Monday, September 24, 2012

The Plus-Sized Problem: Musings on Full-Figured Word Power

Last week, the headline "Ralph Lauren Hires First Plus-Size Model" blared at the world, as if the fashion designer had turned its back on size 00 emaciated stick-insects and paid attention to the Other 99 Percent.

Truth is, RL's model is a size 12.

Now, last I checked, size 12 is on the small side of average. According to "Just What IS an Average Woman's Size Anymore?" from WebMD:
Today, the average American woman is 5’4″, has a waist size of 34-35 inches and weighs between 140-150 lbs, with a dress size of 12-14. Fifty years ago, the average woman was 5’3-4″ with a waist size of approximately 24-25″, she weighed about 120 lbs and wore a size 8. 
If RL's size 12 model was 5'4, or thereabouts, she wouldn't be "plus size." She'd be "normal." But she's not; she's an imposing 6'2"!

OK. I don't know about you. And I certainly don't know about Ralph. But if I see a 6-foot tall woman who wears a size 12, I don't think "plus size." I think "statuesque." "Willowy," even.

Garfield "I'm Undertall" Small Poster
What this means, of course is that Ralph is telling American women the same thing Garfield has been saying for years: they're not overweight. They're undertall. If they want to wear cool designer duds, they should either lose a Kia's worth of weight. Or just grow a freaking foot. Whichever is easier.

According to a Slate article on by Julia Felsenthal on why US clothing sizes make no sense, the only measurement originally used to determine a woman's clothing size was her bust. 'Cause, you know, that's a  uniform measurement across the human species.

A national commercial standard sizing system was pursued in America for the greater part of the 20th century, without any real success. In 1983, the US Department of Commerce axed the concept entirely. (Which explains how today, though I'm 10 pounds heavier, and have had a child, I still wear the same size I did while in high school -- back when Jesus was little, dinosaurs roamed the earth, and clothing manufacturers hadn't played fast and loose with the sizing charts in an effort to pander to the vanity of a population who, inexplicably, has come to believe a woman is sexy if she's a 0. Hmmmm... But that's a post for another time.)

Words exist for a reason: so we can communicate with clarity and intelligence. What I don't understand is why Ralph decided to call his lovely model "plus size" instead of just "tall." It's like calling Snooki a novelist or FOX balanced. Saying a thing doesn't make it so. 


RedHeadedQuilter said...

Where's the link button? ;)

I'm a size 12. I doubt I'll be modeling any designer duds any time soon, though!

RedHeadedQuilter said...

Ack. I meant *like* button. It won't seem to let me edit my comment though.

Anne Gallagher said...

Interesting premise. Marilyn Monroe was a buxom blonde and also a size 14. Some reports said she weighed around 140 pounds. She looked good. And healthy. I wonder what 6'2 and size 12 really look like? I wonder how much she weighs.

Stevie Marie said...

Great post, size 12 isn't near overweight. I myself am a little over a standard size 8... I think I wore a zero back in the day when I had no butt, hips, or boobs. lol

Ami Hendrickson said...

RedHeaded Quilter, Anne & Stevie:

Thanks so much for commenting! I thought the "no national size standard for clothing manufacturers" thing explained SO much! I also think that in order to be considered a bona-fide "designer," one should be required to feature clothing lines for 5 major body styles: shortthin, shortround, medium, tallthin, tallround. Now THAT would be an interesting catwalk... :O)

(Kelly: Working on adding a "like.")

Sharon Wachsler said...

"I also think that in order to be considered a bona-fide "designer," one should be required to feature clothing lines for 5 major body styles: shortthin, shortround, medium, tallthin, tallround."

YES! That.

But most models are way taller than average. Models generally are much taller and much thinner, both. So the fact that she's 6'2" is not big news, model-wise.

Whenever there is a challenge on Project Runway where the designers have to design for regular women (moms, winners of contests, brides, whatever), the ones who end up with women who are not skinny always complain. Ugh.

Ami Hendrickson said...

I'm sorry for the inconvenience. Thanks so much for dealing w/ the captcha and commenting anyway. I've had serious problems with spam in the past, and vacillate between "captcha on" and "captcha off." Kind of like a weird bloggy version of the Karate Kid... Have turned it off for the moment. ~sends mental pox on all spammers~ :)