Dear fashion designers,
We need to talk. Thanks to the internet plus size women are more visible than ever before. Plus size celebrities are getting major TV roles, magazine covers, and more. And yet, you and your peers still refuse to dress them! What are you thinking? It’s time to catch up, because we’re tired of waiting.
Fat babes everywhere
Image Description: Plus size supermodel Ashley Graham poses on the January cover of UK Vogue wearing a white top, black motorcycle jacket, and hoop earrings.
Ashley Graham for Vogue
When it comes to privilege, plus size supermodel Ashley Graham has it all: light skin, a flat stomach, desirable curves, and an international modelling career. She’s also made it abundantly clear on numerous occasions that she hates the term “plus size,” but that’s a problem for another blog post. When it came time to shoot her cover of UK Vogue, there were several design houses that refused to dress the size UK16/US12 model (Markovinovic, 2016).
In her January editor’s letter, Alexandra Shulman (2016) thanked Coach for their enthusiasm about dressing a model outside their standard size range. She continued “It seems strange to me that while the rest of the world is desperate for fashion to embrace broader definitions of physical beauty, some of our most famous fashion brands appear to be travelling in the opposite – and, in my opinion, unwise – direction” (Shulman, 2016).
Image Description: The four stars of Ghostbusters wearing designer gowns on the green carpet at their film premiere. via Variety
Leslie Jones at the Ghostbusters premiere
Last summer blessed us with the INCREDIBLE Ghostbusters reboot starring a lead cast of all women. The lineup included Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Melissa McCarthy, and Leslie Jones. Wiig, McKinnon, and McCarthy all had designers lining up to dress them, but not Jones. She did exactly what I would do in her situation; she turned to Twitter.
It's so funny how there are no designers wanting to help me with a premiere dress for movie. Hmmm that will change and I remember everything
— Leslie Jones (@Lesdoggg) June 28, 2016
Hmm what a difference a tweet makes. Should I name the designers that didn't look out?Put y'all ass on blast. You will not get my love later
— Leslie Jones (@Lesdoggg) June 29, 2016
This is the sort of thing that we as plus size consumers are used to. After all, fashion promotes a fat shaming culture that refuses to accommodate plus size women (Afful and Ricciardelli, 2015). You’d think the star of a Hollywood blockbuster wouldn’t experience the same difficulties as us, and yet here we are. Jones’ co-star Melissa McCarthy had a similar situation for the 2012 Oscars. She says, “I couldn’t find anybody to do a dress for me. I asked five or six designers—very high-level ones who make lots of dresses for people—and they all said no” (Rochlin, 2014).
Why is this such a big deal?
In Ashley’s case, the bigger issue is fatphobia and sizeism within the fashion industry. High street stores generally stop at a size 16-20. High fashion boutiques stop at an even smaller size. The issue of sizeism and size discrimination is something that larger folks are used to. For example, a size 22 experiences more discrimination than a size 12, and a size 32 experiences more discrimination than a size 22, and so on (Afful and Ricciardelli, 2015). In the modelling industry, if the sample size is 0/2/4 and the plus sample size is 12/14/16 then it’s no surprise that plus size models are experiencing discrimination. However, it’s also important to highlight their privilege. As a size 16, Ashley Graham hasn’t experienced the same amount of hatred and oppression that I have at size 24/26, and I benefit from more privilege than size 32+ women, women of colour, queer women, etc.
In Leslie’s case, the bigger issue is the intersection of systemic fatphobia and racism. Black woman are continually portrayed poorly, or not portrayed at all in entertainment and the media. Unfortunately, this happens in supposed “safe spaces” as well. Steph Yeboah of Nerd About Town (2016) says “Black women are often excluded from the body/fat positivity movement – a movement which like the Feminist movement, is a movement that prioritizes and celebrates the thoughts, feelings, opinions and achievements of white women, with a small number of token black women.” Numerous studies confirm that those who participate in the online fat acceptance movement are overwhelmingly white, middle class, cisgender, able-bodied, and university educated (Afful and Ricciardelli, 2015).
It shouldn't be exceptional to work with brilliant people just because they're not sample size. Congrats aren't in order, a change is.
— Christian Siriano (@CSiriano) June 29, 2016
I have LOVED Siriano since the Project Runway days, and I love how he kept it classy in this tweet. He’s absolutely right! Something has got to change! According to Anderson (2016) Jones should be able to make headlines “because of her excellent taste, instead of making headlines because fashion’s ridiculous sizing standards almost prevented her from showing it off.”
Image Description: Plus size actress Chrissy Metz wears dresses that don’t disguise her fatness at three different Hollywood events. via Jezebel
Are things getting better?
Yes, but slowly. Very, very slowly.
Star of NBC’s This Is Us Chrissy Metz is an example of how our situation is slowly improving. Now, I can’t recommend watching This Is Us for MANY reasons, and Metz herself is highly problematic (see The Fat Lip, Marie Claire, and Daily Mail) but her visibility may still be worth celebrating.
The 34 year old actress looks nothing like other plus size stars (Ashley Graham, Iskra Lawrence, etc.). Metz is a visibly fat woman with a double chin, bingo wings, and a large stomach. Her clothes range anywhere from US size 18 to 24+ (Meltzer, 2017). As you can see in the image above, she doesn’t dress to “flatter her figure” or make her silhouette appear smaller. How good is this latex number for the MTV awards?! The dress is edgy and cool and shows off bare arms AND bare legs! I wish it was on my body right now.
As beautiful as the babydoll dress is, I have to say my favourite look of hers is this giant floaty pink gown. Her stylist says “I know it was a lot of fabric and a lot of pink and just a lot happening, and it wasn’t something that was going to try and give the illusion of making her look smaller. But that wasn’t the point of it all. It was that she looked amazing in the dress” (Faircloth, 2017).
While I can appreciate this as progress, we need more. We need designers to step up, and we need more diversity in race, skin tone, body shape/size, ability, gender presentation, and more. More, more, more! Is that too much to ask? I don’t think so!
AFFUL, A. A. and RICCIARDELLI, R., 2015. Shaping the online fat acceptance movement: talking about body image and beauty standards. Journal of Gender Studies. vol. 24, no. 4.
ANDERSON, L. V., 2016. Don’t praise the designer who made Leslie Jones a gorgeous dress for the Ghostbusters premiere. Slate [online]. [Viewed 08 May 2017]. Available from: http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2016/07/12/christian_siriano_doesn_t_deserve_praise_for_making_leslie_jones_a_gorgeous.html.
FAIRCLOTH, K., 2017. Talking plus-size red carpet fashion with the stylist for This Is Us star Chrissy Metz [online]. [Viewed 12 May 2017]. Available from: http://themuse.jezebel.com/talking-plus-size-red-carpet-fashion-with-the-stylist-f-1795109879.
GARCIA, P., 2016. Only one designer was willing to dress Leslie Jones for her Ghostbusters premiere. Vogue [online]. [Viewed 08 May 2017]. Available from: http://www.vogue.com/article/leslie-jones-ghostbusters-premiere-christian-siriano.
MARKOVINOVIC, M., 2016. Some designers ‘flatly refused’ to dress Ashley Graham for Vogue UK cover. Huffington Post [online]. [Viewed 14 May 2017]. Available from: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2016/12/08/ashley-graham-vogue-uk_n_13519388.html.
MELTZER, M., 2017. ‘This Is Us star Chrissy Metz takes on the f word. Marie Claire [online]. [Viewed 14 May 2017]. Available from: http://www.marieclaire.com/celebrity/a25696/chrissy-metz-weight-loss-anxiety/.
ROCHLIN, M., 2014. Melissa McCarthy, you’re perfect. Redbook Magazine [online]. [Viewed 08 May 2017]. Available from: http://www.redbookmag.com/fashion/interviews/g787/melissa-mccarthy-interview/?slide=1.
SHULMAN, A., 2016. Editor’s letter: January Vogue. Vogue [online]. [Viewed 14 May 2017]. Available from: http://www.vogue.co.uk/article/vogue-editors-letter-january-2017-issue.
VARIETY, 2016. ‘Ghostbusters’ : past and present stars celebrate world premiere. Variety [online]. [Viewed 08 May 2017]. Available from:http://variety.com/gallery/ghostbuster-premiere-photos-melissa-mccarthy-kristen-wiig-leslie-jones/#!1/ghostbusters-2-3/.
YEBOAH, S., 2016. The portrayal of the fat, black woman. Nerd About Town [online]. [Viewed 08 May 2017]. Available from: http://www.nerdabouttown.com/2016/04/portrayal-fat-black-woman.html.