Matthew Schilling

Big couture promotes healthy body image

I have a confession: I’m a fan of Project Runway. It’s odd, but I love the show.

As all fans of the show can tell you, one of the great moments every season is the “plus-size” challenge.

It’s fashion’s newest trend: the advent of “plus-size fashion.”

All the better, I say. Why shouldn’t plus-size fashion be embraced?

The average American woman is a size 14. Most retail stores don’t even carry a size 14, let alone anything larger.

There’s no disputing that the fashion industry  rampantly ignores women that aren’t rail-thin. The average weight for models is almost a quarter less than the average weight for women: 117 pounds to 140 pounds.

Mannequins in stores, if they were real women, would be unable to have children.

Even the models representing “plus-size fashion” aren’t plus-size themselves: most are between sizes 6 and 14.

In the face of this, is it any surprise that over half of American women falsely believe they are dangerously overweight? Is it any surprise that 74 percent of women choose as the best body weight one that is underweight?

There’s a desperate need for plus-size fashion to grow if body image is going to be improved.

This isn’t just for the benefit of those who are size 14 and up, as issues with body image have become just as endemic as the fashion industry’s misrepresentation of women.

For 70 percent of women, seeing images of fashion models makes them angrier and more depressed.

For the majority of women, no major retail store carries the size closest to theirs.

Now, there are real objections to have here. It’s bizarre that the average size would be dubbed “plus-size.” And excessive weight is a real health risk.

On the other hand, is the current industry where most models have a Body Mass Index associated with severe eating disorders any better for health?

Furthermore, the wrong way to convince anyone to lose weight is to attempt to shame them. Refusing to even carry clothing for average weights and beyond doesn’t just shame those who are overweight, but those who are actually at healthy and normal weights as well.

Supporting healthy weights requires more than trying to combat obesity. It also must combat the impulse to conform to “normal” weights. Certainly a good first step is to send the message that all weights and shapes can dress well.

There’s more to fixing the body image issues than just supporting plus-size fashion. However, if we are really serious about promoting healthy body image and healthy weights, we should be serious about advocating for the industry.



Don’t shame women while shopping

In this culture, calling someone fat, or insinuating that they are, is the worst of insults. Yet, we have lines of famous brands and even entire stores devoted to making plus-sized people, usually women, feel the sting of their weight.

It creates a subclass of women who can’t find other clothing.

There is nothing wrong with being plus-sized. For a lot of women, however, the shame of shopping at stores directed at women who are overweight cancels outthe benefits of having clothes that are meant to fit them.

In addition, the clothes tailored to the bodies of plus-sized women look nothing like those for regular consumotion. In my experience, the majority of plus-size stores sell either professional and very adult clothing, like Lane Bryant, or garish clothing meant for a colorblind preteen, like Torrid.

Obviously, different bodies require differently tailored clothing. What looks good on a supermodel, a size 8 in the plus-size modeling industry, may not look as lovely on a size 16. However, this is no reason to create a whole new look that offers less variety and selection to women with bodies larger than a size 14.

I understand the issue of finding clothes that fit. I’m a  size six, but my waist is smaller and my thighs are wider than they should be, proportionally. It can be a real pain searching for the perfect pair of jeans or a dress with a good cut.

However, I’m not thrust into a class of small-waisted/big-thighed women because of it. I’m not forced to shop at specialty stores, I can look anywhere for what I want. Women should not have to go to specialty stores where they have to buy clothes they don’t love, just to have something to wear.

The worst part is the creation of a group labeled “fat”. Yes, officially they’re called plus-sized, but fat is what someone thinks when they have to walk into a plus-size store. This division of stores or sections makes people feel embarrassed and ashamed. Instead of enjoying shopping, they dread it.

Even those who are over or at average size are unable to shop at most regular stores and are made to feel ashamed for that fact. Emily, an xoJane columnist, remarks that it makes her feel like she doesn’t fit. Not that the clothes don’t fit her, but that her body doesn’t fit the clothes. That’s a painful distinction.

I believe that instead of plus-size fashion, we need something better for everyone. We need “regular-sized” clothes to come larger, to fit more women. The majority of stores’ clothes don’t even fit the average American woman, let alone women larger than that. Fashion should extend to everyone.

Stores like the Gap and Old Navy are doing it right. They understand that it’s not fair to humiliate a woman because of her size. They see that she shouldn’t be excluded from the newest trends or best styles. We need to recognize that too.