Fat Discrimination in the Plus Size Community: Fact or Fiction?

At the urging of some of my followers, I’m going to attempt to explain why there is fat discrimination within the plus size community. This is a recurring theme in many of the articles and blogs I read, and it’s an important issue to explore. At a size 18, and with an hourglass figure, my body type is represented far more in plus fashion than those of my larger counterparts. And, well, that’s not ok. If we are going to change the fashion landscape to be inclusive of different body types, then we can’t leave out our bigger sisters.

fat discrimination

My theory on this is that hourglass shapes (big boobs, big butt, smaller waist) are the kinds of body types that our society can handle because they are reminiscent of sex and beauty icons from the 50’s, like Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren. They are often over-sexualized so that the idea of being “curvy” can be sold as something visually appealing for men, and aspirational for women. Most aspiring plus size models must fit into this curvy equation to be even be considered for placement in an agency. And while I’m glad larger bodies are making their way into mainstream media, it still leaves out a good part of the population.


About two years ago I attended and event with a panel of experts talking about the plus fashion industry. I recall that the panelist all agreed that they thought the plus industry should be just as “good” as the straight size industry. I wanted to know why we weren’t celebrating our real bodies (cellulite, curves, bumps, and rolls), and instead wearing girdles and spanx to tame our figures. The response I got was that it didn’t look professional. Yup, I was stunned too. And very disappointed. Here were my people saying that larger bodies are ok, but only if they fit a very specific description.

plus size spanx

That was when I understood that their was an inherent flaw in the plus fashion movement. There was yet another level of exclusion here. There was now an ideal body type to aspire to for big girls — as if we hadn’t been left out enough. And there was now another barrier to creating accessible, trendy fashion for fat women. And forget about having their bodies represented in advertising.

If you are a fat woman, I’m sure you’ve also noticed it’s difficult to find anything larger than a size 24 in an actual store. You usually have to shop online, which is not only an inconvenience, but also plain disrespectful . My followers have shared their feelings of frustration and isolation with me about not being able to go to a mall and find things to wear off the rack. Because I’m an 18, I can almost always find something in the store, even at stores like the GAP and Old Navy. I had completely forgotten about my sisters wearing sizes 24+ who are still in the struggle. And with Target’s recent announcement that they will only sell their Lilly Pulitzer plus size clothing online, it’s a disheartening situation. “It’s saying, ‘I want your money, but I don’t necessarily want your image,’” said Debbie Dean of Co-Op City. “That’s what it’s saying.” 

lilly pulitzer for target

What I remain confused about is that the plus size market has a lot of spending power. We love to shop! So why are retailers and fashion designers limiting their options to the smaller end of the spectrum? I have no fucking clue. Perhaps they think oppression is the new black.


My hope is that we do our part to let retailers know with our pocketbooks that we’re not happy. I appreciate that there are some retailers that do carry larger sizes, but they are almost exclusively online:

I think it’s great that these options exist, but some of them are clearly geared toward an older audience, and don’t carry a lot of trendy looks. So, now I’m just waiting for an amazing new designer to help us solve this problem. And we will support the hell out of you!


23 thoughts on “Fat Discrimination in the Plus Size Community: Fact or Fiction?

  1. America has already determined that we’re in an “obesity epidemic” (the media’s words, not mine). So my question/point is, if Americans are getting bigger, why are retailers not trying to clothe us? Perhaps they want us to be naked? 🙂


  2. You are certainly lucky to be an hourglass shape. I am one of those fat women who does not have a big chest, so finding stuff that fits is very challenging.

    I ask this all the time: Why don’t you want my money?! We are a huge (heh) market, and yet more and more retailers are pulling plus sizes off their shelves and sticking them online. It’s the opposite of sense!


  3. you are 100% right. Being a size 26/28 it can be awfully hard to find clothes that i like. In canada, Penningtons does carry larger size but i dont really want to dress like my mom. But i have a glimes of hope when i see designers like eloquii extending their collection with larger size. Its a relieve.


  4. my mother noticed this trend several years ago and has said many times that she wanted to open a store called Phat (pretty hot and tempting) Women Big Feet (she’s a size 12 and finding shoes is VERY hard for her) but getting the funds to make that dream come true has been such a challenge that she gave up on it I wish there was some way for me to revitalize her dream…..


  5. I think that there is a conflation here between the plus size community (I cringe at the word plus-size, by the way) and the plus size industry (or the plus size subset of the mainstream consumer industry). Yes, there is definitely discrimination in the (and I’ll use the word “fat” here rather than plus size because I think it’s more accurate and empowering) fat community, often targeting our less physically abled brothers and sisters. But, stores will be stores, and we shouldn’t think that Target is any different than American Apparel in trying to create an image for their shoppers to buy into.


  6. Hi, new reader here. (Following you on Feedly, my reader of choice.) This is a post that really resonates with me.
    I live in the UK and things are as bad here. There are very few shops to buy actual plus size clothes in. I do 95% of my shopping online and it’s so frustrating.


  7. I’m constantly disappointed when a designer claims to offer clothing for “All” plus size women then stops at size 24 or 26. We bigger women deserve stylish, affordable clothes too!


  8. This is becoming an increasing problem here in the UK especially since Simply Be (who have always been a plus size retailer) now carrying more items in a size 12 than they do in a 26 and above! There is still a huge lack of plus size options on the physical high street compared to online so I no longer find the same amount of joy in shopping that I did when I was a smaller size. Come on retailers we want to spend our money!!! x


  9. Hi MFC, I’m a new reader here but a size acceptance blogger and activist. Just a thought that crossed my mind on reading this, and I’m sharing in thinking out loud mode here.
    “I wanted to know why we weren’t celebrating our real bodies (cellulite, curves, bumps, and rolls), and instead wearing girdles and spanx to tame our figures. The response I got was that it didn’t look professional. Yup, I was stunned too. And very disappointed. Here were my people saying that larger bodies are ok, but only if they fit a very specific description.”
    Surely this is true of the fashion industry as a whole. ‘Thin’ fashion images do not represent the average slim woman’s body either. The models are not typical of the population and dimples, cellulite and any teeny tiny ‘imperfection’ are either covered, hidden with make up, or photoshopped out. Is it reasonable for ‘plus’ fashion to be any different?


  10. Pingback: Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired. It’s Time for a Re-Evolution! | chronicles of a mixed fat chick

  11. Pingback: Body Image Movement is Due for a Re-evolution and It’s About Time | Adios Barbie

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