Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Design Journal: Plus Size Wars


So last night on Channel 4 there was a documentary called 'Plus Size Wars', which I had been really excited to watch since I found out a lot of bloggers from the plus size community would be featured in it. I'm always a little weary of documentaries like this because inevitably there's going to be a discussion about health, and the people involved aren't always displayed in the best possible manner. However, last night's show was probably the best representation of the plus size community on TV I have ever seen. Health of course was still mentioned, but I did really appreciate the fact that some of the people in the industry/designers said it wasn't their place to comment on the health side they just care about fashion and style, and providing to their customers without judgement. Therefore the documentary was able to focus on what it should be about - celebrating a growing and strong community and the revolutionary effects we are having on modern society.

If you did not catch the show it is still available on 4od for a few more weeks.

There were several times whilst watching the show where I found myself getting quite emotional, because obviously this is a subject that embodies practically my whole life. I mean, not only do I study plus size fashion, but I also live it. There are days, particularly recently, where I have been really doubting myself and my work - but then I watch a show like this and it reminds me why I do what I do. I'm not saying I'm some miracle fashion designer, because I'm definitely not. But I like to think I'm helping towards a future where a generation of children and young adults will be able to grow up without prejudice towards their appearance and feel comfortable in their own bodies. And the reason why we, as plus size people, feel so passionate about it is because these prejudices consume our everyday lives and we are constantly fighting for the right to stand beside our slimmer counterparts and for people to recognise that we belong here too.

Tess Munster (Holliday)

I particularly became emotional when they begun to talk about Tess Munster. It's not the first time I've seen her on TV, or have watched her being interviewed on youtube etc. but nearly every time without fail I have felt myself welling up. Some people might find this weird, and it often takes me by surprise too, but I think it's because I admire her and her success so much and it gives me so much hope. The fact that someone of her size, who is very similar - if not the same - size as me, can achieve her dream of being a model despite being bullied her entire life, it makes me realise that I too can prove all the people who have doubted me wrong as well. It's also just great to see someone who I ACTUALLY relate to and represents my body size, that it causes me to feel so emotional because I've gone my whole life without that type of role model. Equally, when I found out that Rebel Wilson was on the front cover of Elle Magazine this month, I went out and bought it for the first time in YEARS because I was so proud to see such a beautiful, successful plus size celebrity on the front cover of a mainstream magazine - I mean, that is SO AMAZING.

Rebel Wilson on front cover of Elle magazine, May 2015

I know recently there has been a lot of discussions about 'drop the plus', saying that we should no longer differentiate between big and small - and I can understand that point of view. Callie herself said in the documentary that one day there should not be 'big' or 'small' but just fashion. This is partly why I took the word 'plus size' out of my bio's on social media, (I did this like 8 months ago) purely because I wanted to be seen as woman, blogger and designer; my size doesn't matter because I'm still all those things whether I'm big or small. And all the time I dream of the day to be able to shop with my slim friends in the same shops, and buy the same trends at the same time (not 2 years later) without any compromise. Or be able to flick through magazines, TV shows etc. and see every type of person represented and for it to be considered normal. (I'd also like to see a large woman take on a really serious lead movie role and be seen as desirable, intelligent etc.) But at the same time, I completely see the other side of the argument where we shouldn't drop the 'plus'. For starters, it is a descriptive albeit polite way of describing someone, the same as 'tall range' and 'petite range' does for people of those sizes. And by ridding the 'plus size' tag, is this just another way of trying to hide a group of people by making it seem like they don't exist? I mean there is no denying my size - I am fat. If anything, change 'plus size' to just 'fat'. I say 'plus size' when describing women, my uni work etc. mainly because I know how much the word 'fat' scares the person I'm talking to, and I don't want them to think I'm being rude or insulting my own work. But I am so proud to be called 'plus size' (and fat), and I think it's really important that we keep using that term because it represents a huge group of people that have otherwise been overlooked for most of their lives. And I think the main reason why I got so emotional whilst watching Plus Size Wars was because of how proud I feel to be part of a community with a bunch of strong women who are fighting and representing our corner in such an amazing way.

I recently heard about Jamelia's comments on Loose Women that she feels that plus size people (and those underweight too) should be made to feel uncomfortable when shopping on the highstreet. She believes that the highstreet should cater for sizes UK6-UK20, and people of other sizes are unhealthy extremes. This is not the first or last time I have heard someone say something like this, and definitely not the worst I've heard either. But it is still so shocking and disappointing to hear someone openly say that people like me should feel unwelcome when clothes shopping. But don't worry Jamelia - I already do feel unwelcome - the highstreet has made it pretty clear that people my size shouldn't be buying clothes in public. She has since apologised, however it was more a 'sorry but I think I'm right anyway' apology. (also check out Debz and her response, and the amazing #WeAreTheThey hashtag she started - another reason why I love being part of this community) It's very easy for someone who hasn't experienced size discrimination to sit high and mighty on their thin privileged throne and dictate what is healthy/unhealthy (despite no medical degree), or what is the correct/incorrect body.

It all comes down to an uneducated and stereotypical assumption being made upon my appearance, and people like me, without any background knowledge of who I am. But it also seems to me that people who make these assumptions don't really care about the individuals, but just dehumanise a whole group of people based on appearance. This is why I regularly compare it to racism and sexism. I shouldn't need to justify my body or size, but I have to say this: I truly believe that my body will not let me be small. Some people may think that's ridiculous, but you don't know my body, only I do and I've lived with it for 24 years. I have been big my entire life, even when I was very active as a child, and as a family we've always had a balanced diet. (my diet actually shocked a dietician last year when she saw how normal and balanced I eat) As a teenager, like most fat teenagers at that time in their life, I tried many different diets and they all failed to work. Even now my friends regularly say that I eat the least out of all of them, yet I'm over double their size. But what you don't know is - I suffer from PCOS. (hence why I was at the dietician) This is extremely personal, but I feel it's the only way I can get through to people like Jamelia and many others. PCOS is actually quite a common thing, and can affect women of all sizes - but to give you a quick rundown it's basically a hormone imbalance which you are born with which can make it ten times harder to lose weight. (You can google it for more information because it's a lot to go in to) I think having PCOS contributes a lot to my size, as well as genetics. And like I said before, I think I'm meant to be fat.

Even this year, when I was diagnosed with gallstones (again, not mutually exclusive to fat people) I have been put on a low fat/virtually no fat diet - not to lose weight, but because the fat in food is what causes the gallbladder to work and then causes me to have EXTREME pain. I have been on this 'diet' (I don't really like calling it that because it implies I'm trying to lose weight when I'm not) for over 2 months now, and I have vigorously stuck to it (particularly difficult not having a single crumb of chocolate at Easter), because I know the consequences is deep pain. You would be surprised about the amount of food I can't eat and it has made life very hard, particularly because I'm at university. I'm not allowed to eat dairy, eggs, meat or any food that has been fried/has oil on it. (I tend to stick to naturally low fat meat such as Chicken - oven cooked of course) Now, if I was to lose any weight it would probably be from these circumstances, right? Because it's going to be months before the hospital do anything about my gallstones so I will be on this diet for a while. And since being on this very low fat/low calorie diet, my appetite has shrunk and occasionally I skip meals. Yes I'm not exercising, but since moving to a very hilly part of Nottingham for University in September I have noticed a huge difference in my fitness, and I climb these steep hills every day. Have I lost any weight? No.

I wanted to use myself as an example purely because you can not stereotype a whole group pf people based on appearance and deem them 'unhealthy' and then use that as grounds to discriminate and isolate. But even the fact that I have had to write all that out almost justifying my size, is ridiculous. Because why should I have to justify my body and circumstances? And fat people who don't have PCOS or other medical reasons that may cause them to be big, doesn't mean that they should experience any more or less hate than me. (we shouldn't experience any AT ALL) When did someone's health become a currency in life? All the medical problems you can get from being overweight you can also get from being average or below weight. You can also be fat and have absolutely no medical problems - YES, REALLY. (and also be slim and have hundreds of medical problems) You can also be fat and fit - Tess Munster herself works out 3 times a week, and she's not alone in that. But again, why should fat people prove that they are a 'good' fat person who eats healthily and works out regularly? There are going to be fat people who don't eat so good, and don't do any exercise (and also a lot of slim people who do the same - yet face no prejudice because their bodies supposedly do not reflect their 'unhealthy' lifestyle) - but SO WHAT?! That doesn't make them less of a human being. Everyone on this earth deserves complete equal rights, and if you don't believe that because you think fat people are evil human beings or something, then you really need to think about what you're suggesting. You're suggesting that slim people, or people that fit the perfect image are worth and deserve more, and therefore the most important people on this planet; anyone who doesn't fit this 'perfect' and 'healthy' image should then suffer the consequences of their failing lives.

How often does the phrase 'promotion of obesity' get thrown in when discussing plus size fashion? In my opinion the only thing plus size fashion promotes is equality. The best way I can explain the inclusivity of plus size people to mainstream fashion (and equality in all aspects of life) is by comparing it to feminism. Now the word 'feminism' puts some people on edge because they have this old-fashioned view that it means that feminists look/act a certain way and hate all men. In comparison, 'fat acceptance' may conjure images of large people who look/act a certain way and hate all slim people. In both cases these are wrong. Feminism and fat acceptance is about one thing: EQUALITY. There are occasionally some really bad and misinformed representations of the plus size community - such as the Taking Shape skinny bird watching stunt which was actually featured in last night's documentary. I personally completely disassociate myself with stunts like this - the last thing I would ever want to do is single out another body size when I've experienced that isolation my whole life, and it would be totally hypocritical. What does body shaming of any type achieve?

Apart from Taking Shape, I felt that all the plus size brands, and bloggers featured in the show represented the community in a great way. I'm a little unsure with how I feel about Milk Management and the way they came across. As someone who works in fashion, I am very aware of the distinguish between a regular plus size woman, and a plus size model due to the industries requirements. However, I found it very hypocritical that Milk were able to flex the requirements for Tess, but not for Georgina or other aspiring models. If I'm honest I feel there's a place for these model restrictions in high fashion due to the nature of that industry, but within highstreet fashion I think the approach to modelling is really outdated. The reason catwalk models are slim is because they are deemed as neutral and it's all about the clothes and not the person wearing it. In comparison, highstreet fashion is all about the customer therefore the model needs to represent that customer. I think Tess being the first model of her size being signed to a major modelling agency is an amazing step forward, and I can't wait to see how things develop for the plus size modelling industry.

I think it's great that more and more documentaries are featuring plus size women and the amazing community that we belong to, and I know there will be many more shows to come in the future. I also think it's great that the world is seeing that we have a voice - a very loud one, and we're most definitely here to stay. There's so much more I could comment on but this blog post is already very long. I kinda wish that the documentary was like a three part series as I feel there is so much more that they could cover - but then I would probably talk for about 10 pages!

Let me know what you think about the documentary! Did you enjoy it?
And what do you think about Jamelia's comments? And should we 'drop the plus'?

Well done if you made it to the end of this essay!

Until next time,



  1. Charlotte, this post almost made me cry. You're a wonderful writer and a wonderful person, and these things can never be talked about too much. The plus size community is very versatile, and we have different stories to tell (I, for example, come from a line of skinny people, and only started gaining weight in my teens. BED and hypothyroidism have contributed to it a lot.)

    I'm completely against body shaming of any kind. I feel it's such a pity that mainstream fashion only caters to the skinny, relatively tall woman - only one body type amongst so many! Right now I'm experiencing difficulties finding a spring jacket, shopping for plus size clothing in my country should count as a form of extreme sports.

    Concern trolling is another thing, there will always be someone to draw the health card. The whole point of being "concerned" about a stranger's health is so absurd, since often there's no way to deduct a person's health by their appearance. So people like to make these uneducated guesses and reduce us fat people to ticking time bombs. "Shame on you for liking yourself as the complete and lovely person you are! All we care about is your obese body and how you'll inevitably get diabetes and cardiac arrest and end up spending ALL THE TAX MONEY I'VE EVER PAID.", as you see, this subject makes me extremely emotional. Only yesterday I was nearly crying to my boyfriend for not being able to fit into those stupid jackets. This was such an empowering read, thank you!!

    Maisa, long time reader of your blog but commenting for the first time. 24, Finnish, UK size 20.

    1. Hey Maisa,

      Thank you so much for commenting - I alway get a bit nervous about posting things like this especially because it is such an emotional subject and I wouldn't want to offend anyone. But at the same time, like you said, it needs to be talked about. And i'm so glad you found it empowering :D

      And you're right about concern trolling! I've never understood why strangers feel so 'concerned' about the health of people they don't know anything about. But like you mentioned, their reason why they feel they're allowed to openly criticise people's health based on assumption made on someones appearance, is because it's almost like fat people are the public property because of how much we cost the 'tax payers'. But I think people forget that there are hard working, fat tax payers too - and there is a lot of things that tax money go towards but for some reason in peoples mind they think that fat people eat up (no pun intended) like 99% of tax payers money. And as a fat person, I'm unsure of how I've cost tax payers any money due to my size? Grrr, it's so frustrating!

      I think because of how much we put up with as fat people that we almost create a super thick skin, but then programmes like these make me realise just how emotional I can still get about this subject. There is still such a long way to go before fat people are seen as equal, deserving human beings and that is something that upsets me but also motivates me.

      Sorry to hear you've been emotional too (shopping really gets me down at the moment - haven't bought any new clothes in a long time), but remember we're a wonderful community and we're all in this together. And we're creating waves!


      P.s feel free to comment more often, it's lovely to know someone is reading! :D