This week the media has been picking over the term ‘plus size’ – Australian reality TV star, Ajay Rochester, started the social media campaign using the hashtag #DropThePlus on Instagram. She’s won support from the likes of Dita Von Teese and Stefania Ferrario.
In industry terms, any woman bigger than a British size 8 is considered ‘plus’. The average woman in the UK is a 16, the term implies that normality is actually fat. Although the subject is being dragged out and chewed over, it’s by no means new. It’s been nearly 4 decades since Susie Orbach’s seminal book, Fat is a Feminist Issue, yet we’re still pestered by the notion that our bodies are not good enough.
There are two distinct issues at play here; the label in our clothes and the number on the scales. Dress size is somewhat arbitrary, retailers base their standard size on their average customer, hence the vast discrepancy between the shops that litter our high streets. The median clientele at Topshop differs to those who pass through the door at M+S. There is no judgement in how clothes are cut, it’s a business decision and not intended to make us feel crappy about our bodies. I usually take a UK 8, but I vary from a size 6 to a 12 depending on the item and where I bought it. In this case, size ain’t nothing but a number.
However, going into a store and finding nothing that fits is demoralising. When I was in my teens I was bigger than I am now, a UK 14 to 16. I was busty and curvy and I got a lot of attention from men, but I was insecure and ashamed of my body. On my 18th birthday my Mum and I went our shopping to buy an outfit. We headed to the high street section of Selfridges and I tried on every outfit in the place. Nothing fit. Not a single, solitary thing. We eventually found something elsewhere, but I left burning with embarrassment that I was that I was too fat for Selfridges.
There’s definitely a strong case for providing realistic role models for women, impossibly slender teenagers are not representative the general population. However, there’s another side to this which is equally unhealthy. The term ‘real women’ is often bandied around as an alternative to size 2 models, but this is just as ludicrous. Having a 25 inch waist does not exclude a human from being real. However, under the ‘real women’ paradigm, women who are overweight are presented as ‘positive’ or ‘bootylicious’, or some other absurd term that plays fast and loose with the English language. The simple truth is being fat is as unhealthy as being underweight. Somehow we need to find a reasonable middle ground where we dispense with incidental labels and focus on physical and mental health.