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The “Plus-Size” Calvin Klein Model and Why Everything Is Objectively Terrible

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Perhaps you’ve heard the media praising Calvin Klein for the “plus-size” model in their new advertising campaign:

this is not a plus-size woman

The company itself has not branded Myla Dalbesio a “plus-size” model. In fact, they simply released their campaign without calling attention to Dalbesio’s size at all. In a statement made to Elle.com, a representative for the brand lauded the “inclusive” nature of the new “Perfectly Fit” line of underwear:

“The Perfectly Fit line was created to celebrate and cater to the needs of different women, and these images are intended to communicate that our new line is more inclusive and available in several silhouettes in an extensive range of sizes.”

Their “inclusive” new line tops out at a size large for panties, and a size 38DDD for bras, according to the company’s size chart.

In fairness to Calvin Klein, the company has always seemed more plus-size friendly than other famous labels. Some of their ready-to-wear collection goes up to a size 24W. Maybe that’s why media outlets have stirred up controversy by proclaiming their new model “plus-sized.”

For her part, Dalbesio is focusing on the positives of the media scrutiny:

“I love that as the conversation on the internet explodes and brings greater awareness, I am receiving emails from 15 year-old girls, telling me that I have given them hope and that sharing my story has made them feel less freakish, less weird, and that they can accept their size 8 or 10 frame.”

Teens feel insecure about their bodies across the board, and a girl feeling good about herself is always a plus. But is holding up Dalbesio’s figure as an example of a “bigger girl” (a term Dalbesio uses to describe herself) really helping insecure women? Though Dalbesio’s shape is being praised as normal and realistic when compared to the preferences of the fashion world, her body is still considered ideal by current standards of everyday beauty. There’s something disconcerting about a woman who looks like Dalbesio making statements like:

“I had been hoping for a long time that someone would start this, that someone would talk about this, that things might change for girls that are shaped like me in the fashion industry and beyond.” (Today.com)

To many it would appear that Dalbesio has a “Perfectly Fit” body to go along with the ad campaign, yet she’s being framed by the media as a barrier-breaking example of a woman who is attractive despite being burdened with an unfortunate body type, much in the way that Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Winslet, and Salma Hayek have all been branded as “larger” than acceptable women.

The fashion industry is notorious for its worship of the skinny female form. Eating disorders and drug use have long been acknowledged as either dangers of or requirements for models, and Dalbesio herself has struggled with the same insecurities as everyone:

“Do you ever go to the beach and see a woman who’s 300 pounds and wearing a lime green thong and a fishnet cover up? Your like, ‘You look fucking awesome.’ But isn’t that fucked? I’m a model and I still need validation…”

But it’s quite a leap from a three-hundred pound woman in a bikini on the beach and a fit, toned size ten in professional photographs, in both aesthetic and response from society. A woman like Dalbesio may walk the beach feeling like a whale, but the three-hundred pound woman will actually be called one by strangers. While body positivity is for everyone, no matter their size, gender, or race, it’s disingenuous for a model in a major label’s ad campaign to compare herself to a hypothetical parody of an unabashedly fat woman. Yet one can’t help but excuse that remark as a product of the culture Dalbesio is employed in; would she feel the same need for comparison if she were a pilot or a firefighter? Perhaps, but the amount of pressure to worry about her appearance would be inarguably less.

It’s not surprising that women on the internet bristled at the media’s touting of Dalbesio as “plus-size,” a label she seems to dodge and claim all at once, telling Elle.com:

“’I feel like for a minute, it was starting to feel like this ‘plus size’ thing really was a trend, and that it was over,’ Dalbesio says. ‘There was that beautiful Italian Vogue story, and the girls that were in that ended up doing really well [in their modeling careers]. But when that happened, we felt really excited; we thought it was going to open so many doors for all of us, you know? And it felt like it hadn’t. It was dying out.’”

and

“’I’m in the middle,’ she says. ‘I’m not skinny enough to be with the skinny girls and I’m not large enough to be with the large girls and I haven’t been able to find my place. This [campaign] was such a great feeling.’”

If Dalbesio was disheartened by the sudden decline in plus-size modeling opportunities, imagine how plus-size models– and even plus-er sized women– felt. From her own words, her interest in the growing plus-size modeling movement was largely focused on what opportunities would open for her, and for women her size. This eerily echoes those in the body positivity movement whose primary concern is to wrestle control of the conversation from extremely thin women and extremely fat women alike, in order to focus on the self-esteem of women already held up as the example of perfection.

Fashion does have a dearth of opportunity where women sizes two to fourteen are concerned, and Dalbesio has broken ground for “larger” models within the industry. Outside of modeling, thought, Dalbesio’s body type is hardly shunned or degraded. So why declare her story a win for women beyond the catwalk? Fashion is an industry that has worked hard for decades to become the antithesis of body positivity; for it to make such slight progress as to showcase yet another type of conventionally perfect body isn’t a cause for celebration, but a call for revolution.

All women deserve representation. But many people on both sides of this issue, and the media in particular, are confusing representation of one ideal body in one industry with representation in all of society. If we continue to conflate acceptance of women’s bodies as beautiful with acceptance of a woman’s innate worth as a human, we’ll only establish new standards for women to strive for in order to prove themselves. And that size eight or ten teenager who feels “freakish” will only have to work that much harder at loving herself despite the messages the media throws at her.

 

43 Comments

  1. Laina
    Laina

    *comment to subscribe*

    November 11, 2014
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  2. I’ll admit, I took something completely different out of (what I’ve seen of) this kerfluffle. I’m a size 12: pretty solidly “in the middle.” I’ve made my peace with having to buy “large” clothes and having a body which will never again involve lean abs or thighs, but I’m also not actually getting called out by strangers for being fat. I’m part of the invisible majority of women who fall below the radar from both sides.

    And I kind of like having a model my size who isn’t “representing” plus sizes (ha), or being pointed out as “fat is beautiful.” Both she and CK are presenting her as she is, medium-sized and all, and I hardly ever see models with my body shape who aren’t pretending to be something else (either smaller or larger). That’s not to say that fat-shaming isn’t a problem (it is) or the fashion industry isn’t seriously fucked-up when it comes to beauty and body issues (it is), only that perhaps *this* one story doesn’t have to be about that.

    November 11, 2014
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    • Leah
      Leah

      ditto.

      A normal body being calls normal. Being the same shape/size, it is a GOOD direction.

      Course, the media are morons. Plus sized?? how dare they.

      November 11, 2014
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      • Laina
        Laina

        I do think we need to be careful not to call one specific body type normal, especially when the person falls into the “medium” variety. All bodies are normal. Small bodies are normal, medium bodies are normal, large bodies are normal. All bodies are good bodies, and large and small bodies are not abnormal.

        This model is still a bit below the size of the average woman, really.

        November 11, 2014
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        • Jessica
          Jessica

          When I read this story I couldn’t help but eye roll. I get that in the industry she works in she would never be considered a ‘model’ and it really grates me that the industry has all these labels. ‘Shes not a model, she’s a plus sized model’, ‘she’s not a model, she’s a medium-sized model’. wtf does she do for a living then? Why can’t she just be called a model in her own right? She gets paid to be photographed and (presumably) run the catwalk just like any other model. It’s time we stopped labelling women and putting them into categories. Everyone comes in a variety of shapes and sizes and that’s normal. There is no ‘ideal’ normal. It doesn’t exist.

          I appreciate the situation she is in but when I found out she was a size 10 I couldn’t help but feel her comments added more to the problem than it did to diffuse it. I’m a size AU8, slightly smaller than she is and even I thought she is definetly not some beacon of hope that she and the media are tooting her out to be.

          November 11, 2014
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    • I don’t think I would be as bothered as I am if not for the way the model presents herself as being part of the plus-sized team. Between her commentary on how the opportunities didn’t open up for her and the way she talks about girls who feel “freakish” and “weird” at her size, it comes off as her saying, “Look, I’ve suffered, too.”

      Sure, she has probably had a hard time in the modelling industry, but her body has very very little in common with an actual plus-sized person’s. I’m bothered by both her and the media trying to pretend she’s had the same sort of struggles to overcome.

      November 11, 2014
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    • Xebi
      Xebi

      But she isn’t really *medium* sized, in the sense of being halfway between fat and thin. She’s so tall that she can be a size 10 and still very thin looking. I’m a size UK10, which I think is a 6 in the US, but I’m barely 5 feet tall and certainly fatter than she is.

      November 12, 2014
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  3. Maril
    Maril

    If I hadn’t read the story around her I wouldn’t have even realized she wasn’t a size 2-4…

    I will say it is nice to see a more reasonable body type on a model, even if ‘reasonable’ just means ‘what I could be if I was paid to work out for a living’. I will also say I quite appreciate it when companies don’t point out the size of their models. They just say ‘here’s our model, don’t our clothes look amazing on her?’ because her size shouldn’t be what’s important, it should only be what their product does for her. So kudos to CK for not being the ones to make a big deal of it.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QBE4fgpW2dw it’s for that reason that this is one of my favourite ads. There is absolutely nothing specifically SAYING ‘plus sized’ anywhere. No one is saying ‘doesn’t she look hot for a big girl?’ No, she’s just strutting her stuff and being awesome. She doesn’t feel sexy by getting the guys attention, she gets the guys attention by already feeling confident and sexy. If you’re not familiar with the brand you wouldn’t even know it was a plus sized clothing store because it doesn’t say it anywhere. It’s just a woman in lingerie. I so very much prefer it when the point of an ad is less ‘see how inclusive we are?’ and more ‘isn’t our product awesome?’

    November 11, 2014
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    • Rowan
      Rowan

      I was just about to mention this Pennington’s ad, when I noticed you already had. It’s been running in Canada for a while now. I like it!

      November 11, 2014
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      • Maril
        Maril

        Yeah, I started seeing this ad play on TV not too long after the whole Meghan Trainor thing. I immediately loved it XD Canada represent!

        November 11, 2014
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    • sempercogitans
      sempercogitans

      “I so very much prefer it when the point of an ad is less ‘see how inclusive we are?’ and more ‘isn’t our product awesome?’”

      It’s like when people describe themselves as “funny.” If you ARE inclusive, you don’t have to tell people; you can show them. Just have models of all different body types, don’t call them “plus-sized,” and have a variety of sizes available, instead of going all the way down to 00 but only up to 16 or 18.

      November 11, 2014
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      • Carolina West
        Carolina West

        Forget 00, I’ve seen 000 in some stores.

        November 12, 2014
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  4. noisyninja
    noisyninja

    This makes me think of the woman on America’s Next Top Model who was about a size 10, and came in to compete in the plus size category. Keep in mind, this particular season included both plus and “conventional”(?) Sized models. She was booted in the third episode, not because her pictures weren’t good, but because they couldn’t really fit her into one or the other category. The judges seemed to be aware of how asinine this was, but felt they were dealing with the reality of the industry. In that level, yes, this is an awesome story. The fact that anyone is calling this girl plus sized, or that she feels that she speaks for plus sized models, is ridiculous.

    November 11, 2014
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  5. TottWriter
    TottWriter

    I don’t consider myself anything other than “thinner than average”, and I’m a UK 12.

    What I find most challenging about clothes and clothing models is that constant desire for the fashion industry to push the size 0 as normal, and anything much beyond that as “plus sized”.

    With that said, outside the fashion industry, of course she isn’t plus-sized. The real problem here seems to be that the interview uses a lot of industry talk, but mixed in with a viewpoint which tries to reach out past the industry. It comes off as very trite because the people reading it aren’t other models and fashion houses, who actually use “plus-size” to mean “still pretty damn thin people, really, just with added curves”.

    The people reading this interview have heard the fashion terms, yes. But they ring hollow. If this interview was actually about inclusivity instead of just a show of it, there should have been more of a focus on that fact. That, hey, you know, it’s great to see a CK themselves not actually marking any of their models as “plus-size” when they clearly are not, in any respect other than the very narrow definitions of the fashion industry.

    As a side note, my other beef (as a self-confessed smaller-than average person) is how few of these companies actually make clothes with any breathing room upstairs. There isn’t a straight line correlation between dress size and bust size, and I am so fed up with clothes not fitting me because fashion designers can’t be bothered to make clothes with boob room. Or that post baby, a lot of women have sagging stomachs and would like tops which run a little longer than “keep tugging it down past your trousers only to watch it ride up again”. Grrr.

    November 12, 2014
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    • Xebi
      Xebi

      I hear you. I’m fairly slim but my hips are substantially bigger than my waist and I cannot get trousers to fit me for love nor money. The only jeans I’ve got that fit came from Asda, of all places.

      November 12, 2014
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      • Maril
        Maril

        As someone with ‘birthin hips’ but a comparably small waist, I feel your pain…

        November 12, 2014
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  6. robo☆mart
    robo☆mart

    th-
    THAT is what people consider a plus size model right now???
    ok that pisses me off beyond belief. my girlfriend had an eating disorder because of shit like this. im not going to hate on the model but the fact that people are applauding ck for having a “plus sized model” when the model is clearly of average size? that is straight up insulting to people who may ACTUALLY be plus sized. its perpetuating this idea that even average isn’t good enough. you have to be skinny to be considered normal and thats fucked up.

    November 12, 2014
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  7. Is a US size 8-10 really considered plus size?

    (Genuinely asking. I’m worried I sound sarcastic).

    November 12, 2014
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    • Megan M.
      Megan M.

      In modeling, definitely, but I don’t think you’re in the plus-size category in clothing stores until you’re a US16 or higher (someone correct me if I’m wrong.)

      November 12, 2014
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      • Teresa B
        Teresa B

        I’ve seen some US “plus-size” being a size 12. However I believe there are “misses” size 12 and then “women” size 12 in some stores I’ve been in. What’s the difference???

        November 12, 2014
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        • Laina
          Laina

          Kinda depends on the store. In some store “misses” sizes are just straight sizes.

          Often, though, I believe they are junior sizes? Like for teenagers. There’s also, like, Forever21 is Junior, so their plus sizes are JuniorPlus, which means they can run a little small, plus the fit can be somewhat different.

          November 12, 2014
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      • Anonymous
        Anonymous

        It really depends. US12 and below are definitely not plus sizes. US14, 16, and 18 are weird; depending on what shop you go to, etc, you can usually find clothes in these sizes in both the non-plus size departments and plus size departments (which… may /sound/ like a blessing, but it’s usually more of a curse because the plus size clothes are cut more “generously” in some areas (the chest and hip areas especially), while the non-plus sized clothes are generally more cut-to-fit (especially in the waist area), so often times clothes in neither department fits because of that). Anything US20 and above are only found in plus size departments, though.

        November 13, 2014
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    • Laina
      Laina

      In modeling or in regular clothes? In modeling, she’s actually a bit in between, I believe. I believe “plus-sized models” start at a size 12.

      In regular clothes, usually it’s about a 16, but that’s still more of an “in-betweenie” size since you can buy those at most regular stores, and in the “straight sizes” section, not just the plus section.

      November 12, 2014
      |Reply
      • Trudy
        Trudy

        Wow is US clothing sizes ever confusing. That’s why I hardly ever order from US online stores, even though I love the clothes. In NZ, there is only one category of clothing… running from sizes 6-16 for most stores, and a lot carry larger clothing. There’s no song and dance about it being ‘plus-size’, it’s just there on the rack with the smaller sizes! Seems to me that it’s an unhealthy part of US culture that is obsessed with clothing sizes.

        November 13, 2014
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        • Xebi
          Xebi

          It’s the same in the UK. We do have stores that specialise in larger sizes, but normally you can get sizes 8-20 or so on the same rack. I realise this conversation gets confusing when our three parts of the world all use different sizing systems, but they’re not THAT different. The only different-size sections we normally have are petite (for shorties like me) and maternity.

          November 13, 2014
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          • Laina
            Laina

            Try finding Petite plus sizes. You’re not automatically 5’8″ because you’re fat, something clothing designers don’t seem to understand.

            Sometimes it’s really ridiculous with the fat-tax, too. Like I literally have clothing from Old Navy in 2xs and in XXLs, and the Plus stuff is SO MUCH more expensive. But then, like, I bought a pair of pants that the reviews say run so large that I got a full size down from the plus side, so I literally wear a 1x in those and an XXL in another pair I got. Shouldn’t a 1x be smaller than an XXL? Where’s all that “extra fabric” I’m using??

            November 13, 2014
  8. Megan M.
    Megan M.

    I wish we could get to a point where we didn’t have to put our “size” into a category. All the clothes should just be on one rack together and you just find the number you need and that’s it.

    I once read a book that reviewers were praising because it was a contemporary romance with a “non-stick-figure” heroine who didn’t lose weight to get the guy. When I read it, though, the main character spent SO. MUCH. TIME. lamenting about her weight and her “big thighs” and “fat ass” that it honestly made me feel worse than I’ve ever felt reading about some thin hot girl. And the way her height and weight were described (can’t remember the specifics now) it was obvious that she would have looked much closer to the model in that picture than, say, the model in the Pennington’s ad that a previous commenter linked to. I don’t want to be in the headspace of someone who’s so insecure for 300-ish pages.

    November 12, 2014
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    • This is why I’m hesitant to pick up BBW romances – and why my characters (almost all my protagonists are size 18-20) never really mention their weight. I want to read about different-sized people, but I don’t want to read 300 pages of Fat Talk, thank you very much. A little description is fine, but if your heroine is really insecure? Maybe mention that in the cover copy as something she has to overcome – and, please all various deities, NOT by losing weight.

      November 12, 2014
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      • JennyTrout
        JennyTrout

        I really liked Jemima J, which I know gets a lot of hate, but whatever. I loved that she starved/over-exercised and basically made her own life hell and it solved none of her problems at all. I thought that was a very powerful message, even though if I remember correctly, she stayed thin at the end of the book. The issue was not her weight at all, but that she was so insecure and hated herself so much.

        November 12, 2014
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        • Raging Brainer
          Raging Brainer

          I have that book on my shelf. I love the story even when I find the prose a teensy bit flowery. But her journey was what mattered and *spoiler* she finds she has to love herself. I read it when I need a pick me up. There is an American version of sorts that I recommend. It is called Fat Chance by Deborah Blumenthal, I love her story as well because it isn’t about getting happy once the weight is gone because it turns out that the issues are deeper than that.

          November 12, 2014
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    • JennyTrout
      JennyTrout

      Sherrilyn Kenyon wrote a book, I think it was called Night Play, where the heroine is a size 18 and within like, the first chapter hooks up with a dude in a dressing room. I was like, that’s some confidence for any PNR heroine. I think she was a bit insecure about her size and of course the hero had to reassure her, but it’s the only BBW romance that never offended me.

      November 12, 2014
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      • I will look both of these up, thanks! Jemima J actually sounds good to me. I don’t mind being on that journey with someone. I just mind having it not go anywhere, like a sort of “Well, this is just how fat girls are, right?” It makes me think the author isn’t fat, has never been fat, and has never met a fat person. I can tell my own story, thanks. 😉

        November 12, 2014
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      • JellyBeanSouth
        JellyBeanSouth

        That was the first book I read by Sherrilyn Kenyon. Being around that size myself, I was ASTOUNDED! I was also hooked.

        November 13, 2014
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  9. Cheryl
    Cheryl

    Salma Hayek is ‘large’?
    You get any guy to watch From Dusk Till Dawn and tell me they think she’s ‘large’
    …not that it matters what guys think but…just sayin’

    November 12, 2014
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  10. the-great-dragon
    the-great-dragon

    It’s so odd to me that anyone would consider this woman plus sized. Or even big. She seems very slender to me and it’s horrifying that people are so bombarded with thin body-types that they would look at her and think “my god, she’s a big woman.”

    I really wish we’d stop placing judgement on people based off weight and shape. I wish we’d stop worrying about it all together.

    Honestly, I had the bizarre experience of going down a few sizes recently and people are frequently noting that I’m ‘petite’ and making jokes about their own weight in comparison. And it makes me uncomfortable. My body shape isn’t a statement on their’s and it makes me feel like I’m making them feel bad about themselves – which sucks, because I don’t want to do that. And it just shows how terrible our society is about this kind of thing. Everyone deserves to feel beautiful, because they are. And I really hope one day we can have all sorts of shapes and sizes on magazine covers and people can just look at it and go “wow, they look awesome! Those clothes are the bomb.”

    November 12, 2014
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    • Flo
      Flo

      “I really wish we’d stop placing judgement on people based off weight and shape. I wish we’d stop worrying about it all together. ”

      Amen.

      I’m trying to figure out just when this all got so skewed. When I was in my late teens and early 20’s, women like Christie Brinkley, Cindy Crawford and their contemporaries were considered the benchmark of beauty. None of them were waif skinny either. Someone who wore a size 10 or even a 12 was considered healthy, not fat. What the hell happened?? Are the same people who called Ms. Brinkley gorgeous then calling her a fat pig now?

      November 13, 2014
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      • the-great-dragon
        the-great-dragon

        It’s kind of like how people look at the Mona Lisa and think she’s beautiful, but if they saw someone like her today, she’d be considered plain. Like, she was pretty, for her era. Just like Christie Brinkley and co. are still considered beautiful, but only in the context of when they were modelling. If no one had heard of Christie Brinkley before and saw her on a magazine cover today, she’d be “old” and “attractive for her age group.” But she wouldn’t be CHRISTIE FRICKEN BRINKLEY, you know?

        Beauty standards have always been pretty limiting though. Particularly where women are concerned. There’s always been the one body type that’s considered attractive – whether bigger, medium, or waif-thin – and any deviation from it is seen as undesirable.

        November 13, 2014
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    • ARIADNE
      ARIADNE

      That’s definitely a thing, feeling bad about losing weight. I noticed as soon as I started losing weight and it became noticeable that my friends treated me differently, more with kid gloves–and some tried to one-up me, like to prove their dominance. As in, suddenly I wasn’t Safely Fat and friend-zoned–I was competition, and it bothered them.
      I also started feeling really odd about eating in front of my larger friends, like I was somehow implying something negative about them if I ate less.
      At the same time, I think it’s so necessary to recognize the difference between categories–not because there’s a real lived difference, but because culture creates that difference. Trying to buy clothes online because no department store carries your size, versus not being able to find jeans that fit because your ass is “too large” [which is also the racism embedded in the fashion industry], versus feeling “too large” by comparison with totally unrealistic fashion industry images of women…the problems associated with each are different.

      May 23, 2017
      |Reply
  11. I’m mostly grumpy about that horrible bra size chart…if you measure 27-28″ underbust, you should be wearing a 27 or 28 band, and measure your cup size from there. Crock of shit sizing…

    November 16, 2014
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  12. That’s it. I’m walking the next catwalk at the American Mall Model Search and see if they’ll hire a 200lb size 16. THEN– nope, even then, I won’t let anyone call me a “plus size”, because most of my women friends are size 14-18, and that’s still smaller than several women I know and admire.

    May 1, 2015
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  13. “I really wish we’d stop placing judgment on people based on weight and shape. I wish we’d stop worrying about it all together. ”
    I hope so, Because I am also in such troubles

    May 19, 2017
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  14. This eerily echoes those in the body positivity movement whose primary concern is to wrestle control of the conversation from extremely thin women and extremely fat women alike, in order to focus on the self-esteem of women already held up as the example of perfection.This is perfect.

    June 16, 2017
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