I was online looking at spring dresses, when I came across a collection of designer plus-size sheaths and shifts for the curvy girl and thought about how far the large-size world has come.
It wasn’t so long ago that most designers considered large women mostly invisible, seldom acknowledging them, seldom accommodating them.
Now, Calvin Klein is slapping its label onto plus sizes – and has been doing so, with little fanfare or publicity, since 2007. Michael Kors, Vince Camuto and Ralph Lauren have plus-size collections, too. Meanwhile, designer Eden Miller staged the first ever plus-size show at New York Fashion Week last September. And in March, Isabel Toledo, designer of the stunning pale yellow dress Michelle Obama wore to her husband’s swearing-in during the 2009 inauguration, unveiled her special collection for plus-size retailer Lane Bryant.
It would be tempting to say the fashion industry is finally starting to recognize large-size women, who happen to represent an increasing share of the clothing market. Plus-size clothing accounted for about $17 billion in sales, according to retail analysts.
It would be tempting to point to the success of plus-size actresses and say the entertainment industry is recognizing their value, too. Melissa McCarthy draws audiences with her series, “Mike & Molly,” and after getting an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress in “Bridesmaids,” continues to draw audiences to the multiplex, too. Rebel Wilson, despite her television series, “Super Fun Night,” being all but canceled, remains in demand. And the career of Gabourey Sidibe, who received an Academy Award nomination for best actress for her role in “Precious,” continues to bloom; she’s just committed to another season of the FX series “American Horror Story.”
Society loathes large women
It would be tempting to say we, as a society, have evolved. It would be tempting to say we’re no longer bound by prejudices about body size. It would be tempting to say we’re finally seeing and believing that women with large bodies are worthy of our respect.
Except we’re doing no such thing. Society is comfortable with large men. Actors John Goodman, Kevin James, Jack Black and Wayne Knight aren’t considered anomalies, whereas the success of large women is often the topic of magazine cover stories.
Society still loathes large women, it just doesn’t call women large any more.
These days, large women are “curvy.” Even if they have no definable waist or hips, the very definition of curvy. Even if their figures look less like an hourglass and more like a beer glass.
We do this even though being large doesn’t guarantee a curvy figure. I’ve been a size 8 and a size 22. I wasn’t curvy when I was slender. I wasn’t curvy when I was heavy. Curviness isn’t about weight, it’s about body type.
A new way to say ‘chubby’
Still, many women like this euphemism. After all, curvy figures such as Marilyn Monroe’s or Sophia Vergara’s, Sophia Loren’s or Kate Upton’s, represent a feminine ideal. Even if they aren’t typical of the average American woman – who wears size 14, generally considered the start of the plus-size range.
A survey last fall of 1,000 women by plus-size clothing retailer sonsi.com showed that most larger women prefer to describe their bodies as “curvy.”
“It’s a new way to say chubby that’s a whole lot nicer,” a friend told me. “I’m chubby and I’d rather call myself curvy, for sure. It’s got a more positive vibe than other words like ‘heavy’ or ‘fat.’ ”
And therein lies the problem.
A step backward
When we try to erase the existence of large women because today’s body-conscious society finds them so repulsive, we don’t do anyone any favors. We’re just taking another step backward on the path to body acceptance.
When we do that, large women continue to be marginalized and harassed no matter how successful they are. Because when people aren’t accepted, nobody stands up for them.
Movie critic Rex Reed, whose work appears in the New York Observer, decides McCarthy is so appalling he calls her “a female hippo” and “tractor-sized” in a review of her film, “The Identity Thief.”
A snotty website pulls an April Fools’ Day prank in which it reports that Sidibe has undergone liposuction. It includes two photos in its post, a before photo and an after photo. Except when you scroll down to the after photo, it’s the same as the before photo. “LOL,” the website says, “April Fools. Sorry but that girl still looks like a fried sausage patty.”
Stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue discontinue their in-store plus-size departments and offer them online only. Nordstrom reduces its in-store offerings.
And on and on and on.
What makes most sense is to stop putting women into categories.
Rather than plus or petite or average or big or little or curvy, why can’t we just refer to women as women?
How’s that for throwing a curve?