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.
When it comes to kids’ birthday parties, I’m REALLY old-fashioned. Like ice cream and cake in the backyard, kids running around, games that don’t really pan out successfully but at least kids are smiling instead of fighting kind of thing. I love them. M has loved them. And, I think, most of the people who come like it too (or, thank you for faking it while you’re here!). No pressure on arriving on time because we can have people stay as long (or as little) as they’d like. Plenty of places to duck away quietly for a few minutes if your kid has a meltdown. Oh, and then there’s the beer for the parents. That helps.
We don’t invite the entire class, only M’s family and her closest buds from school and beyond. Sue me if this is anti-inclusive policy…but I don’t think M should have to invite Johnny or Sally if she never plays with them at school. I mean we would never invite all but one kid kind of thing, but by sticking to a general “you can invite your 4 or 5 closest friends from school” kind of approach, we keep the gift overload down to a manageable amount and she actually can focus her attention on the friends that mean the most to her. It also seems unreasonable to me that when class sizes are approaching 15, 20 or more kids that there is this notion that we have to be inviting everyone. I know this is a hot button issue for some parents, but I just don’t see the reasoning behind it. If M were ever not invited to a party it would be a good time to learn that we can’t be invited to everything all the time and it doesn’t mean you are not friends. I mean how many weddings have all of us not been invited to (even though we could have been) because the bride and groom need to keep the guest list to a certain size? No one really freaks out about that. Anyway, I digress…
We haven’t had any kind of bouncy house kind of thing (no room). We haven’t had any kind of “kid-ertainment”. Just a backyard and a couple of activities strewn about, structured and open-ended alike. Homemade cupcakes and some ice cream. Sometimes pizza if it’s a lunch party. Nothing fancy. She’s FIVE. I’m not trying to sound like I’m doing things better than anyone else. I mean who doesn’t love a bouncy house!? It’s just that I really do like these kinds of things to stay simple for M at this age because it reminds me so much of the parties my mom threw for us when we were little, and it doesn’t set the bar so high at such a young age.
Of course, having a backyard and the luck of five consecutive early Septembers with sunny weather has made this all easy. I know we’re totally f$%*ed the year it decides to rain and even this past year it was mere hours before we were certain that the sky would be clear and the grass dry enough to go forth with the activities planned. My backup plan of indoor sock tossing game was giving me shortness of breath, but luckily it wasn’t necessary.
There are plenty of parties that we get invited to that the families can’t do these kinds of parties for space reasons, and I fully appreciate the families that just don’t want to have these kinds of parties at their homes for whatever reason and go offsite instead. Gyms, cupcake bakeries, gymnastics centers, bowling alleys, plaster painting…M’s been invited to at least 5 parties in the past two months that have been at one of these kinds of places. We can’t possibly make it to all, but the ones M has gone to she has a great time. Thank goodness she hasn’t asked us for that kind of party…yet. And when she does, we’ll give it some serious thought—I’m not that unreasonable, not to mention that the home parties might actually become lame at some point and we have to rethink it.
But then again, when I get an invitation like the one I received today, I have to take a second to wrap my head around what some of these off-site parties have turned into. Look, I am not trying to sound ungrateful that they thought to invite M (and the rest of the entire class)—those parties are not usually cheap. But to put it bluntly: it is literally a legal nightmare. That’s me saying that with my mommy and attorney hats on. As far as I can remember, my parents never had to sign any kind of waiver or release when we were going to friends’ parties, and I certainly don’t have people sign away their lives when they come here for M’s shindigs.
Last month, just by way of background, M was invited to a party that was being held at a local kid gym. The invitation was a postcard type of thing, where half of it was to be ripped off and brought with us when we attended. It had a release that we had to sign, basically holding the facility harmless should M get hurt while at a party. It was, from a legal point of view, a pretty basic waiver and, more or less, one that I wasn’t too miffed about signing. I get why these centers do this. If you are a member of one of those gyms you need to sign documents like this, so it of course makes sense that any user, guest or otherwise, follows similar protocol. It’s not the parents making these forms, so, until today, I more or less held judgement at bay.
But today’s invitation really got under my collar. It too has the “I specifically agree to waive and release [GYM WITH A WELL PAID ATTORNEY] and its employees, agents and officers from any and all claims for loss of [sic--note: GWAWPA needs to tell its counsel to pay closer attention!...it should be 'or'] damage of property, liability, or personal injury that may arise from the use of [GWAWPA].” language, but it also has this:
I hereby give permission for images of my child and the use of photographs and/or video singularly or in conjunction with other photographs to be used by [GWAWPA] for advertising, publicity, commercial or other business purposes and waive any rights of compensation or ownership thereto. I understand that the term “photograph” as used herein encompasses both still photographs and video footage. . . . “
Wow. So now, if M wants to go to this party I have to be OK with the possibility that a photo or video of her might be published someplace or used in advertising? Yes, I know it’s remote, but here’s a tip: lawyers don’t draft these kinds of things just because…they’re put in because there is a chance it is going to be necessary at some point and probably because GWAWPA asked them to put something like this in the waiver. What if I’m not OK with this clause, much less the thought of her being splashed someplace like a roadside billboard? And that’s just it, I am not really OK with it. Not the possibility of them profiting off of her or her friends’ images, but that I would have no control in how it is used. Moreover, I know full well GWAWPA is not going to let her participate if I cross it out or don’t sign it—indeed it even says so on the first of two pages of the invitation. So, by having parties in these kinds of places, parents are being put in a sometimes uncomfortable position of possibly opting out because of something like this.
Will we go? I’m honestly not sure. I need to sit on this a while. I’m guessing the majority of the folks out there might think I am going way overboard about this and that I need to lighten up, and to an extent that is certainly true. But then again, will those same folks please send me their kids’ photos so I can use them to draw more readers to my blog? Yeah, that’s what I thought. And guess what, GWAWPA already has 8 photos and 4 videos on its website with kids running around. Will M and the other birthday party friends be added next?
It’s a principle kind of thing. It shouldn’t be like this to have, much less attend, a kid’s birthday party. I don’t make people sign waivers at the door when they come to M’s parties. We have a giant granite rock outcropping with a nearby 20 foot drop behind a fence in our backyard (we live in an old quarry) that might as well be made out of kid-magnet because it is the first thing that kids want to climb on when they get here. And someone could get hurt (thankfully not yet!) but I don’t make them sign a waiver. That’s what liability insurance is for, more or less. And friends can equally count on the fact that I won’t be taking pictures of their kids and posting them on this blog, so I don’t shell out photographic releases either.
It’s so crazy this kind of litigious and commercialized world that even our kids are now living in. Is this really what we want, just to sing Happy Birthday with friends?
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz
Most people have heard of NIMBYism — Not In My Back Yard — the response that typically happens when a less than favorable land use (big box store, landfill, power plant, etc.) is proposed for an area near residents who vehemently oppose the project. In most cases, I generally do not side with the NIMBY folks — maybe it’s my profession, but it probably comes down more to practicality — these things have to go somewhere.
But I’m here to coin a new acronym: NIMBT. Not In My Boob Tube! While I probably have more conservative views about kids and watching TV than most, one thing I think that almost all parents would agree with, no matter what your position is on how much TV kids should be allowed to watch, is that there needs to be significantly less commercialization of the programming that is available for children. And if we do not take a stand now, it is only going to get worse. This is not about making the choice to simply keep the TV off — it’s about maintaining a certain level of respect towards children and their parents who do wish to use television media for entertainment from time to time.
According to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood–an agency that I highly respect and admire–there is presently a push by the company that makes Skechers shoes to broadcast what is essentially an advertisement disguised as a children’s program. I encourage you to visit CCFC’s website and read about this issue here. Many people are not aware that there are federal laws that regulate the amount of commercials that can be shown on cable television during a given hour of children’s programming. Depending on the day of the week, the maximum amount of air time that is allowed for commercials during kids’ programs is either 12 or 10.5 minutes. However, the new program proposed by Skechers to air on Nickelodeon — Zevo-3 — appears to be in clear violation of that mandate because it is essentially a long cartoon that is designed to sell various lines of sneakers.
So to this I declare NIMBT! I strongly oppose this type of programming. There are plenty of studies and pediatric articles — here is but one — that state that very young children simply do not have the cognitive ability to understand the motives behind advertisements or even understand when they are watching a commercial instead of a television program. Moreover, it is hard enough to keep kids away from the onslaught of non-television ads and other marketing ploys that try to sell countless products endorsed by or emblazoned with television-based characters. (I still can’t figure out why there is Elmo on diapers that are designed for babies less than 3 months old.) Almost everywhere you go–the doctor’s office, the grocery store, children’s museums, and even our public schools–these kinds of characters are everywhere. Do we really now want to have advertisements themselves become entertainment? The consequences of allowing something like Zevo-3 to air would open the door wide open for things like shows based on the Ronald McDonald, Cap’n Crunch or Chester Cheetah. Although it is a murky line, I do think there is a difference between selling products that come about after a show has become successful on its own merits versus creating a show based solely on existing products.
At the moment, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the federal agency that regulates television programs and enforces The Children’s Television Act, is accepting public comments about the proposed program. The CCFC website (through the link above) has recommended language to be used by opponents of this type of programming who wish to be heard. The time for public input closes on Friday, October 22, so please consider filling out a comment form in opposition to Zevo-3 (note: your comments and name will be published on the FCC website) so that we do not have to turn on our televisions a year from now and decide whether we want our children to sit through a 30 minute program narrated by Lucky the Leprechaun or the Froot Loop toucan and then deal with the aftermath in the cereal aisle. Enough is enough already!
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