“Plus” in the media

“Changing society’s view will not happen overnight, we are all responsible for helping to make this change. Embrace the uniqueness of you and appreciate your body.”

Prior to starting this blog, I often used my facebook to track stories having to do with self-love and body image amongst the “plus size” population. I recently stumbled onto an article from PLUS Model Magazine that I posted in January of 2012.

The article (you can read here) was an editorial that gave amazing stats regarding the state of the plus size modeling and clothing industry. As a size 14 – 18 woman, I’m often faced with selecting clothes after eye balling them on a size 4 mannequin or a size 0 model. Not only does this not give a good interpretation of how a piece would lay on my curvier figure, but it also furthers my own insecurities – mostly the message that I’m supposed to look like that size 4 or size 0, when in reality, I’ve never seen those sizes nor do I feel they’re the healthy representation of what I should look like. I get to decide that, not mainstream media and the fashion industry.

Some astounding facts and figures (which I’ve taken from the article) compare where “we” are NOW in the fashion industry when representing the “plus” sized woman compared to 10 and 20 years ago:

  • Twenty years ago the average fashion model weighed 8% less than the average woman. Today, she weighs 23% less.
  • Ten years ago plus-size models averaged between size 12 and 18. Today the need for size diversity within the plus-size modeling industry continues to be questioned. The majority of plus-size models on agency boards are between a size 6 and 14, while the customers continue to express their dissatisfaction.
  • 50% of women wear a size 14 or larger, but most standard clothing outlets cater to sizes 14 or smaller.

I hope these facts are disturbing to you. If they aren’t, reread them.

Being a fat woman, I want to be marketed to by other fat women. I have always believed that you cannot improve on something if you do not already love it. If media is telling us that a size 6 is a “plus size” woman, this is not only hurting my fat sisters and brothers, but also hurting those who are in the single-digit sizes. This means that this approach to selling product not only hurts the 50% of women who are a size 14 or larger, but also the other 35-40% of women who wear a size 6-14.

One additional fact really struck me, mostly in context to my learning more about how the Surgeon General and the National Institute on Health sets obesity standards and body mass index:

  • Most runway models meet the Body Mass Index physical criteria for Anorexia.

Prior to reading this article, I had the opportunity to see an amazing documentary on the diet industry called America the Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments. This film not only focused on the male perspective of dieting (the filmmaker is a lovely gentleman who tried raw food, bicycling, etc — such a great perspective!), but also drew attention to the fact that only a few years ago the Surgeon General actually decreased what would be considered a “healthy” BMI by 1 point What did this mean? People who were considered of average weight one day were overweight the next and those who were overweight were now suddenly obese… all in the name of trying to scare the public into losing weight. As someone who believed that of all areas of government, I had always laid my trust in the one department that was responsible for our health. This nugget of information pushed me to the limit and I was completely flabbergasted. and asked myself:

Why would our government arbitrarily change what was considered “healthy”?

The “why” that I came to was that they were working with the diet industry (which is true) and that this in effect began messing with our minds and affecting our bodies. How can changing the status of what is a “healthy BMI” be effective in encouraging Americans to be more healthy? Changing the rules overnight so that a large percentage (close to 20% of those not already considered overweight or obese) of people are now “unhealthy” will not teach us to be healthy. Instead, it creates a negative vision of who we are as people. Instead, why not make fresh fruits and vegetables available on a McDonald’s dollar menu? Why not create more public adult exercise parks so we have access to equipment free of gym memberships? Why not encourage play as a lesson we need to continue as we mature, not just something we do in elementary school as recess (when it was fun) and as a requirement in high school as gym class (not fun)?

How is the change in BMI even possible? How did the government have the opportunity and permission to change something that has existed and been used as a benchmark? There are plenty of answers that I’ll go into in another post about BMI… but my quick thought on BMIs is that they aren’t meant for comparison – the creator of BMI never imagined we’d use it to make ourselves feel bad about the way we looked. I cannot imagine the person who tooled around and “discovered” BMI thought, “I hope Americans and the population worldwide use this to compare their body type to others in a rat race to look a certain way.”

I cannot believe that when BMIs were considered or sizes were thought up that we created them to compare ourselves to each other. They are factual. I am a size 16. My best friend is a size 12. My sister is a size 6.

In the end, I look at all these facts and all these figures as numbers. I wish we used them for good, not evil… which is where the fashion and diet industry is taking us.

Hop in the hand basket, they’ll give you a ride.

Photos: PLUS Model Magazine, Photographer: Victoria Janashvili, Model: Katya Zharkova, wilhelmina.com, January 2012

Facts and some language: from PLUS Model Magazine and Editor-in-Chief, Madeline Figueroa-Jones

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