Fashion, Fat, Sweet Machine

Quick Hit: “Normal” is the new Plus

Check out The-F-Word’s post about the new season of America’s Next Top Model and its “plus size” model, Sarah Hartshorne. She wears a size 8 and has a BMI of 21.5.

I don’t have much to add to Rachel’s post, so you should go read that. In light of the BMI Project, however, I thought it would be fun to see who else has a BMI of about 21.5. Here are some other women who would, I assume, count as plus size on ANTM.

I would end with a snarky comment here, but I’m not really awake yet, and I have complete confidence that you, our lovely readers, can bring the snark for me.

72 thoughts on “Quick Hit: “Normal” is the new Plus”

  1. What’s weird to me is that the downward shift in “plus” and the supposed general embiggening are happening simultaneously. As in, the bigger the average woman, the smaller the fatties as seen on TV — instead of Roseanne we now get America Ferrara. I know modeling is supposed to be “aspirational” and that’s basically synonymous with “divorced from reality.” But I can’t believe this isn’t causing more cognitive dissonance.

  2. It’s shit like this that makes my (5′ 11″ size 8) sister petrified to gain a pound for fear of getting fat…..while pregnant.

  3. Thanks to Tari I now think we should switch sizes from meaningless numbers to meaningless symbols.

    Like, what size are you?

    Me, oh I’m a 8)

    Really? You don’t look it. I’m totally a :)

    That’s so hard to find!

    I know. Shopping totally sucks. I mean, there are 12 :D s on the rack, but no :) s!

    I have no idea if all that code will actually become smileys.

    We shall see!

  4. Not that I should be trying to make sense of ANTM, but I question why they even brought that contestant on as “plus-sized.” She’s too “big” to be a standard-size model, but “plus” models are usually at least a size 10 or 12. From a practical standpoint I don’t understand what sector of the fashion industry she’s supposed to be able to work in. They are setting her up to fail… or perhaps that’s the point, since every season of ANTM seems to contain a plus-size (or in this case “plus-size”) contestant who takes a lot of abuse and then gets booted early. They hold this referendum every season and act all self-congratulatory for being so “cutting-edge” and “body positive” as to feature someone who could work in plus, and reject them in the end anyway (usually after the contestant is demoralized because they can’t fit into the stupid rack of sample sizes… hello, the plus-size contestant would be working for a PLUS-SIZE DESIGNER in the real world, you idiots). It’s such a load of crap. And this is almost worse than past years because again, I doubt this contestant would actually be able to work in “straight-size” OR plus.

    I feel gross analyzing this woman’s body like it’s some kind of thing, but even taking into account crazy modeling “logic,” in which you are probably not even approaching “normal” until you’re underweight by BMI (and lest it look like I am buying into their definitions too much in my rambling above, OF COURSE I believe the modeling world is insane and its definition of normal/plus is actively antagonistic to health and reality), inclusion of Sarah in the field of finalists as “plus” doesn’t make any sense at all.

  5. scg, I totally agree that they’re setting her up to fail. There’s a “too fat to work straight, too small to work plus” storyline coming up, probably in the next few episodes so they can get her out of the way. ANTM is so transparent — you can always see who’s going to get the bitch edit, the body edit, the transformation edit, the disability edit…

    (Ebony, Sarah, we don’t know yet because there haven’t been makeovers, and Heather. Yeah, I watch it.)

    Lest it look like I’m saying “it’s just a reality show, of course they create artificial drama by bringing in a plus model who’s not plus-sized (or bringing in a plus-sized model but not having any plus-sized clothes),” let’s not forget that reality TV is most of America’s entertainment. It is the status quo. It’s a stupid show and they’re doing this on purpose, but the messages are still extremely important.

  6. (Hmm, according to the new TWOP recap, Bianca may be horning in on the bitch edit… stand by!)

  7. I’m with you, fillyjonk – I think what’s happening on that show is a barometer for what’s considered conventional, and it’s definitely a disturbing trend to see what’s considered “plus” get smaller and smaller. And it’s a shame when part of me wants to be grateful to Tyra & Co. for even making the miniscule concessions they do make. Especially when they could do SO much more.

  8. FJ, I don’t watch it but most seasons I read the TWoP recaps (even though Potes is kind of a mean-girl fatphobe and it gets wearing after a while). I’m not sure what that says about me. :)

    I agree with both of you guys that popular TV is a barometer for society’s attitudes and this “shrinking ‘fat’ girl” thing is disturbing. On a less important note I wonder if Tyra and Co. are even more clueless about plus-size modeling than I thought. “Well, all those actual plus-size girls we’ve had in previous seasons haven’t worked out too well (um, due to the fact that we booted them off the show because we couldn’t handle their appearance… well, never mind that part). Maybe it was because they were too fat! Couldn’t be because seeing an actual plus-size person who has a legitimate shot of working in plus just makes us too darn uncomfortable! Let’s try a fake thin plus-size girl and see if we can stand to look at her long enough to keep her on the show!” Duh.

    I volunteer to be a size >:-{

  9. I am a size 8 with a BMI of 21.0 at my heaviest (my weight ranges from 110-115 lbs). I am 5’2″.

    And while I still struggle with loving my body, no one has ever called me fat or plus-sized. I have no doubt that I have thin privilege, so I don’t think “plus-size” would be an accurate description for me, based on how I’m perceived by people in the general population (versus the modeling world).

    I can’t access a picture of myself while at work.

    But I will say that although my weight and BMI are considered “normal,” and I look great with clothes, my naked body would probably not be considered “hot” by many people. I’m not well-toned or tan or without pockets of fat and cellulite and stretch marks, which is all opposite of how we’re pressured to look in our society. So, even skinny people can’t achieve every single modern beauty-standard.

  10. 21.5? Heck, that was my BMI through most of law school. I was a size larger in the pants then than I am now; my jackets all fit exactly the same.

    That “size,” btw, was a 6. Moral? I give up and I want to be a size =^.^=

  11. It’s the foolish attitudes towards the “plus-size” models on ANTM that made me decide long ago to not compete (even though folks tell me I could make it!)
    And 8 is plus-sized now? I wear a 22. Does that make me gargantuan?

    And I’m all for being a size :-/

  12. So, even skinny people can’t achieve every single modern beauty-standard.

    Crystal, I don’t think anyone said they could! The “beauty standards” are unfair to everybody, and are uniformly used to control and subjugate women. That’s part of the problem when a woman Sarah’s size is classified as a “plus” model on a show like this — a term that has vicious connotations in the industry, even more so than in the general population. It’s basically saying “no matter how well you conform to the way we want you to look and dress and walk, your (very thin) body means you can’t even be categorized with these other girls who are toeing the line better than you.” It’s bad enough when it’s someone who actually is fat or closer to average size, but Sarah is very thin.

  13. Of course, now that they’re not letting the models smoke, there may well be a few more “plus” size girls by the end of the season.


  14. I have no comment on ANTM – the aforementioned cognitive dissonance has caused me to abandon MOST commercial TV entirely. People are always going to be too “something.” Screw ’em. Screw the lot of ’em.

    Symbols for clothing sizes… yes, let me be a :P

  15. I’m not well-toned or tan or without pockets of fat and cellulite and stretch marks, which is all opposite of how we’re pressured to look in our society.

    This is a really interesting point. It makes me think of what I’ve noticed in gym locker rooms: that, although women come in all kinds of sizes and shapes, our bodies look similar in some ways. The jiggly parts, the bumpy parts, the stretch marks, the spider veins – almost everyone has that stuff. And, do extremely skinny women look better naked than other women? In my opinion, no. Bones aren’t particularly nice to look at. It’s true that the body image problem we have in our society isn’t all about size – size isn’t the half of it. It’s about a false and useless kind of physical perfection.

  16. How much is enough?!?

    Let’s send all the ANTM judges (or better, the contestants) shirts that say:

    “I’m a size *&^%$#@!”

  17. Sorry for not reading everyone’s comment’s but I just want to express something quickly.

    The Rotund’s project proved that people have very little idea what a size looks like. This girl looks thin to me. The only reason I would think she was a size 8 is because I am tall. I know a tall woman looks healthy and thin at a size 8, 10, 12 and 14 without being anywhere close to over-weight.

    I keep repeating how frustrated i am with people’s perception of my thinness, but it does bother me (as i’m sure it does you all) that perceptions are so warped. When I tell a woman of average height that i wear a size 8-10 (a 6 when I’m ill and under-weight) the response I get is a *gasp* “No way. You HAVE to wear a 2-4.” They don’t realize that me as a size 2-4 would be truely skeletol. They somehow believe all models are 6′ 1″ and a size 0, which is NOT true.

    Maybe I am off the point, but we western women are truely brainwashed about clothing sizes. “Double digits BAD no matter what your height or build is.” That just isn’t true. But you all know this. I’m preaching to the choir.

  18. Dee, you make a great point.

    There also seems to be some connection in most people’s mind’s between thin and these perfections. Thin women have these same imperfections. They don’t disappear with weight loss, but it appears to me that many people expect them too. So, women lose weight and then realize they still have jiggly parts, celulite, and “fat thighs’ when they sit. What happens then? The cycle of self-hatred continues…

  19. Elle (and everyone),

    I have a friend who, over the course of the past couple years has lost close to 100lbs and looks, to me, as close to the industry standard of beauty as any real person I know.

    She won’t wear skirts because “her knees are fat” and she recently had a very expensive boob job (she’s a student… for what it’s worth) so that her breasts wouldn’t be “lopsided”

    That’s what happens when beauty obssessed bigger girls lose the weight.

    Fillyjonk, I think the “embiggening” (love that word) of America and the fashion industry downward perception of “plus” are predictably causal, the less “perfect” the rest of society is, the more perfect we want our fantasies, however destructive that may be. right? The more we hate ourselves, the higher our expectations.

  20. Am I taking crazy pills!?!?

    Size 8 is plus? Size 10, 12 are plus sizes? When did this happen?

    Growing up (I’m 32), those sizes were considered normal…perfectly normal.

    When will this madness end?

  21. The thing I’ve never understood is why ANTM is allowed to say ‘oh we can’t find any clothes for this larger model’ yet Kate Dillon appeared in Gucci ads a while back, and others like Crystal Renn come onto the scene as a size 12 and magically they find Sonia Rykiel, Marni, Chanel, etc that FIT them for editorials, without them having to be made specially (a la Beth Ditto/Pop). Diane Hernandez from season 7 was a 12, so there should have been no problem for her with clothes, right? If Tyra doesn’t have enough pull in the fashion industry to get size 12s for the larger models, what does that tell you about the show’s ability to actually launch a model with a shot at success??

    Tyra is a crowd pleaser, and she knows that she wins favour by including a larger model each season. It’s all about the ratings, people. Tyra banks, indeed.

  22. Lexy, on October 9th, 2007 at 10:16 pm Said:
    Fillyjonk, I think the “embiggening” (love that word) of America and the fashion industry downward perception of “plus” are predictably causal, the less “perfect” the rest of society is, the more perfect we want our fantasies, however destructive that may be. right? The more we hate ourselves, the higher our expectations.
    I think you have that backwards, Lexy. The more perfect our fantasies, the less “perfect” we are. The higher “our” expectations, the more we hate ourselves.

    I say “our” expectations because I don’t believe they actually start with us. I think the media thrusts them upon us, in one way or another, and we buy into them.

  23. Lucy and Lexy, the dynamic you are discussing reminds me of The Beauty Myth–there’s an element of power here (as there always is with gendered issues). Maybe as more women devote their lives to goals other than unnaturally maintaining themselves as ideals of feminine beauty, the average woman gets larger (because she’s doing other things besides trying to be “correct” at all costs). This is extremely threatening to the social order, so the “ideal” has to be made even smaller so that even more women will be pressured to strive for it.

    Just some off the cuff theorizing…

  24. But, you know, thinner doesn’t really equal more perfect. Thin women have the same physical “imperfections” that fat women do. Our bodies, in reality, look similar. That’s why everyone thinks she’s fat. The way all women look has been labelled “fat” and by association, bad. It’s ridiculous. The size thing is really a false division. We could just as easily have a perfectly smooth, toned size 24 as an ideal, and still almost no one would resemble it.

  25. Does anybody else have that line from “The Devil Wears Prada” stuck in their heads? The main character, Andy, tells one of her new co-workers, Nigel, that she is a size six. Nigel tells her she is the “new fourteen.”

  26. Has anyone heard about the British version of Top Model? It just reads like satire, and the pictures are shocking.

    Barmaid Miss Hunter, 24 – who weighs 11 stone and is a healthy size 12 – was reduced to tears when she was castigated on the reality TV show for not taking a food and exercise regime seriously.

    Judge Tandy Anderson, managing director of Select Model Management, criticised her for having “stocky” legs while supermodel Rachel Hunter, a fellow panellist, reprimanded her for saying she wanted to prove larger women could be successful models.

    Swedish blonde Miss Berglund, 18, who made it to the final with her, was meanwhile praised for having a “sensational” body for modelling despite having a body mass index of 16.1.

    I’m quite happy with my decision to continue not watching these shows. And my opinion of Rachel Hunter is pretty low.

  27. I just wanted to add – to all of those discussing this farce of a beauty myth and womens strive for ‘perfection’, i seriously suggest you take a look at Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, by Courtney Martin.

    Its a corker of a book, and im sure it has been mentioned on here or other blogs around the fatosphere before. Dont pass it up!

  28. What also depresses me is the ever-present implication that although there is a “healthy” BMI range, actually it’s always better to be at the low end of this range, with the result that those at the higher end still feel unacceptable (thanks, Walter Willett!).

    I must admit that since weighing myself to submit my pic to the BMI project, I have nosedived mentally now that I’ve tipped into the “overweight” category. I KNOW it’s arbitrary and ridiculous, but that’s how I feel. I guess that’s why I don’t weigh myself… Although when I got weighed, I also (supposedly) got my body fat measured by the scales – I am suspicious of such devices as they are not very scientifically reliable, but if it’s accurate then apparently I am 31% fat.

    If this is true, and I lost 42lb of fat, which I can do and still remain within the “healthy” BMI limits, I’d be only 8% body fat, but less than 12% is dangerously unhealthy, so how the F*** does that work?

    I want to be size %< please!

  29. I have nosedived mentally now that I’ve tipped into the “overweight” category. I KNOW it’s arbitrary and ridiculous, but that’s how I feel.

    KiE, that was definitely part of the point of the project — I think tons of people can’t help feeling like that, but hopefully, looking at all the other bodies will drive home how ridiculous it is.

    I have a friend whose husband is a few pounds shy of the overweight category. He’s convinced this is something he really needs to worry about, even though he’s heathy and looks perfectly fucking normal.

    On the other hand, I had dinner last night with a different friend, who’s quite thin but very muscular, currently in training for a marathon. We talked about the BMI project and she said, “Yep, I’m a few pounds away from overweight” — like, *shrug.* Which is exactly the right response, if you ask me.

    As we’ve pointed out again and again here, a few pounds are meaningless. The idea that 5 lbs. could be the difference between healthy and unhealthy is so fucking laughable you can hardly believe people buy into it — but man, do they ever. I hope the project is helping a lot of people who are on the border of 2 categories see that crossing that line does NOT actually make you FAT AND UNHEALTHEEEEEEEE!

    Also, Dee, I love your point about naked bodies and the perception of perfection. I remember being completely floored a few years back when a young, thin, gorgeous friend of mine pulled up her shirt and showed me the stretch marks all over her belly. I KNEW she’d had 2 kids, but because she was young, thin, and gorgeous, I guess I expected that if she had stretch marks, they’d be few and sort of artfully arranged. Nuh-uh. Her stomach looked just like any other mother’s — soft, poochy, lots of loose skin and stretch marks galore.

    That was a big eye-opener for me regarding how thinness makes me perceive this fantasy degree of perfection in other women. I KNOW it’s a total myth that only fat women get cellulite, stretch marks, etc. — just like I KNEW this woman had 2 kids and was therefore highly unlikely to have a belly you could bounce a quarter off of. But it still shocks me a little when I see that a thin woman looks perfectly fucking normal, instead of walking around looking airbrushed.

    Fucking brainwashing.

  30. Elle:

    I just wanted to point out after reading your comment, that most models ARE 6’10 and a size 0 or 2, that’s what is so unrealistic of these expectations…

  31. kateharding said:
    “As we’ve pointed out again and again here, a few pounds are meaningless. The idea that 5 lbs. could be the difference between healthy and unhealthy is so fucking laughable you can hardly believe people buy into it — but man, do they ever. I hope the project is helping a lot of people who are on the border of 2 categories see that crossing that line does NOT actually make you FAT AND UNHEALTHEEEEEEEE!”

    As detailed in The Obesity Myth and Rethinking Thin, the overweight category is actually the healthiest one to be in. It has the lowest mortality rate. So if we want to be healthy, shouldn’t we hope to be “overweight”?

  32. Sofia said:

    I just wanted to point out after reading your comment, that most models ARE 6′10 and a size 0 or 2, that’s what is so unrealistic of these expectations…”

    OK, I’m totally giving up on “America’s Next Top Model” because of things like making “normal the new Plus” (and the fact that the show makes me feel like crap about my body). But I just caught a rerun where Tyra Banks said it is a misconception that models are 6′ 1″ or 6′ 2″. She stated that most models are 5′ 9″ and 5′ 10″.

    It’s funny how I can readily accept that I cannot emulate that height without some Japanese/Spice Girls level of platform shoes, yet I used to feel ashamed I could not even approach the same weight as a model. Put that into the same context as the height issue, and it really drives it all home.

  33. Thank you, Lily.

    I’m not sure where Sofia is getting her info, but I can’t help but to think it is the natural response of “common knowledge” which is not correct. Most models are not 5′ 11″ or taller. Most models aren’t a size 0. And the population of models I am looking at are ALL fashion models, not just the 12 most famously thin models in the world which most of us think of as fashion models. Look at any modeling directory online. Most the models are under 6′ and wear a size 4. That appears to be the most typical for working fashion models.

    Is it the fashion industry that is promoting these false ideas about models or is it just our own obsession with prefection?

    Kate, your experience with your thin friend is exactly the type of thinking I was talking about. Women connect thinness with all forms of physical perfections. They think thin will cure everything wrong with them. (And not just physically too. We all think we’ll be happier, more likeable, and successful if we are thinner)

    The fact is thin women have cellulite at the same percentage rate as “fat” women. At least that’s what the cellulite expert on Rachel Ray said. :P

  34. I think the discussion over at “The F-Word” is getting rather interesting. I certainly had no idea that so many women believe ‘plus size’ equals ‘fat’, and can’t accept anyone or -thing under the plus-size banner that doesn’t look visibly obese.

    I’ll use myself for an example: some people here saw me in the BMI slideshow and thought I looked like a size 6-8 without an inch of fat on me, yet I’m a size 14. And I have to say: if I look thin but I’m a size 14, but Crystal Renn looks curvy and plump at a size 12, is she *more* plus-size than me even though she’s a smaller dress size?? Who has the last word on what plus-size is and what is not?

    BMI isn’t relevant from a modeling perspective anyway, and neither is weight, so providing Sarah’s info seems like they are trying to make an effort to say plus-size =/= unhealthy or fat; plus-size can be normal. They aren’t mutually exclusive terms, at least in my mind. My point of view is that there should be as many sizes/body types as possible represented by models generally so that there is less idealizing of one single, unattainable body type. Why can’t a healthy-looking size 8 woman be allowed to represent other women that look like her? There are certainly more size 8s out there than there are size 0s. Yeah, I wish there fewer size 2s and 4s on ANTM, and more larger sizes, but then I don’t view the show as an accurate microcosm of the modeling industry, especially in the way they constantly marginalize the plus-size sector as not being worthwhile, even though some girls are earning over $100K per year.

    If you are interested more info on lobbying for increased size diversity in fashion and the media, visit

  35. I figured I ought to post a proper comment to your blog, especially after linking you.

    Your entry got my brain churning. I gave up on “fashion” about 8 years ago, after easily a decade of disordered eating, poor self-image, and raging discontent. I knew it was bullshit to hate my body and be so self destructive, but at the same time, I felt like it was almost my “duty” to wear the smallest size jeans in the store.

    Since turning my back on the fashion industry, since making my clothing choices based solely on taste and what I am happy and comfortable wearing, I’ve become much more satisfied, in general.

    It is my contention that the entire fashion industry gets way more attention than it deserves. America’s Next Top Model is just one of many outlets of publicity helping to keep this useless industry overrated. I don’t and won’t watch it because I don’t have any intention of giving those fools attention. They sell dissatisfaction, because dissatisfaction sells clothes. I’m not buying!

  36. But Pippa, words mean things! No matter how much we want a varied size range in our fashion models, there is something that “plus size” has historically meant, and “marginally less skinny than a fashion model” is not really it. I think that honestly that’s the thing that bothers me most about this — because we all know that the fashion industry drastically fucks people’s self-image, but do they have to fuck with our semantics?

  37. I think that “plus-sized” has a pretty clear meaning. Most stores carry sizes up to a misses 14. Most plus-sized stores carry sizes starting with a 14W (which is about the same size as a misses 16). IMHO, if you fit into a misses 14 or smaller – if you don’t have to shop at special “plus-sized” stores like Lane Bryant – then you are not plus sized. See? Simple.

  38. Just to totally play devil’s advocate against myself for a second, I did just read the comments on F-words that had come up since the last time I visited, and they make an interesting point. “Plus” means “additional,” basically, right? So “plus” in off-the-rack clothing can mean “additional over what we make for everyone,” but “plus” in high fashion means “additional over what we make for the models.” Which means that 8 is indeed a “plus” size, in the sense that it’s a size they wouldn’t normally serve.

    The solution to this, of course, is to do away with the category of “plus” entirely, and just make friggin’ CLOTHES. “Plus” is insulting — it says “okay fine, we’ll accommodate you, but just know that this isn’t what we normally do.” “Misses” is insulting, and so’s “women’s” as distinct from “misses” (what, you’re not a “woman” if you wear below a 16?). I’m not saying people can’t make a 14-26 line (or a 2-12 line, or a 20-32 line, or whatever). Just, if people want to do a 14-26 line, for heaven’s sake let them do a 14-26 line and just call it that.

    Ah, that sky pie looks so tasty.

  39. FJ, the term plus-size is at best 10-15 years old. It is evolving to what the masses want it to be, which is apparently ‘fat’. That’s fine, but if the models started being called just models (because that you know, describes their actual work) would larger women feel that they were being further marginalized with the dropping of the plus-size descriptor? Would there even be this whole ANTM conversation?

    I must be reading you all wrong here. I thought you all wanted the words plus-size to be associated, however tenously, with normal. My bad.

  40. The term “plus-sized” is at least 30 years old. How do I know? Well, I’m 38, and I’ve been “plus sized” since I’ve been tall enough to fit into adult clothes. Before that – when I was a chubby little girl – I remember having clothes from the “pretty plus” line at Sears. That was in the 1970s. “Plus” has been used to refer to clothes that are larger than the normal lines for a long time. The average American woman is in the gap between normal and plus sizes, so plus sort of is normal. But, normal is size 14/16, not size 8 or even size 12.

  41. I thought you all wanted the words plus-size to be associated, however tenously, with normal.

    Not me; I want the THING plus-size (as in fatness, or as in marginally-fatter-than-a-model-ness, or whatever other kind of Taking Up Space and Failure to Achieve Ideals it stands for) to be associated with normal, because it is an extremely normal thing. I don’t particularly care for the word, for the reasons I mentioned. It’s useful for google searching for clothes, I guess.

  42. *sigh* I had a long, insightful and witty reply composed but after hitting ‘submit’ it disappeared.

    Short version:
    fillyjonk, I agree, I wish I had the wand to make it go away forever.

    Dee: I was talking about the models more than the clothes. You’re right, plus-size HAS been used to refer to CLOTHES for a long time although it is predominently a US-led usage. It’s called other things around the world, such as Happy Size in Germany. The YouTube video linked from The F-Word’s post furthers the misinformation that plus size models all match the starting size of plus-size clothing, it is frustrating that there is no research done on the agencies that represent plus models to see the facts of the model sizes. Whether you think it is right to call a size 8 plus size or not is beside the point. The people that give them work do. And it has to be said that there are barely 5-6 at that size in the NY agencies, although there are plenty still working as ‘specialty models’ from agencies who don’t advertise their larger models as ‘plus size’.

    Additionally, average is not a synonym for normal. It is the nature of the situation that makes us wish it so.

    Having said all of that, I can say that if Elite is the partnered agency for ANTM this cycle then Sarah hasn’t a hope in hell of winning it. They have only two offices worldwide representing plus-size models, and neither are in New York (Atlanta and Chicago) or considered competitive with the big York agencies like Ford or Wilhelmina, so while I congratulate her for getting into the show (which has already been run and won), I’m sad for her that Elite isn’t going to give her any real chance.

  43. This is almost completely irrelevant, but Happy Size is just a small mail-order clothing company in Germany. What they sell is “Übergrößen”, which means “oversizes”, as in “overweight”. :-)

  44. Pippa-Additionally, average is not a synonym for normal. It is the nature of the situation that makes us wish it so.

    What’s that supposed to mean? That, at 13 pounds (or whatever), on average above what we weighed in the 1960’s, we’re all a bunch of fat asses? In my world, average is normal. Defining “normal” as something other than average is a way of promoting negativity and dissatification. Are you, by any chance, trying to sell something? :-)

    I, personally, have no stake in whether or not I’m considered “normal” (I’m bigger than a 14/16 and I weigh far above average for an American woman), but come on. Defining the average person as “abnormal” doesn’t make much sense.

    To me, “plus-sized” means “wears plus-sized clothes.” If someone told me she was plus sized, I’d say “Oh, good! Do you want to go check out the sale at Addition Elle at lunch?” I don’t care how it’s defined in the modelling industry. They’re cracked.

  45. How do you define “normal”? Good? Healthy? Average? Natural? Desirable?

    This reminds me of something else. The average blood pressure in people of a certain age is, I’m not sure of the exact numbers, but let’s say, 145/95. That’s much too high in a medical sense. It’s average, but not healthy. Why is it considered too high? Because it’s a risk factor for certain diseases. There’s a consensus that something around 120/80 is a healthy, normal, blood pressure for most people. Now, some studies have shown evidence that people with blood pressures significantly lower than 120/80 live longer, and suffer less from cardiac diseases! But most of them suffer dizziness, weakness, headaches, and other problems, every day. So, is a blood pressure of 80/50 good for your heart and arteries? Yes, definitely! Is it healthy? In a way, yes! Is it desirable? Maybe. Is it normal?

    If you think it isnt, then healthy isn’t your standard for “normal”. Average isn’t it, either. What else is it, then?

  46. I think I see what Pippa is saying, Dee… it’s not so much that “average” doesn’t mean “normal” as that “normal” doesn’t mean “average.” “Normal” has a weight of societal mandate behind it; in certain contexts it just means “average” or “typical,” but in others (like the body size considered “normal” in our culture) it is deeply skewed by expectations. A woman who is average size would be unlikely to feel like she had a “normal” body if she took in any media images, because she would be constantly told that her body is defective. As a totally un-fat-related example, it’s entirely typical for a teenager to feel angsty and depressed, but most teenagers who feel that way just want to be “normal.” (Or they embrace their “abnormality,” while ignoring the fact that really everyone is having the same experience.)

    Em, the blood pressure example is really interesting… I have to think about that further.

  47. Oh, I see. She was looking at it from the point of view of the media and medical establishment. (sorry about the random bitchiness, Pippa ;-)

    But, really, they can try to define “normal” as below average as much as they want, but it won’t change the fact that defining the average person as deviant is really strange and possibly harmful.

  48. Here is a recent quotations by a representative of Elite:

    “Models starve themselves, and we tell them to,” says Richard Habberley, a top agent with Elite, which reps Victoria’s Secret hottie Alessandra Ambrosio and Maybelline face Jessica White. (

    Sarah doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell to win. The average, desirable model needs to be at least 5’8″ and has to have a weight that is usually consider unhealthy by the BMI. If she does become a model, she will only do plus-size because that is the only job a size eight can get in the world of fashion. Good grief.

  49. Thanks fillyjonk, that’s basically what I meant. The semantic POV.

    Em, I’ve had a few models recently correct me to say they are referred to as “Happy Size” not plus-size by their German clients, and they speak German themselves so it’s not a translation issue. Perhaps another clothes vs model distinction to be made?

    Generally speaking it’s possible that I’ve separated my arguments this way because I’ve been thinking over the whole plus model vs clothing size thing for a long time. As a size14 model I battle the snark of the ‘but you’re not big enough’ AND ‘models like you promote obesity’ variety all the time so I’ve been forced to figure out my line of defence at both a personal and industry level for both sides of the argument. It does my head in, frankly.

    And Dee, I believe that 8 can be normal, 10 can be normal, 14 can be normal, and so on. Averages are a ‘useful’ statistic but are not meaningful at the individual level (like the BMI) – which is where I was heading in my last post, although it wasn’t fully expressed.

  50. Pippa: “happy size”? That’s really bizarre. I mean, I am German, I’ve lived in Germany all my life, I watch TV, I read magazines, surf the internet, I’m very much interested in fashion and beauty, and not once in my whole life have I come across the words “Happy Size” except in reference to a, not even very well known, mail-order clothing retailer. Maybe that retailer was their client? Or it was some sort of inside joke?
    Just saying. If you ever come across Germans and tell them you’re a Happy Size Model, they’re pretty likely to have no idea what you’re talking about. But I guess you’re not going to believe me anyway, so, whatever.

  51. But I guess you’re not going to believe me anyway, so, whatever.

    Em, I don’t think that’s what Pippa was saying at all — just that maybe there’s a difference between industry terms and woman-on-the-street terms. So in the modeling industry, 8 can be a “plus size,” even though plus size clothing generally starts at 12, minimum — and apparently, German models can be “happy size” even if almost no German clothing stores actually use that term. It might very well be that the models’ clients are just being dorkily euphemistic to try and be polite or something.

  52. I have to support Em’s post – when first I read “Happy Size” I immediately thought of the catalogue. :-)

    Google research showed that the company “Happy Size” (in cooperation with L’Oréal and Louisa Models) is sponsering a contest for plus-sized models ( So that could have coined the phrase in industry terms, as Kate suggested. But I have also never heard of the term “happy size” being used in media or elsewhere to refer to plus-sized models (Em and Pippa, I live in Germany, too).

  53. And Dee, I believe that 8 can be normal, 10 can be normal, 14 can be normal, and so on.

    And, a size 18 can be normal, a size 24 can be normal, a size 30 can be normal. All your examples were below average sizes. Is that because your definition of “normal” is average to thin, or was it just an oversight?

  54. Hi Karin! I don’t know where you live, but I’ve heard just a few moments ago that this has just opened in Düsseldorf, and this is their brand new online store. It’s inaffordable, but, oh my god, real, proper clothing in plus sizes! Gives you hope, doesn’t it?

    Sorry, I had to hijack this thread for a minute, I am so excited. Here you have it back.

  55. Em, thanks for the tip! I live in Frankfurt, but that store looks so incredible that it would be worth a trip to Düsseldorf. The prices are a bit high, though… :-(

  56. Okay, I have to say I feel like I’m being picked on here and I don’t appreciate it. I am trying to offer a broader perspective and information set than just the Nth American view which is not the last word in plus-size on the planet, okay? I may not live in Germany but I’ve worked for Germany catalogues (Mona Lisa and Moda Vita) myself and with German-speaking plus models so I think the information I have provided already is sound. I’m well aware of the catalog of the same name. Perhaps it is a dorky euphemism; I can’t explain it beyond what I have already said as I don’t know who started it to ask them about it.

    And Dee, as this is not a topic about normalcy, all I’ll say is an unqualified yes, and ask you to desist from what appear to be thinly veiled attacks on every thing I say. Stop shooting the messenger, ay?

  57. Pippa, I believe Karin and Em are both German. I think it is reasonable for them to think that they can question you on what you say things are called in Germany. Nobody’s picking on you. You said plus size was called “happy size” in Germany, and two German people said they hadn’t heard that and maybe there had been a miscommunication. Not a big deal. It’s called “using the internet to facilitate cross-cultural discussion.”

  58. Ah, I was confused because you said “I am trying to offer a broader perspective and information set than just the Nth American view,” and then went on to say that you’d worked in Germany and thought your information was sound.

  59. Hmm… but now that I think about it, at least they were no longer called “Chubettes” by the time I was growing up…

  60. FJ, I still do think it’s sound. Truth is experiential to a certain extent, non?

    As Kate said, there is a lot of dorky (awkward, don’t -want-to-be-rude-and-call-you-big-but-we-can’t-think-of-a-really-clever-word-for-it) euphemising of larger sizes within the modeling industry, and just because Happy Size is not widely or even publicly used in Germany or anywhere else doesn’t mean it’s a false statement to say that it IS used. It only means that it is synonymous with “plus size”, nothing more. And that was my basis for mentioning it, although I have reread my post and see that I did not clearly state that I was talking about the models, not the clothes or the company that sells under that trading name in the wording “It’s called other things around the world, such as Happy Size in Germany”. Maybe I should have added ‘also’ to that sentence, whatever. Coulda woulda yada yada

    /cloaking device *on*

  61. Wow.

    Although I’m much shorter, I had a BMI of 21 on my first wedding day, age 21. I was rushing round everywhere trying to plan stuff, stressed out over a bitch queen MIL who threatened to stand up in church and ruin the day, (long story) and basically, from barely eating anything, went from 140lbs to 125 in a few weeks. I was a sick, exhausted wreck who needed a ton of makeup to look anywhere near passable on the day. (My mother, who would love me to have stayed that way, ‘lovingly’ keeps those photos, even though I’ve since divorced and remarried.)

    And that’s PLUS SIZE? You coulda fooled me. But, sadly, I think, all too typical for modeling.

    Fashion sucks, which is why I more or less ignore it these days.

    (For euphemisms….try ‘Twice as Sexy’, which was what Ann Summers used to call their bigger-sized naughty underwear range. They stopped it some years back, which was annoying as it meant all the sizes were lumped in together and you couldn’t tell which ones went up to larger sizes – bra backs, my bugbear as always! – and which didn’t. Never mind ‘special’ catalogs and names, just give me everything you have in my size, OK?)

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