This is Robyn Lawley:
She’s stunningly gorgeous (obviously). She’s a model (no surprise there). She’s an advocate for body positivity (yay!). Oh, and she’s “plus sized.” (Wait, what??)
It’s been said so many times that it’s nearly become rote in conversations about fashion but I think it bears repeating that plus-sized models are not plus-sized in the real world. (Which I know but SERIOUSLY? Her??) But that’s where the simplicity ends. Over the past year or so a war of semantics has started over how exactly do we describe the size of our bodies and what do those words even mean?
Some stores simply call sizes that go beyond a 14 “Women’s” sizes which is troubling since the definition of “woman” is more about what’s in your pants than what size they are. Other places call them “extended” sizes which is descriptive but pretty clinical (and also makes me think of toddler pants with the elastic size adjusters inside the waist). “Curvy” is bandied about quite a bit but I hear a lot of girls who self-identify as curvy – big boobs and hips with a tiny waist – take offense when catalogs or stores use it as code for plus sized. Similar to “curvy” is “diva” which has strangely transitioned from entitled pop star to sassy larger lady. Also, there’s the fairly recent and very PC “differently sized.” And then there’s “goddess size” which one plus-size writer described as “so far past the line that I would actually be less embarrassed buying a dress sized ‘oink’. ”
It gets even more confusing when stores make up their own sizing systems. Just read the reviews on Target’s plus-sized section to find out how much people love their random 1 – 4 sizes. (Hint: They love it like they love getting trampled on Black Friday.) Then there’s all the X’ed L business – apparently a XXXL is smaller than a 3X because…Roman numerals? Then there’s the specialty stores. One friend who typically wears a size 24 snarked that wearing a size 6 in Lane Bryant only makes her feel like she’s bad at math. And speaking of Lane Bryant, the company recently announced that they’re changing from a “plus-size store” to a “her size store”. Great, now we’ve narrowed it down from noun to pronoun – that should clear everything right up! (Although I do appreciate the sentiment.)
Lawley recently did an interview with Ellen about the crapstorm the Internet rained down on her for not having a “thigh gap” in a lingerie picture she posted. At first she was just going to let it roll off her beautiful back but then she decided she needed to make a statement for all the young girls who might be worried about thigh gaps. (Side note: I love it when people talk about needing to love our bodies and show a good example for “young girls” but I honestly wish they’d just include all of us. I’m a grown woman and I still struggle. Let’s be good examples for everyone – young and young at heart!)
Anyhow, Lawley told Ellen – to much applause – “I love my body and I’m comfortable with that.” She added that it’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy: “The more I say I love my body, it actually works. It makes a positive rebound effect and then you start loving your body.”
But my favorite thing she said was when she un-defined plus-size: “To be honest a ‘plus size’ should just be a ‘model’ and they should put more, different sizes, different ages on the catwalks.” And she puts her money where her mouth is. She recently launched her own swimwear line (pictured above, and heaven help me I detest animal prints but I totally want that one-piece in the center) and nowhere that I could see on her site does she say anything about “plus size” or “curvy” or anything. It’s just “swimwear.” As it should be.
Contrast Lawley’s interview with this interview (click through to see videos) with the director of the Ms. Venezuela pageant. For everyone who thinks the words we use don’t matter or think that the conflict is isolated to the rarified world of modeling, this video is an excellent example of what happens when we believe the hype and the devastating effects as it filters down through society. (Warning for some slightly graphic content and also mass amounts of rage-inducing douchebaggery.)
The problems go from the bottom up as well, as demonstrated by supermodel Doutzen Kroes’ recent comment to Page Six, “Sometimes it makes me feel guilty now that I am in this profession that makes certain girls insecure. I always say, I don’t look like the picture . . . If you put me in bad light with no hair and makeup, it’s not good . . . I wake up sometimes like, this is not what I see when I look at the magazine, who is this visitor in the bathroom?” She added that she “wouldn’t expect” normal girls to do what she does in the way of diet and exercise. Which means she basically labelled herself as “not normal.” Which I can’t decide if that is sadly honest or honestly sad.
Not being plus-sized myself, I feel a little weird writing about this – like perhaps I shouldn’t speak about matters with which I have no experience. I once wrote a post on here about fat activism that I thought was very positive but I got destroyed on message boards for “flaunting my thin privilege”. It was a valuable learning experience and I’ve tried to be more sensitive since then. It really made me realize how much I don’t know about what I don’t know. So it’s not my intent to offend or hurt anyone and if I have I hope you’ll take the time to educate me in the comments!
In the end I decided to go ahead with this post because I feel like this issue of what words we use to describe our bodies and others’ bodies – particularly those we find aspirational (who wouldn’t want to look Lawley?!) – is universal to being a woman in our society and it does deeply affect all (many?) of us. No matter what we look like or what size we are, we’re never good enough. We always need “fixing.” And I think the first step in combating this is by how we talk about people who are of all sizes. I like Lawley’s idea of making no “others” – we’re all just women.
Or maybe we just need to leave it up to each woman how she wants to define herself? As I was mulling over this post, I asked a plus-sized friend what term she preferred or if she preferred no term at all and she answered, “I’m fat and proud of it. Call me fat. There’s nothing wrong with the word unless you make it wrong. I wouldn’t want to be anything other than what I am!” Brilliant girl.
What’s your opinion on what “plus sized” should be called? Or should there be no label at all? If you’re out shopping (or in, online!) does the name or type of sizing affect whether or not you buy it? Have you ever had a weird plus-size shopping experience??