Plus Sized Models – Just another set of unattainable ideals?

I have been researching media images of women and the effect that these have on self esteem with a particular interest in the digital manipulation that occurs in some images.  There are many reports available on the internet that have investigated the awareness that women have of digital retouching, with 85% in one report being aware that it takes place (credos, 2011). However, this does not take into account that this 85% may not include the most vulnerable members of society who are the very people who need protecting from the misconceptions manipulated images lead us to believe.

Previously I had always thought that the sway towards using plus sized models (whatever plus sized relates to) should be a good thing – shouldn’t it?  How could it be anything but positive – showing real women as they are – with all their curves and ‘jiggly bits’ so that we can see how ‘normal’ we really are … but alas things are never that easy in the media!

I was told about a practice of ‘padding up’ used by these plus sized ladies for fashion shoots.  Shocked and amazed that such a practice would be in place I have been looking more into this – and it’s not good news for my large sized friends!

The lovely curvy ladies we see wearing outfits we would like to buy in our fashion catalogues for the larger ladies are indeed slimmer models wearing pads to make them look bigger.  No wonder when we buy these outfits we don’t look the same … a size 16 lady generally has a size 16 (ish) waist (we all come in different shapes and sizes so this does vary of course) so that wonderful dress with her hour glass figure looks fantastic – I put it on and look like a sack of spuds!  Why?  Because the model in the image is a size 12 really and has a padded bottom and breasts to make them to a size 16.

Its something that I never knew about!  To be honest how on earth can we be expected to know – its kept quiet so that we, as consumers, have an empathy with the magazine/clothes company/catalogue and feel that these models are ‘real’ and we buy those clothes.  We have no idea that we are being duped and aspire to be just like them.  In my opinion it is sadly just another form of media meddling and does no more good than only showing the slim models.

Very few ladies have a genuine perfect hour glass figure, regardless of the size it comes in.  Fashion icons, such as Marilyn Monroe, were noticed because they are in the minority with their natural body shape.  Very few of the models shown have the figures that 95% of the female population are able to achieve (Sex Roles, 1999) – I feel we are being grossly misled.  Where are the real plus sized models?  Bring on those beautiful ladies that really are plus sized and stop playing mind games with peoples self esteem.

A current young female model who admits to using this practice of padding on occasion is Marquita Pring.  In this article she explains that sometimes she is not curvy enough for her clients as she is a large size 12/small size 14.

The article from the Daily Mail isn’t the only newspaper article that broaches this subject.  The Huffington Post also has articles by model Marquita Pring about the practice of padding.

Pring also has a current and often updated Instagram account that has many comments on it about the media ideals she sees towards the ‘perfect body’.  This account has feedback both for and against her thoughts on her posts which makes interesting reading.

Other plus sized models include Myla Dalbesio, who has recently starred in the latest Calvin Klein advertisements.  However, at 5’11” tall and a UK size 14 there are serious debates as to whether she really classes as plus sized.  Taking into account the models height I, personally, would say that this model is perfectly proportioned and is not plus sized.  This article in the Daily Mail addresses those very concerns.

I will be looking further into other models that come under the ‘plus size’ label.  I have found this site that looks interesting and will be following up many of these links.


Pretty as a picture, CREDOS, 2011

Gender differences in population versus media body sizes: a comparison over 4 decades, Sex Roles, 1999


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