Plus Sized Wars

As a plus sized woman myself, I was quite excited by the prospect of Channel 4’s documentary Plus Sized Wars. When the media aren’t ignoring the existence of bigger women, they’re ridiculing them, casting them as the comedy character, or blaming them for draining resources in the NHS. Perhaps this would be the body-positive representation we’ve all hungered for.

The documentary introduced a group of young plus sized fashion bloggers, and we’re not talking about girls sharing photos with their friends; those at the top of the game can boast 10s of, even 100s of thousands of followers. No surprise that the fashion brands are starting to sit up and take notice.

With 60% of teenage girls overweight, the online body-positive movement is growing fast. As one of the bloggers pointed out; people can see that they’re fat, no matter what they wear, so why shouldn’t they just wear whatever they like? They want to play with fashion, just like their slimmer counterparts, and their online influence is beginning to drive trends, not simply follow it.

The documentary looked behind the scenes at three plus size retailers: the forefather, Evans, and the newcomers, Yours, and Australian-born Taking Shape. It looked at their wider-than-standard changing rooms, their unusual marketing strategies, and how they are all listening to the bloggers. The online sisterhood sells more than image, or inspiration, they’re sharing confidence; to girls who have been bullied, who have struggled to love themselves, who have been sidelined by the fashion industry for so long.

Yours hired Tess Holiday—probably the most well-known plus size fashion blogger in the world—to model their new lingerie range, flying her in from America for photo shoots and an in-store meet-and-greet. At a mere 5ft 5inches, and wearing a size 24, she isn’t the most conventional cover girl. But she wears the sexiest thing any woman can wear: she wears confidence, and she wears oodles of it. Besides that, she’s real, she’s relatable, and she’s been through the same struggles as her fans. “I know what it’s like to be sixteen, and feel like you’re not good enough” she says.

But while the body-positive movement promotes acceptance and affirmation, it isn’t without its issues. There are still beauty standards, judgements, and snobbery. Blogger Georgina Horne has received backlash for losing weight. Some of her followers feel that all of her confidence, her self-love, was fake, that she’s let down her fans, that she’s not being true to herself. Equally, the insight into the plus size division of modelling agency MiLK, showed that they were still adhering to strict modelling standards; favouring girls of size 14-16, and shunning girls for being too short.

While it may have opened the way to more programmes of its kind, Plus Sized Wars was an inoffensive, non-confrontational documentary presented only in vanilla. It didn’t push boundaries or entertain any controversy. It felt more like an introduction to a series, not a stand-alone documentary.

With 1 in 4 people now buying plus sized clothes, and an industry set to be worth £6 billion this year, it was good to see plus sized women portrayed as everyday people who simply want to have fun with fashion. Not freaks, nor rebels, nor people attempting to promote unhealthy lifestyles. But it appears that, for now at least, the breaking down of ingrained beauty standards is a war that is waged only online.