When I first heard that a lot of plus size models pad their bodies to fit the clothing they model many words sprang to mind but most of them are too rude to share here. As a UK size 28 woman, my thoughts on plus size models are already complicated. It’s galling that clothes sold by retailers for women up to UK size 32 are modelled on someone who’s at most a size 18. Discovering that these size 18 women are often really size 12-14 and padded out to conjour a Jessica Rabbit style portrait of a plus size body is even more of a smack in the teeth. So common is the practice in the plus size fashion industry well-known plus models such as Iskra Lawrence are open about the practice of packing Spanx shorts with 1.5 inch thick foam pads which widen the hips and round the buttocks, and the use of ‘chicken fillet’ bra pads to enlarge the breasts.
As if it’s not bad enough fat women are told over and over again by a fat-phobic society that our plus size bodies aren’t desirable or ‘normal’, we are encouraged to admire and aspire to the ‘acceptable’ aspects of fatness, namely a fullness of hips, buttocks and breasts. The phantom of a flat stomach and a single chin we see modelling our clothes is no more real to many plus size women than the Tooth Fairy is to an adult.
Repeatedly fat women are schooled through messages implicitly and explicitly told that unless we’re hourglass, flat of stomach and in possession of just one chin we’re too much. We are supposed to aspire to thinness in all areas of life and this is especially true within fashion. This message is reinforced every time we look at an online clothing website. Too few websites use models that plus size women identify with, which is why indie designers like Smart Glamour and Chubby Cartwheels are a welcome antidote to the sizeist bullshit we’re force-fed every day. They use a range of models in different sizes so the prospective buyer has more of an idea what their purchases will look like on them. But more than that, they send the message that there’s nothing shameful about a plus size body in all its glory. For the majority of plus size women, it isn’t possible to have wide hips and full breasts and yet have a completely flat stomach. It isn’t common to have a bountiful body yet have no cellulite, no back fat and no softness around the chin. I know at least 100 plus size bloggers of all ages, sizes and ethnicities and I can say hand on heart that not one of them shares all the qualities of the women who model clothes for us.
It is no surprise to me as a plus size blogger that I’m told over and over again that women have bought clothes after seeing them on my body, which although may be a different size and shape to theirs is more representative than the model on the website. I know it works because I do it myself all the time. Since I’ve been reading blogs I’ve never bought so many clothes because seeing an item of clothing on a size 12, 14 or 16 model has no bearing whatsoever on my body. A dress on a size 14 body may come down to the model’s knees but when faced with the jut of my breasts, the bounty of my butt and the swell of my stomach it can be rendered almost indecent, even though I’m wearing 7 sizes larger than the model. Even the companies who use small plus sized models know the limitations in this – why else do they seek out plus size bloggers to send clothing to model on their blogs? They know that plus size bloggers have huge influence and power to drive sales, yet not enough to use a model who actually has a tummy and a rounded butt of her own. There is so much bullshit to unpack in what fat women are expected to accept I could talk about this for weeks.