed about how much they weigh. There’s no focus on numbers. There’s no ‘smaller’ or ‘larger’ element to our bodies and the clothes we wear – thus also eliminating part of the comparative culture we currently live in. We would focus more on how awesome our own body is without fretting about what the scales have told us this week and why that girl looks slimmer and therefore ‘better’ than we do. There’s an on-going debate about what ‘plus size’ actually is. What dress size does one to have be before fitting into the category? There’s a rift between retailers, especially in The States – some claim to be a ‘plus size’ brand but their sizes start at an 8. Others believe that it starts at a 10 or a 12.


The ‘Plus size’ fashion industry has enjoyed an explosion of popularity and publicity of late and it’s no wonder – the average lady in the UK wears a dress size 16. The average American woman wears a 12-14 which is the equivalent of UK 16-18 according to Asossize guide.


Have we been pressured to come up with a term like this? Has it been conjured up because the mainstream fashion and media industries – which sport the ‘straight size’ model 98% of the time, (another STUPID term) – are becoming more aware that people are waking up to the idea that constant Photoshopping and pressures on models to be slim because that’s what they deem ‘attractive’ and ‘easier to design for’ are actually total nonsense? I appreciate how wonderful it is that women of all dress sizes and body shapes are being represented through the ‘plus size’ industry – it’s ace that ladies have retailers etc. who can provide them with what they want and need without scrutiny but I think that sometimes, the term is just a way of describing someone who’s not super slim. ”She’s a plus size model.” It’s often said in a way/tone that insinuates she’s not as good as a ‘regular, straight size model’. If you ask me, models are models – regardless of their weight. The models used to showcase a designer, advertisement for a product etc. should represent the audience, which a lot of the time, they don’t. Through no fault of their own, it’s just that only those who fit a certain description are hired. It would be lovely to live in a world where more retailers catered for everyone, from the smallest size all the way up to the top. But, I do get that sometimes it’s nice to be surrounded by other people who embody the same things as you. It’s nice to feel like you’re not alone.


Through the use of this term we can create a divide – between the ‘plus size’ and the not. We can create a war – ”We’re better than you because we’re plus size!”We’re better than you because we’re not!” Something that I’ve noticed through my work as a positive body image campaigner is that there are a lot of ‘plus size’ retailers, bloggers, models, designers etc. who claim to promote body confidence but only speak highly of the ‘plus size’ community, completely ignoring and sometimes even shaming those who wear smaller dress sizes. As someone who fits into the ‘plus size’ category, I think that’s wrong. That’s not advocating body confidence at all. That’s doing exactly what the media, fashion houses etc. have been doing for long enough. That’s complete and utter shameful exclusion. I know first hand how it feels to be excluded. To be made to think that your body is wrong and that you should look like that instead of this. That that girl has a ‘better’ body than you. When it comes to bodies there is no right and wrong. Only differences. What I’m trying to say is that there’s absolutely no issue with magazines, retailers, bloggers etc. who promote body love for those considered ‘plus size’ – but there is an issue when said people start to bash and lower the self esteem of those outside of the brackets.


With this ‘plus size’ revolution happening globally, there has been an increased interest in the ‘plus size’ modelling industry. As you may or may not know, I’m a PLUS Model Magazine contributor. PMM is ”the premiere virtual magazine celebrating the ‘plus size’ fashion, beauty and modelling sectors which inspires you to thrive in your curves.” They are, in my eyes, how you do it right. They are ultimately a publication aimed at the ‘plus size’ community but they advocate for confidence in ladies of all sizes so I think it’s something that could be read and enjoyed by those who don’t fit into the ‘plus size’ bracket. They never shame or put anyone down. It truly is an inspirational experience to flick through an issue. If you haven’t heard of them before, I genuinely recommend that you check it out. You can also check out the first piece that I wrote for them here: PLUS Model Magazine – June 2014 


Yesterday I was scrolling through Instagram, as you do, and an image that PMM had posted caught my eye. It was a picture of model Tara Lynn whilst shooting for Addition Elle, who modelled for Vogue Italia‘s famous June 2011 ‘plus size’ editorial spread and had a H&M campaign in 2012, without any Photoshop. She has been worshipped for her evident body confidence and has been a source of inspiration to many through images like this;

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Now, up until yesterday I was under no illusion that the ‘plus size’ modelling industry uses Photoshop. They’re just like the ‘mainstream’ fashion industry that way. But, I must have been more naïve than I thought – they’re more alike then I could ever have imagined. This is the image that PMM posted on Instagram yesterday;

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Compare it to this one;

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And there’s a pretty dramatic difference, huh?

For me, it’s highlighted a major issue within this industry. Whenever we think of ‘plus size’ models we think of body image heroes. Models who aren’t afraid to show us what ‘real’ bodies look like, who go against the norm and represent all different kinds of women, right? Well, what happens when these models are Photoshopped beyond belief and have no control over what’s published? I know that for me personally, Photoshop wasn’t really something that I associated with the ‘plus size’ community that much. I’ve always viewed it as the kind of community that would give excessive retouching the finger. I knew that it would be used in some ways, it’s sadly pretty inevitable at this point in time, but seeing just how much a ‘plus size’ model can be altered, has shocked me. Something that people can forget is the IMMENSE pressure that ‘plus size’ models face to be toned. It’s all about keeping it ‘tight’. How many size 16 ladies do YOU know who are completely toned and don’t wobble AT ALL? How on earth is someone expected to maintain a larger dress size whilst exercising a lot to become toned all over? It sure doesn’t sound easy. The pressure that ‘plus size’ models face to be toned and cellulite free is on exactly the same wavelength as the stresses that ‘straight size’ models face to be slim. While it’s wonderful that ‘plus size’ models are slowly becoming part of the fixtures and fittings in advertising and fashion, we need to be aware of the issues that surround it, just as we do the mainstream media industry.


It’s sad because Tara looks absolutely beautiful in the Photoshop free picture. If I had my way, Photoshop would either become illegal or disappear from the earth’s surface forever. We would enjoy the REAL version of our bodies and marvel at how wonderful they really are. Tara or any other model – ‘plus size’ or ‘straight size’ – does not need to be retouched! It’s just like Aerie says; ”Love me, don’t retouch me.”

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About Leyah Shanks

Positive body image activist and advocate for mental health.

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