There are so many issues with the assertion by the singer Jamelia yesterday that shops shouldn’t stock plus-size clothes that one hardly knows where to begin. I suppose we could start by asking who should be tasked with defining what “plus size” actually is? Within the fashion industry, a plus-size model can be as small as a size 10.
As a size 14 to 16 myself, bodies like mine represent the ground upon which the lines of the plus-size battle have been drawn. Presumably, Jamelia believes that if I want to be able to shop conveniently I should lose weight, despite the fact that I am almost six foot tall and have a perfectly healthy BMI. She has since apologised for causing offence, yet has said that she still stands by her comments, and that she only meant it in 'extreme cases', like if I was a size 20 (which FYI Jamelia I could be, and still be healthy).
Yet even Jamelia’s insistence that she made the claim for the common good, on the grounds that being overweight “‘isn’t healthy” is spurious. Health is defined by lifestyle, not looks. Having come from a variety of different genetic lineages designed for different types of activity, there is quite a broad range of shapes and sizes within which the human body can exist and be healthy. Not everyone who is obese is unhealthy.
The idea that only “healthy” people should take pride in their appearance and that being made to feel “uncomfortable” is a motivator for weight loss is as misguided as it is offensive.
As someone who has worked in the field of mental health and body image for almost a decade, I can say with some authority that trying to shame someone into changing their lifestyle or their weight is hardly ever effective. In fact, it tends to have the opposite consequence.
If food is used as a comfort mechanism, or binge eating has become an addictive behaviour, then heaping social scorn and the discomfort of having to wear a hessian potato sack into the mix will only worsen unhealthy behaviours. That’s why there’s no such thing as the “wearing really horrible clothes diet”.
The fashion industry exists to make clothes that people want to buy. It’s not there to cast judgment on the state of people’s health. On this subject, it should remain silent, and I think we’d all be grateful if Jamelia followed suit.
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