Unpopular Opinion: in modelling, size does matter

Unpopular Opinion: in modelling, size does matter

In an age when offence can be found everywhere, I’m sure it will be controversial to say that size does matter.

This year, French MPs made it a criminal offence to employ “dangerously skinny” models on the catwalk. Shortly afterwards, the infamous “beach body ready?” campaign was banned in the UK because of body confidence and health concerns. Now, model Rosie Nelson has launched a change.org petition calling for the UK to follow in France’s footsteps, with 95,586 supporters.

Clearly, public opinion on body size in the media is intensifying over the skinny debate. But something else is happening too.

Plus-size model Tess Holliday became the first model of her size (UK 26) to be signed by Milk Model Management this year, alongside Olivia Campbell (UK 22) at Bridge Models. Meanwhile, Ashley Graham has hit out against the constant sexualisation of plus models in the industry. (It’s worth noting “plus-size” officially starts at a size 10 – but that’s an issue for another day.)

It’s easy to see how the treatment of these models differs. While we condemn those who are too skinny, justified by a concern for their health, any such discussion surrounding plus models is largely absent. The language used in the media reflects this attitude; while Victoria Beckham’s catwalk was a “show of skeletons“, The Mirror published an article with “big IS beautiful” in the headline. Why the huge contrast, when surely they’re equally as unhealthy?

The reason that seems to be repeatedly reiterated is a lack of diversity. While we see size 0 on a daily basis, we rarely see a departure from this norm. But it seems like there’s more to it than that.

According to the #PlusIsEqual campaign, “67% of US women are size 14 to 34 and yet they’re underrepresented” – so this shift is about closing that gap. I do, however, feel uncomfortable about this outlook. A representative catwalk is undoubtedly needed, but there need to be boundaries. At the moment, 64% of the UK population is overweight (with a BMI of over 25). Would having 64% of catwalk models as overweight make fashion better? Surely it would change absolutely nothing; we’re just reacting to our exasperation with one extreme by elevating another.

The popular #PlusIsEqual campaign goes on to state that “all women should be seen and celebrated equally”. Applaudable, yet naive. The celebration of skinny is slowly coming to an end, instead we’re calling for “real” women. I can sympathise with the intention, but labelling one size of woman as “not real” does not promote equality. These attitudes seem to stem more from insecurity. Would we rather see Tess Holliday than Cheryl Cole because we find her less threatening to our own self-esteem? In that case, this trend is about what makes us feel good about ourselves, not about what’s better for us.

That can only be a good thing, right? To teach people to love themselves at whatever size they are and not to care what others think is a common message from plus size models, but it’s doesn’t seem to be applicable to everyone; too skinny is already illegal, but there’s no too fat. Maybe when size 20 becomes as common as size 0 there will be. For now they’re just curvy – the ironic contradiction simply makes no sense.

In an age when offence can be found everywhere, I’m sure it will be controversial to say that size does matter. I can already hear the distant echoes of “body shaming!”, and there lies the problem. Any productive dialogue about someone’s weight or lifestyle in the mainstream media (internet trolls aside) is being immediately shut down by those two words and its only promoting the existence of these two extremes.

Yes, loving yourself is an incredibly important message, but this new polarised trend in fashion, with its disregard for a balanced debate on health, is not something I think we should be promoting.

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Featured image credit: Lane Bryant

Cinzia Leonard