Poking Holes in a Plus-Sized Fashion Trend

The rise of plus-sized models is greeted with surprising apprehension from feminists and fashion-watchers

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High-fashion V Magazine's new "Shape Issue" features a very voluptuous, near-naked burlesque star (photographed by the notoriously anti-fat Karl Lagerfeld). Other spreads show off two models--one plus-sized and one traditional-sized--wearing the same outfits, and a whole array of lounging Botticelli nudes. The New York Times pegged the issue to a profile of Crystal Renn, the top model in the increasingly in-demand plus-sized pool.

This would all seem to be good news to feminists and fashion-watchers, who have long demanded more openness to different body types in fashion. But these developments are surprisingly sparking more than a little apprehension.

  • 'Shape Issue' More Exploitative Than Experimental, worries Emili Vesilind at the Los Angeles Times. She takes issue with the "super-plus-size models" the magazine highlighted: "Although the average American woman is a size 14, high-fashion mags love to blow the lid off the genre by lining up larger-than-plus models in their photo spreads (perhaps feeling it makes them edgier?)." But Vesilind found the fleshy statement "a mere publicity ploy--a way to stir the pot, not embrace a new ideal."
  • The Models Weren't Big Enough, Salon's Kate Harding counters, given that the average American woman is a size 14. "Now, I'm a fan of both Crystal Renn and baby steps in the right direction, but 'any figure'? 'No size limit'? Really?... As far as I can tell, high fashion still has a size limit--to wit, a tall, well-proportioned U.S. 12--and even that's still more gimmick than game-changer."
  • Where Do We Draw the Line? Erika Kawalek wonders at DoubleX. Should every woman expect to see a reflection of herself in a fashion magazine? Kawalek thinks no: "No matter how unfair it is, beauty or charisma or whatever it is that gives a woman that something that snags the eye--well, not every gal's got it. I hope magazines continue to employ women who veer significantly from the standard ideal. But that's different than claiming every woman has the right to see a reflection of herself in a fashion magazine. Because not every woman is appealing to look at."
  • I'll Take Any Progress I Can Get, admits Jenna Sauers (a former model) at Jezebel, in response to claims that the fashion industry is patting itself on the back for using "plus-sized" models who are anything but. "Yes, plus-size models are still models, and the fashion industry still makes its money presenting women with images to aspire to that are, for most, unattainable and unrealistic," Sauers admits. "But if we can change the parameters of the beauty standard even just enough to accommodate tall, enviably proportioned young women who don't have 23" waists, then I'd still call that progress of a kind."
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