The Problem With The “Plus-Size” Label

It’s no secret women’s bodies have been a topic of conversation since, well, the beginning of time.

Back in April Amy Schumer slammed Glamour magazine for listing her in a group of women considered “inspiring” in a special edition issue labeled “Chic At Any Size” focusing on women sizes 12 and up, or as the comedian interpreted, “plus-size.”

She fired back with an Instagram stating the facts – she’s not, by fashion standards, even in the plus-size range – and opening up the floor for healthy discussion.

 

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A discussion that received a myriad of responses, but landing on a common theme – why can’t these women just be “inspiring women” why do we have to classify them as inspiring in their own size category?

What I want to know is who’s the judge of when you’ve moved into the “curvy” “plus-size” or “full-bodied” category? Yes, plus-size technically has a specific size range for fashion purposes (16 and up) but can you really look at someone and determine what size jeans they can fit into? Also, why are women sizes 16 and up the only ones with a classified size category? What about the sizes 0-4, or 4-8 or 8-12? Are they just considered “normal?” It’s not right, and only harming women even more by telling them their bodies need to be in a certain group and then everything we determine about them is based off that.

We’ve seen strides in the media on the way women’s bodies are perceived. Brands like Dove and Aerie have opened a door to ad campaigns not comprised only of airbrushing and pilates-instructor status bodies. Strong Hollywood female role models, like Schumer, have stood up and said they love themselves exactly how they are and have set incredible examples for women everywhere.

But here’s my big issue with the plus-size-pride movement: it’s that it even exists. It’s the fact that for women, who for so long didn’t fit into the standard of beauty that was “the norm,” had to be put into an ostracized category: “plus-size,” “curvy.” And as much as magazines like Glamour try and speak about these women in an empowering and positive light, the fact alone that they’ve created a special edition issue for them, only screams “you’re different” even louder.

Here’s my question: why can’t we just have a genuine balance of all body types in the regular issue of Glamour? Just because someone fits into a size 14 doesn’t render them incapable of wearing bell bottoms or trying out blue eye shadow for spring. So why do they need their own separate magazine issue?

The real problem is that we’re still labeling and justifying women’s success and level of how much they inspire us based on their bodies and their looks – and plus-size women get extra praise when they’ve been able to be beautiful and successful even at their size…do you see what’s so wrong with that?

Awhile back in a People Magazine feature, Melissa McCarthy said something that stuck with me. When referencing an article where she was featured as “America’s Plus-size Sweetheart,”  she eloquently stated, “It’s like I’m managing to achieve all this success in spite of my affliction…Would you ever put that in the headline for a male star?” I don’t think so Melissa.

In her Instagram, Schumer also brings up the fact that she doesn’t want young girls seeing her body type and thinking it’s “plus-size.” Yes we have some healthier, more realistic examples for young women in the media that we didn’t 10 years ago, but we’re still telling them to identify themselves into a group based on their body size and shape.

It’s so important that women of all shapes, sizes and races be represented in Hollywood and the media so that young girls can watch the Oscars and say, “she looks like me!” or see a swimsuit advertisement and say, “her thighs are the same size as mine!” These representations are important so that women, no matter their size, don’t feel out of the “accepted norm.”

Because when it comes down to it, there isn’t, and shouldn’t be, a “body norm.” That’s the gorgeous and amazing thing about the human race – variety, uniqueness, difference.

So what’s the answer? I wish I had it. And if I’m being honest, this is a complicated issue that won’t be solved overnight let alone in the next decade (or until the generation that coined the term “thigh-gap” dies out).

I think it starts with us and the language we use about ourselves and about each other. I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with complimenting another woman on her appearance when done in the right way. The feminist in me is screaming “why do we even focus on women’s looks at all?!” which part of me totally agrees with, but I think it’s fine to let your friend know when she looks smokin’.

She knows you’re not saying it because you “only value her for her looks” – on the contrary, you could care less about her looks, but it’s important to let the women around us know that they’re amazing creatures who should be confident in their skin, and sometimes, knowing you have awesome hair can help you get there. There’s no shame in knowing you look good and gaining confidence from that.

But we have to be careful about the words we choose and how we say them. I’ve always dealt weirdly when someone says to me, “dang girl you look so skinny” as a compliment. Saying “thank you” feels wrong because it assumes I feel the way I looked before I lost a little weight wasn’t as attractive – suddenly I feel like the last time they saw me they thought I didn’t look good. But then fighting their “compliment” feels like I can’t take a compliment and we all know how annoying those people are. Maybe I internalize and overthink everything a little too much, but as a woman who has grown up with body-image issues, I’m hyperaware of how others are perceiving my body – as much as I wish I wasn’t.

But you know the comments that never make me feel weird about the way I look – “You’re beautiful.” “You look hot!” “I love your outfit.” “Your lipstick is amazing.” “How did you get your hair to look that awesome?!” Nothing about the shape of my butt or flatness of my stomach – just a straight up “wow, you are stunning girl.”

And you know what compliments make me feel even better? “You’re smart.” “You make me laugh so hard.” “I’m so proud of how hard you work.” “You’ve achieved so much success.” “You have the best taste in music.” Comments that have nothing to do with my looks at all, but who I am as a person.

Bottom line: we need to eliminate language that talks about women’s bodies, even if we’re saying them in what we perceive as a positive light. The only way to change the conversation is to start a new one – about how amazing women are just because they exist.

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Word, Amy.

Molly Longest

Co-founder, Creative Director Her heart belongs to: leather jackets, live music, Moscow Mules and getting that perfect picture Her guilty pleasures: frequenting the taco truck down the street a minimum of two times a week and talking to strangers' dogs in Central Park

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