WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE PLUS SIZED IN THE FASHION WORLD?

Robyn Lawley for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit
Robyn Lawley for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit

Robyn Lawley is the first plus-sized model with a spread in a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition. But other than getting an “A plus” for looking amazing, her stone-flat abs leave us scratching our heads as to how she is classified as “plus sized.” She says she is “beyond size 10” as if any size beyond a size 10 is unmentionable in polite society. The reality is that most American women are larger than a size 10. The average is 12 – 14. The media wants to fill their screens and pages with attractive, beautiful images, but beauty is not exclusive to single digit sizes.

The label of “plus-size” is often used arbitrarily, to justify featuring a beautiful model who doesn’t fit the normal model sizes.  Plus-sized models only get pages in a magazine if they are there specifically to talk about body acceptance and being plus-sized. Bust magazine recently featured five plus-sized models on their cover, the whole story about how plus-sized models should be featured more. If every time a larger girl is featured in a photo shoot, it has to be explicitly mentioned that she is in fact “plus-sized,” it’s not doing anything for bringing body types onto an equal level.

Alda Models
ALDA Models

There is a trend of more plus-sized models getting booked in the last year or two, but picking Robyn Lawley to represent a large body type is misleading. In the summer of 2013, after Ford models closed its Ford + division, a group of five plus-sized New York City models, Ashley Graham, Danielle Redman, Inga Eiriksdottir, Julie Henderson, and Marquita Pring, formed the organization ALDA to promote diversity in body types. They then came together “I just wanted to be considered a model, and I didn’t want to be labeled,” said ALDA member Marquita Pring, who has been a “curvy girl” model since she was 15. “I don’t see myself any differently from the other girls whether skinny or plus.”

Ashley Graham, an acknowledged plus-sized supermodel, recently slammed Hollywood for using Jennifer Lawrence as a curvy girl role model; “She’s tiny!” It’s a shame that girls like Jennifer Lawrence are being told to lose weight in Hollywood. A size 16, Graham will also be featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition, promoting curves with #CurvesinBikinis.

Curves are coming back in style, inch by inch. Just look at all the recent odes to the booty: “All About that Bass,” “Anaconda,” and “Booty.” One of the most famous butts of all, the one on Kim Kardashian, had it’s shining moment recently on the cover of Paper Mag. But curves are still often seen as second rate, tabloid, and cheapened for sexuality. Skinny is more refined, apparently. A few hundred years ago, it was the other way around. Peasants were thin and starving, and the rich had beautiful, luxurious rolls.

Lena Dunham cover shoot for her book Not That Kind of Girl
Lena Dunham cover shoot for her book Not That Kind of Girl

A few celebrities have defied the pressure to whittle their bodies to Hollywood’s standards. Lena Dunham has gotten both a lot of love and a lot of hate for baring her rounded body in scenes for her show, Girls. Howard Stern has apologized for calling her a “little fat chick;” Joan Rivers criticized her for encouraging people to “get diabetes.” Girls follows the lives of four twenty-somethings in New York with all their quirks and unglamorous moments. It’s honest, even when it comes to taboo subjects like sex, drugs, jobs, and bodies. Lena couldn’t be called fat, but she has a little extra wiggle on her hips. She isn’t ashamed. She shows she can have great sex, wear cute dresses, ride a bike, and attract men just like a skinnier girl can. But Dunham has said that baring her body on the show is not, in fact, rooted in self confidence but in a sort of masochism and comfort in rejection. She knows others might reject her because of her body size, but she has taken a philosophical approach to it: “I’m sort of like: we’re one weight one day, we’re one weight another day, and some days our body just doesn’t even exist at all!”

It is slightly more acceptable to be curvy in the music industry. Beyoncé is queen of the curves at a size….4? Oh wait, she’s tiny. The pressure is definitely there. Jessica Simpson, Christina Aguilera, and Kelly Clarkson have all gone public about their weight struggles. Young girls see their stars and idols fighting to stay thin, and they think they have to do that too. The Southern rock ‘n’ roll songstress Elle King is now loud and proud about her “beyond size 10” body. Still in her twenties, she says she has decided to leave the struggles of weight control behind, now accepting herself the way she is. And what she is isn’t a “plus-sized” singer; it’s a badass bitch.

So kudos to Robyn Lawley for her Sports Illustrated Swimsuit spread, but please don’t call her “plus-sized.”

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