Empowering or Outdated? Should We Stop Using the Plus Size Label?

by Brianna Allison

stop using plus size

This article was written by The Zillennial Zine’s fall editorial intern Brianna Allison. Find her on Instagram at @ballison7. If you would like to share an article with The Zillennial, send us an email at thezillennialzine@gmail.com.

The fashion industry has been notorious for its exclusivity of diverse body types, skin colors and levels of ability. In recent years, companies have attempted to remedy this by featuring models that better reflect the real people that buy their products. As a result, models like Ashley Graham, Winnie Harlow and Madeline Stuart have graced tons of magazine covers and fashion weeks. Brands that once thrived on exclusivity, such as Abercrombie and Fitch, have been replaced with more inclusive companies like Rihanna’s Fenty. Her fashion and beauty lines feature models of every gender, body type, and skin color. 

With the movement toward body positivity, the use of terms like ‘plus-size’ have begun to come into question. Some people find the term to be offensive, as it isolates curvy consumers and can give them a negative outlook of their body size. However, some people find that the plus-size label is empowering because it allows them to celebrate their community and body size. So, it’s about time for the retail and fashion industry to consider if we should stop using plus size as a label or not.

What does plus-size even mean?

Plus-size is a label that gets thrown around a lot, but each person has a different opinion on what it means. In the fashion industry, anyone larger than a size 6 is considered to be a plus-size model. However, in recent years there has been an increase in models that are sizes 12-14 to better represent curvy consumers. 

Nevertheless, consumers are still disappointed in the fashion industry because even their “plus-size” models aren’t technically plus-size, they’re mid-size. In the non-fashion world plus-size is used for anyone who wears a size 16 and up. So there is still a whole demographic not being recognized when it comes to runway fashion.

Similar to the runway, some companies’ efforts to improve their inclusivity are being praised, while others are criticized. Brands like Nasty Gal announced that they were extending their size options for customers, however, they were ridiculed for the line only including sizes 0-18. This  is an issue considering that “currently, the average American woman wears a size 16 or 18.” And if brands have extended sizing, the clothes tend to be more reserved or dull compared to the revealing or trendy XXS-L sized clothes. This enables the idea that curvy people have to cover up their bodies and aren’t allowed to feel sexy in their outfits. In other words, the body positivity movement is still lacking on actually empowering people of all body types.

So should we drop the plus-size label?

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Some people question why we even need a label for different body sizes, namely viral TikToker, Remi Bader. On a recent “Call Her Daddy” podcast episode, she talked about her struggles with mid-size and plus-size labels, plus-sized clothing and the community as a whole. Bader dreams of creating her own all inclusive line that “caters to everyone” and abandons labels altogether. Like many others, she finds plus-size sections to be isolating to the curvy community because they tend to be smaller sections towards the back of stores. Doing this makes it easier for the stores to hide the curvy consumers from view from other shoppers. So dropping the plus-size label would mean that there would be no separate section for shoppers who wear a bigger size. Their clothing sizes would be amongst all of the other products and allow them to feel included instead of rejected for their body type.

There is also a negative connotation to the term plus-size because essentially it is synonymous with “fat.” Although it may not seem like it would be offensive, some who identify with the term find it derogatory because they’ve been reduced to their weight their whole life. Because of the trauma that they’ve experienced as a result of their body type, they want to drop the plus-size label and just feel included. They want to shop for their clothes without having to go to a special section or being embarrassed.

Not only is there exclusivity within the fashion world, but there is also some in the plus-size community. Bader discusses how people tend to gatekeep because someone is “not plus-sized enough.” Where does someone fit if they’re not big enough to be in the plus-size community but not small enough to be in the mid-size community? Removing the label would also remove any exclusion from the different size communities. Then, people can support one another without being restricted to their respective community. After all, a model is still a model, whether she is plus-size or not. So what’s the need for the label?

But why is the plus-size label a good thing?

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There are others that believe that the plus-size label is an important part of the fashion world. Some who are a part of the plus-size community find the label empowering. It allows them to show others that they’re proud of their size and shape. They embrace the plus-size section in stores because they aren’t afraid of the labels that society gives them. Being labeled as plus-size, or even curvy and fat, is not a bad or disgusting thing like society teaches. And those who take pride in their label are challenging societal norms by refusing to be ashamed of their bodies. This is why the plus-size label promotes body positivity; it helps people who are struggling to love who they are learn how to accept that their body is truly beautiful no matter what. 

If we abandon the plus-size label, does that mean we’d be telling the curvy community they should be ashamed of who they are? Those opposed to the term may have internalized fatphobia, meaning they’re embarrassed of being plus-size or being in the plus-size community. 

Fatphobia is also heavily present within society. So if the plus-size label is removed from retail and fashion industries, then the people who are against the plus-size community win. From an outsider’s perspective, removing the label may halt the progress fashion has made thus far by repressing rather than celebrating different body types. In other words, how can you celebrate body positivity when you’re completely erasing larger body types from the equation? 

The plus-size community has worked hard over the years to be noticed in the fashion world. In recent years, there has been a great amount of progress recognizing that not everyone looks like a Victoria’s Secret model. The representation and celebration of all body shapes and sizes has expanded the clothing options for curvier people, as they used to be practically non-existent. Taking away the plus-size label may detract from all the greatness that plus-size models and influencers have made thus far within the industry and non-fashion world.

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As someone whose weight has fluctuated between mid-size and plus-size her entire life, both sides of this argument really resonated with me on an emotional level. Although I think it’s important to celebrate the plus-size community, I don’t think we should be reduced to a label or limited section in the back of the store. By advocating for more inclusivity, plus-size people should receive the same treatment as other sizes and still be able to embrace and empower their community.    

So do you think that we should stop using plus size as a label?

No matter what your stance is, both sides are essentially fighting for the same thing: more representation and acceptance for the curvy community in a world that has pushed them aside for too long.

Do you think it’s time to #droptheplus? Or do you think that the plus-size label should stay because it is an important part of the body positivity movement?

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