Over the last few years I’ve been following the fight for plus size models to become more mainstream. They’ve broken onto the runways and into fashion magazines with much more frequency and a lot of controversy over the last three years.
Recently, a magazine dedicated to plus-size fashion and models ran a more controversial ad, including this photo. Plus size model Katya Zharkova (size 12) posed provocatively with powerful statistic dramatizing the problem with the fashion industry:
“Most runway models meet the Body Mass Index (BMI) for Anorexia.”
“Twenty years ago the average fashion model weight 8% less than the average woman. Today she weighs 23% less. “
“Ten years ago, plus-size models averaged between size 12 and 18. …Today the majority of plus-size models on agency boards are between size 6 and 14, while the customers continue to express their dissatisfaction.”
A friend of mine posted this link to an article about this ad campaign on her facebook page. One of her friend’s replied: “This is great, however I think this article is trying to glorify plus-size women, which is just as unhealthy as glorifying anorexic, standard model-size women.” I’ve heard similar arguments before. Such as, “Shouldn’t fashion be promoting healthy as beautiful? Supporting plus-size doesn’t accomplish that.” An important question to ask is, Is that true?
First of all, being plus-size, if plus-size is considered 6-14, doesn’t necessarily mean you are overweight. What determines that is your BMI, which is affected by your height and build (are you small boned or large boned? are you muscular or not very muscular?). There are short, fine boned women who would be overweight at a size 6 and tall, broad boned women who would be underweight at a size 6. There are healthy women wearing size 14s and unhealthy women wearing size 14s.
Next, it’s important to look at the models that are being chosen. They are all healthy. They may have a little pouch but they are far from obese. I would venture to say that if their BMI is technically overweight it is just barely so. These women clearly take good care of themselves and as a result they are confident and sexy. To be honest, some are much more attractive than their thinner counterpart as Crystal Renn (right) proves in this spread for V Magazine.
It’s also important to look at women’s responses. When Glamour ran this photo back in 2009 of 20-year-old Lizzi Miller, who is a size 12-14 and an avid softball player/belly dancer, they were inundated with emails from readers. Most of their readers expressed their gratitude to see a model they could relate to looking beautiful and at ease in a magazine (according to this article in Jezebel). One could say that seeing models they can relate to made them feel like they can be beautiful and sexy themselves. It is a result of this positive response that Glamour has had larger plus-size campaigns and many other magazines have followed suit.
So is this fight for plus-size healthy? I believe it is. By affirming the beauty of these women’s bodies fashion magazines and designers aren’t promoting obesity, nor are they showcasing it. (People who think otherwise don’t know what obesity really looks like). What they are doing is encouraging women, and our society, to appreciate our bodies, including our “flaws”. What is so striking and moving about these models is not their size, it is their confidence, ease and peace with their bodies. That is a healthy image for all women, including anorexic and obese women.
The fashion industry’s fear that showcasing these models will make women less motivated to dress up or care for themselves is completely ludicrous. As is the idea that this will fuel obesity. Feeling beautiful can be one of the best motivations to take care of yourself. It definitely is for me. And I know I’m not alone in this.