Did you know that plus size models are totes no big deal anymore? They’re like…just like other models, you know? Or at least that’s what Elle tells us in a recent interview with Myla Dalbesio. The modeling industry has come so far that now someone who is plus size can get a job and not even expect to be treated differently because of their body. Wowzers! Such progress!
Sounds great, right? The modeling industry is incorporating more body types and they’re not even looking for cookies because they did it! What’s not to like about the story? Elle even highlights that Dalbesia is a size 10, much closer to the national average of size 14 than models who live in the 0-2 range.
The problem shows up when you actually take a look at the pictures of Dalbesio that accompany the article. Now I’m no fashion expert and I don’t spend an excess of time looking at pictures of models, but I am someone who is in the process of recovering from an eating disorder which means that I’ve spent my fair share of time eyeing bodies and determining exactly how much skinnier they are than I am. I can peg a size six from a mile away.
And I can tell you pretty definitively: that woman ain’t no size 10 unless we’re talking a UK 10. This woman is not plus size. She is in fact, significantly smaller than the average woman.
Maybe it’s a step in the right direction. You can’t see any ribs showing, her bones are not the most prominent feature of her body, and her eyes don’t have the sunken look that seems to indicate someone might be starving to death. But if the goal of the campaign is to include women with average bodies, women whose bodies the consumer can relate to, women who represent the kinds of bodies that might be wearing these clothes, then it fails utterly, and Elle fails utterly for slapping a gold star on Calvin Klein for their amazing, progressive actions.
Elle tries to spin the article as highlighting the new status of plus size models as “no big deal” or “just like other models”. “There was a time in the industry, not too long ago, when it seemed that the high fashion world was using plus size models as a headline-grabbing gimmick” they say. Of course they then spend an entire article giving lip service to how amazing it is that Calvin Klein used a plus size model. There’s a special kind of schadenfreude for when someone unintentionally calls their own article out for tokenizing the person they’re interviewing.
I’m not going to give you all some spiel about how skinny models cause eating disorders, because that trivializes what it is to have an eating disorder and the seriously complicated factors that go in to developing one. But what articles like this one do is tell every woman over and over that if they look like this (utterly gorgeous, and still incredibly skinny) woman, they’re plus size and they’ll be lucky to be considered beautiful. The attitude that Dalbesio should be grateful to be treated like a human being when she’s doing her job is seriously damaging to any woman who thinks she needs to look a certain way in order to get respect from their coworkers and bosses.
Let’s just be honest here: this is gaslighting on a societal level. It is gaslighting to try to convince perfectly average and healthy women that their bodies are oversized. Dalbesio is lovely. She is not plus size. Plus size women, and even (gasp) fat women can be lovely. Being lovely doesn’t determine whether or not you deserve a job or respect or clothing made in your size. Maybe we could just start calling models “models”, regardless of size. Maybe we could have a wide enough variety of body sizes in modeling that there wouldn’t have to be special accommodations made to ensure “plus size” clothes are available. Maybe we could have whole ad campaigns with plus size (or as I like to call them perfectly normal) models.
Or we could keep acting as if hiring a plus size model is equivalent to feeding a small third world nation in terms of “good deeds” while simultaneously cutting out every actual plus size woman around. Apparently fat people don’t get to exist in the world of modeling, even when things are supposedly “so much better”.