why do we need the term plus size?

Last week I was reading a Washington Post article by Tim Gunn from the show Project Runway titled “Designers refuse to make clothes to fit American women,” and in this article he criticizes fashion designers for making clothes that are only for smaller women that where sizes 0-12. He also criticized the designers that do make clothes for plus size women that wear sizes 14 and higher for making what he called “unattractive clothing.” I agreed with so many of the points that he made but one thing I kept asking myself is, “why do we need the term ‘plus size’?”

In Tim’s article he mentions the average size of American women which actually falls within the plus size category that the fashion industry has outlined which tends to be size 14 (sometimes even 12) and higher but I’m not going to go there, because I don’t see how it’s relevant. Why does it matter what the average size of women in America is right now? We don’t need to break up women shoppers into separate categories and the only reason we do is for the benefit of the clothing designers and retailers, not the consumers. Not to mention, using the word “plus” is just as insulting as it is unnecessary.

There are multiple reasons why designers chose to only make clothing for smaller sized women. The first one being that it’s easier. Think about it. Women’s bodies are complex, which also makes them beautiful, but dressing smaller women means not having to deal with as many curves, which makes it simpler and faster for the designer.

Another reason is that designers want their creations to be worn by people who are going to make them look good and according to America’s current beauty standards we think clothing looks better on slimmer women versus bigger and curvier. That’s why you usually only see Glamazons on runways.

Designers have a horrible understanding of what curvier women want to wear. I remember watching an interview Melissa McCarthy was doing on her new fashion line where she recounted how when she first started she met with multiple designers who consistently told her that curvier women did not want to wear prints, stripes or bright colors and they would tell her this while she was wearing all of these items.

Finally, there are not enough designers who are brave enough to break away from the pack. There have only been a couple of high-end designers who do make clothes for a diversity of sizes, including Christian Siriano who made the news this past summer when he dressed Leslie Jones for the Ghostbusters premier after she struggled to find a designer that would. A lot of people praised him for dressing the taller and curvier Jones which Siriano did not accept because he did not see his efforts as heroic. He was just dressing a famous woman, something he does every day, what’s the big deal?

In addition to the designers let’s not forget about the role that retailers play in keeping the term plus size alive. As much as designers don’t want to make clothes for curvier women, retailers don’t want to sell clothes to these women either. The majority of stores only carry sizes 0-12 and if they carry sizes that are higher they usually create a “plus size” section that is separate, because there is no way all of these sizes could be kept together (in my sarcastic tone). As if we need to create the illusion that there is a “normal” size and “other” size. There are also whole stores that only carry “plus size” clothes because we wouldn’t want to expose “normal sized” women to these “plus sized” monsters (again, in my sarcastic tone). It is ridiculous!

And why do we allow this to continue to happen? Why do we continue to put women into these small boxes. Why haven’t we learned that healthy bodies come in every size. I personally know women who eat way healthier than me and could run circles around me at the gym but because of various factors, like their body shape or height, will never fit into a size 6, and for this we punish them by making them shop in a different section of a store or a different store entirely.


My plea is that designers and retailers stop using the word “plus” altogether and start offering a greater range of sizes in their lines and stores. Ideally they should do it because it is better for women, but realistically they should do it because at some point (I believe) the term “plus size” will be severely outdated, and because they are missing out on the potential to make lots of money from a market that has been underserved.

My other plea is that women do not let these ridiculous terms that the fashion industry has made up and put on us determine how we see ourselves. Our bodies are allowed to be different, difficult and complex. We do not need to fit ourselves into meaningless categories. We have what the fashion industry wants, our hard earned money, so let’s make them work for it.