The Big Body Debate: Considering The Line Between Plus-Sized Beauty & Obesity
From a ridiculously young age, we are bombarded with flawless images of glamorous and stick-thin models promoting various products and fashion lines.
The result? Generations of women who have grown up thinking that skinny is beautiful. Skinny is attractive to men, coveted by women — a body type and weight to aspire to; skinny means success.
And as a result, we are taught that anything less is a failure. Being a size 14, having curves and stretch marks and wobbly bits, enjoying food… if you’re not a slender size 8, then you naturally learn to feel shame at the sight of your own body.
The recent movements towards body positivity and the inclusion of plus-sized models in campaigns by big fashion and beauty brands are gradually helping to change this; encouraging women to nurture a healthy, loving relationship with their bodies.
But with a rise in obesity, is the use of plus-sized beauties all good news?
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the big body debate, and consider the line between plus-sized beauty and obesity.
How do we define plus-size and obesity?
If we’re going to consider the line between plus-sized and obesity we need to determine scientifically/biologically where this line in. Where does healthy plus-sized beauty end, and unhealthy — and even life-threatening obesity begin?
Traditionally, BMI (body mass index) has been used as a measure for what is and what isn’t a healthy weight. The concept is based on using the height and weight of a person to determine whether they are classified as underweight, healthy, overweight or obese:
Image credit: BMI Calculator
Obviously, defining a healthy weight isn’t as black and white as BMI suggests.
BMI doesn’t take into account things like body composition — ie what is muscle mass, and what is fat content, and what is bone density. It also doesn’t take in variables like sex and racial differences.
Plus, there are all sorts of other external variables that can impact our bodies in unexpected ways; nutritionists will tell you that foods that don’t work for your body in particular can create all sorts of problems like bloating and inflammation (listen to this JJ Virgin podcast for a fuller explanation from a nutrition expert).
Personal trainers will also tell you that everyone’s body is unique and needs a different plan of action to help get them fit — even if the number on that chart is the same for them.
Even medical professionals are now saying that BMI is an outdated method of determining whether a person is healthy or not — with doctors and experts labelling it as inaccurate and misleading.
Does the line even exist?
So the next step is to find a new way to establish the line between dangerous obesity and healthy weight. Is this even quantifiable? And if it is possible to ascertain whether someone is classed as a healthy weight and size or a dangerous one, would the majority of people even have access to this kind of testing?
As you can see, there are all sorts of obstacles when it comes to literally defining this line.
Realistically, this is probably because the line doesn’t exist. There are many different body types all across the world — some healthy, and some not. Size and weight are not fair indications of healthiness; you may be a size 16, 12 stone woman who regularly exercises, eats a balanced diet and lives a healthy lifestyle. Conversely, you might be a size 6, 7 ½ stone woman who eats terribly, does no exercise, drinks lots of wine and smokes like a chimney.
t’s pretty obvious who is the healthier of the two, but which one is getting stigmatised by society for her body and appearance?
Blurring the line or celebrating diversity?
Compared to the drug-fuelled, anorexia-ridden 90s trend of super-skinny supermodels, the fashion and beauty industries have really taken a turn in recent years when it comes to showing ‘real’ women with ‘real’ bodies.
Some could say the trend started with Dove’s groundbreaking Campaign For Real Beauty, but the truth is, it’s been a steady effort by a number of brands, individuals and influencers to get us to a point where we’re almost used to seeing a regular-sized woman with jiggly bits and cellulite modelling clothes. And yes, it’s very affirming seeing a model the same size as us wearing the clothes we’re thinking of buying.
In particular, global brands like Nike and ASOS have really harnessed their power and success to promote messages of body positivity, inclusivity and diversity.
Online retail giant ASOS has worked hard over the years to ensure that their products are accessible to everyone, offering clothes in over 30 sizes — and committing to offering sizes at the same price, ensuring that nobody is left out by restrictive sizing and unfair prices. They also use over 200 models in unedited and unairbrushed images to represent and celebrate their diverse community of customers.
What ASOS is doing isn’t promoting obesity; it’s recognising that people come in all shapes and sizes — and that everyone deserves to wear the clothes they want.
Likewise, Nike has been making waves for years as a disruptor brand with strong, empowering messaging; using their platform to promote equality, diversity, intersectionality and inclusivity.
Nike got everyone talking earlier this year when the brand unveiled plus-size mannequins unveiled in their London flagship store. The responses weren’t all positive (there was a huge social media backlash as well as plenty of support), but the message was clear: plus-sized women can — and do — exercise too.
Why should athletic wear only be available to certain women; is this not super hypocritical that we complain and body-shame plus-sized people, but deny them the chance to get healthier and self-improve through exercise?
At the end of the day, it’s about having a healthy body & mind
Body positivity and inclusivity are great; no one should ever be made to feel ashamed of their body and their existence.
Yet, obviously, obesity is a huge issue because of the hugely increased health risks that occur as a result of having dangerous fat levels (such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, some cancers and stroke).
So, how do we encourage young women to strike a balance between celebrating their curves without feeling pressured by society, and not abusing their bodies and wellbeing with an unhealthy lifestyle?
The answer is by educating them to be proactive — to strive to be healthy through regular exercise and maintaining a balanced diet. No one is helped or made to feel better by shame; instead, we should encourage.
After all, body positivity is about loving your body — and what better way do this than by nourishing our bodies and giving them the things they need to stay alive?
Although obesity is on the rise, there have always been larger women in the world; the use of beautiful, plus-sized models by fashion brands isn’t necessarily promoting obesity as a suitable lifestyle to young, impressionable women.
Instead, it is acknowledging that plus-sized women exist — and that they deserve to be marketed to, and wear the clothes they want. They shouldn’t be marginalised by society in a way that, frankly, skinny women aren’t.
Yes, obesity can be dangerous, but there are many different variables that are too — whether it is the natural size and shape of our bodies or our lifestyle choices. The important thing is that we try to live as healthy a life as we can, through balanced diets and regular exercise. As long as your weight isn’t impacting how you live your life and how able-bodied you are, then I think you’re firmly on the right side of the line.
Header image credit: Unsplash