More Than The Coke Bottle Look: Why Plus Size Isn’t As Diverse As It Should Be
I came across this teaser trailer the other day for an upcoming film called A Perfect 14, which really got me thinking about beauty standards and how even in our expanded ideas of beauty, we still find ways to discriminate.
The documentary itself is still in the production phase (according to the Daily Mail UK, the film is raising money through Indiegogo to help cover the post-production cost), however, the synopsis for the documentary has been described by the film’s directors as the following:
A Perfect 14 is a film that exposes a world which people know very little about, a world of women fighting against traditions and obsolete standards, a world of women revealing beauty through diversity, a world of models representing a large group in society that has been neglected and forgotten for years by the fashion industry and the mass media.
This film follows the journeys of three plus-size models as they struggle against the distorted perception of body image that is being perpetuated in people’s minds. These women share their personal experiences of challenges and successes to help empower themselves and others to eradicate the currently held standards of beauty. In addition to being successful models they are also driven to make a positive impact in the world.
The film actually focuses on working plus size models Kerosene Deluxe from the UK, Elly Mayday and Australian international supermodel Laura Wells, who all share similar stories of being maligned in a beauty industry, which regards you as “plus size,” a term that can range anywhere from size four to an upwards of a size 14. As the film’s fundraising campaign suggests, the industry is in desperate need of diversity with much more accurate representations of what the average woman looks like. I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment. But despite the film’s timely message about the need for more body diversity, I noticed that the women portrayed and featured in the film all are a bit more homogeneous than we are being led to believe.
No, I’m not talking about their color – although that’s a thing too. I’m talking about their shapes. More specifically, their big boobs, narrower waists, flat stomachs, big hips and bottoms and thick thighs.
Of course, that is the trailer, and granted, I don’t know what all the rest of the film has to say on the body diversity issue, so don’t consider this as an attempt to trash it. But in general, when we think and talk about plus size modeling, the same fixed and stringent standard of beauty rears its head time and time again. From Justine LeGault to Tara Lynn to Toccara Jones (when she was thicker) to Kaela Humphries (yes, she is Kris Humphries’ sister) to Fluvia Lacerda to Ashley Graham, and so on, the number of plus size models who embody the same body proportions and aesthetic in plus size modeling is unnerving.
It’s a point made recently by plus size supermodel Hayley Hasselhoff (daughter of David Hasselhoff), who in this interview with Huffington Post said this about the term “plus size”: “At the end of the day, it just means ‘curvy’… That’s why I think the word ‘plus-size’ in the industry is very different from people’s mind view of what ‘plus-size’ really should mean.”
Curvy. As in shaped like an hourglass, or more affectionately known as a Coke bottle shape. In terms of measurements, it means to have a bust and hips that measure significantly bigger than your waist. And in layman’s terms, it means that all of your assets are in the “right” places. However, the interesting thing to note is that research has revealed that only eight percent of women – at any size – actually have the hourglass figure like Marilyn Monroe, Kim Kardashian or Beyoncé. In fact, the grand majority, or 46 percent of women, actually are shaped like rectangles. That means that their waists are less than nine inches smaller than their hips or bust. The rest fall into the categories of pear shapes (20 percent), with hips two inches larger than busts or more, and apple shaped (14 per cent), with bust sizes three or more inches bigger than their hips. So why isn’t our “plus size” reflective of that?
Well, it may have something to do with appealing to the male gaze. As science, and this article in the Daily Mail UK suggests, the majority of men prefer women who are fuller in the hip and bust areas – and it is a preference that does not discriminate according to how much you weigh or other differences. And as of late, whenever we see a spread in a magazine, or a plus size model gracing the runway (that’s if we get to see them at all), there does seem to be more emphasis on her s*xy factor as opposed to highlighting the clothing itself. Of course, that is all speculation.
But what I do know is that the term “plus size” doesn’t seek to counteract the idealized waif image by showing beauty in all shapes and sizes, but rather, reinforces the notion that beauty has its limits. And more often than not, it tends to create new ways in which women and girls can learn to feel bad about themselves. And I’m not just talking about the girls and women who are built like bean poles. I’m also talking about women with less boob than behind or more stomach than a**. While seeing bigger women is an improvement and empowering in itself, if all we are really seeing is bigger versions of the same image we’ve been force-fed since we were kids, all we are really doing is trading in one oppression for another.