To Be Or Not To Be “Plus Size”

To Be Or Not To Be “Plus Size”

That is the question, and words matter.
A collage of words to describe bigger bodies.

Christine Yarde

“Fat”, “curvy”, “thick”, “full-figured”, “voluptuous”; words that have been used to describe women’s bodies for decades, even centuries. However; none of them have matched the popularity of “plus size”. Walk into your nearest department store and you’re bound to see a sign that says “plus sizes”, and hopefully there’s at least one “plus-size” store in your local mall. It’s a descriptor communicating to every shopper where sizes 14 and up are sold and where they are not. Many feel this experience and the term “plus size” itself is “othering”, an insulting comparison. But there are others who take great pride in being called “plus-size” women and rely on the term to indicate where they can find clothes and even services to cater to their needs. So we had to take this debate to the Dia & Co community to see how everyday women like you and me really feel about being called “plus-size”.

" This widespread acceptance of the term began to influence the way women described their bodies cementing it in modern vernacular."

 According to Lauren Downing Peters, Professor of Fashion Studies, “plus size” as a general term for women wearing sizes 14 and up didn’t come on the scene until the ‘80’s when it began to be used by major fashion retailers. Even high-end designers like Valentino and Givenchy began to make plus size clothing after seeing a decline in the purchase of luxury goods. This widespread acceptance of the term began to influence the way women described their bodies cementing it in modern vernacular.  When asked what she thought about the term, although she expressed conflicting feelings, Danielle, Massachusetts commented, “it’s [plus size] all I’ve known and I’m proud to be a plus-size person.” And many share this sentiment expressing that the terms relation to fashion makes it more acceptable than other descriptors. Courtney, Nebraska mentioned that “a lot of fat people have different connotations with different descriptors of fatness. So someone may hate the word “fat” while others dislike “overweight”, and plus size is typically the most neutral term since it’s related to fashion.” Yet, the negative implications of the term itself can not be ignored.

" 'I think that it is a term that needs to go. It others and objectifies fat women more than we already are.' "

While “plus size” is generally accepted as a fashion term, it has proven to be “othering” to many people. Most of us have experienced shopping with friends and having to go to another section or floor to find “plus-size” clothing. Isabella, Tennessee had this to say about the experience, “I think that it is a term that needs to go. It others and objectifies fat women more than we already are.” And she’s not alone in her feelings. Tatum, California shared her take on the situation “I don’t like that there are different clothes just for bigger bodies. I wish they would make the same clothes they did for thin people and just make more sizes of it and sell them in the same section of the store. I wish clothes could just be clothes no matter what size they are in.” But removing the term “plus size” from pop culture and the shopping experience entirely begs the question, what will replace it? As the fashion industry creeps slowly towards inclusivity there are still many retailers who do not sell clothing above a size 14 or cuts that work for larger bodies. Those who want the term to be retired feel that it won’t be truly successful until we are in a place where all retailers sell all sizes.

What does all of this mean? The truth is that identification is personal.

 And while pop culture and the fashion industry desperately try to influence how we feel about our bodies, the buck stops with us. There’s no right or wrong way to refer to your body as long as it makes you feel empowered. It’s impossible to identify one term that truly represents the more than 60% of U.S. women who wear sizes 14 and above.  And while it leaves much to be desired, the term “plus size” may exist as long as there are brands who choose to serve a limited size range. Ashley from South Carolina said it best when she commented “Honestly, it’s all in the way you perceive the term plus size. Every woman is different.”

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