I always love seeing editorials celebrating every shape and size and Marie Claire has done this brilliantly in the July 2017 issue. We are increasingly seeing that the fashion industry is becoming more accepting of using larger women in campaigns such as the Be Real Body Confidence Campaign (UK) which launched November 2016 (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/london-fashion-week-body-confidence_uk_58a5c870e4b045cd34bf3fa1). I love how Ashley Graham stated for Cosmopolitan.com in April 2016 “I don’t like the term ‘plus-size.’ It’s just not helping women. I’m ready to get rid of it. If you have to label me, I like to be called ‘curvy – sexylicious.'” Women should not have to be put into a category called ‘plus-size’ – everybody has a unique body shape and we should celebrate that.
Then again, Haley Hasselhoff who is featured in this editorial told the Daily Mail in January 2015 “‘I embrace [the label] for what it is,’ she said. ‘I look at plus size as more of an industry word, but it doesn’t bother me, I love it.'” Whilst I admire Hasselhoff for embracing her body shape, I do believe that what Graham says stands true as everybody is unique and we can’t categorise that.
We are seeing the fashion industry embracing larger women, but rather than focusing on the fact that we are all unique in shape and size, we are instead categorising women. What about women who just don’t fit into the categories of ‘curvy’ or ‘slim’? Maybe they are both? Maybe they are slim but with small curves? How do we measure this? Hasselhoff reinforces this idea by stating that “‘it does seem like people will always want to criticize the fashion industry. They are upset when plus size models aren’t featured in campaigns, but then when they are, they’re upset because they aren’t plus size enough.'” (Daily Mail). We can argue the same when we think about how curvy we have to be to fit into the curvy category.
It seems to me that women are uniquely beautiful and we shouldn’t use categories to define the way we look. If you think you are curvy, don’t let others tell you otherwise, just embrace it, you know your own body.
Moreover, the other problem we have connected to this is that in every day life some women are shamed for being too slim. Some women are naturally very slim and are called anorexic which can have a damaging affect on how they perceive their body. There are so many factors that play into how we look – medical history, hereditary factors….so how can we judge someone for being a particular body type when we know nothing about them? And frankly, why are we judging anyway? So again, we cannot label, judge, and categorise body type as every woman’s body is unique.
Emma Woolf, author of The Ministry of Thinness, shared her experience for The Guardian of being hurt by comments directed towards her for being very slim:
‘A few years ago when I worked in publishing, we’d gather for weekly commissioning meetings in the boardroom. There would be platters of pastries along the table. A senior colleague – a lovely woman in her 50s – would always urge me, loudly, to have a croissant. She would prod me in the side, in a friendly manner, and say: “Look, she’s nothing but skin and bone!”
The fact that I was deeply anorexic and that she was overweight is irrelevant. She was drawing attention to my size in a way that would have been unacceptable had I done the same to her. I’m aware I’m skating on thin ice: what could be more irritating than a thin person describing another person as fat? And yet – for a moment – think about how we describe thinness: skinny, angular, emaciated, bony, skeletal, lollipop-head. These terms are batted about in the media quite casually, without the caution we must now use in our references to fat.’ https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-womens-blog-with-jane-martinson/2013/aug/05/skinny-shaming-fat-size-appearance (my bold highlighting)
Woolf’s work colleague did not know she was anorexic, therefore like Woolf says, it is the critical comments about being slim we need to focus on when talking about how we perceive body image because for all Woolf’s work colleague knew, Woolf could have been naturally very slim and was being judged for it. As a society we appear to be judgemental of women and men whatever shape or size, further reinforcing the fact that we cannot categorise people into ‘slim’, ‘curvy’, ‘plus-size’ etc.
Furthermore, Rachel Moss, Lifestyle Writer for the Huffington Post UK, argues that we should be careful when asking slim women how they stay so skinny as we do not know what they are going through ‘personally’. Moss states that she had a cough when she was young and went to see her GP who thought she wasn’t being fed enough at home. This was in fact quite the opposite. Moss also says that:
‘when friend’s parents said things like “you get skinnier every time I see you”, “if you turned sideways you’d disappear” and “have more cake, you need fattening up”. I knew these remarks weren’t made in malice, but I still found them insulting.
In secondary school, it seemed the question “why are you so skinny?” was suddenly okay to ask. Teenage girls, not known for their subtly, tended to approach it in the form of: “Oh my God, are you anorexic or something? Like seriously though, are you?”
God knows how I maintained a healthy relationship with food while feeling like I had to justify the contents of my lunchbox to those around me.’ (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/rachel-moss/stop-asking-me-how-i-stay-skinny_b_8253388.html).
We need to be aware that any comment we make no matter how positive we think it is, could be misconstrued because we do not know that persons personal circumstances.
We are seeing how fantastic laws are being put in place to target anorexia such as France’s new law banning ‘unhealthily thin models’ (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/france-bans-unhealthily-thin-model-bmi-doctors-certificate-photoshopped-images-a7721211.html). Whilst this is incredible, we need to remember that not all women who are super slim are anorexic, and making direct and vocal comments like Woolf’s colleague did is damaging more than helping.; just like using categories such as ‘plus-size’ is also damaging for some. Labelling and categorising women as well as men is not healthy for understanding ones own body image.
We are not made to be categorised, we are uniquely made.