By: Esther Lee
Real beauty! Real women! Today’s media is buzzing with talks of plus-size women and what defines real beauty. The discussion constantly evolves, and it has recently begun to include debates on the validity of the term ‘plus-size’ and what it means to individuals of its community.
Public figures such as actress Melissa McCarthy have explicitly protested the use of ‘plus-size’ to describe curvier women. Before the launch of her size-inclusive sportswear collection, Seven7, Melissa McCarthy unapologetically told WWD, “I’m doing all sizes. It’s a strange thing to stop at a certain size. Women don’t, so why should clothes?” Her thoughts on the term ‘plus-size’ itself: “I find that word crazy….I’m really glad that I have my own eRetail site that’s just going to serve women. I don’t want to put any limits on it, I want to serve every woman that is out there and hopefully get women some great clothes to wear and feel great when they leave the house; that’s what I want. I think everybody wants that.”
McCarthy’s bold words did not go unnoticed. In an interview with Elle about her new #OwnYourCurves campaign with FullBeauty Brands, singer Meghan Trainor voiced her support of Melissa’s position and getting rid of the term ‘plus-size:’ “When I first signed up with FullBeauty, and I talked to them, I was like, ‘I don’t want to be labeled as this plus-sized girl coming in….’ Everything Melissa said is completely accurate. [They’re] a big part of our society, women who are size 14, and how are you going to criticize us? The word ‘plus-sized’ should be gone.”
But the views of McCarthy, Trainor, and other fashion insiders do not go unopposed. There are a number of other members of the community who don’t have the same problem with the ‘plus-size’ label.
When teen model Erica Jean appeared on the cover of Women’s Running, she was the first plus-size model to grace the cover of a running magazine. Erica Jean embraced her newfound platform as a spokesperson and role model for young plus-size girls. When Seventeen Magazine sat down with Erica, she shared her own thoughts on the term ‘plus-size’: “It’s not meant to be a derogatory word. It’s a business term….If a client is looking for a size 2 model with dark brown hair, that isn’t going to be me. But if they’re looking for a plus-size model, I’m here.”
Erica Jean isn’t the only plus-size model to feel this way. Ashley Graham, an IMG-represented model and Full Figured Fashion Week’s “Plus-Size Model of the Year” in 2012, told the Huffington Post: “At the end of the day, I know who I am. I am a model, and I happen to be curvy.” She went on to say, “If you have to categorize me as curvy or plus-size, that’s fine.”
With opinions on either side, it’s clear that even the fashion industry cannot come to a consensus. Georgetown student Lola Bushnell, COL ’18, shares her opinion: “I definitely see how the word ‘plus-size’ can cause segregation and sort of unnecessarily divide women into different categories. But I think it mostly depends on how you take the word. You can choose to find the word insulting or choose to see it as any other size.”
Perhaps such an open-ended view could be the start to finding middle ground between the two opinions. Maybe the ‘plus-size’ label could be replaced instead with a less polarizing word, such as curvy. Or perhaps ‘plus-size’ women should be encouraged to take back the word and define it for themselves. After all, this phenomenon of reclaiming derogatory names has worked before with the LGBTQ community’s reclamation of the word queer. With all of this in mind, the question still remains: is it time for women to trash the label, or reclaim it?