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The continuing war against plus-size models

Adam Lawler bemoans the lack of plus-size representation in fashion and how it contributes to a wider stigma. 

Last week plus-size model Tess Holliday graced the cover of Cosmopolitan UK looking gorgeous and unbothered. Although so many have praised the cover for the joyful body-positive moment it is, the usual suspects crawled out to comment on her size, as if spending their time telling fat people how unhealthy they are is a viable career prospect, like Holliday isn’t getting her money regardless. In a not-so-unbelievable turn of events, Piers Morgan emerged to provide baseless commentary on a woman’s body from a moralistic high ground built unsteadily on misogyny and pure delusion.

The general vibe from negative commenters is that we shouldn’t be seeing or promoting fat people as it sets a bad example for… someone. People like Morgan seem to believe that simply seeing bigger people will have a detrimental effect on the youth. Let me be clear: seeing a fat person on a magazine cover or in other media isn’t going to make you fat. If children see a fat person in the media, they are not going to internalise this and gain 200 pounds as a direct result. Maybe you think they will because you recognise, at least on a subconscious level, that the hegemonic body types featured on glossy magazine covers are aggressively marketed as aspirational. It seems like people project their own fears onto fat people; the last thing they want to be is fat, and seeing a fat person who is confident in their skin and unapologetic about their weight gives these people a vicariously disgusted shudder. 

“In a not-so-unbelievable turn of events, Piers Morgan emerged to provide baseless commentary on a woman’s body from a moralistic high ground built unsteadily on misogyny and pure delusion.”

There are plenty of slim people who smoke, drink, take drugs and eat poorly, but they somehow don’t warrant the same level of vitriol disguised as concern from the general public. A fat person can be completely healthy at whatever weight they are, but people find it perfectly okay to give their unwarranted opinions on their bodies, because their bodies are visible and impossible to hide, unlike faulty livers and high cholesterol. The truth is, people’s purported opinions on fat people’s bodies only cause harm and will only ever cause harm. Do you honestly think your comments will make a model want to lose weight, or if it does, for the right reasons and not because they feel bullied and subjugated? Just say you hate fat people and go. 

“The truth is, people’s purported opinions on fat people’s bodies only cause harm and will only ever cause harm. Do you honestly think your comments will make a model want to lose weight, or if it does, for the right reasons and not because they feel bullied and subjugated?”

Fat people have it hardest in fashion, not just in finding representation and avoiding the harmful mindsets and beauty standards perpetuated by the industry. There are so many purported style taboos thrown at them; don’t wear horizontal stripes, wear high-waisted jeans and waist-shaping underwear. They are bombarded with messages to flatten stomachs as much as possible, no crop tops or short skirts or clothes that otherwise show “too much” of their bodies. Basically, pretend you’re not fat and shrink yourself as much as possible. Sizing for plus-size people is notoriously malevolent, with many bigger sizes of clothes simply larger with no thought to proportions or specific body types.

“Just say you hate fat people and go” 

Tess Holliday admittedly isn’t the best role model, having drawn ire for saying that black men love her and scamming buyers off her “Eff Your Beauty Standards” merchandise in 2014. It’s upsetting that she’s made these comments. It’s also upsetting that naysayers will use this as further fuel.

However, it’s like looking at Winnie Harlow’s racist comments on Duckie Thot’s natural hair in 2016 and using this to continue to exclude models with conditions like vitiligo from the industry. The reason why a good few models with looks that are considered unconventional turn out to be problematic is because there are so few; these few are the only representation some groups get, and this has to change. So many outlets and publications preach diversity and lack the follow-through to actually cast plus-size models. Not featuring fat people on magazine covers is pretending they don’t exist, which they do, and trying to suppress their existence only exacerbates problems with self-loathing in young people who don’t see themselves in the models held up to the light.