Dear Ashley Graham,
Please stop. Just… stop. Look, I know you’re the hot name of the moment in plus-size models and you’re getting a lot of media and marketing attention. Congratulations, enjoy it. But you seriously need to knock it off with the whole thing about not wanting the term “plus-size” to be used. What am I talking about? Well, there’s this…
I get that you don’t want to be called a “plus-size” model because let’s face it, you’re not a plus-size woman. Unlike myself and so many other women who shop at the stores you collect cheques from for modelling their clothes, your body is not fat. To anyone walking past you on the street, you’re just a woman, and a very beautiful one at that. But when I walk down the street, I’m a fat woman. Nobody is going to dispute that fact. That’s where the vast chasm lies between the models who are chosen and paid to showcase clothes for fat women, and the actual women who are buying them.
A plus-size model.
An actual plus-size customer. (Photo by Paul Harris)
The thing is, women like me need the label “plus-size”. We know that the label doesn’t refer to us or our actual bodies, but refers to the section in the store that we need to find – almost always a dingy corner in the back with no signage, poor housekeeping and terrible lighting – if we are lucky. You wouldn’t know what it’s like to need that section because your body is catered to in most standard “straight” sized clothing ranges. When you want to buy a swimsuit, you need to know where in the store to go to buy one right? So you go to the swimsuit section. Well, we need and want to buy clothes that fit our body, so we need to be able to find the section that has those clothes, and for the last century, almost anyway, there has been a conveniently named section called “plus-size” that we can seek out. This saves us from wading through the other 90% of clothing that doesn’t include us.
When you, who have far more access to the media and marketing than we do, by the blessing of your pretty face, hourglass figure and relatively small size (compared to actual plus-size clothing customers) start trumpeting that the clothing industry needs to get rid of the term plus-size, two things happen.
Firstly, you stigmatise fatness further than it already is. You might not be actually saying that, but that’s what many not-fat people, including the businesses who are supposed to be serving us, actually hear. The corollary of that is that not-fat people and businesses stop listening to us. They don’t listen to us much anyway, but your efforts are causing them to shut us out even further.
Secondly, businesses start thinking that they can “drop the plus” which means they start literally dropping plus-size product. They downsize their collections. They trim the size range, removing the larger sizes, which are already as rare as hens teeth. So you are actively making it harder for many of us to find the clothing that we want and need.
While we’re at it, let’s touch on the “curvy sexylicious” thing. I personally find it cheesy and childish, but you get to decide how you identify and you’re perfectly entitled to decide on that label for yourself. But the reality is, the vast majority of women who actually buy plus-size clothing will never get to or want to be referred to as “curvy sexylicious”. To start with, many of us a “boxy fat fabulous” or “roly-poly arse-kicking” or “shaped-like-the-magic-pudding awesome”. We’re fat. We don’t have neat little hourglass figures with a tiny tummy bump or a pair of thick thighs. We have big, fat bodies. Bodies that are still awesome, but they’re not being given the opportunity to model for Lane Bryant anytime soon. Also, I can’t go to work in a lacy bra and tight skirt and call myself “curvy sexylicious” like you do when you go to work. I need to wear something suitable for my job and call it “creative professional woman”. Sexing up is all well and good, but we need more than lacy bras and sparkly evening wear (don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of lace and sparkle). We need suits for the office, dresses for daytime, skirts and blouses to go to church in, smart casual gear to go to the school event in, all those sorts of thing. When I go through my work day, I don’t make kissy faces and toss my hair – I have to answer phones and go to meetings and do a whole lot of innovative thinking, plus a lot of networking with people of all types – from management to politicians, from librarians to electricians. That’s not exactly “curvy sexylicious” appropriate, you know?
Besides, not everything in plus-size has to be “sexy”. In fact, not everything about womanhood has to be “sexy”. Sexy is fun sure, and has it’s place, but women are worth far more than their worth to the male gaze. We are more than valuable for our fuckability. When I see models promoting plus-size clothing brands, they’re almost always naked, in lingerie or in some state of “sexyfication”. I know why this is done – mostly for the shock value of seeing a body that has some small rolls or curves in a world where most models are ultra-thin. We often don’t get to see the products actually showcased in the same way that straight-sized clothes are. Which makes it so hard to shop for the clothes we want and need. Particularly when our clothes are relegated to online shopping or badly maintained racks in the back of the store. We need to see what an outfit will look like when we wear the whole outfit – very hard when we’re forced to shop online. The lacy bra and tight skirt is cute on you in a promo shot, sure… but how do I know what it looks like with a jacket or blouse in the same range? How do I know what it will look like on a body shaped like mine, rather than tall, hourglass and slim like you are?
What it really boils down to is that we need more clothing options than there currently are in our sizes, and we need to be able to see them in a way that reflects how we live, feel and look. We need to see ourselves. Your constant calls to lose the term “plus-size” don’t help that. Perhaps if you don’t want to be called a “plus-size model”, it’s time for you to step back, stop collecting the cheques for jobs that are supposed to serve fat women and let some larger, more realistic to the customer, models take the jobs.
aka Fat Heffalump