The modern-day fashion industry is obsessed with small sizes. Runway and commercial clothing models are thin, beauty pageants are full of extra-lean ladies, the majority of actresses are the center of gossip about their weights, and store mannequins are alien in their thinness. But the reality of the average U.S. woman and the clothing size she wears is far from the slender “ideal.”
According to the CDC, the average weight of women 20 years and older in the U.S. during 2012 was 166.2 pounds, with a waist size of 37.5 inches. Many women of this build would wear between a size 10 or 12. And yet the fashion and media industries maintain a standard of women that are far thinner. Women who are not as slim, who wear over a size 10 and are typically referred to as “plus-sized,” receive far less appreciation. Prominent, contemporary actresses who are considered plus-sized are so few in number that many can easily be listed: Amy Schumer, Rebel Wilson, Queen Latifah, Melissa McCarthy, Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Octavia Spencer, Kathy Bates, and even Jennifer Lawrence are considered plus-sized. Plus-sized models in the fashion industry struggle with conflicting messages about whether they are large enough, and with appearing larger than the typical model size on the other end of the spectrum.
Through something called cultivation theory, the average woman who watches television, or other forms of media that expose her to fashion “ideals,” will begin to believe that she is not the norm, and needs to lose weight. Eating disorders and warped self-perception are side-effects of this constant, every-day exposure to thin “ideals.”
But women are speaking out. The recent 2015 winner of Project Runway, Ashley Nell Tipton, was adamant throughout the season that plus-sized clothing was necessary and had untapped potential in the fashion industry. She told Buzzed that “[the fashion] industry puts a bad view on plus-size women and the way we dress, and it’s because we don’t have options,” she said. She’s blazing a trail to change this, and she’s not the only one. Rebel Wilson, the actress who played Fat Amy in Pitch Perfect, has created her own clothing line (Rebelution) for the brand Torrid, out in stores November 1st, 2015. Similarly, Melissa McCarthy designed a plus-sized line of clothing for the brand Seven7. Plus-sized beauty pageants are becoming a new trend, possibly due to body-positivity movements.
Mainstream fashion industries may no longer have the final word on how the ideal body should look. Instead, modern women are standing up for their sizes and their rights to clothes that fit them and look good too. The future of body size portrayals in the media may soon reflect the actual, average sizes of women with a greater diversity of shapes.