DROP THE PLUS! Models Sound off on Fashion’s Size Standards
An article on Style a Size is an ongoing debate within the modeling industry. From France’s recent attempt to regulate models’ BMI to the continued infighting over aesthetic sensibilities, the conversation about size seems never-ending. One of the most recent developments is the #DropthePlus movement, an online campaign designed to remove the label plus from discussions about models over the standard sample size. The hashtag first gained traction in Australia after model Stefania Ferrario took to Instagram to express her frustration about being pigeonholed as a model over size 4. The issue soon went viral with think pieces sprouting up all over the Web and an online army of commenters chiming in with their opinions.
Online movements are powerful, but what is the reality for a working model who isn’t the standard 0 or 2? The modeling industry divides models into categories based on size and look, but with anomalies cropping up right and left, those categories seem increasingly antiquated. Most models deemed plus are barely larger than their contemporaries, and with more models of varying shapes and sizes appearing within the pages of prestigious publications, now seems like the time to refer to all models as simply that—models.
In a lively roundtable discussion with models Jennie Runk, Maiysha, Bree Warren, and Georgina Burke, the Drop the Plus movement was discussed at length. Between them these women have served as the face of nearly every major plus-size retailer, from the luxurious Max Mara offshoot Marina Rinaldi to mall staple Torrid.
Why do you think people react so strongly to the term plus size?
Bree Warren: I think because it’s just another way society has developed to segregate women. Fashion should not be about pitting sizes against each other. There should be different shapes and sizes in the industry, not just one!
Maiysha: I think the term plus size is simply unflattering. Plus what, exactly? The inference that a woman who takes care of herself, eats consciously, and exercises (which every “plus-size” model I know does) is abnormal or “too much” because she wears a 12 instead of a 2 is insulting. We not only represent the bodies of average American women, but also the lifestyles that most can achieve and aspire to. Frankly, I think what we really represent is an aspect of fashion that is equal parts aspirational and attainable, and I’m proud of that.
Jennie Runk: People react strongly to being called plus size because as a society, people tend to assume that whatever doesn’t fit into the mainstream idea of perfect must be the opposite. This is a problem for two reasons. One, most people don’t fit into the mainstream idea of perfect, and two, beauty is not binary. People are not either this one specific kind of pretty or just plain ugly. There are infinite different types of beauty and infinite things about individuals that make them beautiful. Just because a person doesn’t look like a top model doesn’t mean she’s ugly. It means she looks different, and that’s what makes us all so special. It’s important to focus on all the things about us that make us uniquely beautiful, rather than to constantly compare ourselves to each other in an attempt to put people into one of two boxes.
Does the term have a negative connotation?
JR: I definitely think our culture has put a negative connotation on the term. It shouldn’t be offensive to call someone plus size, it’s just a word used to describe a body type. It should be no more offensive than calling someone tall, short, blond, or brunette. The word itself isn’t the problem, it’s those stubborn connotations attached to it. We need to change the way people think about and react to the word. Being considered plus size is not something to be ashamed of. If that’s your body type, that’s part of who you are, and you should never be ashamed of who you are.
BW: Not to me. It’s just a name other people made up for an industry. I’m proud of what I do and like that it kind of breaks the fashion rules. I think other people can take it negatively, but they shouldn’t. It has no relevance, really.
Georgina Burke: Using the term in everyday life could give a negative connotation to people who don’t see that it is a fashion industry term and judge their body type off someone who is being called plus size. But for the past five years, I have lived with that label and looked beyond the title to what opportunities it has given me.
Maiysha: Plus size does have a negative connotation, as it infers that models in the size-8-and-above category, which is where plus size begins, are somehow inferior to smaller-sized models despite doing the same work. I also think it’s damaging to the demographic we represent. Considering that the models working on this side of the industry most accurately represent the bodies of most American women, if titles are needed, it might be more accurate to call us “standard size” as opposed to “high fashion” models.
Do you feel the term plus size is still relevant within the modeling industry, is it time to ‘drop the plus’?
BW: I think the term is so dated it doesn’t have a place in fashion anymore. Some plus size models have such incredibly hot bods that it doesn’t even make sense! People don’t quite understand just how tiny today’s supermodels are in real life, so plus size is really just anyone not a zero or a 2.
JR: I think it is relevant; it’s probably one of many words people who are managing and hiring models use to describe those models when discussing who to hire and who’s right for which job. Other ways we’re described might include varying hair and eye colors, as well as height. We’re hired for each of our specific and unique looks; people need to be able to describe those looks.
GB: Honestly, it’s so irrelevant if people within the modeling industry are using the term. It’s the exact same thing if you are called classic once you hit a certain age in your career. I just don’t think it’s 100 percent necessary, but it has been instilled in everyone for such a long time to use the term once someone is of a certain size, so it won’t disappear easily. At the end of the day, a model is a model.