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Why do we still label people as "plus size"?

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Within the fashion industry, there is a constant categorisation of body types: women are slim or curvy; men are broad or boyish; bodies are standard or “plus-size”.

Recent news in the media suggests that “plus-size” male models are now gaining recognition in the industry, following the growing inclusion of female “plus-size” models in fashion.

Male model Ben Whit is technically “plus-size” according to the industry definition. He has recently been signed to Bridge Models, making him one of the first official “plus-size” male models in the UK. His signing reflects the growing acceptance of a more diverse range of male body types in the industry.

It is promising to hear of Whit being signed to a modelling agency, but it is nonetheless disappointing that the label “plus-size” remains seemingly immovable.

When earlier this year US Glamour magazine released a plus-size edition, they attempted to show acceptance of larger body sizes. Instead, the magazine received backlash for describing women as “plus-size” who do not identify as such, highlighting issues with the use of the phrase.

Amy Schumer in particular was vocally opposed to being mentioned in the US Glamour issue as “plus-size” as she was not of a size that qualifies as “plus-size”, emphasising a major issue with the term: there does not appear to be a universal agreement of what “plus-size” means. The industry is categorising with indefinable categories, presenting subjective ideas as objective.

Schumer’s reaction also suggests that she was offended by the use of the term, which draws attention to a much wider problem. There are generally negative connotations attached to the phrase “plus-size”, based on a misconception that thin bodies are the ideal body type, as implemented and enforced by the continuous use of slim models throughout the history of fashion.

It is arguable that the term “plus-size” allows media reports on the diversification of body types in the industry to become clearer when showing the efforts of fashion professionals to become more inclusive. However by categorising models as “plus-size” as opposed to simply referring to them as “models”, the industry is arguably worsening the issue, encouraging divisions rather than fixing them.

Bodies of all shapes and sizes should be recognised and reflected within the fashion industry. It is counter-productive for body types and sizes that belong outside of the industry’s narrow and fabricated definition of “ideal” to be distinguished by differentiating labels.

As people, we are all indescribably unique. Categorising people as “plus-size” forces them into boxes that are unnecessary, unhelpful, and unhealthy.

If models were all described as “models” regardless of size, perhaps the industry would be able to achieve genuine inclusivity of all body types and vastly improve body image issues in society.

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