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The negatives of plus-size

BY GRETA HAGEN-RICHARDSON | FEBRUARY 19, 2010 7:30 AM

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We are in the midst of the hottest time in fashion. February begins the Fashion Week parade that jumps from New York to London to Paris, complete with the walking pieces of art that will hit (mostly elite) stores in the spring. Implicit in your thoughts on couture designers and bright runways are the models. While the exact shape of the model changes to express the zeitgeist of the decade, the actual size has basically stayed the same. This year, however, more than one designer has chosen to include the generally dreaded (in the fashion world at least) plus-size model. Rumors abound from London and New York about the opposition to this new inclusion.

So what is all the hubbub about? Despite my very secure self-identification as a feminist, I find myself a bit out of sorts where this topic is involved. While I oppose the idea of size-0 models as the only representation of the female form on the runway, I don’t think I am a fan of the size-12 models either.

Let me say right now that I am no size 2 or 4 (or 6 for that matter), so I think I can understand the desire of many proponents of the plus-size movement. I’m definitely a fan of having someone in magazines and on television to identify with physically. I can attest to the long-term damage produced by the insane and generally unobtainable weight expectations imposed on American women. However, the sizes that the public consider to be in the plus range, 14-18, are to my mind just as unhealthy as the 0s and 2.

Part of what bothers me about having the size 14 on the runway is the motivation for it. In this economic climate, it would seem that many designers are doing whatever they can to jump on a market that was previously untapped. Jean Paul Gaultier walked down the runway with his plus-sized model who was wearing his collection’s finale dress (the big-deal dress). Additionally, in about a week, Gaultier will release a line designed for Target Stores nationwide.

Many other designers that have featured runway plus-size models, from Michael Kors to Isaac Mizrahi, have also created lines for big-box stores. Perhaps this is a marketing ploy more than a new acceptance. If that is the case, then the inclusion of these new models could be just as damaging.

So what size constitutes health? A few months ago, Glamour magazine drummed up a lot of attention by featuring a photo shoot of several plus-size models in the industry. Among them was Lizzi Miller, star of Glamour’s first nude plus-size photo shoot. In an interview, size 12-14 Miller said that she eats right and exercises daily and that her size is an accurate reflection of her natural weight. I find this pretty difficult to believe. I run between a size 8 and a size 10 and like athletics, so perhaps I am unable to shelve my own bias. But it would seem to me that someone eating optimally (six roughly 300-calorie meals a day, complete with the proper distribution of proteins, veggies, and fruits) and working out daily (could be as little as a 20-30 minute run) should be closer to a size 6 or 8.

I am by no means condemning larger sizes aesthetically. The plus-size women who have walked the runways thus far have been as beautiful as the typical Fashion Week model fare. Trust me — I am about as awed by Miller’s looks as I am of Agyness Deyn’s.

However, it would seem that people posing as fashion iconoclasts are really just taking advantage of a new market in desperate times. This may be an attempt to exhibit women that fit into the image of the average American woman, but the average American women is unhealthy.

So, what are the implications of this new trend? Is this an attempt to create a new fashion verisimilitude? That a size 14 is the right size? Could these new images have a positive effect on the American female psyche? I don’t know the answers just yet. But I am skeptical.


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