Kitty Underhill

Should We #DropThePlus?

Kitty Underhill
If you’re in any way affiliated with the plus size fashion community, you’ll see that the #DropThePlus movement has caused, well, quite the stir. 

The movement was initiated by positive body ambassador Ajay Rochester, arguing that the segregation of women into ‘normal’ and ‘plus size’ is harmful; that we are all women, and we need to ditch this segregation of women and fight for size equality in the fashion industry. This movement calls out the fashion industry on its issues with sizing and the body standards it inflicts on women, arguing that labels such as ‘plus size’ are damaging to the self esteems of young women. On their website, droptheplus.org, they state their goals as follows:

1. The terms “plus” and  “plus size” removed from the fashion industry and removed from the media reporting on it.
2. Retail stores to follow suit by dropping the “plus size” label.
3. The fashion industry to consistently use models of all sizes, uncategorised.

I’m not going to lie - when I first saw the #DropThePlus hashtag I was all for it. I even tweeted in support of it (goodness I’m wild!! I know!!!). However after taking some time to research into and think about the topic, I knew there was more to this than meets the eye. Whilst this movement has great intentions and I admire their advocacy for body positivity, the whole thing is based on negative discourse around the word ‘plus’, which is perpetuated via mass media, such as the internet, television and magazines. ‘Plus’, in today’s world, has become a euphemism for fat. And due to the negative connotations attached to being fat, these become attached to ‘plus’. There would be no #DropThePlus movement if ‘plus’, i.e. fat, wasn’t constructed and viewed as such a dirty word. 

The reason #DropThePlus is so popular is a result of women being taught their whole life via mass media that being ‘plus’ is inherently bad. For example: tabloid publications such as Heat and others use the ‘circle of shame’ to point out weight gain, cellulite, and any other kind of ‘flaw’ they can find on a female celebrity. Look on any of their front pages and you’ll either see front page news about how one celebrity has ‘piled on the pounds post break-up’ or something equally as vapid, or you’ll see one celebrity or other telling the world how fabulous she feels now that she has lost weight, showing the before and after. The before is always an unflattering picture, exposing their fat rolls, their too tight jeans, their supposed frumpiness. The after, of course, is always glamorous - she’s in full hair and makeup, under studio lights, showing off her great new body in a bikini or bodycon dress, talking about how terrible it was to be ‘fat’. Either this, or fatness isn’t visible in media at all - just pages and pages of tiny models who don’t even look like their own pictures because they’ve been warped via photoshop. But it’s the bombardment of these kind of images everywhere that convince us from a young age that small bodies are the bodies we should have, otherwise we’re not good enough. And indeed, we end up thinking that skinny = good, and fat = disgusting/bad/unworthy.  So either, we’re told that our fat bodies are bad and something that must be changed, or we’re invisible. Either way, fat bodies are not acceptable.

And so, I somewhat understand where the #DropThePlus movement is coming from. Given this fat/thin good/bad logic we’re taught, shopping in the plus size section and being labelled as ‘plus size’ is something we ought to be ashamed of. And in turn, the models and the like at the forefront of this movement want to distance themselves from the label. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that they think that being fat is bad - they have said themselves that they are all for women feeling empowered by the term ‘plus size’, and it’s mainly about the way young girls will view themselves as not being ‘normal’ if girls who look like them are being labelled ‘plus size’. But at the end of the day, the movement is based on this very harmful notion constructed by our media that being plus is a bad thing. 

NEWS FLASH: it’s not! 

In reality these ideas of what a good and bad body is is ridiculous. Every body is beautiful and worthy. And people are slowly beginning to realise this and combat this harmful dichotomy. Whilst yes, we are still being informed that being fat is basically the worst thing ever, we’re seeing a backlash from women. We’re seeing fantastic movements such as Tess Holliday’s #EffYourBeautyStandards saying a big ‘EFF YOU’ to expectations of the female body. And it’s fantastic! Just look through the hashtag and you’ll see so many beautiful fat girls in bikinis, in bodycon dresses, crop tops and short skirts, sticking their middle fingers up to societal standards of what a fat body should look like and dress like. The reactions are varied; sometimes positive, sometimes negative - sometimes it’s almost like people are completely baffled/offended/appalled by the notion that a fat girl can love herself and be happy. This is the kind of terrible society we live in. But despite this, it’s clear to see that fat girls have no limits; they’re feeling empowered by this plus size label, not insulted by it.

As I am a size 12 model myself, this puts me on the smaller end of the plus size model category. But what is interesting is that whenever people ask me what I do and I say that I am a plus size model, the reply I get is always the same - a very upbeat ‘but you’re not plus size!’. The implication to this however, is ‘you’re not fat’. It’s almost as though I am putting myself down by saying I’m plus size, but to be honest the reality is quite the opposite. I couldn’t be more proud to be a plus size model. But I am also aware that I am not representative of many plus size women. So whilst I can contribute to the discussion, I know that it is not entirely my place; I certainly can’t change the terminology which empowers so many people.

Stefania Ferrario, a model at the forefront of this campaign, however feels the opposite, saying that she is not empowered by the ‘plus size’ label and that it’s ‘damaging for young girls’. Each to their own. But personally, I think that if the plus size movement had been this big and progressive when I was a young girl, then maybe I wouldn’t have spent all my teen years hating myself for not looking like the straight sized models I saw everywhere I looked. I became a plus size model because I want to be that person I needed when I was 14; to show women and girls alike that bodies come in different shapes and sizes, and no matter what size or shape they are, they’re beautiful too. Without the plus size label and the wonderful plus size community, I wouldn’t have been able to get my foot in the door, and I probably wouldn’t be as happy with myself and my body as I am now. 

Speaking of the plus size modelling industry, we need to get rid of this notion that the plus size label is segregating. For the modelling industry, people need to be put into categories. It’s not a positive or negative thing, it’s so that appropriate people are booked for the right jobs. For example, If I showed up to a catwalk for Chanel or a brand along those lines tomorrow ( a) lol i wish/one day, b) bearing in mind I am 5’6 and a size 12), they would not only laugh in my face but also probably call my agency and shout at them for supplying a model who was inappropriate for the job. The problem of plus size models apparently not being given the same opportunities as straight sized models is not to do with the plus label - it’s to do with the structure of the fashion industry. Yes, it is progressing in terms of diversity, but it still has a long way to go. It’s going to take a long time for the fashion industry to shift, which is why its so important that the plus size movement keeps its fantastic momentum so that it will finally get the recognition it deserves in mainstream fashion.


So to conclude, I don’t think we should drop the plus. By ditching this label, we would be ditching the fantastic progress and achievements the plus size fashion industry has accomplished thus far. By ditching this label, we would be invalidating and erasing a whole demographic of women. If we didn’t have the plus size label, we wouldn’t have such empowering pioneers in the plus size fashion industry - just look at Denise Bidot, Tess Holliday, Danielle Vanier, Callie Thorpe, Olivia Campbell, Georgia Horne...to name a few. Those names are only scratching the surface. These amazing women relish in and celebrate plus size, empowering so many who have been taught that they’re just not good enough because of their size. Ditching this label would be nothing but a detriment to not only fashion, but women everywhere. 

I think we should #KeepThePlus - but what do you think?