My aversion towards the term began when I read a fashion feature that categorised three models with visibly different body types under the umbrella term ‘plus size’. Even the metric for who qualifies as plus size is different in different countries—in India it begins at size 16, in the UK at size 12, and size 18 in the US. A few years ago when the world had just started warming up to the idea of body positivity, the label was viewed as an accurate adjective to describe bigger, fuller women. As we started to unpack what it really stands for, the realisation that it’s not only divisive but also possibly humiliating has become increasingly clear.
Model Varishta Thatavarthi is against the alienating nature of the blanket label. “I abhor the term plus size because it categorises people who don’t fit into a standard mould. The whole industry needs to unanimously fight this bias. We need to create more visibility for a diversified pool of women by giving them equal pay and more work opportunities instead of hiring one curvy girl for one campaign as tokenism,” she says. Varishta’s argument makes us wonder—if Kendall Jenner isn’t known as a lean supermodel; then why should Paloma Essler or Precious Lee be known as plus size supermodels?
The issue came into the spotlight when model Ashley Graham spoke up about her discomfort with the label. In the initial days of her career, it helped her stand out, but she later realised the baggage that came with this kind of segregation. In multiple television interviews and during her TED talk, Ashley talks about the allusion in the industry. That ‘plus size’ women are considered to have an unhealthy lifestyle, which is based on conjecture and not on fact. And as this comes from a professional model known for her fitness regime—the singular lens through which women are assessed definitely needs to be retired.
Globally, designers have started reading the room as well, as their collections over the last couple of years showcase a wide range of women. Not only does this set a healthy example, but it’s equally good for business. Project Runway Season 4 winner Christian Siriano’s profits tripled when his clothes started catering to a wide range of body types. Following suit, many American and European labels are now following suit in some capacity.
More than 60 per cent of women in India fall under the vaguely defined plus size bracket. Designers and indie labels are yet to crack the code on getting it right. Creating one stand-out ensemble for the prominently different appearing model isn’t the solution, it’s adding to the problem. Couture houses are facing severe backlash for their lack of inclusivity and diversity in their campaigns and shows. Real brides don’t fit the sample size and why should they? The narrative has to shift from the creator’s perspective and a variety of women with distinct physiques need to take the centre stage.
The Expert Opines
Breaking it down further, designer Shivan Bhatia sheds light on how tastemakers can play a pivotal role in effecting change. “To relatively define any form of body type is insensitive and disparaging. Our job as designers is to find beauty in every shape, size, form and gender in a non-binary manner. I guess for starters, do not bifurcate (your offering) into sections like plus-size, regular size, model size, real-life, etc. These tags put us back into societal boxes. This is only possible once you start normalising different body types through communication, campaigns and your brand language,” Shivan says.
As we move towards putting plus size to rest, it’s important to note that this term needs no new replacement. Fashion influencer Sakshi Sindwani makes the case for losing those labels. “When design houses choose models of different body types without renaming their collection or announcing separate lines—that’s more impactful. The only way to remove that stigma is for brands to show inclusivity without saying that they are being inclusive,” she says.
As a community, we are constantly growing and unlearning and it seems like the time is ripe to shed labels that divide and alienate. A step in the right direction would be when stores and boutiques will design clothes for all kinds of bodies without having to carve out a separate section. It’s high time fashion realised that aspirational and relatable are one and the same thing.