Tags: Dropping the Term Plus, Impact on Body Image, Industry Insiders, Labels Create Division

Few things can cause simultaneous feelings of frustration, helplessness and even anger like the term plus-size. Some people who loathe the term feeling excluded, others who love and embrace it, while the rest remain indifferent. Some brands and industry members choose to ignore the controversy and continue to perpetuate the language. Others try to implement change and experience varying degrees of success and criticism.

Understanding Plus-Size

The term plus-size is used to describe clothing and people above a size 12. Within the fashion industry, the plus-size cutoff drops to a size 8. The average American woman now wears a size 14 or 16, making the plus-size average. Plus-size has typically been viewed as different and the term has negative connotations. The Drop the Plus movement is looking to change the perception and language used in hopes of having a positive impact on how people feel about their bodies.

Background on Plus-Size Clothing

The fashion industry has largely failed the plus-size demographic. Many brands do not create plus-size clothing. Many of the brands that do design and create plus-size clothing do not always hit the mark. Some brands crank outsized up versions of clothing and pass it off as plus-size. In these instances, the fit is often sub-par. There is also a general lack of quality concerning plus-size garments.

Until recently, the prevailing thought regarding plus-size clothing was that the wearer wanted to use clothing to attempt to hide the fact that they are plus-size. Clothing should not be fitted or tight to draw attention to curves. Bright colors, white and bold patterns, as well as stripes were to be avoided. This logic left plus-size consumers with few options all of which were devoid of style. Change is happening and there are better, higher-quality options becoming available all the time for the plus-size demographic.

Emergence of Drop the Plus

Model Stefania Ferrario, and TV personality Ajay Rochester started an online campaign called Drop the Plus. Both ladies claim the term plus-size is a form of body shaming. Their argument is that the term plus-size was initially used to describe outliers who wore sizes larger than what was considered average.

Argument in Favor of Drop the Plus

The plus-size segment is now average. Continuing to use the term plus-size insinuates this group is still beyond average or normal. Ferrario and Rochester believe there should be no distinction between plus-size or average, or fat or thin.

The body positive movement is about each individual embracing their bodies and what makes them unique. Plus-size as a label draws attention to these differences and detracts from the goals of the movement. Drop the Plus aims to do just that – drop the plus and just let people be the size they are without making a distinction.

Impact on Body Image

Lots of people have opinions regarding the size and appearance of others. For many individuals who fall into the plus-size classification, they have had to deal with the opinions and comments of others. The term plus-size is like a lightning rod for all of the hurt and shame they feel or have been made to feel because of their size. Perpetuating the term perpetuates the pain caused by the term. An act as simple as Drop the Plus can help remove the hurt and let people just be.

Plus-size becomes an identity. A plus-size person is not just a person; they are a plus-size person. When people are forced to bear this term they have to deal with any negative associations they have with the term, as well as the negative associations of the rest of society.

Model Ashley Graham explains, “At the end of the day, I know who I am. I am a model, and I happen to be curvy.”

Owning Plus-Size

There are numerous examples of people taking ownership of the terms and slurs used to hurt and oppress them. Taking ownership of these terms can be empowering. It is essentially stripping the ability of the word to hurt. People do this with the term plus-size, but this coping method does not work for everyone. For many people it is too much to embrace plus-size, so the idea to drop the plus is appealing.

Negative Connotation

Despite efforts to own the term plus-size and embrace what makes everyone different, there is a negative association with plus-size. The Drop the Plus movement argues that removing the word ‘plus’ will remove the negativity that surrounds the word. When the negativity is gone the shame associated with the word is also gone.

The label plus-size bears a stigma, but ultimately it brings no value. There is no logical reason to differentiate people based on what size clothing they wear. Drop the Plus strives to erase the term and the lack of value, so people are free to just be themselves.

Argument Against Drop the Plus

Despite the compelling argument laid out by Ferrario and Rochester as part of the Drop the Plus movement, there are plenty of reasons why others disagree. From embracing the term to using alternative terms there are others who have their own reasons to disagree with Drop the Plus.

Clear Distinction

Plus-size is a term that indicates a certain size. Creating this distinction allows consumers to identify clothing that will fit. When a plus-size shopper goes into a store or navigates to a website they know they will find what they need in the plus-size section and clothing will be made for their body shape.  If quality options were available for all consumers across the board there would be no need to use the term ‘plus.’ Quality options exist in high quantities throughout the regular sized realm. In the plus-size arena, quality is not consistent. Plus-size is a distinction, but it is a necessary distinction.

Vanity sizing is a real problem when it comes to finding clothing that fits. It is the practice of labeling an article of clothing as a smaller size than what it actually is. The objective is to make the clothing more appealing by giving the illusion that it is smaller. Some Drop the Plus opponents feel the movement is on par with vanity sizing. Removing the word ‘plus’ from plus-size simply appeals to an individual’s vanity. There is no benefit, no advantage, except sparing the feelings of some people who wear clothing that is size 12 or up.

Size Inclusivity Success

Progress has been made improving the style, quality, and fit of plus-size clothing. Designers like Christian Siriano and Ashley Nell Tipton, both of Project Runway fame, and lines like ELOQUII are creating on-trend plus-size clothing. There are more plus-size models in marketing campaigns and runways than ever before. This is the type of change the fashion industry should work towards and people should continue to build on this success.

Focus Efforts on More Pressing Matters

Another anti-Drop the Plus argument is that there are more important issues deserving of focus and attention. Size inclusivity and the presence of plus-size runway models are areas of significant improvement, but there is still more work to do. All of this progress has been tremendous and significant strides have been made, but there is still more to do. Focusing on promoting size inclusivity, adequate representation and quality clothing options are a better use of time and resources. The Drop the Plus movement detracts from the work being done and wastes time complaining about semantics.

Drop the Plus Reduces Achievements

Drop the Plus also diminishes the accomplishments made by the plus-size body inclusivity movement to date. Body acceptance means accepting your body and your curves and what makes you unique and different. The term plus-size has been a big part of this journey. Drop the Plus removes a key element of the movement.

The fashion industry has a long history of glamorizing tall and thin models and establishing an ideal based on a very specific body type. When it comes to models, typically anyone above a size 8 is considered plus-size. These ideals are ridiculous and it is confusing that someone who is not plus-sized would be considered plus-sized because of their job.

No Shame in Being Plus-Size

Drop the Plus claims that not using sized based language will remove the stigma larger people face. Changing the terminology likely will not have that type of impact. Even if Drop the Plus succeeded in their goal, it is very likely another term would be substituted for ‘plus.’ People need to learn to accept and appreciate who they are and what their body looks like. Whether that is plus-size or something different does not matter. It is not always easy, but plus-size does not define a person.

Real World Application of Drop the Plus

As a movement Drop the Plus has garnered a lot of speculation and generated talking points. The arguments for and against Drop the Plus are insightful and valid, but early on, the concept just existed in blogs and articles. One brand decided to take action and is trying to make Drop the Plus a reality.

Kmart Tries a New Approach

In September 2017 Kmart decided to implement their own version of Drop the Plus. Going forward they will extend the sizes of all of their internal brands, and the term plus-size will no longer be used. Extending the sizing of all of their in house brands is empowering. This means a blouse available in a size 6 will now also be available in a size 16. Consumers will have the same options regardless of their size. This is significant and exciting.

Limited Sizing Is Disappointing

Many brands simply do not make plus-size clothing. This probably dates back to the outmoded logic in the fashion industry that plus-size clothing should be concealing. Somewhere around a size 12 many brands just stop. For some plus-size averse brands there is a fear that the stylish garments in the average range would not sell if created in the plus-size range.

The opposite is true and many plus-size brands cut out as they approach single digits. At least when it comes to plus-size exclusive brands it makes sense that they would only create plus-size clothing. Stylish and quality clothing exists in abundance in the so-call average segment of the sizing scale. A major part of the appeal of plus-size brands is the almost novelty of stylish clothing sized to fit curvy individuals.

Abandoning Plus-Size

When all of the in-house brands carry a full range of sizes from 0 up to 4X the term plus-size becomes obsolete. If they had decided to only drop the plus, Kmart would be sending a message of inclusivity. There would be no need to make a distinction. However, Kmart is still making a distinction. Clothing that was previously known as plus-size will now be known as “fabulously sized.”

Different Name for the Same Thing

Extending the sizing of their internal brands is significant and a big deal. Kmart deserves to be recognized and applauded for this decision. Replacing the term plus-sized with fabulously-sized is just using a different word to define the same category. Switching the name appeals to people who find the term plus-size offensive. There is value in sparing people’s feelings, but Kmart is switching one questionable term for another. If Kmart had done away with all names that would have been significant. Kmart did, in fact, drop the plus, but they simply replaced it with the word fabulous which carries baggage of its own.

Model Marquita Pring

Trying to Find the Right Descriptor

Plus-size has a negative association, so Kmart’s plan to drop the plus makes sense at face value. In an interview with Cosmopolitan model Marquita Pring stated, “I prefer curvy honestly – plus-size feels outdated and no one thinks of it in a positive way.” Representatives from Kmart claim they landed on the term ‘fabulously’ after conducting market research. Introducing the word fabulously almost goes too far in the opposite direction.

People know what size they wear. Calling it plus-size or fabulously-size may cause a sigh or an eye roll, but labeling things does not help or achieve anything. The label itself is the issue. There are no consistent labels for clothing that fall outside the plus-size zone. There is a distinction for petite, but there is a sizable range between petite and plus-size that has no label. If clothing that is smaller than plus-size does not need a label many people wonder why the plus-size label exists.

Making Sense of Dropping the Plus

There is no easy answer or solution when it comes to Drop the Plus. People on both sides of the argument have valid reasons and concerns. Ultimately, the fashion industry needs to make a decision. More brands like Kmart will decide to chart a new course, while other brands will not change. Waiting on the fashion industry to lead the way in terms of change relating to the plus-size demographic will likely be slow. While there certainly has been a lot of progress it has taken a lot of time, and there is more work to do.

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