The female ideal is an ever-changing notion. Popular culture has shown reverence for one body type or another throughout the ages. Like many fashions, curves have come in and out of style. However, unlike many of the early twentieth century decades that were more fluid and dynamic with changing ideals, our society has been in a skinny rut for some time, desperately clinging to the thin figured ideal ushered in by the “Twiggys” of the 1960’s. This thin figure ideal has relegated a majority of the female population to be pariahs under the guise of plus size. We must ask ourselves if plus size is healthy euphemism to save the feelings of those who are fat, or if it is the result of our society’s warped figure perception. As someone who is considered to be plus size and also happens to be healthy, I don’t believe society’s portrayal of plus size is accurate. Society has suffered from fat phobia for decades, and many champions for healthy bodies are viewed as making excuses for overeating and being lazy. Those who are thin are seen as being healthy and beautiful, while those who are plus size are ugly and unhealthy. We would not find ourselves desperately trying to avert our eyes when presented with images of normal sized women if the images were more prevalent and as a society we were able to embrace a more realistic ideal.
What is plus size? Webster defines plus size as an adjective describing clothing or a person of a size larger than the normal range, while the Urban Dictionary defines “plus size” as a nicer way to refer to someone who is overweight and is a term that makes being overweight seem like a good thing. Webster’s definition appears to be straight-forward and reasonable until you begin to tease out the sub text and take a closer look as whom it is describing, while the Urban Dictionary is less discretionary with its depiction of society’s distaste for larger women. Any woman who has ever been to a retail store in search of clothing will know that most stores carry a size range of 0-14, yet the average woman is a size 10. If the average is a 10 there are many women at the upper end of the spectrum, though still within normal range. The fashion industry and our society in general has been telling women that the fat deposits that they received during puberty on their thighs, hips, abdomens and breasts are ugly and unnatural. Real women with real bodies that have active lifestyles and healthy eating habits land at all points on the spectrum naturally, yet, to be at the upper end of the spectrum is something to be ashamed of, relegates you to shopping at specialized stores with limited selection and earns you the unpleasant label of plus size.
There is a distinct lack of representation of average sized women, let alone actual plus size women. Google the phrase plus size and you are bombarded with images of beautiful women who are almost all clearly under size 8. In fact, in the fashion world any model that wears above a size 6 is considered to be plus size. Most retailers claim that their use of size 8 models under the title of plus size is for mass appeal to both the size 2’s and the size 14’s. This is troublesome because if the size 2’s are marketed to by both the waif like” glamazon” models and the size 8 “plus size” models, where is the actual representation of the size 14 and above market? In addition to that lack of accurate representation, what does that say about the how the actual plus size women, size 14 and above, view themselves if they are supposed to compare themselves with a size 8 model? Clearly what is considered to be plus size in the fashion world is not what is plus size in the real world.
We live in a media saturated society, and that media happens to be obsessed with shamelessly scrutinizing celebrities’ bodies. Tabloids including People magazine, in addition to other forms of entertainment media are consistently riddled with ruthless accusations of pregnancy, weight gain, and figure shaming, all of which is targeted at the individuals who set the precedent for our modern beauty ideal. This is a symptom of our fat phobia, and as a society in general we are fixated on many yo-yoing celebrities such as Chirsty Alley and Jessica Simpson. We celebrate their weight loss as they inch closer to our sacred ideal, and shame them when they drift farther from it. The consistent void of accurate size representation paired with our highly unrealistic ideals is perpetuating this obsession with body shaming.
Today we call it dieting, in the 1920’s it was called slimming, and the 1950’s they called it slenderizing, but in reality they are all different terms for the same concept. That concept is the pursuit of the thin ideal. Every generation has received its own fresh crop of gimmicks and miracle solutions to the same problem, shedding unwanted weight. We must ask ourselves if why the weight is unwanted. If we have healthy habits, adequate amounts of exercise and our bodies take a certain shape, why is this something to be ashamed of? This is not intended to make excuses for those with large figures that come as a result of poor eating habits and inadequate amounts of physical activity, but it truly begs the question why one body shape is preferred over another. The ideal cannot be entirely based on health because the pendulum swings both ways; being thin does not necessarily equate health, yet it is somehow perceived that way. Nor can the ideal be based on majority since it does not coincide with statistical norms. Perhaps the ideal is based on what is not statistically normal, and these thin figures are more precious because they are more rare. This means that the hordes of women who buy into gimmicks and crash diets in desperate attempts to obtain the ideal figure will eventually diminish its significance by obtaining it.
Plus size women are depicted differently from “normal size” women in television especially. The Mindy Project is a great example, centered on a women who has been deemed plus sized by the society in which she lives and refuses to see herself in a negative light. Quite to the contrary, she sees herself as being hot, despite what society says about her figure. In one episode in which she is determined to lose 15 pounds she makes a statement about “not wearing a skirted bathing suit like some woman that gave up on life.”5 This is funny but also rings so true when put into the context of how society views women who do not continually obsess over their weight. By wearing a skirted bikini that woman has admitted defeat in her pursuit of an acceptable body and has chosen to cover it up in order to gain acceptance in society. In the same episode she makes another comment about how she is still full from the chia seeds she ate the night before. Obviously being a sarcastic remark, the satire demonstrates how ridiculous the standards are, how could she possibly be full and satisfied from chia seeds? Ultimately in the episode she does not end up losing the weight and being successful in changing her body, she does, however, change how she sees her body and her acceptance of the shape she possesses naturally.
In my own experience being bombarded by images when I was younger of women who look so different from me caused my self-esteem to wane but as I have grown and experienced more of life, the size differential has actually aided in cultivating my appreciation for different kinds of beauty. We cannot use others as the standard by which we measure ourselves, to do so is futile and will only result in diminished sense of self. Why would there be so much variety in our body shapes and sizes if we were intended to only appreciate a fraction of them? Ultimately, if we aim to be a healthy society, both mentally and physically, we must rethink our ideals and strive for more accurate representation of the actual women in our world.
Beck, Laura. “Is This What a plus Size Model Looks Like?” Cosmopolitan. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 May 2014. <http%3A%2F%2Fwww.cosmopolitan.com%2Fcelebrity%2Fnews%2Fplus-sized-models>.
Frette, Juliette. “Body Image Backlasj.” N.p., n.d. Web. 5 May 2014. <http://www.examiner.com/article/body-image-backlash-female-celebrities-and-the-weight-obsessed-media>.
Joynt, Sarah. “Beauty Ideals Throughout the Ages – TheFashionSpot.” RSS 20. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 June 2014. <http://www.thefashionspot.com/beauty/171133-beauty-ideals-throughout-the-ages/#/slide/1>.
The Mindy Project/ Season 2 Episode 12. N.d. Television.
The Mindy Project/ Season 3 Episode 12. N.d. Television.
People 01 Feb. 2014: n. pag. Print.
People 1 Mar. 2014: n. pag. Print.
“Plus Size.” Urban Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2014. <http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=plus+size>.
Victoria’s Secret. Victoria’s Secret. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2014.Summer Style Guide 2014