Rebecca Kamm

Poking a stick at ladies' issues, pop culture, and other cutting-edge curiosities.

Rebecca Kamm: 'Plus size' does more harm than good

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Aussie plus size model Penelope Benson wants to do away with the term used for women with curves.
Photo / Supplied
Aussie plus size model Penelope Benson wants to do away with the term used for women with curves. Photo / Supplied

UK chain Debenhams is poised to become the first British retailer to use mannequins the same size as the typical British woman: 16.

The dummies won't totally replace their size ten counterparts - they'll be dispersed across the store's branches nationwide. But anything that helps to normalise size diversity in fashion is good. Mannequins are, after all, purposeful expressions of how clothes "should" look. Yet another reminder our bodily goal should be narrow expanses of pucker-free matter.

So this is a small, but positive, move. Least of all because the fashion industry's idea of "plus-size" is utterly out of whack, thanks to its own distorted definition of the term. A definition that then bleeds into the rest of society.

Take (so-called) plus-size Australian model Robyn Lawley, who was recently targeted by the self-loathing members of a "thigh gap" thinspo Facebook page, because she had too much thigh on her...thighs.

Young girls vomited nearly 1000 comments akin to "PIG" at her image, in a horrific display of misguided outrage and transparent self-loathing.

Lawley, who for the record is a size 12, retaliated with a noteworthy Daily Beast editorial addressing the episode ("I've been trying to do just the opposite: I want my thighs to be bigger and stronger. I want to run faster and swim longer.") But the idea of plus-size is something she continues to rally against:

"You know, we're not plus-sized girls, we're normal sized girls," she told website Fashionista. "It's OK in the fashion world referring to us booking models, but in the regular world I shouldn't be called 'plus-size' at all."

A post from Lawley's Facebook page. Read more below:


Whether or not it's couched in expressions of faux-empowerment like 'EMBRACE YOUR CURVES!', the problem with the language of plus-size is the barriers it lodges between women. Its 'logic' dictates there are only two female prototypes: the kind worthy of dressing up and being admired and photographed, and "real" women. Abnormal and beautiful, or dumpy and normal. As I've said one billion times before: hooray for choice.

And as I've said one squillion times before, splitting women into groups defies the idea that women can't be grouped; that women are a diverse collection of humans, just like men are. Anything that defies that idea is damaging, to the point it's a great barometer of misogyny in itself: "Women all want men's money", "Women are all sluts or frigid", "Asian women make great wives", and so on and so forth.

The average woman in New Zealand is (apparently) a size 12-14, and just as absent from our magazines, advertisements and catwalks. Let alone her size 16+ counterparts. 'It's the designers!' whinge the fashion editors: 'their sample sizes never go above size eight!' Which sounds like a valid point at first, until you remember that fashion designers need fashion editors. Their alliance is basically the poster-child for commercial symbiosis.
The whole thing is like a ping-pong blame-game, with female self-esteem the boring prize that no one wants.

Which is why I celebrate retailers like Debenhams. Obviously the use of a few bigger mannequins shouldn't need to be celebrated - in a perfect world diversity would come standard; no one would bat a "real" eyelid at a size 12 model or size 16 dummy, etc - but that's not reality. So in the meantime, let's note who is effecting a crumb of change and pat them on the back, like an old dog slowly learning new tricks.

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