The Problem with “Plus-Size”: How the Fashion Industry Isn’t Breaking Down Barriers of Perfection, It’s Only Reshaping Them

We are finally seeing the push for body-diversity almost everywhere in the fashion industry. Target recently featured Zach Miko, the industry’s first plus-size male model, and high-fashion (and Kardashian-obsessed) Paris designer Olivier Rousteing is now publicly endorsing a push for body-diversity in even elite design collections. The Era of the Plus-Size Model has arrived.

There is one fundamental problem with this approach, however. There is still no real diversity among models, because these “plus-size” models boast similar body types. We’re not seeing diversity or all-inclusivity: we’re seeing only one alternative to “Fashion Skinny,” and it’s “Power-Feminine Curvy.”

Looking at the ad campaigns that already feature plus-size models, we see that most of these women bear striking resemblances to each other: They are thick, voluptuous, and fully rounded—and, most importantly, they are all hourglass-shaped. Virtually every single ad presents us a woman with wide hips, impressive breasts, and a relatively narrow waist. Take, for example, the stunning Sophie Theallet advertisement featuring Candice Huffine:

Sophie Theallet

This photo is stunning, no doubt. We see a beautiful woman baring an exquisite body for the camera, all with a powerful gaze and sultry pout. This is a woman who is confident, unabashed, and undeniably sexy. She is proud and she is the classic image of femininity—smooth skin, long legs, wide hips, tiny waist, bulging breasts, and elegant facial structure.

The issue here isn’t with the woman or with the photo. Both are breathtaking. The issue is: Where does this photo fit into the body-diversity conversation?

This seems like an easy answer—obvious, really. But the photo isn’t breaking down barriers, it’s only reshaping them. The photo is still advertising a kind of perfection: the “feminine ideal” reimagined for the current era. Millions of women cannot relate to the advertised kind of beauty: deep-toned skin, curvy in all the “right” places, plump lips, intoxicating eyes, and—most of all—that va-va-voom shape.

Consider another moment in which a “body-diverse” model broke ground: Ashley Graham, who was hired by none other than Sports Illustrated. Her website features a video in which she parades around in lingerie, looking absolutely stunning and flirting with the camera and a handsome gentleman who simply can’t handle her. The SI shoot featured this photo:

Ashley Graham Swimsuits for All


Do I respect her confidence? Absolutely. Do I admire her charisma? Of course. Do I think she’s sexy? Unbelievably. But do I relate to her? Not at all.

Looking at the video and Ashley Graham’s portfolio, we see yet another gorgeously shaped woman with big boobs, wide hips, and a narrow waist. Her lips are luscious, her jawline is distinctly carved, and she boasts a stunning smile. She’s embodying the new ideal—the show-stopping “Power-Feminine Curvy.”

These women are beautiful. We can’t deny that, but many of us are simultaneously disappointed, because we are being offered an alternative standard of beauty to which we still cannot relate. We are seeing plus-size models, yes; we are seeing gorgeous women, yes; but we are really seeing only one body type. This isn’t body-diversity. It’s swinging from extremely skinny to extremely curvy.

In “The Shocking Truth About Plus-Size Models,” A.R. Stone argues that

“No one should be encouraged to starve themselves or hate their bodies because they don’t match up to the unrealistic, photoshopped fictions that decorate our ads and tabloids. We would all do well to embrace a more realistic, natural, and positive attitude toward our bodies.”

While most women whole-heartedly agree with this statement, there is another version of this statement that can easily reflect the new “Power-Feminine Curvy” era. Many women are not “Fashion Skinny,” and yet don’t boast round breasts or wide hips or inward-turning waists or the distinctive “plus-size model” facial structure revolving around swollen-looking lips and seductive eyes. Many women aren’t Fashion Skinny, and yet aren’t Power-Feminine Curvy, either—far from it. No one should be encouraged to starve themselves, that’s true. At the same time, though, no woman should feel like she can’t be beautiful without a boob job, butt implants, and lip injections.

Calvin Klein’s first experiment with plus-size models was with Myla Dalbesio, the size-10 stunner in this now-legendary photo:

2419FC7200000578-2876413-image-m-56_1418756118379

Dalbesio unwittingly sparked a global Twitter debate about whether she deserved the label “plus-size” because she is ironically too small to fairly represent the bigger sizes of the modeling industry. She’s actually lamented her own too-small size, claiming that she’s not “fat or fabulous” enough to be “plus-size,” and yet she’s not small enough to be straight-size. She claims, ‘[People] say, “What do you have to complain about? You have a great body.” But if you’re a size 6 or 10, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to see yourself represented too.’

Dalbesio is, perhaps, the fashion industry’s most groundbreaking model, because she resists both “Fashion Skinny” and “Power-Feminine Curvy” beauty ideals. Right now, it seems like these are our two standards: Are you tiny? Or are you hourglass-shaped, curvy enough in the right places, and absolutely fabulous?

If not, sorry. You don’t fit.

That’s not how these women see it, of course. In the Lane Bryant “#PlusIsEqual” promotional campaign video, a line of black-clad divas struts forth, flaunting their bodies and claiming “it doesn’t matter what size you are.”

This statement begs the question: Why do all of these women have exactly the same body type?

And perhaps that’s a question that simply can’t be answered, at least yet. On the bright side, the “Power-Feminine Curvy” movement is working wonders in the fashion industry, and America is thrilled with its progress. Ashley Graham, while she herself embodies the “fat and fabulous” movement from which Delbesio is excluded, told Vogue that “I believe you can be healthy at every size, and if you take care of yourself, it doesn’t matter how big you are, from a 2 to 22, you can be active and love the skin you’re in.” And this is exactly what audiences should be seeing as the movements progress. Hopefully, we will eventually see more of a range of models’ sizes, because everyone is beautiful—size 2, size 22, and everywhere in between.

One thought on “The Problem with “Plus-Size”: How the Fashion Industry Isn’t Breaking Down Barriers of Perfection, It’s Only Reshaping Them

  1. Great great post. I can surely relate to some of the points you have made in this post. There is definitely a shift in what we see in the media as “plus size”. It’s great that we are seeing these women at all because this has not always been the case. However, I cant help but also notice that there is an element of sexy that has to come with being a plus size model. That includes the big bust and big bottom and the signature hourglass shape . I can’t help but wonder if the media is objectifying our larger women.

    Liked by 1 person

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