The Woman in the Mirror: When Did Plus-Size Become a Bad Word?

Screenshot 2014-11-12 at 4.06.30 PM

If you type in “what is plus-size” on a Google search, the first thing that’ll appear is a light-grey box with a definition that is succinct and bothersome:

(of clothing or people) of a size larger than the normal range.

Since you might have stopped at the sight of “normal”, this clarification goes on shun anyone above a particular dress size as abnormal, which is absurd. Plus-size is a term that in malls and middle America have always meant clothing designed for bodies with a bit more to love. Plus-size in fashion has almost always translated as “unworthy.”

Chromat SS15 Formula 15 Runway Show
NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 04: Model Denise Bidot walks the runway at the Chromat SS15 Formula 15 fashion show at The Standard Hotel on September 4, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images for Chromat)

The plus-size division in retail has long been misunderstood, despite the average American woman being at a size 14, as reported in 2010. And related to the matter of controversial sizing and what we choose to label as skinny, thin, slender, medium, big, large, fat, or obese, there’s also the matter of those between the sizes 8 to 12 and the want to be respected as an individual and not a makeover project.

“Plus-size” is the dirtiest word in fashion. It’s either spoken under the breath or in total disgust and mockery. It can be a very emotional experience if you’re also a woman. Men are excused if they’re big and nonchalant because they get to be lovable teddy bears, but women are ridiculed as “lazy”, fetishized as “BBW”, or in the Black community viewed as “thick”. Bloggers like Marie Claire’s Nicolette Mason and books like Good in Bed have offered necessary reminders that bigger, rounder woman do have lives, and sometimes fashionable ones at that. But if it was up to the opinions of Karl Lagerfeld, the catwalks of Victoria’s Secret, and some of the most popular retailers, “plus-size” wouldn’t exist. At all. Its pronunciation even suggests that to deal with it should be handled with concern or warning. Think of the early “cycles” of America’s Next Top Model whenever a potential glamazon wasn’t a size 2 or 4 was discussed. Judges and guests would sometimes say with a slither or raised eyebrow, “She’s plus-sized.” Translation: what am I suppose to do with that?

Our comfort levels with the term only enter the conversation when the very people it represents have had enough, or in actuality, not enough. Such as when store chooses to raise the price point of larger sized items, it exposes the belittling nature towards people with bigger bodies because they often don’t have many options to begin with. Their sizes are backburned and boxed as “other”. Whispers of “we really don’t sell these, but if you insist, this is all we’ve got for you”, fill the air with a weird energy. Retailers are also aware women especially hate to purchase clothes that are larger. God forbid you have hips, huh? Or a bit of a belly? They believe that we prefer to squeeze into what they already have, wear oversized clothes as some kind of insincere fashion statement, or as Mean Girls showed us, have no choice but go to lackluster Sears.

Old Navy recently learned this hard way when they chose to charge more for XL than XS and now there’s a petition against them.While massively popular chains like Forever 21 do offer great inventory for their plus-size clientele. It’s still harder to find a Wet Seal Plus or Torrid next to a Zara on say New York’s Soho Broadway. Just seeing Lane Bryant a store away from Abercrombie and Fitch at your local galleria feels like a peace offering. The discrimination is apparent.

Plus Size Fashion Weekend - London Fashion Week AW14
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM – FEBRUARY 14: A model walks the runway at the British Plus size Fashion Weekend show during London Fashion Week AW14 at Vinopolis on February 14, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by John Phillips/UK Press via Getty Images)


At a current view count of 100+ million views, Meghan Trainor‘s surprise hit “All About That Bass” celebrates the all natural, much rounder woman, with a tummy and all. The track’s popularity is a 180 from the queen bee days of when Kate Moss’ waif frame modeled for Calvin Klein. And the storied fashion brand itself recently made headline for hiring Myla Dalbesio, an anomaly in fashion because she’s (1) in her late twenties (27) and is marked at a size 10. Calvin Klein did not disclose her weight. Dalbesio took it upon herself to share, and then publications like Elle, through its social media account, chose to introduce her with the “haunting” tag of plus-size. Maybe they were taking the double-digit thing literally.

But inquisitive female Twitter users, of all sizes were disappointed, to see that a size 10 was considered plus-size. And a few were bewildered at Dalbesio as she is not the first body type that comes to mind when the term is said.




America has also forgotten that those with more to love could also be in shape too.Sometimes, they even like their bodies just how they are. Dalbesio has otherwise embraced being called plus-size, while sparking a talk amongst a neglected community on what is considered plus-size. Is Dalbesio one of them? Be sure to listen to the dialogue amongst real women that do relate and classify themselves as plus-size, since the media or fashion’s perception and ideas are often twerped beyond repair. They’ve often rendered calling anyone with a lil’ booty and slight widening of the hip from Taylor Swift to Gisele Bundchen as “curvy” as well and they’re actually serious.

Academy Award nominee Melissa McCarthy, of Bridesmaids fame, was honest to the press in that it’s hard for her to find dresses for red carpet events because many designers won’t dress her. She’s had her share of unfair criticism because of her weight, even as a working white actress in Hollywood. Rex Reed of the New York Observer had the audacity to describe her as “tractor-sized” and her show Mike and Molly has been hit with childish reactions to its lovey-dovey scenes that in actuality border on eskimo kisses. If only we all had the same of kind of tough skin like fellow more to love gal like another former Academy Award nominee Gabby Sibide who takes any mean spirited comments right to the trash where it belongs.

Victoria’s Secret tried it when they chose to name one of their fall campaigns “The Perfect Body” which left many women asking, as I am with the term “plus-size”, what exactly is that? It all feels like a huge myth of the standards of beauty, and these standards just won’t budge in giving us a break. Thin, in-between, pear-shaped, tall, and more to love. It’s funny how men aren’t pressured to always have to carry a six pack (while always appreciated) and chocolate drops like Kevin Hart can indeed catch a break… For the ladies, we have to be everything physically desirable and fashionable at once and no one seems to comprehend that such an expectation is unfair and unrealistic when one song is telling us your lover would prefer more to hold at night, while magazine headlines spill the tea on how to burn LBs sooner than later. The lesson here? Instead of fighting against your natural body shape, see it what it is, and nurture it from there.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: