Is it Healthy to Celebrate Plus-Size Fashion?

I finally saw the documentary Super Size Me. You know the one—a guy commits himself to the outrageous, risky experiment of eating a McDonald’s meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner 30 days straight. While I only recently borrowed it (for free!) from the library, Super Size Me first premiered at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival and was very well received by critics everywhere. In fact, I recently read that it was nominated for an Academy Award for Documentary Feature.

With wide eyes, I watched Morgan Spurlock—the writer, director, producer, and star of the film—stay firmly committed to this bizarre challenge even as his weight, energy, libido, and health quickly began to suffer. As he intended to do with this film, Spurlock overall proved how fast food can be physiologically addictive and physically harmful if consumed often. Obesity truly is a scary, growing epidemic in America, and it was interesting that the fast food industry was compared to the tobacco industry in the movie. It eventually took Spurlock about 14 months to lose the nearly 25 pounds he gained as a result of the experiment.

Super Size Me Key ArtAfter I ejected the DVD from my computer, and just lay in my bed thinking about the film (and going over what I had eaten that day, happy it was jam-packed with fresh fruits and veggies), my mind immediately became fixated on fashion and how being overweight affects one’s wardrobe.Then I really started to think about the fashion industry and how it is adapting to the increased number of overweight consumers, providing options for those who love fashion but could never wear the original designs from our ever-beloved brands.

There was a time when “normal” clothes were sold in one store and plus-size fashion was sold in another. I never felt comfortable with the division, as I didn’t understand why a single shop couldn’t have double X on the same rack as a small. (This division still exists—don’t get me wrong—but the space is becoming narrower.) And honestly, I don’t have the exact answer as to why it took so long for popular retail outlets to incorporate plus-size fashion on their grounds (The Gap, H&M, and Forever 21, just to name a few). What I do know is that the fashion industry is a business, and they want to make smart business moves. If obesity is slowly, yet quickly, affecting (infecting?) more and more Americans, then stores could lose business if they don’t adapt to this collective weight gain. No one wants to lose money, especially not major fashion stores and brands that have the ability to increase profit by selling bigger clothes for bigger people.

Now please don’t get me wrong, I love a united front. I don’t believe in the “separate but equal” unspoken air I’ve felt as I walk past Lane Bryant or Torrid. But I will pose this question to all of you, no matter your size or shape: Does plus-size fashion make it easier to be overweight? I wonder if there weren’t an increase of options for plus-size fashion . . . well, would the overweight population feel more inclined, or even inspired, to become more active and lead healthier lifestyles and fit into smaller “normal” sizes?  I know, and am friends with, several plus-size fashion bloggers and those who work in the fashion industry. I love that these amazing women are proving that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. I love that there are more voices in the blogosphere, sharing unique perspective and proving that big can be beautiful. We know that a person can be overweight by general standards and still be healthy, but we also know that a heavier person is more susceptible to experiencing health problems should certain behavior not change, or get worse.

While Spurlock showed us how excessively eating fast food, in particular America’s beloved McDonald’s, can damage one’s health, I am not writing this column to prove anything. Rather, I just want everyone to truly consider their health above all else. Monetarily, the fashion industry and big businesses will benefit from selling plus-size clothing lines. But what about the shopper? From personal experience, I find joy when going down a size or maintaining the same size over the years. I have experienced only frustration when going up one, or two . . . or three.

I do love seeing so many couture-inspired lines that can make a size 16+ feel sexy and fashionable. I still wonder, however, is it healthy to celebrate that plus-size fashion is now needed in our country?

I don’t know . . . just a thought . . .

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11 Comments to “Is it Healthy to Celebrate Plus-Size Fashion?”

  1. […] I’ve affected a number of readers who were disturbed with one of my recent articles, titled “Is It Healthy to Celebrate Plus-Size Fashion?” In an article that was intended to raise a question regarding our society as a whole . . . well, […]

  2. Elana says:

    Wow…What a response! I appreciate you taking the time to comment and explain your feelings, which are valid. Every person has their own thoughts and freedom to express them as they feel just. Although I do feel that you have taken my column has a major attack on those who are plus-size (not the case), I appreciate your opinion and inspiration.

  3. So sorry that you took this article this way. But we thank you for your feedback and will most definitely take your points into consideration. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.

    Kaylene Peoples – Chief Editor

  4. A Former Fattie says:

    I’m very late commenting on this article but I will anyway. I’ll start by saying that your attempt to hide behind “health” concerns as a reason for bringing up this topic are just as transparent as the other fifty thousand people who use it in an attempt to hide how they really feel. You’re ‘friends” with fat bloggers but the truth is, you clearly have the same biases as most people. You don’t understand how they can allow themselves to be so “obese” so “disgusting” so “flabby and gross” etc. and you think they could all be skinny and fabulous, if only they had the remarkable self-discipline you have and would get off their lazy asses and hit the gym instead of stuffing chips and ice cream into their fat faces. Your supposed concern for the health of the “fatties” isn’t fooling anybody so knock it off. You don’t want to see them flaunting their fatty fat fatness in public and you think it’s okay to discriminate against them because society has told you it’s okay just like society has misinformed you into thinking that you’re better than you really are because of the way you look. . How dare those fatties walk around trying to be fashionable and thinking they look good, right? Who are they to demand acceptance and love themselves the way they are? They’ve got no right to feel good about themselves if they fail to conform! They ought to be shoehorning themselves into the mold that society says is acceptable and hitting the treadmill instead of the fashion shows and sample sales. Am I right?

    Have you ever stopped to consider that making attractive stylish clothing accessible to fat people boosts their self-esteem? How might that boost in confidence translate into better habits overall? Instead of hiding in the house because they’re too embarrassed to be seen outside in their elastic waist, giant wallpaper floral print jumper made by Omar the Tent Maker, perhaps they’ll feel good enough to be seen in public, get out of the house more, and actually get some of that exercise you’re always smugly thinking they need to get. That fat chick in her skinny jeans, sexy silk top, cute blazer, and sleek booties is walking pretty briskly down the street while shes feeling fabulous and guess what? She’s burning calories while shes doing it. Better than sitting at home in a caftan or house dress, watching t.v. and eating junk food in order to avoid the judgmental gaze and rude commentary, who see them out and about and think it’s not only their DUTY, but their God given right to decide what kind of people they are based solely on appearance, and to point, make snide comments, and snicker out loud.

    FYI, just for the record it’s healthy to celebrate people for their worthwhile ACCOMPLISHMENTS, not for things they may or may not have much if any control over; like their appearance for example. Writing yet another thinly veiled contempt for fatties piece on the internet isn’t much of an accomplishment just in case you were wondering.

  5. Holly says:

    I’m with Michelle and Anna– there are a handful of us (probably many more than that) who are in a weight transition, or just naturally larger people (not necessarily wider, just all around larger… taller, more muscular, and yes, chubbier sometimes), and my general impression of the stores where I shop is that they don’t have much interest in my business… and how sad! Because I would love to update my wardrobe regularly! Take my money! :) I have been a size 14 since I started high school, and now, some 15 years later, I am between a 16 and 18. Partly, I’ve just gotten lazier (turns out, having a real job is exhausting and you don’t want to do anything when you get home from work… who knew?), but also due to a couple of medications that interfere with normal hormonal/metabolic functions as a side effect. I used to love Target… but at my current size, I can rarely find anything there that fits AND suits me. I like lots of their stuff… and some of their stuff fits me, but rarely do the two criteria collide. Department stores have a similar problem… although, the more you’re willing to pay, the more likely you are going to be to find something decent to wear. I wish that plus size clothing didn’t all have to be loose, baggy, and “stretch” fabric… surely, somewhere, someone makes a tailored button down shirt that would fit me, even though, yes, I do have some chub around my midsection. Or, pants… golly don’t get me started on pants. In one store, a 16 is too big, and in the next, I can’t get into an 18 or a 1x? How does that make sense? Sometimes I wonder if the manufacturers aren’t just taking the same patterns and scaling them up by some mysterious factor. That’s not really how people work… My body is not just a larger version of a skinny minnie’s body. The weight that they adjust for is often not the weight that I have… and the reverse is true, too. I think… and I realize now I’ve gotten off topic quite a bit… that the industry could do better in this area, and I don’t think it’s unhealthy to cater to a larger population. I liked the flow chart Anna posted… it’s totally true. If all I have to wear is my frumpy “laundry day” clothes, I’m gonna have an icky day. I’m going to feel less inclined to eat produce and more inclined to eat ice cream to compensate for my sad fashion disaster. And that ice cream is a dangerous consolation. Perhaps, even, providing the populous with fashionable, affordable plus-size clothing options (for ALL ages), could be part of the solution. If you look good, you’re going to feel better about yourself, right? And if you’re confident, you might try new stuff… new habits, new activities… it’s an emotional environment ripe for progress and healthy change.

    (I should note that I’m here because I just had a discouraging back-to-school shopping experience at a popular local retailer… and, as we do, came home to see if I was the only crazy person having issues with clothes shopping, or if, perhaps, I had some peers. Thanks for your article!)

  6. Elana says:

    Anna and Michelle, you brought up some interesting points, and I thank you both for reading and putting time into your comments.

    Anna, I did not intend to discuss plus-size clothing in a “villainous” light whatsoever. As a columnist for Agenda, I truly enjoy sharing my perspective regarding fashion, shopping, retail, and its relation and relevance in our culture. With this particular topic, my only goal was to arouse thoughts and discussion on a topic that I find interesting. I realize that this was a touchy topic to discuss. I also realize that Agenda has a diverse readership, which I appreciate and respect. While I never want to offend anyone, I also want to put thoughts out there that others may understand and/or relate to as well. And as a fashion writer who has always been true to her inner voice, it is very important for me to not give up on that.

    Michelle, I agree with the fact that everyone deserves to wear cute clothes. Period. No doubt about it! :-)

    Thank you again for reading. It’s amazing how much power truly is in fashion…

  7. Anna says:

    I feel that Michelle hit the nail on the head. I’m 23 and I wear a size 18, but I’m very tall and so I don’t FEEL fat, and my health is great. Yes, I’m overweight. But much of my size comes from my actual body structure. I’ve lost about 20 lbs over the last couple of months, and I have to say it’s very discouraging that I can’t even buy a cute new top or skirt to celebrate a smaller size. I feel like many plus-size stores (Lane Bryant is the one that sticks right now) are geared toward older women–and those that do suit younger women are ridiculously over-priced. I remember when I was 15 and a size 13 and could not find anything (and I mean ANYTHING) at the mall with my friends. I was 5’10” at the time, swam competitively and was on the softball team. I was healthy, at a normal weight with a normal BMI. And I still got stuck shopping in what I always called the “fat old people stores”. Nothing was flattering. Nothing was /quite/ long enough. And if you wanted something to fit properly, you had to be prepared to spend triple what everyone else paid for the same(ish) item. I don’t think making cute clothing in larger sizes will speed along the process of America’s overall weight gain. In fact, studies have shown that people who enjoy their appearances are more likely to keep an eye on what they eat and treat their bodies with more respect. So, my thinking runs like this:
    Ugly, frumpy clothes–> low self-esteem–>depression–>lethargy/binge eating–>additional weight gain
    Cute, fashionable clothes–>higher self-esteem–>awareness of body and eating–>gradual weight loss
    It may seem silly, but I replaced nearly my whole wardrobe after I realized that stores finally sold things in my size for reasonable prices. And I did feel better about myself. And I ate better. And I did a whole lot more. And the weight just started coming off. It felt like magic, but it’s amazing what feeling like a “normal” person can do. What clothing can do.

    Sorry this is so very long. I felt I had to explain a bit, and maybe show the brighter side of plus-size fashion rather than the villainous one.

  8. Thank you for your comment Michelle. You have raised some very good points. We will try to provide more resources for plus sized women, because those fashions are out there, are available, and are affordable. One very good designer in fact is Rachel Pally, who just about a year ago launched a plus size line that can be found in Nordstrom. Recently, Forever 21 has placed in their stores a whole plus size department as well. Thank you so much for reading Agenda and we hope you continue to read. Very grateful for your feedback.

    Kaylene Peoples, Editor in Chief

  9. Michelle says:

    I am a plus size woman and do not think fashion has adapted as much as you think. The Gap does not sell plus size clothes, unless you mean Old Navy since they are owned by The Gap? I am constantly on the hunt for fashionable plus size clothes. Target is a great example. In the women’s section they have about 80% “normal” sizes, 15% maternity and 5% plus size. The plus size clothes don’t even compare to the trends of the smaller sizes. While the smaller sizes have neon colors, color blocking, great denim and beautiful dresses – the plus size area has plain shirts, shorts that are cut weird, and shirts that bunch at the waste to accentuate any large-ish stomach. The thing that drives me crazy the most is that cute athletic clothes rarely come in plus sizes. I am trying to lose weight, but can hardly find any clothes to fit while I work out.
    I think there are a lot of us out there who want to lose weight and are in the process, but we all deserve to feel like normal members of society in the clothes we wear. Obviously I did not and do not enjoy gaining weight, but while I am this size I do think I deserve to wear cute clothes.

  10. Elana says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Trevor! I, too, am curious as to what women who wear plus-size clothing think as well!

  11. Trevor says:

    Great topic to touch on with an article that really made me think. It got me wondering about what women who wear plus size fashion would have to say about this. I think this article can open people’s eyes to health if they already haven’t thought about it. I agree that no one can feel good about themselves when going up a size, but at the same time, now that fashion has adapted to plus sizes, what can be done?

    I think for a few people after reading your article they can honestly think about the way fashion stores meet their needs and can strive to be healthier and more active, but for the people who don’t come to this realization…the fashion stores will be there to “feed” there extra needs such as Spurlock’s film proves.