As body image perceptions change in society, should terminology change too?

Years ago, I was looking to hire a showroom model, so I contacted a well-known model agency in New York City. I explained I needed someone who was my standard size 6 (bust 36”, waist 28”, hip 38”) her response was, “Let me connect you with the Plus Size Division.”

I was speechless as I waited for the “Plus Size Division” agent to get on the phone. Even though I had already been in the fashion industry for years at that point, I simply could not believe my standard size 6 was considered “Plus Size” in the modeling world.

Yes, it is true that different designers create their own size chart, and in the Bridal Industry size charts almost always run smaller than in ready to wear, which is another blog all together. Size charts include a bust, waist and hip measurement and it is rare that a bride falls into one size perfectly. Most size charts are made to an hourglass figure and a recent study now shows only 8% of women have an hourglass figure as body shape continues to change over time. Therefore, many women today fall into one size on top and another size on bottom or even three different sizes. And since the industry standard is a B-cup, then what about the women who fall into the rest of the alphabet?

As a designer, I have never quite understood the term “Plus Size.” When I fit a client, it does not matter to me if she is a size 22 or a size 0. And honestly, why is zero considered a size? The meaning of zero is no quantity or number!!? LOL. Also, my size chart is framed around a woman with curves and a C-cup, it also falls more into ready to wear sizing. Because why would I want a bride, who wears a size 10 in her street clothes, to buy a size 14 for her bridal gown?

Anyway, I only care about the bride and it’s my ultimate goal to make the gown of her dreams and have it fit beautifully. This is why, even when I’m working with a bride remotely, I can suggest things like a muslin fitting, going up a cup size, split sizing or many other expert decisions if needed.

Since the Covid-19 quarantine, I’ve been doing FaceTime visits with brides and their consultants during the appointment. I love it! It’s always so good to see so many beautiful brides-to-be trying on my gowns and to give guidance if needed. I love to customize and design with the bride’s vision in mind. I also don’t have to be on hand for you or your sales consultant to discuss your options, but I am available for appointments during this “new normal” period. Just ask your local boutique to arrange it and we’ll make it happen.

But I digress and so back to the term, Plus Size. If you go back to its origins, you’ll find it was Lane Bryant in 1922 that coined the phrase. First as Misses Plus Size, then eventually just Plus Size. At the time, Lane Bryant called their clients “Stout Women” and ran advertising with the term in big, bold letters – STOUT WOMEN. Why was this term eventually cast aside but the term Plus-Size stuck? Whatever the reason, Lane Bryant’s founder, Lena Himmelstein Bryant Malsin, obviously knew what was needed and delivered. She started this successful business for women right before a period when popular tabloids were pushing the “waif” or “flapper” body image. You’ve seen it; bound chest, boyish hips and a bobbed haircut to go with the straight lines, THE STANDARD of that era. Now the Lane Bryant Company has survived since 1904 and kept their following so, mad respect to lady Lena for building a strong brand especially in a time when men ruled the business world. She knew not all women were being represented on the retail end and she intended to give them what they wanted and deserved. The advertising was loud and proud and let everyone know who her target market was.

Yet, here we are 100 years later and, I wonder do women feel disrespectfully defined in any way by the term, Plus Size?

Because of reality show celebs & entertainers normalizing different body types for women such as “curvy”, “the feminine curve” and “athletic build” are being embraced more, even celebrated, and I personally couldn’t be happier. These are all welcoming and much more realistic body images for younger generations trying to fit in, and especially during development. I cannot tell you how many times during fittings I’ve made brides stand up straight. I will always say, “oh, you developed early?” and the reply was always, “how did you know?” Hunching over doesn’t hide your chest, it just gives you bad posture. Imagine if all body types where simply normal and young girls didn’t have the additional emotional struggle. Wouldn’t that be a better world to live in?

Body image as truth, not fiction, is growing with advertisers too because the general public’s perception is being changed and in turn changing how people view models in general. Model agencies are now forced to represent a larger, more realistic range of women in different sizes and thus widen the circle of what is known to be beautiful.

I am happy to say the days of fashion trends like “waif” or “heroin chic”, as if that wasn’t an utter contradiction to begin with, are gone for the most part. So, do we keep terms such as “Plus Size”? Lizzo says, “beauty does not have a size” so maybe we should just say, “excuse me, where is your woman size department?”

I’m obviously a male so the last thing any woman needs is for a man to be telling them what they should want. I’m calling on you ladies to tell me. No, I’m actually depending on you to let your voices be heard.

I’m listening. Please comment below and let me and society know your thoughts.

And, I love you Lizzo!