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Plus Sized Media: Likes Big Butts (and Telling Lies)

You might recall the feeling as you look back on a “plus sized” childhood – skulking into a specialist plus size shop with eyes cast downwards, the embarrassment overwhelming. Trawling through rails of shapeless clothes, completely unsuitable for a young, if overweight, girl. Inevitably leaving with something unsatisfactory and overpriced. Disguising the carrier bag so that people didn’t see that you shopped at a “fat shop”.

From a young age, we girls are fed the notion that shopping is a source of enjoyment, not one of dread and embarrassment. But when your friends were shopping in Topshop or Tammy Girl whilst you fidgeted in the corner, unable to join in, fun doesn’t feature. Your friends didn’t understand – no one liked to speak about the elephant in the room.

Looking back now, almost double the age and half the size I was as a 12 year old, I am at peace with my curvier frame. I am undoubtedly smaller than I was as a youngster, but I’d still be described as plus-sized. But it’s not really my frame, but my mind-set that has altered more than anything.

I’m no longer embarrassed about my size (obviously we all have those shitty days when we have NOTHING to wear and look horrible in EVERYTHING) but I’m angered and frustrated by the fact that plus-size girls and women are shoved into a niche market. This market at first glance, appears to cater for all plus-size women, but whilst body fat remains taboo, there’s just not enough room in the mainstream for all of us.

Mainstream society likes making a spectacle of curvier women. We are a select group of apparently “real” women, but it seems that whilst the standard sized market is impenetrable to us, they don’t hesitate to encroach on our space.

Calvin Klein recently hit the news with their decision to use ‘plus-size model’ Myla Dalbesio in their underwear campaign. When reading the report I expected to see a gloriously curvy woman, unabashedly flaunting her ample lumps and bumps for everyone to see. I was disappointed. The average size for women in the UK is currently a size 16; with Dalbesio at no more than a UK size 14, young women were once again presented with a warped and frankly ridiculous image of what a plus-size woman should be. This fed to young women across a number of platforms, sending the message that this is about as fat as fashion gets. Plus sized, but you know, not TOO plus sized.

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Oh, REALLY?

In an attempt to hit back at the biologically unrealistic expectations of girls, Barbie alternative ‘Lammily’ recently hit the shelves. She’s based on the average proportions of a 19 year-old American woman, and marketed under the notion that ‘average is beautiful’. While this may be true, and certainly a step in the right direction – this Barbie imposter is just as unrealistic in representing a true female image as her skinny blonde counterpart. Lammily is yet to represent her non-caucasion, non- brunette sisters, and those with disproportionate hip-thigh ratios. Admittedly the doll comes with optional so-called ‘flaws’ at an extra cost; freckles, glasses, blushing, bruises, dirt and grass stains can be added to create a more accurate depiction of what it means to be a real girl. Unfortunately, Lammily fails to bring all ideas of a truthful representation to fruition and I, for one, think that this plastic figurine will disappoint women – especially those truly plus-sized. Nearly. Not quite.

It is not only the glossies that present us with this skewed image; when Meghan Trainor exploded onto the music scene with her (admittedly catchy) tune, ‘All About That Bass’, I thought young, curvy women finally had a plus-size ally – someone who would eat cakes publicly and then sing about it to the tune of a number one hit. Once more, I was disappointed. Trainor immaculately prances around in cutesy pastels telling you not to “worry about your size” – her heart is in the right place (just like her junk, apparently) but I’m not convinced that young curvy girls will identify in the manner that Trainor wanted. It’s great that she’s attempting to oust the “silicone Barbie dolls” from their celestial thrones, but when trying to represent the bigger girl, when clearly she is anything but – something just doesn’t gel. Trainor fails to break through the skinny superiority that has become well established, and calling other girls “bitches” never gets us anywhere.

It’s important that those of us who are plus size don’t fall into the trap of skinny-shaming for the sake of seeking out our ‘fatcceptance’. It’s easy for jealousy to creep in when shops, the media and society are generally more accepting of slimmer women, but they can’t be held accountable for their genetics. They’re not skinny “bitches”. Every woman has body confidence issues at some point; it just happens that some of us get more stick than others.

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With it being open season on Instagram selfies, it’s not just the bodies that are becoming more public, but also the ideas of how they should look. There is massive pressure upon young women to look good and feel better about their figures but it’s hard to do that when the media says one thing, yet still advertises their wares through another.

Now that I’m in my 20s, I’m a lot more tolerant of this kind of media representation. Plus-size visibility is on the rise – it just requires a bit of hunting. We are found in specialist blogssubtly empowering hashtags, but most of all, hiding in the shadow of every curvy girl who has been held back by society.

We women should be proud, not ashamed of our bodies. Share your experiences and make people acknowledge you; you don’t have to be an elephant in the room. There is a serious lack of plus-size role models, so why not take control, speak out and be one yourself?