The impetus for today’s post is this article here on Huffington Post. I get that it (and other articles like it) is supposed to be an uplifting, “we’re making forward strides” kind of piece, and to a large extent, it is. But, ultimately, articles like this gnaw at me on some level because they make me question whether we really are making progress when it comes to describing women, particularly in media. This open letter is my response.
An Open Letter to Everyone Who Continues to Use the Word “Plus” When Describing Women (or Their Clothing) of a Certain Size:
Stop. Please, please stop. The use of the word “plus” to qualify (and quantify!) the size of a woman or the clothes she wears—it has got to stop.
I write this letter because I’m almost 40 and if I’m honest with myself, I am effortlessly a size 14 and with more discipline (read: no ice cream) a size 12. There, I said it out loud. Maybe a size 10 during a good span of consistent healthy eating and exercising, like right now. But I am well aware that 12 and 14 continue to lurk in the shadows of my running shoes and reveal themselves often. But I’m old enough to now know, accept and appreciate that there is a vast range of body sizes and shapes amongst us. I don’t need you or your ad copy to go out of your way to make the point.
I also write this letter because my daughter is 5 and a half years old. She is not yet aware that there are such adjectives used to describe the size of the female body or clothing. And, if you listen to me here, maybe she will never have to. Though it’s going to be hard as she soon grows out of her size 5 clothes. This size 6x that rests on the racks between 6 and 7—what exactly is that? Never mind, don’t tell me. I think I already know.
Think about it. “Plus” size. Plus what? Why do we use this kind of descriptor only when it comes to clothing size?
Correction: Women’s clothing size.
I’m not trying to suggest that there are not folks (like me) who are bigger than others. Of course there are. And of course you need to give sizes to things so we can find, order or buy them. It’s a range, like everything else. But considering the average size of women, why do we not instead call our sisters wearing sizes 0 (!?) to, say size 10, “minus-size” or “inferior-size”? I’ll tell you why, it’s because those sound silly. Just like “plus”.
And, while we’re on the subject, how can anyone even be a size 0? Zero is nothing. Nada. Zilch. So if there is a tag that says size 0 (or, insanity at its best, 00), why is there a pair of pants attached? What’s next? Size infinity with an endless bolt of fabric just clipped to the hanger? Don’t even get me started on vanity sizing. Though it does beg the question of what we’re even talking about anymore when it comes to size.
How come we don’t ever hear about “plus-size” male models? No, they are merely big (which can be equally offensive, in my opinion) or tall. How nice for them.
Let me make my point another way. We also don’t ever hear about “plus-melanin” skin or “plus-age” individuals, just to use two easy examples. Indeed, to do so would be derogatory and discriminatory because it inherently sets an arbitrary, if not idealistic, benchmark of what society and the media supposedly finds minimally (or maximally, as it were) acceptable. Maybe this particular point is best highlighted by the pomp and circumstance that is generated when an average sized woman makes the cover of a major fashion magazine, like today’s article on Huffington Post about the new Elle Quebec cover featuring Justine LeGault. Don’t get me wrong. I love that she is on the cover. LOVE. How can anyone not?—she is stunning. But I don’t care for the singling out that often ensues because of her size.
Or what about the fact that plus size clothing is too often sold in different sections of a store, or a different store altogether, even though the women who wear all of these clothes collectively gather and mingle together as friends and family. Or how about the cutesy ads and reminders from retailers that they have the latest trends in “my size” too. The size of a woman or her shirt shouldn’t be newsworthy nor should it be exiled to the far corners of retail shopping with pejorative labels.
If these women are truly models, then, by definition, they are simply meant to display clothing to prospective buyers like me. Buyers of all sizes. Under that definition, we should be able to see, on a regular, uneventful basis, women with whom we might just as easily share clothes. Certainly not all of the time, but enough of the time so that it is mainstream. Prospective buyers want to know how those dresses and pants will look on them, not some unattainable, unrealistic ideal. But by rarely using anything other than smaller sized models, media and the fashion industry are turning these models into an ideal. An ideal that the rest of us cannot relate to. An ideal that ultimately causes the unnecessary media frenzy when a larger woman makes the front page.
Here’s a thought. Focus your energy on selling and showcasing beautiful clothes and models—in all sizes. Describe the fabrics and the handcrafted details of the dress on the cover. Tell me about where the model is from and what she loves to do on the weekends. I don’t need you to add in whether or not she is “plus” size, I can take note (if I choose) all by myself, thank you very much. But please, above all else, stop using the word “plus” and patting yourselves and each other on the back when an average-size (or ANY size) woman is featured on a cover. It makes a spectacle out of the models and the rest of us women like her, including, quite possibly, my daughter someday.
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz
I get several magazine subscriptions. Some are so I can keep current with what’s doing in my field. Some are so that I can stay inspired in the garden or with my writing.
And then there’s Vanity Fair. I originally subscribed to this one a few years ago for the feature articles (which are always brilliantly written) and the photographers that regularly contribute their work. I am not a “fashionista” to say the least, but I am sure that is why some people would thumb through this one too.
Truth be told: I can’t stand the ads. There are too many of them. And almost none of them apply to my current situation—married, mom, size 10 marsupial-like body (give
or take a size after some ice cream), and no time to spend hob nobbing with the social elite. I’m also not married to Don Johnson, so I am not sure who they think is buying the sockless menswear. These ads are usually also entirely inane and have no grasp on the reality of the women, at least most that I know, who have the disposable income to actually buy some of these things. They are what has created my love-hate relationship with this magazine. For example,
Considering I get up at 6:15AM, this make-up’s only gonna get me to 9:15PM. Are you kidding? That’s the first time I see my husband without a jam faced kid asking a bazillion questions. If I’m not flawless by that late hour, it’s gonna get ugly in this marriage. And I’m pretty sure the K-Prep teachers, M’s little pals, the pediatrician and the coffee shop clerk are not going to be amazed by any flawless beauty I’ve got rockin’ during the day. Show me a 17-hour makeup, and we’re in business.
Unless that’s a bunch of spinach that she’s been trying to feed her kid for the past four hours and she’s passed out from sheer exhaustion, this one’s not speaking to me either. Not to mention, denim? On a tropical beach? Newsflash: many women my age (myself included) are usually SWEATING all the time because we’re perimenopausal. Show me a woman in a stretched out Land’s End tankini with potato chip dust and I’d probably pay attention.
Damn! We chose the preschool that doesn’t have a helicopter parking spot. Maybe her elementary school will have one. I’ll have to ask during orientation.
See note above about me not being married to Don Johnson. Also, the extra large man-purse is not helping the situation. Unless that’s from the dad-takes-kid-to-swim-lessons line.
I’ve also learned that there are just three things you need to have youthful looking skin. Ready? You will need
a second chance . . .
. . . a miracle . . .
. . . and a sonic weapon.
The other thing that jumps out is how none of the models look like me and my fellow parents, well except maybe these two:
They look like they haven’t seen the sun in a while. Me either.
And looky here . . . someone’s been having fun with her kids and the finger paint!
I do look like that once in a while. Probably don’t smell as nice though.
Look at these catty women. They’re totally making fun of that mom over on the other side of the cafe, mocking her Timex. Girlfriend, please. A Timex???
Hey, wait. I wear a Timex. They’re talking about me! Bitches.
My hair’s been getting me down lately (should I cut, not cut?). But thank goodness it will only take . . . let’s see . . .
So that’s 39 years divided by 2 years is 19.5 . . . times 2 minutes . . . 39 minutes for me to regain the glory of my baby hair again. 39 minutes!? I don’t have that kind of time. I’ve got eight uninterrupted minutes at best in the shower. So that means I’m going back to my hair from when I was 31. Suppose that’ll have to do.
Let me tell you something, Vanity Fair, if I have an afternoon to go hiking in a pristine forest with one of my girlfriends, I sure as shit am not wearing this
But I do see myself wearing this to the next parent-teacher conference
Will I continue to get this magazine? Well, in the short term, yes. I’m subscribed through January 2014. But after that, I’m not so sure. To use a cliche, I read it for the articles. I’m just not so sure it justifies having to paw through pages and pages of ads for things that I’m just never gonna buy.* Maybe they should have a “mom” edition of Vanity Fair where the ads are for wine, chocolate and padlocks for the bathroom door. Hey, even I’d consider a Fendi padlock if it lets me take a poop in private.
* Actually, there was a tiny bit of hope about halfway through. And I can buy it no matter how many wrinkles and damaged hairs I have.
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz.
Copyright (c) 2010-2014 Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved. Personal theme was created in WordPress by Obox Themes.