The Politics behind Plus Size Modelling

In recent years, many high street retailers, such as Topshop and H&M, have come under heavy scrutiny for employing dangerously skinny models to represent their clothing lines. Undoubtedly, the employment of models that appear to be severely underweight and on the brink of collapse represents irresponsibility on the part of the retailer; yet I wonder if we have plummeted from one unhealthy extreme to another equally disastrous extreme.

As the popularity of plus size models in catwalk shows, on the front of magazine covers, and in shopping stores around the UK increases, we must question whether plus size modelling is a celebration of women who come in all shapes and sizes, or whether society has begun to condone a lifestyle of fast-food and no exercise.

Plus size modelling is on the one hand, long overdue. The obsessive nature of the media with overtly skinny models and celebrities who represent what it is to be ‘beautiful’ puts young teens and adults, both male and female, under an enormous amount of pressure. The endeavours to attain such unrealistic sizes have contributed to the increase in eating disorders, anorexia, self-harm and depression for teens worldwide. The introduction of models that represent a realistic vision of what it is to be human must be celebrated. It is reassuring that progress has and is being made. Dove, for example, started a campaign for ‘Real Beauty’ in 2004, helping women embrace their bodies and start becoming comfortable with themselves. Furthermore, in 2006 they doubled efforts by starting the Dove Self-Esteem fund, which aimed to help women realise that being thin does not necessarily equate to beauty.

On the other hand, we are treading a very thin line with regards to plus size modelling. Anything from size 6 to 16 is perfectly acceptable, given the vast array of body shapes and heights women average at. I am fully aware that some plus size models are of size 14 and 16, and these sizes should not be deemed ‘plus’ size, considering the average dress size of women in the UK is a respectable 14.

However the craze for plus size modelling is just as controversial as the size zero debate. When retailers, modelling agencies and poster campaigns use a woman of size 20 plus as a celebration of the ‘real’ woman, it is unacceptable and simply condones obesity. Our human frame is not designed to be overweight; hence obesity causes heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, pain in the knees and back, and sheer physical discomfort to name but a few issues.  Australian Journalist Damian Woolbough demonstrates my point perfectly when he wrote that, ‘there is a place for women of all sizes in the fashion media…but obese models send just as irresponsible a message about the need for healthy eating and exercise as models with protruding clavicles and ribcages’.

It is evidently the result of our overtly politicised world, that plus sized modelling has crept in to soothe the disgruntled feelings of the overweight. Models have always been thin because their symbolic role is that of the clothes hanger. It is obvious that most clothes look more attractive on a thin model – I cringe from inevitable gasps of horror at this statement, but in a frustratingly PC world, I’m desperate for someone to say it how it is. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a thin model; it is their job to be thin (but that does not equate to starving). Take Twiggy for example, deemed ‘face of 1966’ and absolutely stunning. Simply a beautiful girl with annoyingly better genes than most, but let’s not allow the media sweep us away with accusations that every thin model is surviving off an olive per week.

Ultimately, overweight women should not feel shunned by the fashion industry or ashamed in any way about their size, but simultaneously one of the prerequisites for being a model is being thin. Size 20 plus cannot be considered healthy or acceptable, and it is wrong for the media to portray it as so.

Helena Murphy

2 Comments on this post.
  • Sarah
    28 February 2012 at 15:18
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    I very much agree! Super-skinny models encourage low self esteem and depression, but I agree that normalising obesity is also extremely dangerous.

  • Louise
    22 November 2012 at 12:18
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    I agree, however I must admit I’ve not noticed a recent abundance of plus size models, so I’m not sure this is a real problem just yet. Would love to see some normal sized models!

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