October 3, 2016

The Shaming of Plus-Sized Women

by Kiersten Hallie Krum

Despite body positivity becoming a rising pop-culture buzzword, the overt shaming of plus-size women continues unabated. This week, it’s back in the headlines as presidential hopeful Donald Trump is called to task for his public shaming of former Miss Universe, Alicia Machado, particularly in regard to her weight.

This isn’t the first, nor will it be the last time a woman is publicly shamed or castigated or made to be less than worthy due to her weight and appearance. Our society and the media in particular put a lot of effort into brainwashing girls and women of all ages how much their intrinsic worth is tied up in how hot they are–or are not–and especially, how fat they are not–or are. A recent report by Yale researchers at Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity states, “The prevalence of weight-based stigmatization is now on par with rates of racial discrimination, and has been documented across multiple domains, including employment, medical, and interpersonal settings.”

But more and more lately, this malevolent attitude is not only being challenged but changed. Only a few weeks ago, fashion icon Tim Gunn wrote an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal chastising his fellow designers to step up and create fashion for the plus-sized woman. As a plus-sized woman myself, I’ve over snarl over the beautiful clothes for size zero or 2 and bemoan the busy patterns of dresses that look like mumus for a woman wearing a size 22. Because no woman at that size wants to feel attractive right? Why, I like to ask uselessly, can they not just make those lovely size zero clothes 22 sizes bigger??

Tim Gunn doesn’t quite say the same, but he does chastise designers for letting their size biases deny them the rich plucking grounds that are the only marginally tapped market of fuller sized ladies.

“The average American woman now wears between a size 16 and a size 18, according to new research from Washington State University. There are 100 million plus-size women in America, and, for the past three years, they have increased their spending on clothes faster than their straight-size counterparts. There is money to be made here ($20.4 billion, up 17 percent from 2013). But many designers — dripping with disdain, lacking imagination or simply too cowardly to take a risk — still refuse to make clothes for them.”

Preach it, Tim.

Tim’s not the only one taking strides to eliminate the shame incongruously rendered onto plus-sized women in the fashion world. Last week, Refinery29 launched “The 67% Project”. Since 67% of American women are a size 14 or higher but only 2% of media images reflect women of that size, Refinery29 decided to reverse those numbers.

“During the launch week, 67% of the bodies you see on our site, in our newsletter, and on our social platforms will be plus-size. To do this, we’ve made significant changes within Refinery29 to fully represent the 67% this week, and beyond….Not showing the 67% in normalized ways has real consequences: Plus size women earn less and are more vulnerable to discrimination.”

One of the ways they’re doing this is by partnering with Getty Images, plus-size clothier Lane Bryant, and aerie to offer stock images featuring plus-size women.

“The collection of 471 images are intended to increase the amount of diverse imagery being circulated around the web at any given time.”

Look, I’ve trolled stock photos till my eyes cross, always on the hunt for the perfect cover image for my next book. A quick stroll through these images stirs in me the same reaction: who comes up with this stuff? Who picks these scenarios? Because we all sit on the stoop and paint our nails, right? So in that case, these images are right on up there with the more standard 67%. There are even some boudoir and slightly risque shots with a discretely place condom as subtle as a blaring klaxon in case a high school sex ed teacher is looking for some relevant shots.

But where’s the damn romance? Where’s my frolicking couple on the beach with a strapping Navy SEAL, (let’s say, off the top of my head) swanning about with his plump lady love? Where’s the burly biker brooding off into space with his size 20 babe holding tight on the back of his Hog? If we’re really going to feature the 67%, feature ’em all the way. Take that size zero equivalent stock image and give us the plus-sized equivalent in all scenarios, not only the more conventional ones. I applaud the intent and execution, but I still think they’re playing it safe here, keeping to what will be more easily accepted by society at large rather than really giving it the goods.

But hey, this is Lady Smut. So, what about the sex?

Well, thank you for asking. Lemme steer all you inquisitive cusses toward The Adipositivity Project.

From their mission statement:

“The Adipositivity Project aims to promote the acceptance of benign human size variation and encourage discussion of body politics, not by listing the merits of big people, or detailing examples of excellence (these things are easily seen all around us), but rather through a visual display of fat physicality. The sort that’s normally unseen.

The hope is to broaden definitions of physical beauty. Literally.

The women you see in these images are educators, executives, mothers, musicians, professionals, performers, artists, activists, clerks, and writers. They are perhaps even the women you’ve clucked at on the subway, rolled your eyes at in the market, or joked about with your friends.

This is what they look like with their clothes off.

Some are showing you their bodies proudly. Others timidly. And some quite reluctantly. But they all share a determination in altering commonly accepted notions of a narrow and specific beauty ideal.”

Big is beautiful, baby.

For years in Romancelandia, that great bastion of female postivity where women are the heroes of their own story, lady protagonists were always lithe and beautiful with dainty chins and long flowing hair to their waists. Or something like that. But trends in women’s issues tend to take root first in romance novels often putting them ahead of the curve when it comes to birth control to being a single mom to women in the workforce…to plus-size heroines and/or body positivity. Jennifer Weiner’s debut novel Good in Bed, while not nominally a romance novel, was thought to be cutting edge at the time for featuring a plus-sized heroine in her quest for romance and love. Numerous romance novels have confronted the issues and emotional conflicts women have about their own bodies, especially when face with the unforgiving shaming that is societal expectations. Likewise, more and more the “curvy” heroine (what would romance be without our euphemisms?) is steaming up the pages as authors (and heroines) step out from the shadow of societal shame and step forward to find their happily ever after. And those heroes they meet find them to be a whole lot of fine.

What do you think? Would you like to see more women in Romancelandia depicted to be more like the 67%? Do you think those stock images do enough? Should there be more shame in plus-sized women or do there need to be more projects like Adipositivity?

Follow Lady Smut. We’re shameless every day.

Writer, singer, editor, traveler, tequila drinker, and cat herder, Kiersten Hallie Krum avoids pen names since keeping her multiple personalities straight is hard enough work. She writes smart, sharp, and sexy romantic suspense. Her debut romantic suspense novel, Wild on the Rocksis now available. Visit her website at www.kierstenkrum.com and find her regularly over sharing on various social media via @kierstenkrum.

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  • Post authormadeline iva

    I remember so clearly in one of the first romances I read as a teen (and already quite well endowed) that this heroine was sad that she didn’t have more to fill out her corset like her rival did and the maid came back talking about the horrible large cow udders on the other woman. : ( That scene has stuck with me all these years.

    And what I like most about what you’ve stated above is that it’s not just about getting over fat shaming.

    I’m glad that people are taking an activist attitude towards acceptance of all people in all sizes and shapes. Certainly I think we’ve employed an accepting attitude on Lady Smut — not only of all women, all sizes, and the same goes for men too. (Perhaps with the exception of men who rock the man-bun — but that was just one post, and not representative of us all. I myself am an AVID man bun fan! ; > )

    Reply to madeline iva
  • Post authorbarbaramikula

    I have to say that I am glad to see more fashions for plus size women, as I am one also. As an author, I almost always have a heroine with a “little extra” since, as you say, we write ourselves into our stories. My heroines often have body image issues, and the heroes always make sure they get over them. Are my heroes on the plump side? NO! LOLLOLLOL – I write first for myself and then for my readers, and we all want to enjoy that ripped, muscular, handsome billionaire! I don’t want to read about the chubby, beer drinking guy at the auto body shop. Sorry, auto body shop guys.

    As to Donald Trump, I happily admit I am one of the Deplorables. Is he a sexist? Yes. Is he sometimes politically incorrect? Always. I think most of that was misquoted and directed at Rosie O’Donnell anyway due to their hate-hate relationship. I am not a Rosie fan in any event. She’s a loud mouth bigot in her own way. I could care less about all of that. I don’t want to marry him. I want him to make this country safe with opportunities for all Americans, and mostly (selfishly LOL) I want my stocks to go back up where they belong!

    Anyway, good article! http://www.skyemichaelsbooks.com

    Reply to barbaramikula
  • Post authorElizabeth Shore

    Several years ago I used to work for Mode magazine, which was a fashion magazine targeted toward plus-sized women. It was an empowering place to work as the employees were so embedded in the mission and wholeheartedly believed in elevating fashion for ALL women, not just the tiny ones. But despite the incredible reader following and ability of the magazine to be a voice for an under-served demographic, Mode folded. There were several factors at play behind the demise, many of them out of the magazine’s control. But one such factor was the quiet snobbery of some coutour fashion houses and even jewelry designers. You’d think jewelry would be universal, right? You don’t need “plus-sized” jewelry. But one sales person told me that a jewelry rep had confided to her that they declined to advertise in Mode because “we don’t want fat women standing at our jewelry counter.” So heartless and cruel. It’s stuck with me all these years later. Progress in body acceptance has made some in-roads, at least I think it has. But alas, there’s still such a long way to go.

    Reply to Elizabeth Shore
    • Post authorKiersten Hallie Krum

      I wish that was a stand alone experience, but I’m sure it’s not. People actually fear being associated with large women visually or tangentially. They don’t even care how much money they’re leaving on the table by shunning this demographic. The American Dream is to be thin and sexy (and usually blonde) and women who don’t measure up (heh) need not apply. It is so much of a character judgment in our culture, it’s almost woven into the societal fabric so that people don’t even realize they have that bias until called on it.

      Reply to Kiersten Hallie Krum
  • Post authorJ.B. Rogers (@JB_Rogers)

    Just in my latest project* – a collection of three linked ménage short stories – I’ve got a balding, chubby man in his mid-40s, his late-20s “trophy wife” who cramps up when she discovers that she’s not as limber as she used to be, a woman in her mid-20s with body image issues, a woman in her 30s who thinks she’s too flat-chested, and a cross-dressing man who’s extremely nervous about trying to “pass” in public and in front of a new lover… but doesn’t let that stop him. I think the only “secure” major character in there is the gigolo who’s questioning his sexual identity as he exits his story, and I hope to explore that struggle in later tales.

    My point is that most of my characters are either physically imperfect or insecure about their bodies… as are, I think, most of us. If I want my fiction to ring true, why would I want to avoid exploring that source of inner conflict? Sure, in the end they all hook up with people who appreciate them for who they are, but showing their nervousness and the courage it takes to break through it only makes the payoff that much sweeter. The body-shy woman in the mismatched underwear who considers herself flabby is actively pursued by a couple who prize her compassion and see her as beautiful, inside AND out.

    One more thing: If you think finding steamy stock photos of plus-size women, add “of color” to the mix. My first novel centers around a white man, a Latina woman, and a very dark-skinned black woman. Good luck finding stock images to represent that trio at all, let alone in a range of body types…

    * “Thirds: A Leather and Lace Collection” is available at Amazon and other e-stores.

    Reply to J.B. Rogers (@JB_Rogers)
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