Do we really need the term ‘plus size’?

No one agrees on what it means anyway

In the digital age, there are certain words or phrases that no one likes to read online: moist, panties, iTunes update. And while our disgust towards most of these phrases is just a weird reaction that no one can really explain, there’s a phrase that our society as a whole seems to treat with equal, if not more, disdain: plus-size.

Remember when Instagram banned the term #curvy, stating that it was in accordance with their no-nudity rules (which, come on, was complete BS)? Or Project Harpoon? While thankfully an increasing amount of people – including celebrities – are celebrating body positivity, there’s still something about terms such as “curvy” or “plus size” that perpetuates body-shaming culture which can be found all over the internet.

I talked to some self-identifying plus-size women about their general thoughts on the term. One said: “It makes me feel frumpy, and I hide the screen when I’m surfing these store pages online from my partner… for some reason, I don’t want to be identified as a ‘plus size’ shopper.”

The term “plus size” is most used in the fashion and retail industry, and while more and more designers and stores are becoming inclusive, there’s still evidently an ongoing struggle. For instance, the online retailer ModCloth recently decided to get rid of the term “plus size” on their site; instead of an exclusive “Plus” section, they combined plus size clothes and non-plus size clothes (petites, talls, etc.) into an “Extended Sizes” label. In a blog post, they explained the reasoning behind their decision:

“If ‘Plus’ isn’t a separate section in our shop, then why should it be a separate section on our site? Instead of ‘Plus’ standing alone as its own category, isn’t it really a part of other categories, like maxi dresses are a part of the ‘Dresses’ category? Eureka! That’s it.”

Okay, that’s a really awesome gesture, but my question is, why the need for “Extended Sizes” at all, then? Like they said, couldn’t all dresses, regardless of size, be just under… “Dresses”? I love ModCloth, but in my opinion, they’re not really getting rid of the term “plus”; they’re just changing it to sound a lot nicer, but the implication is still there. One of the women I interviewed shared my sentiments: “Why does it need a label?”

But like I said, Modcloth’s heart is in the right place. After all, even the most confident people probably have a pang of hesitation when they enter the plus-size section of a retail store or online site. To get around this, some will actively seek out places that don’t brand certain sizes as plus-size. Someone confessed, “I try to shop in stores that don’t have a plus size section, and look for styles that are flattering among the ‘normal’ range… I am at the smaller end of ‘plus size’ so can get away with some canny shopping.”

Now, some might argue that the “Extended Sizes” is an effort to include all sizes, not just Plus, meaning it also includes Petites, for instance. Which is true, but come on, let’s face it: very few people, if any, are embarrassed or hesitant to go shopping in the “Petites” section. No woman hides the “Petite” page on ASOS if their partner enters the room.

On the other hand though, it seems that the increasing number of body-positive movements we see lately are working, as some people actually like clothing labelled plus-size because it saves them the time and effort of having to actively search for clothes in their size. One woman told me, “Personally, I sometimes prefer the plus-sized label. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than adoring the clothes in a boutique or at a store just to find out they don’t have any in my size.”

This just reaffirms the obvious fact that the only thing “bad” about plus-size is the negative connotation that surrounds it; if we treated plus-size clothes like we treated petite or tall clothes (i.e. normally), then we wouldn’t even need to be getting rid of plus-size sections. It’d be where curvy people go to shop, just like people who are 6’ would go shop in the tall section.

So the good news is that as much as society would have people ashamed to be plus-size, some individuals fully accept it. Someone explained to me, “Plus size is something I have embraced as a part of my identity and I think other people should, too. It’s my way of celebrating my body positivity by looking for things that not only fit me but make me look and feel amazing.”

At 20 years old, I like to think of myself as a fairly confident young woman — an assertion that has taken me time to be comfortable saying out loud due to my age, race, and gender. Additionally, I’m usually a size 14, and although I know that’s normal, it’s taken me a long time to be comfortable sharing that information with people I know, and even longer to now share it with the internet.

I have cellulite and my thighs touch. I’ve had some people call me plus-size, and I’ve had others laugh when I refer to myself as that. Some shops make me feel like a totally normal size and some make me feel like I’m a whale. I sometimes buy plus-size jeans because my bum won’t fit in “normal” ones. It seems there’s no consensus on what “plus size” even means.

As for whether I am or not – I’ve decided it doesn’t matter. As long as my clothes fit, who cares which section of the shop they came from?

Main Image © iStock/txpeter