What Is ‘Plus Size’ Anyway?‏

‘Plus size’ as a term was first coined in the late 70’s and is still defined as a body shape bigger than the average. But with the UK (and university) average dress size being a 16 and plus size modelling starting at size 12, the answer to the question ‘what is plus size?’ remains unclear.

We conducted a poll to find out the opinion on where ‘plus’ should start, asking 150 university students ‘what size is plus size?’. The responses range from a size 12 to 22, perhaps this in itself demonstrating the confusion rife among us as to what a ‘plus size’ body really is. However, the size that came out on top was 16. With almost double the amount of votes cast than for the next most voted sizes (14 and 18) the national average dress size was considered plus-size by voters. The sizes that we’re surrounded the most by are also the ones we consider to be above average.


Perhaps this opinion derives from the spectrum that designers have created for plus size modelling and the alternative stance that many companies have on what should be considered ‘plus’. In 2014, Calvin Klein was heavily criticised for classifying Mya Dalbesio, who wears a UK size 14, as plus size when she was cast for their ‘Perfectly Fit’ Campaign. In an interview with Elle, Dalbesio said that she was unsure what was expected of her “in terms of her size or shape”. Officially starting at size 12 and ranging to beyond a 22, the ambiguity surrounding plus size modelling and the expectation of models to fulfil a certain image has been said to undermine the celebration of the natural body type.

Bigger controversy within plus size modelling was revealed when in an interview with The Guardian size 16 model Naomi Shimada revealed the use of padding on models to create more desirable proportions. Padding is actually requested by most agents and there’s a significant divide between companies who want ‘plus’ to mean 12-14 and those that want it to mean 20-22. In fact, many plus size models who are sized at the national average find themselves unable to get work because of the divide. We’re now even hearing of size 8 models, such as Scarlett Gray being told they’re too ‘big’ to model.


So whilst social media campaigns by bigger models such as Tess Holiday and Nadia Aboulhosn tell us to ‘fuck our beauty standards’, the different classification of ‘plus’ blurs them. The fashion industry is learning to embrace more shapes and sizes than ever before but with such unclear distinctions, what are we really celebrating? Is a size 12 the same as a size 26? Plus-size clothing is now worth a massive £707m to the UK market with half of the population investing, so maybe it’s time for acknowledgement from designers and companies that the majority of women fit into their illusions of plus size even if they don’t reflect their definition of it.


Victoria Copeland

Cover image – laweekly.com

Leave a Reply