In which I find out I am considered “plus size”

size 6

Size 6. Plus size. Not the same thing, right?


Today I read an interview with Whitney Thompson, a past winner of America’s Next Top Model. Whitney is a plus-size model, and while I don’t know her dress size (the internet reports it as anywhere from 8 to 14), I do know that this shit is ridiculous.

I’ve been aware for a long time that there are serious, layered problems with the fashion industry’s portrayal of women. Hello. And, to play way nicer than is called for, I’ll leave out the horrifying gender politics and stick to the question of weight. We have models resorting to IV drips for food-free nutrition. We have truly grotesque levels of airbrushing – both to makes models appear unnaturally thin and to flesh them back out when their ribs look unappealing. And now, I’ve had an epiphany about a whole new level of wrongness.

I wear a size 6. (I refuse to say, “I am a size 6;” it seems like enough other people are already reducing women to numbers.) But yes, I wear a size 6, and I’m furious.

This isn’t because I suddenly feel insulted, where before I thought I was “safe” and could play by fashion’s rules if I wanted to. No. I’ve known this whole situation was messed up for years. Obviously it’s a problem that the fashion industry’s perception of “plus size” completely ignores whether a woman is actually healthy. (“Screw your perfectly in-the-green BMI; you’re still hideous!”) Obviously it’s fucked up that it’s hard for most women in this country to find flattering clothes in their size. (I’ll repeat once again the statistic that 14 is the average size for women in America.) But honestly, I wasn’t more vocal about this before because I never felt a direct link to the problem. I knew the portrayal of women in advertising had messed with my understanding of beauty when I was younger, but I felt pretty confident I’d moved past that. I was deeply sad that one of my most objectively gorgeous friends (who wears a size 14) makes negative comments about her own body every time we talk. But, somehow, I just didn’t think this was one of MY social issues.

Yeah, dumb, I know. Of course it’s my issue too, for about a million reasons. And while it did take this latest revelation to slap me awake, it seems amazing now that I didn’t catch on sooner.  There have been signs. Like me wondering recently, while purchasing the size Large underwear it takes to cover my booty, “If at size 6 I wear a Large, what does that mean for ladies in the double digits?

So, here. Here are some photos. I hope they make you as mad as they make me, especially if you’ve previously been as blasé as I have about the problem. And please understand that I use these examples because, while they make me want to ask the rhetorical question, “What could POSSIBLY be improved about these women?” I now realize the fashion industry would find plenty of “trouble areas” to circle, even here. (These women all self-reported wearing a size 6 on the awesome body-empowerment website My Body Gallery: What Real Women Look Like. Again, I don’t think size 6 is some magical standard of attractiveness; I just think these women fall so squarely within Western norms of beauty that it makes the point that NO ONE, no matter how close-minded, would judge them as overweight. And yet. They are considered plus size, and would have trouble finding work in the fashion industry because they are too large.)


So. Where does that leave me/us? I don’t have any answers. Right now I’m just angry. (Finally!) But I do recommend posting a photo of yourself to My Body Gallery and browsing through the images of other women who are reclaiming their awesome. Besides that? I guess my best advice would be to have a private dance party to this uplifting song, right now. Maybe while we dance, we can work in some moves where we flash our middle fingers to fashion’s failures and then give ourselves giant hugs.

Read more of my (productive) rants on body image here:



67 responses to “In which I find out I am considered “plus size”

  1. I did a blog post on this same subject years ago. One of the things I find interesting is the fact so many women are hard on the sizes of other women.I never hear from guys that a (plus size) woman has a bikini that is too small. In fact guys that I know prefer their women well above the sizes of the human skeletons that the fashion industry favors. I think it is important to remember that men are no more blueprinted than are women. What we find beautiful in women can not be quantified in numbers. I’m glad you put out what real women look like because there is always…no matter how cosmo fences you in…..someone who thinks you are perfect !

    • Thanks, Erik! I loved your words. Would you want to link to your blog post here?

      I agree that there is no blueprint for the human form. One of my strongest stances is that every woman – from size zero on up – is a “real” woman. Skinny, muscular, zaftig, obese – we’re all real people and we all have beautiful things about us.

  2. I love the phrase, “I wear a size six” instead of “I am a size six.” Well said. I want to share this with my junior high school students.

    • It would make my *month* if you shared this with your students! Junior high was exactly when I needed to hear this message but nobody was doling it out. Thanks for reading, and hi to your dog family. 🙂

  3. i think i might be more like the before you. i know what appeals to my eye, and tend to disregard anything else. having said that, i must admit to being surprised and elated when esquire magazine named christina hendricks the sexiest woman alive and validated my idea of beauty.

    • I think that’s valid. We all have our own personal perceptions of beauty. I tend to find most people physically beautiful for one reason or another, but there’s definitely a look that attracts me (as opposed to simply being something I appreciate).

      The main reason I think it’s so crucial to show all types of bodies in fashion spreads (not just size-wise, but in terms of age and race, etc. etc. etc.) isn’t because all of the models would be my “type.” It’s because they’re all someone’s type, and they also all represent someone. It is incredibly affirming to see positive public space devoted to someone who looks like *you,* and I think that beyond keeping life interesting, beyond being true to reality, beyond promoting health instead of just appearance, beyond improving the clothing market for the average-sized woman… this change would really help a lot of people love themselves, as they are, for the simple fact of feeling included.

      But – let me make it clear that this earful isn’t aimed at you! To you, I say: thanks for the comment, and HOT DAMN Christina Hendricks is indeed one lovely lady.

    • Insane is the right word! I feel like the people who make these decisions for “the industry” must have been at the game so long they lost all perspective. Anyway – thanks for stopping by!

  4. Those women are too large to be models? You are too large to be a model? Then the model industry has absolutely NO CLUE as to what awesome females they are missing. The bodies I saw on this post friggin’ ROCK. Go get ’em gals. 🙂

  5. I like this post. I’ve never understood the modelling and fashion industry’s sense of ‘right’ in terms of size. Sadly, I believe most people know how distorted it is, yet somehow that becomes the ideal. I’ll echo the praise for Christina Hendricks, and actually that’s what most men like.

    • Some people told me I’m being silly to think what’s “plus size” in the fashion world has any relation to what’s “plus size” in the real world, as if they were completely different entities. I happen to think we all live in *one* world, and I don’t believe for a second that telling an adolescent girl (or a grown woman, for that matter) to just ignore the media all around her will improve her self-esteem.

      I wouldn’t know what “most men” like – though I’d take the bet that “most men” actually enjoy a wide range of looks – but I definitely agree with you that it’s refreshing to see Christina Hendricks lauded for (rather than in spite of) her size.

  6. The concept of “plus-size” has been so twisted nowadays that it literally means nothing to me. I like to think of it as “positive-size”, as in, anything larger than a zero, on the positive side of the number scale. Seriously, there are women who are perfectly healthy wearing a size zero, and women perfectly healthy wearing sizes in the double digits. And as long as you’re healthy and you’re happy and you’re not afraid to work what you’re wearing, you should be able to be a model, in my opinion. Great piece; thanks for sharing!

    • We were cross-posting on each others’ blogs. I just finished writing on your Outlier piece! 🙂

      I adore your concept of “positive size,” and will absolutely start spreading that around. Thanks!!

  7. Pingback: What real people look like | Mother Made·

  8. Thank you so much for this post. I work with girls who have been exploited/trafficked and we continually work with them on their self-image and worth, which in turns forces us to evaluate our own. I look forward to sharing your post with them.

    • Hi Lindsey – If this article really helps you with your incredible work, then it’s probably the best thing that’s ever come of this blog. Thank you for what you do – I believe that empowered, happy women are the key to so much of the most-needed social change in the world.

  9. If you’re feeling upset about how female beauty is portrayed by the media, take a walk through an art museum with a good collection of paintings by late medieval and early Renaissance masters. They were depicting their perceptions of female beauty for their generations, and a nude female by Peter Paul Reubens is a far cry from the media stereotype today. Beauty is cultural and temporal, not set in stone. Size 14 would probably be too skinny to make into a lot of the great masterpieces.

    • Oh, I hear you. I think pretty much every body type as well as skin shade, hair color, etc. has cycled through being popular and desired at some point in history. My issue is that I shouldn’t have to visit a museum to find a variety of examples! But thank you for reminding me of a place I can look for inspiration.

  10. Industry comes up with impossible standards so that women will have to buy an endless array of products in endless attempts to try to fit the standard. It sells a lot of stuff.

    Thanks for doing your part to help women understand how I utterly ridiculous it is.

    • You’re so right. And I know from personal experience that, until you see it, you don’t see it. For most of high school, I really believed I could become my ideal self if I just bought those products and looked that way. Hopefully, the more people talk about this now, the earlier the truth will get to the young women who are coming up in the next generation.

  11. I am “plus size”; always have been. My bones won’t let me get below a [current] size 14. Sadly, like your friend, I spent my life putting myself down for it. In the last 2 years, I actually saw ME in the mirror and was shocked. I’m beautiful! Can’t wait to post a pic in My Body Gallery. Thanks for getting angry.

    • I am so glad you’ve arrived! I think the only way through this mess is for more and more women to write and post photos (Kudos to you!) and just spread the love about positive body image. We know our combined actions are braver and smarter and louder than any ad campaign or media ideal, no matter how ingrained… we all just have to do our best to start tamping this madness into a downward trend with each coming generation.

  12. Jennie
    Is this possible? Size 6 is really considered plus size?? Geez, I can’t see how that can be good for young girls having a healthy body image self-assessment. The entire Fashion Industry represents mysogyny at it’s most heinous, all the more so for it’s use of “beauty” as it’s platform. I’m glad to see gorgeous, intelligent women like yourself putting your critical thinking and eloquent writing skills out there. Keep up the good work. Respect REDdog

    • REDdog,
      You’re oh so right. Thank you for your commentary, your support, and for being a thoughtful, insightful person in the world – that’s ultimately what we need more of to counteract this and many other social messes. Respect right back!

  13. Reblogged this on Tip of My Tongue and commented:

    Please click through to read today’s post. It’s about the moment when the media’s depiction of beauty turned from a bad taste in my mouth to something I wanted to chew up, spit out, and leave far, far behind. It’s about the second I finally understood that this endlessly repeated message of what’s desirable was making every person around me love themselves a little less. So I got mad… and I started this blog.

  14. Here’s what killed me when I was shopping for a wedding dress (I wore a size 12 and very busty)… many women are a 12/14 on average – but wedding dresses are sized smaller by a size, so I had to try on a size 14, and the kicker is that anything size 14 or larger was considered plus sized which meant that they cost MORE MONEY. SO you pay pay more and you feel worse about yourself. Just what everyone wants when looking for a wedding dress b/c they are not stressed enough with the entire folly of planning a wedding. Good thing I had a dress from a friend that I borrowed…

    I cannot believe that anyone would consider a size 6 – 14 a ‘plus size’ – and that they even have a category called ‘plus size’ is insane. It’s just another size – it doesn’t need a label. The whole industry is f’d – which makes me doubly glad that I hate most clothes and live my life in tee-shirts and hippy skirts.

    • It’s a tribute to the power of media that most of us think this way now – when we ponder getting fit, it’s a size or specific weight that pops into our minds, rather than feeling good or looking great.

    • Thanks, Molly! Thursday is the day I’m most excited about – I want to revisit a big community photo project some friends and I pulled together to visually address the issue. You’re right – people are talking about body image so much more openly these days – and I feel like every new voice is one step closer to the media actually listening and bringing greater diversity of looks and sizes to the table.

  15. the only thing that is wrong with any of the girls on this post is that they listen to the sheep dip fashion industry to begin with. . . . and if that is you in the bikini your just the right size . . ..

    • “Sheep dip fashion industry” made me laugh. But it’s not as easy as you’d think to ignore the constant barrage of messages about how you “should” look. The major problem, in my opinion, is that young kids are blasted with it before they’re old enough to have the critical thinking skills to realize it’s all bull. It gets in the system early, and is really hard to get out again.

  16. It took having a baby and seeing my body create a new person to make me stop caring about the numbers inside my clothes. I wear size 14-16 jeans now. This would have driven me to tears three years ago. Now, I’m just proud.

    • You just made me smile so big. What a powerful, honest example of what loving your body for the experiences and feelings it can give you really means. Kudos on your outlook, and thanks for providing an awesome contrast to all the dire articles online about how the main focus just post-delivery should be weight loss! Maybe it should actually be basking in the life you just created? (And sleeping, right? Whenever and wherever possible?)

    • YAY CAKE!!! And – not to get distracted – yay you! There are so few simply perfect things in the world, but a really moist piece of cake is one of them. 🙂

  17. As a size 10-12 woman, I can’t believe size 6 would be considered as being “Plus”. I thought you’d have to have an “X” after a number to be a plus size. Guess not anymore. How rude. Great post! It sure needs to be said over and over again how a person’s size does not make their personality.

    As I was waiting in line to check out at a grocery store, I picked up one of the magazines on the shelf because it said that a certain celebrity was going to reveal her weight loss secrets. I turned to the page and her “secret” was that she lost all her weight (can’t remember the number, but at least 15 pounds, I’m sure) from just running around playing with her young child. Some secret. What a messed up magazine to put that on its cover to make sales.

    • Ack, somehow I just saw this comment! Welcome, sf. 🙂 And yes. It’s just rude. It’s rude to size 6s, and it’s rude to size 12s, and it’s rude to size 2s, because even they get all whacked out in the head from the pressure to forever stay just as they are. It’s ridiculous. We expect people to grow and change mentally and emotionally over time, but then demand that they physically stay young and very fit forever, as if bodies didn’t change as well. And yeah, those magazines and their “best and worst beach bodies” issues are only augmenting the problem. I hate how many copies they sell.

  18. I’d love to tell you this was a wonderfully-written, intelligent post, Jennie, but the truth is, I lost track of my train of thought – and time – after I cast my eyes on that purple bikini…
    Your husband is a lucky man, my friend.

  19. Pingback: 5×5 With The Hook: Jennie Saia | You've Been Hooked!·

  20. Hi Jenni! Found your blog and this post via WP’s tutorial on sliders. What an awesome article. Heading over to the REAL WOMAN gallery.

    Funny. I always rationalized feeling lousy about not finding my size by telling myself someone else had to have bought it. Thank you for venting your thoughts. I so relate!

      • I scrolled thru it a bit and probably got distracted by a link, lol. Seemed fine. People are who they are. When we accept us, most others tend to follow suit. Those who don’t… Well, chances are they can’t accept themselves either, whether they’re aware of that or not. Take care!

  21. My sister is size 4 and she doesn’t have visible bones or muscles, shes just short and has just small frame, she eats normal things like we do and by saying it’s not “true woman size” i want to punch someone in his stupid mouth. People are like snowflakes you can’t say one thing about all woman, because every fucking woman is different.

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