A recent firestorm over an Instagram post from online clothing retailer ASOS has revived a debate over the label “plus-size.” In early July, ASOS posted a photo of model and filmmaker Naomi Shimada, referring to her in the caption as being “plus-size,” and sparking a mixed response of praise and criticism. The debate led ASOS to remove the plus-size term from their caption, which further prompted disapproval from other individuals who felt that by backing down, ASOS was excluding plus-size consumers.
The heated discussion paints a picture of the modern state of body positivity and whether common ground on a positive representation of all body shapes is possible. By utilizing the “plus-size” label, the fashion industry creates a binary opposition between the norm and “the other,” enforcing an ideology that “plus size” is the subversive opposition. Does the continual use of this term just reinforce the concept that the average size is dominant over plus size, or does the elimination of the label exclude the plus size community from the fashion industry?
On the other hand, there are certainly those who have embraced the label and deemed it inclusive of all body types. One user’s comment on ASOS’ photo, as highlighted by Business Insider, accused the brand of “seem[ing] ashamed. Instead of hiding away from the term why not embrace it. All bodies are good bodies so don't be scared that this particular body is plus sized!” The comment offers the suggestion that disregarding “plus-size” might actually negate potential acceptance of the body shapes that the category represents.
Both using and excluding labels have their advantages and disadvantages. What becomes trickier is the interpretation of “plus-size” in the eyes of the fashion industry. By now, we’ve all heard about Amy Schumer’s criticism of Glamour magazine – one of the most body-positive mainstream publications around – for putting her in their “plus-size” issue without her informed permission. She went on to say that she didn’t find anything wrong with being “plus-size,” but said that wears a size 6 or 8, and in the United States, “plus-size” is considered a size 16. She added, that "young girls seeing my body type thinking that is plus size," could create a hurtful mindset.
This brings us back to ASOS’ own dilemma with the word. Naomi Shimada is a size UK 16, which translates to a US 10 according to the ASOS size guide. What does this reveal? Schumer’s argument reminds us that the label “plus-size” (for those who are actually a size 16) would not fit into the ideal of the fashion media’s representation of “plus-size,” further excluding those who do not fit a certain body criteria. The term plus-size arguably becomes a marketing buzz word, used to tout a body positive corporate attitude without accurately representing its implications and continuing to cast women below a size 16 to represent them.
Perhaps the argument isn’t whether “plus-size” is a positive or a derogatory term. It is imperative to emphasize that all different body types should be embraced. Due to the subjectivity of “plus-size” - or any other sizes for that matter - it is impossible to accurately represent a diverse, multifaceted community under one umbrella term. Although the debate is ongoing about how PC the label is, all shapes and sizes are beautiful regardless if they identify as petite, tall, curvy, maternity or plus.