Several people sent me this link to a recent article and photo shoot in Plus Model magazine. There are striking images of a plus size model next to a traditional model, making the plus model (a reported size 12) look gargantuan and the traditional model look, well, like a stick. Obviously the desired effect.
However, on further reading I found the message, conveyed clearly in the title “Plus size bodies, what is wrong with them anyway?” to be, well, unhealthy.
I am the first to admit that most runway models are way too thin. And yes, as the article suggests, I bet many of them have a body mass index below 18.5, which is unhealthy.
The article goes on the mention that 50% of American women wear a size 14 or larger, a fact I agree is lost on most booking agents and designers as most clothing companies stop at a size 14. Anyone needing a size 16 or up has to head into plus size territory. High-end denim, which for the men reading this is sized differently, often stops at a 32 (roughly equivalent to a size 12). How do I know? On a good day I could squeeze into one of the few brands that made a size 34.
The article states that we need size diversity in models and that consumers should boycott stores that are not marketing appropriately to the plus sized consumer, because:
…there is nothing wrong with our bodies. We are bombarded with weight-loss ads every single day, multiple times a day because it’s a multi-billion dollar industry that preys on the fear of being fat. Not everyone is meant to be skinny, our bodies are beautiful and we are not talking about health here because not every skinny person is healthy.
Well, now wait just a minute. Waist size is a very important measurement of health and when a woman has a waist circumference bigger than 88 cm (which is 34.6 inches and typically a size 16 in the American market) her risk of death (from all causes, not just heart disease) increases. For men, the cut off for waist circumference is 102 cm. While I agree that we shouldn’t be telling women they look “wrong,” we should be talking about health.
Waist circumference is a good health barometer. It reflects abdominal fat, which is the exact worst place to have fat (abdominal fat increases systemic inflammation, contributes to lipid dysregulation, and is a contributor to insulin resistance, a precursor of diabetes). Waist circumference has also been studied pretty extensively, is easy to check at home, and is reflected in clothing size so very à propos to the Plus Model article.
What about the “not every skinny person is healthy” quote. Well, you can definitely be too skinny. A body mass index of < 18.5 increases your risk of mortality, just as being overweight does. And you can also have a normal BMI (19-24.5) and technically be out of shape and at risk for cardiac disease if you carry very little muscle and mostly, well, fat (which is why BMI is not the greatest measurement tool).
And no, I’m not some skinny bitch who doesn’t get it. I was overweight from 2003-2011 and spent the last three of those years wearing extra-large surgical scrubs because I just couldn’t bring myself to shop for plus size clothes. At my peak I had a waist circumference of 35 inches and wore a size 16. After a year of dedicated efforts, my waist is now a very healthy 28 inches and I am wearing a size 8. I am now healthier and likely to live longer.
I agree that women deserve to have representative marketing and my preference is to see models of various shapes and sizes with an emphasis on healthy. I happen to be very tall, so obviously a tall model helps me see how clothes might fit for me, but I can see how that would drive someone who is 5’2″ batty. It would be no different from me trying to gauge how something might fit looking at petite clothes. And similarly, a women who is buying a size 18 should also have an idea how that garment might fit her. However, I will say that one thing that helped sustain me in my weight loss journey was the dream of a pair
of Rock and Republic jeans. God, I thought they were the epitome of sexy. And of course, they stopped at size 32. I put a picture of them on my fridge and having that goal, as superficial as it was, helped. The irony being that Rock and Republic went bankrupt during my weight loss journey and were bought by Kohl’s. So wearing a pair of the legendary Skinny Bitch jeans is a dream I will sadly never fulfill.
To say that “everyone isn’t meant to be skinny” and “we are not talking about health” is just wrong. Skinny and healthy are two different things and while everyone isn’t meant to be skinny everyone is meant to be healthy, which means (for women, anyway) a waist circumference less than 88 cm or 35 inches, clearly not in the Plus Model Magazine demographic. And so the piece comes off as one big self-serving promotion for plus size models instead of an interesting piece on body image, why women feel “wrong” when they are overweight, why clothing designers neglect the plus size market, fitness (because you can be overweight and fit), and the difference between skinny and healthy.
I agree that plus sized women should have more clothing options and be marketed to in an appropriate manner, but to insinuate that being over weight or obese carries no health risk is incorrect.
There is nothing wrong with a plus sized body. In fact there is nothing wrong with any one of us. But the truth, uncomfortable as it may be, is that being plus sized (a size 16 and up) is associated with health risks.