Why We Should Get Rid of "Plus Size" Labels

In the wake of Amy Schumer's angry response to Glamour magazine, which included her in their 'Chic at Every Size' issue alongside plus-size women such as Adele and Melissa McCarthy, many people are left wondering: What does it even mean to be plus size, anyway? And is it "plus size" or "plus sized?" And most importantly, does it actually matter?

It's refreshing to see a major women's publication featuring women who aren't all one homogenous body type, but the fact that we need labels like plus size shows how much of an issue this is.

Amy took her displeasure at being included to Instagram, where she points out that in the U.S., plus size is typically size 16 or larger, while Amy fluctuates between sizes 6 and 8. First of all, there's something problematic when we're categorizing plus size as one thing, but then including women who aren't even that size. It says that society's body standards are even more distorted than the industry would make it seem. If size 6 or 8 is large enough to be called out for it, then what does it mean to actually be size 16?


Labels like this are problematic for everyone. They're problematic for the woman who is a size 16, and who now feels like even though she's technically plus size, she's actually worse off than she thought because at size 6, a woman is already "too fat." They're problematic for women who are smaller than 16, worrying that they can't get to that size or risk crossing the line over to "too fat." The fact that the labels fluctuate from store to store (I've seen stores with anything over size 12 in the plus size section) and magazines are categorizing women as plus size without regard to actual clothing size adds to the confusion.

And do these labels even benefit anyone? Why not take direction from Modcloth and do away with the label altogether, and just offer an item of clothing in a wide variety of sizes? It seems arbitrary to decide that anything over a certain size is different from other sizes.

I'm not even advocating that we should drop plus size only clothing stores, either. I'm not plus size. I actually wear a very small size and usually have to look for petite sizes or stores that I know carry small clothing. I know why a separate store that caters to your body type would be beneficial; it's much more likely you can find a bunch of clothing that fits and looks good. With a really petite frame and small hands and feet, different styles look good on me than on most of my friends with curvier bodies. I think clothing stores that specialize in plus sizes make complete sense. I just think that if a store plans to carry all sizes, there's no point in separating them. 

When I go shopping with my plus size friends, they usually end up feeling dismayed. I've heard comments like, "This store won't carry my size," or "The plus size section is ugly or expensive." The clothes that are selected for their bodies are separate in so many ways. They aren't having a pleasant shopping experience. A lot of the time, I can't find petite sizes that will fit me, either. But I at least don't have to deal with a societal disgust for my body type that comes with that difficult-to-find label. 

Dropping the plus size label is one step toward body positivity that the industry needs. Many women are reclaiming the word fat and getting rid of fatphobic language, such as using "You've lost weight!" as a compliment. After all, what's wrong with the word fat? It's actually just a descriptor, and the reason we hate it so much is because we're conditioned to believe it's wrong to be fat. We use euphemisms like 'curvy,' 'big-boned,' and 'plus size,' but then turn around and sling the word fat at the people we believe deserve it, people we believe are fat because of their health choices and not because of genetics and innate body type.

Fatphobia is everywhere. I've attended family parties with friends who were greeted by family members with, "Wow, you look great! You've lost so much weight!" I've stood around at a work party with a group of coworkers commenting about how they can't eat another slice of pizza because of how fat they'll get. Offhand comments about weight and body image are so ingrained and normal that we almost don't even notice them until we take a closer look.

When I struggled with an eating disorder for several years between high school and college, I began to pay particular attention to how we talk about bodies, especially women's bodies. If I skipped the fries, I was reprimanded by friends and family because I'm naturally petite. "You can't afford not to eat," people would tell me, "because then you'll just blow away." At the same dinner table, my fatter friends who skipped entire meals were applauded for being healthy. 

What would dropping the label plus size actually mean? What needs to happen is a complete overhaul of the industry. Put all your sizes together on the rack (or website). Whatever is in inventory for that style should all be in one place, albeit separated by individual size so customers can easily sort through. Plus size clothing should not be more expensive. (The idea that it's based on how much material is used is complete nonsense. I've seen bikinis that cost more than jackets!) It should be just as cute and as appealing as any other size. And models of all body types should be able to model all clothing, not just plus sized models for plus size clothing labels. 

Getting rid of the plus size label reinforces the body positivity movement, and the removal of fatphobia from our language and culture. Plus size may seem innocuous, because we're trained to believe that if the word fat isn't used, it's not offensive. If we remove these labels from the way we purchase clothing, we won't be getting rid of fatphobia and making the world suddenly body positive. But we'll be just one step closer, and that's progress we desperately need.