Is the Term 'Plus-size' Harmful?

There has been ample debate around the term Plus-size and whether it’s a potentially harmful label or whether it’s necessary. Many people in the fashion industry, namely plus-size models and fashion influencers such as Ashley Graham and Tess Holliday have been vocal about their distaste for the label and campaigning to #DropThePlus, saying that it’s alienating, isolating and has negative connotations.

However, as the debate has developed many have stepped in posing the question, is it the label itself that’s harmful or is it the fatphobia that surrounds it that’s harmful? As with all labels, it was initially intended to be used as a practical signpost for those looking for larger sizes but it has now morphed in to something much more sinister with a stigma attached to it. Due to the fact that as far as our society is concerned, let’s be honest, the worst thing a woman can be is fat.

The term can be helpful in identifying retailers that stock clothes that fit you; stores using that term allow you a level of certainty that there’s something for you. Although that’s not necessarily always the case as some plus-size ranges only go up to a size 18 and others cater for 24+. Terms like plus-size, petit or big and tall are now so embedded in to our society that digital marketing becomes virtually impossible for people to find brands that cater for them without them. These labels act as key words in the digital landscape - the place where tiny robots look for words you say, speak, see and search and give you lots more like that. They are crucial for algorithms, SEO and getting your brand in front of people and the use of different, more mitigating terms creates an inconsistent consumer environment and can make for confusing shopper experience.

Another part of the conversation is the perceived health risks of getting carried away with celebrating and embracing bigger bodies. Doesn’t that risk encouraging young girls to not care about their weight and potentially face drastic health consequences? A leading nutritionist specialising in women's health, Dr Marilyn Glenville explains how being big and healthy are different and it all depends on your body fat percentage as opposed to your weight. Being too slim poses its own health risks too.

The trouble is, according to government statistics 60% of women in England and Wales are now classed as overweight and with 25% labelled obese, that's more than half of British women looking for larger clothing and that’s without including the number of men doing the same. With that in mind, is a label even necessary? It seems if that many people are classed as plus-size in the way the term is used now, then surely the label succumbs to redundancy? Or is the current conversation surrounding the term about something completely different entirely? It seems the wider argument is around labelling and while a label may inevitably offend some, it can also empower others. The issue here lies with the misrepresentation of the average person. So just showcasing super skinny or super fat models in marketing material is not representative of the majority either - we need a happy medium. By embracing models who look like the average person makes it much easier for people to relate to the clothes being worn, surely making them more likely to purchase.

It’s funny really, how whilst researching such conversation the majority of discussion surrounds women and women in the context of fashion/beauty. There’s no mention of men and how they struggle to find larger sizes too. It begs a question about whether it’s all part of a much wider problem in society. Is it just another way to reinforce the need for a woman to be labelled as ‘desirable’ or ‘undesirable’?

How do you feel about the term plus-size?

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