Tall, short, big, small; women of all shapes and sizes work together, live together and walk down the street together, yet upon entering high-street stores together, they are forced to split. Judged unable to shop together, separated by ‘petite’ and ‘plus’ sections, women are divided by these labels, by a fashion industry one-sidedly depicting an inexact picture of what it means to be healthy.
The debate against the fashion industry’s choice of ‘stick-thin’ size zero models has been raging for a long while now, and the new labelled ‘plus-sized’ models are slowly being welcomed into the industry, yet why are we still trying to demarcate healthy, aspirational figures when this is something impossible to quantify into one image?
After all, a healthy individual can look a range of ways- in no way is shape synonymous with healthiness. A body may be judged to be aesthetically acceptable for a ‘beach body’ campaign by Protein World, but this is following the popular misguided assumption that how you look physically correlates with how healthy you are. We need to move away from the misconception that the only way to start getting healthy is ‘weight loss’. Type in ‘get healthy’ into Google and we are inundated with ways to fight our impending obesity through shedding the pounds. Yet health is a state of mental and social well-being, not simply physical fitness.
In this way, why do shops need to distinguish and label ‘plus-sizes’ when people in these sizes can fit into the ‘normal’ 18.5-24.9 category of the BMI? (An assessment tool that has been heavily criticised in itself). A ‘plus-size’ man or woman can be just as healthy if not healthier than a ‘petite’ being. For instance, somebody who has had a stable BMI of 32 for most of their life, who exercises regularly and eats a balanced diet, is likely to have a very different metabolic profile than someone with a lower BMI, who regularly overeats and leads an inactive lifestyle. Yet the former example would most likely be labelled as ‘plus-size’ as PLUS Model magazine identified how ‘in the fashion industry, “plus-size” is identified as sizes 12-24’. ‘Plus-size’ poster girl, Robyn Lawley, an exquisitely toned size 12, told The Daily Mail in a recent interview her irritation towards the way in which the fashion industry continues to see her and others as a ‘niche’ part of the business: ‘It’s derogatory- it’s a label. I’m a model; I don’t need “plus-size” in front of it.’ Going into the high-street shop and watching my friends- a lot fitter, a lot stronger and a lot more muscly than me- be stigmatised by the separated sections and ‘petite’ girls on the posters is simply wrong.
Of course I am not suggesting that all labelled sizes be removed and we all stand in store trying to guess whether the top will look like a sack of potatoes on us, simply that we remove such judgemental labels that serve to alienate women- and men- into brackets which are commonly judged synonymously with healthiness.
Essentially, the ‘skinny’ vs. ‘plus-sized’ debates are diverting attention away from what should always be the main point of focus; what is healthy. It cannot be the fashion industry’s responsibility to quantify ‘healthy’ into one image and shape, because healthy is simply not one shape. For many people, no matter how hard they try, the promoted ‘petite’ image is impossible and unnecessary to attain.
So let us move away from weight loss and towards happiness when trying to get healthy for summer. This fulminating polemic may just be one voice among many- yet the more that we, the exasperated public, speak out against the industry’s demarcation of sizes, the closer we get to a day that we can walk into the shops with our friends without being forced to stop our fascinating conversations to visit our respective sections.
Models (left to right): Chris Pike, Cynthia Otote, Imo Watson, Kenny Dada.
Photographer: Richard Wakefield Photography
Concept/Styling: Beth Kume-Holland