“Fat should not be in fashion” says editor of The Australian

“Big can be beautiful, but fat should not be in fashion.” So begins an editorial by Damien Woolnough, fashion editor at The Australian, who’s stirred up controversy this week by criticising department store Myer’s plus-sized runway show, which featured models including Robyn Lawley, pictured here in Vogue Italia. 

” Most of the models looked healthy but some looked obese,” writes Woolnough. “While most fashion festivals ban models for being too skinny, why is it OK to see fat women on the runway?”

[TFP note: if you want to judge for yourself whether the models looked “obsese”, there are some photos from the show here.]

Woolnough goes on to argue that models who are “too fat” send just as unhealthy a message as models who are too thin, and the fashion world is in danger of creating a dangerous double standard by “celebrating people being overweight”.

As contentious as it may be to say it, we think there is a double-standard evident in the way some people talk about weight. It’s become almost fashionable – no pun intended – to bash the “skinny” and celebrate the “curvy”: if you need proof, you need only to look at all of the “she needs to eat a sandwich” comments posted here on TFP,  take a look at magazine headlines lauding “women with curves” or listen to the endless talk about “real” women and how “men don’t like skinny women”. For many people, it seems to be perfectly acceptable to criticise thin people for their weight, but still taboo to make the same kind of comments about fat ones (in fact, we’re not even sure we’re allowed to use the word “fat” without causing offence: it has to be “curvy” or the detestable “real” instead, although it’s still OK to call someone “skinny” or refer to them as a “stick insect”).


Has the scale finally tipped (yes, we’re full of puns today, aren’t we?) in favour of the “obese”, though? We don’t think so. This was, after all, a plus-sized show: the world is full of women who are a similar size to the models who appeared in it, and they all need to dress themselves, so why shouldn’t they see clothes on women they can relate to? It’s not like thin women are under-represented on the runway, or in the fashion world in general, is it? And we can complain all we want to about the culture of “skinny bashing”, but as far as we can tell, it hasn’t actually had much of an impact on the fashion world itself. Larger models are still very much in the minority, which is ridiculous when you consider that, when you step away from the runway, the reverse is probably true. And despite the various rules that have been put in place to safeguard models’ health, and despite all the talk about so-called “real” women, this September, the runways of the world will still be walked by predominantly thin models, and the glossy magazines will still fail to feature a large variety of shapes and sizes.

That variety is exactly what we think the fashion world is missing. Forget the “fat vs thin” debate: let’s see women of all shapes, all sizes, all colours, and all ages on the runways: now THAT we be something worth seeing.

What do you think? Do plus-sized models send an unhealthy message to women? 

36 Comments

  • August 25, 2011

    Roisin

    You know, I get that his comment might be well meaning, in a way, but I think it’s just totally misplaced. I don’t think anyone is going to be looking at a ‘plus size model’ (most of whom are just a fairly average size anyway rather than being very big) and thinking ‘oh yes, time for me to get really fat so I can be fashionable – health be damned!’ Rather, it’s important that women who are interested in fashion (at whatever size) can see someone, anyone, that they can relate to. Plus size models isn’t about glamourising fat or demonising skinny, it’s about (or should be about) acknowledging that people come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and that no matter what you weigh you still need to wear clothes – so you should be able to look at what clothes would look like on a shape other than very tall and thin.

    Cripes, I’m not too articulate today. Those comments didn’t make me angry, just really sad that someone could so misunderstand the importance of society being inclusive of all sizes. I bet this dink thought that ‘Trainspotting’ made drug-taking seem glamorous too.

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    • August 25, 2011

      The Fashion Police

      I think you’re totally articulate: you said exactly what I meant to say, only much better 🙂

      I actually don’t think runway models are particularly seen as “role models” for many people, either. Actresses and singers, sure, maybe even the women who are famous just for being famous, but we’re well past the days of the supermodel, now: I don’t expect many people would be able to name a bunch of runway models, unless they were particularly interested in fashion, obviously. And most people I know seem to agree that they often look a little “odd”, to put it politely 🙂

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  • August 25, 2011

    Rachel Gray

    “Most of the models looked healthy but some looked obese…” I think we all know the difference!! And so does Lawley. The statement might be construed as contentious only in that its standard of “fat” is rather arbitrary. Is Lawley defining “obese” in its set point represented by the model above? “Voluptuous” rather than outright “fat” better describes the model; it would surprise me if Lawley was referring to that particular model.

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    • August 25, 2011

      The Fashion Police

      I added a link to a site with some photos from the actual show, to give a better idea of what he was referring to (although he declined to say which models he felt were “obese” and which “seemed healthy”, so we can only guess!) our image agency didn’t have those shots, unfortunately, so I had to use the ones of Robyn Lawley instead!

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      • August 25, 2011

        Rachel Gray

        Clingy polyester rarely flatters anybody’s girth (see the model in pic #2). But yes, I do see the point, especially as compared to the model pic #3.

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    • August 25, 2011

      Rachel Gray

      ALSO — “Too fat” and “too thin” are not the same things as “obese” and “emaciated.”

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      • August 25, 2011

        Roisin

        I do have a problem with him using the word ‘obese’ because that’s a medical term, one for a doctor to use. You can’t just look at someone and decide they’re obese! Mind you, that just about scratches the surface of why I think that word is dangerous…

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        • August 25, 2011

          The Fashion Police

          This is one of my particular bugbears right now: people who think they can diagnose medical conditions from a photo on the internet – grrr!

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  • August 25, 2011

    Daisy

    I couldn’t agree more. For me, the most important factor is that models are healthy. And that they don’t promote unhealthy lifestyles (pro-an and all that stuff), since they have such a strong impact on how we feel about our bodies. I think girls and women of all sizes, shapes and colours need to be able to feel good in their own skin, in a healthy way, and the only way to do that is create more diversity in magazines and on runways. Personally, I love my curves, even if I’m only a size 10-12 (so not a plus size), but it is so seldom I see ‘realistic’ fashion shows. I can’t relate to überskinny models. After all, like you say, fashionable people need to be able to see what clothes would look like on our bodies as well. But, just as I feel confident enough not to let the current fashion ideal rain on my parade, there are even more women who feel too fat because they’re not as size XS and will never will be, and will start calling girls with sizes as relatively small as 14 or 16 ‘fat’. Which is a pitty. Curvy is not fat, and it’s definitely not obese.

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  • August 25, 2011

    Alexandra

    This is so true. Why is it okay to accuse hundreds of girls of being anorexic and ill, but its not okay to recognise that you can be too ‘big’? Considering that obesity is a rising problem around the world surely it would be beneficial to highlight that both being too thin and too large are equally as unhealthy. For me, i don’t consider the model pictured overweight- but i would generally say that a size 18+ is unhealthy, just as a size 0 is unhealthy. Can’t we have a happy medium?

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    • August 25, 2011

      lizvocal

      Science does not find evidence for any one size being “healthy” or “unhealthy”. Size actually has little to do with it, despite our generalizations. A size 18 woman who works out and eats her fruits and veg is demonstrably fitter and healthier than a size 2 woman who is sedentary, smokes or has a high stress level. As people age, a little extra weight is actually healthier, as it provides extra resources in the case of a serious illness.

      So put me down in the pro-health camp. I would like to get away from the assumptions people make about appearance and health, which are mostly based on our prejudices about size (size 2= healthy but size 18 does not).

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      • August 29, 2011

        Sarah

        actually science dose find that a size 18 woman is unhealthy. while i agree that skinny is not necessarily healthy (and someone who smokes to stay thin is certainly very unhealthy), someone who is a size 18 eats fruits and veggies is still unhealthy. Just being an extra 20lbs overweight stresses the body and causes an increased risk for a multitude of diseases. yes a little extra weight is healthier (5-10 lbs) but this is NOT the same thing as being a size 18. no matter how you look at it carry around that much extra fat is not good for you.

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        • November 20, 2011

          Pedestrienne

          Have a read of some of the research findings the ‘Health At Every Size’ community (with many healthcare professionals involved) offers and see if you think the same way.

          And if any of this is based on BMI and the BMI ‘obese’ category, then forget it. That is old science, and we’ve moved well past it being the right science, even though it’s still lazily taught in schools and universities because it’s just easier when we can do a simple bit of maths and slap a label on someone.

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  • August 25, 2011

    Kuri

    Ugh, instead of saying “too fat” or “too thin”, I’d actually love to see a show that has models of a variety of sizes, because that’s how women are – variety, different and I’d love to see these pundits realize that the raison d’etre of fashion is producing *clothes* FOR people and not telling people how they’re supposed to be for clothes.

    Designing for different sizes and shapes takes talent. The fit is different, not only on size per se, but on proportion. I’m a fairly mesomorphic woman, so I’m often buying a size big or two on dresses and shirts and then taking in the waist, because off the rack clothes don’t anticipate shoulders and a chest like mine. Or for trousers, I’m also buying large and taking in the waist, because if it fits my thighs (especially after a summer of cycling!), it’s gaping at the waist and looking frumpy. A few items are snug enough that they are OK at the size that fits my waist. As a result, my closet ranges from size 8 to 12. Most retailers, IME, size up in a way that assumes the proportions of the body stay exactly the same as a person gets larger, which any scan of the general population should indicate isn’t the case.

    The reign of skinny has obvious cost implications in fashion (less fabric, making all samples ‘standard’ simplified production, etc), but it also allows for designers to be lazy, because it’s easy to design for very thin women. A designer that can produce clothes that look fabulous on thin women, can also produce clothes that look fabulous on fat women, can also produce clothes that look fabulous on muscular, average, short, tall, etc, etc, etc. is truly talented and a lot of the time, I think that talent is lacking in most designers out there, and this standard is even worse as price points go down.

    In any case, “healthy” is defined by lifestyle and genetic luck (which is also not always visible). I know of people who smoke, eat crap food and drink heavily: they range in size and they are all probably unhealthy, although some people through luck of the draw get away with a lot. I also know people who eat mostly cleanly, drink only in moderation, are very active and are probably as healthy as can be: they also range in size. Unless you are a medical professional and you’ve personally examined someone and know about their lifestyle, you really have no credible basis on which to definitively label someone “healthy” or “unhealthy”.

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    • August 25, 2011

      The Fashion Police

      “The reign of skinny has obvious cost implications in fashion (less fabric, making all samples ‘standard’ simplified production, etc), but it also allows for designers to be lazy, because it’s easy to design for very thin women.”

      So true. I know the cost implications mean it’s probably never going to happen, but I would be impressed by a runway show which had clothes for a variety of sizes: that takes so much more talent than always producing clothes for the same bodytype. I also totally agree with your last paragraph: the fact is, we just don’t know how healthy someone is without access to the kind of information you don’t get in a photograph. It’s so infuriating when people just label someone “obsese” or “anorexic” (the latter being a mental health condition as much as anything else) based on a single photo!

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    • August 28, 2011

      Ophelia

      “I’d love to see these pundits realize that the raison d’etre of fashion is producing *clothes* FOR people and not telling people how they’re supposed to be for clothes.”

      This is so on point! It feels like they not only tell you how to look to wear their clothes, they give you the only way you can wear them this season. As far as lazy goes: with the seasonal trends the shows seem to be exchangeable.

      I like to imagine that future archeologist will stumble ove a fashion magazine and paint us as a skinny plastic army in uniforms. At least that’s what the wold looks like acording to the fashion business.

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  • August 25, 2011

    Anna

    It might seem like there’s a double standard, and like it’s okay to insult women for being thin, and not for being fat, but the truth is, a lot of bigger women have their appearances insulted all the time. My best friend is overweight because of a medical condition, and people can be very rude to her because of it. Honestly, I think it’s becoming more and more okay to insult women for being overweight.. People need to realize that everyone comes in different sizes. Some of us are naturally thin, some of us are naturally bigger, and that’s okay.

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    • August 26, 2011

      Minka

      I think that this is not just about insulting people based on their size – it is just general idea in the society that you can say whatever the heck you want to anybody. Freedom of speech, so to say… And it is sad.

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      • August 28, 2011

        Ophelia

        The thin vs fat debate on the internet is slightly skewed. Did you notice that the sandwich comments are aimed at celebrities but not at models, who are the bigger part of our “visual demographic”? While there is some strange PC code going on in favor of the bigger people, in reality we are so used to see extremely thin woman in ads, they become the norm. So the heavier people who get insulted to their face.

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  • August 25, 2011

    Itzel

    Going to extremes is always dangerous, I don’t think the models on that show look “too fat” and being skinny myself I know that sometimes that’s just the way you’re built and someone I know quite likes calling me a stick. I also know people who have struggled with weight all their lives and no matter how much they diet and exercise they can’t lose more than a few pounds. The main thing is we shouldn’t judge, we never know what a person is going through. I do like the idea of women of all kinds of shapes going down a runway. And maybe, just maybe they’ll have shorter models, because seriously not everyone is 6 feet tall.

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  • August 25, 2011

    sami

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/16/obesity-healthy-early-death_n_927579.html

    < Links to the article I was looking for: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/oz-garcia/thin-health_b_918942.html

    Unless their skin is bluish gray and/or they've got open sores everywhere and the like, you often can't tell much about people's health just looking at them.

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  • August 25, 2011

    Viper

    Something that just drives me insane is that people are now using “curvy” as a politically correct term for “overweight.” You can be thin and curvy, you can be plus size and curvy, you can be average-weight and curvy. “Curvy” is a body SHAPE, not a body SIZE.

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  • August 25, 2011

    Sonya

    I completely agree with you when you wished for models of all ages, sizes, and races on the runway. Speaking as someone who is naturally thin, I’m incredibly sick of being told that I “look too skinny” “need to eat a sandwich” or, my personal favorite, “you look anorexic”. Can’t we stop labeling people, and just celebrate them for them? Please?

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  • August 25, 2011

    Mousy

    I work in fashion and, annoyingly, I find myself suffering self esteem issues very day because I don’t identify with ANYONE on any runway..! I’m not fat, and I’m not thin, but I am very muscular – I have a very large chest and shoulders from doing acrobatics, and for some reason in my workplace and other fashion acquaintances, this is considered to be A Bad Thing. Only today I was told that I ‘should be careful’ with how much muscle I build or I won’t fit into clothes anymore (well, it’s true that I find it difficult to find clothes, but why should I be ‘careful’ building muscle?! I’m an acrobat..!!).

    I’ve been called chunky and warned not to become ‘like a man’ – I don’t look anything like a man – and when I’m not surrounded by negative comments from those in fashion, I love my body and I love what I can do with it… but clothes are just not designed for people like me. 😛 I think I’m very healthy, and I don’t understand why people think my desire to look like this is weird?!

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  • August 26, 2011

    Jessica

    I agree in a way. The average model might be skinnier than an average person, but the plus size girls are fat. And why is it ok to promote that? Those girls probably don’t have a normal BMI, and this is not healthy.
    I’m also tired of hearing the word “curvy” used like this. As someone said above, you can be skinny and curvy, plus-size and curvy.

    Anyway, it seems to me that if anyone wants to promote health in the fashion industry, they should choose just something like a size 10-12 or so. Who represents this size? There are sizes 0-2-4 – whatever and sizes 14-16 models. There might be more and more sizes 14 or 16 out there, but this is the general trend, you know. Just because people are getting fatter, it doesn’t mean that this should become the standard.These models are not morbidly obese, but they are overweight.

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    • August 26, 2011

      Minka

      I actually agree. I see size 2 women in Vogue and I see size 16 girls, celebrating the diversity. I honestly cannot identify with anyone I’ve seen on the runways or in fashion magazines, because it seems that there are no average sized girls in fashion. So I must agree with those who said – more diversity: all shapes, all sizes, all ethnicities, tall women, short women – common, fashion, we are not all the same!

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      • September 6, 2011

        Tahira

        Hi, i agree with both of you, but i have to say, in some countries, especially in the west, “average” has been getting bigger and bigger, its actually 16 atm (i think, it might be 14)
        im actually living in england but i am a size 8 myself, then again its mostly because of my ethnic background, i think the average may refer to mostly women of western descent

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    • August 26, 2011

      Amber

      How is your comment any better than Damien Woolnough’s? This is in no way prompting being fat. How can you even make a judgment on their health? As it stands, they do not look unhealthy in the pictures. Perhaps their BMI is on the high end, which you have no way of knowing, that doesn’t mean they’re unhealthy. Contrary to what people think, a lot of the time overnight/fat doesn’t mean unhealthy! I know a lot of thinner girls who are unhealthy. Just like I know bigger and average ones who are.

      I also don’t think the fashion industry should only pick bigger, or smaller sizes. There should be people from all size ranges.

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  • August 26, 2011

    Jaynie

    If you skim through the “body” tag on microaggressions, you’ll find plenty of fat people being shamed for their weight. I think it’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t sort of thing. If you’re skinny, people will accuse you of being anorexic (which they clearly don’t understand), if you’re average weight some people will accuse you of being too fat and others will insist you aren’t a “real woman”, and if you’re fat people will criticize you for your “unhealthy” habits. This despite the fact that obesity is only correlated with health issues, not necessarily the cause — the real problem is the crap diet many of us, skinny as well as fat, live on. People who criticize often claim they’re just concerned about other’s health, but since you can’t tell anything about someone’s health just by looking at them (unless they’re holding a medical report!), I suspect it’s just a matter of making themselves feel better via body-policing others.

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  • August 26, 2011

    Laura

    There’s always hysteria around female models’/celebs’ weight. There seems to be no middle ground for criticism or praise among fashion/celeb magazines. It seems to be all or nothing which is why I avoid these publications like the plague. They dent self-esteem and offer up airbrushing as something achievable for everyone. They don’t have a clue what the real world looks like; only what they’d prefer it to look like if they could get rid of the undesirables first.

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  • August 26, 2011

    Cookie

    “Real women” come in all shapes and sizes, and I do have to agree with some of the posters before me- curvy is not the same as fat. Nor is voluptuous the same as fat. and skinny isn’t anorexic, and slim isn’t skinny or thin.. and so on and so on.
    And I actually witnessed one of my employers on a modeling gig saying to one of her models: if you don’t put on at least 20 pounds you won’t be modeling for me anymore. You lost too much weight. She also insists on having average-sized models because that’s the clientele she caters to. It’s nice to see that there are businesses like that out there.

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    • August 27, 2011

      Amee

      That’s not really fair, though. Does your employer know why the girl is losing weight? Maybe she has a medical condition, or is stressed. Or maybe she has a hard time with weight gain, but loses it if she blinks to much. “gain weight or you”re fired”is just as bad as “lose weight or you”re fired.” Why was this discussion being had where other employees could hear it, anyway?

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  • August 26, 2011

    Rebecca

    Bullshit! Because of people thinking like this. Young girls start to have body image problems. If you don’t show all kinds of woman that are out there. It messes with young girls brain. Making them think if I’m not skinny. I’m not pretty. Plus most woman in the world have a little meat on there bones. I think its like 5% look like skinny run of the mil models. Move forward, Don’t put woman’s beauty in a box.

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  • August 26, 2011

    Rebecca

    P.S. the model in the photos does not look fat.

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  • August 28, 2011

    Lighty_lo

    I think it doesn’t matter the size. I think it’s about been healthy. I work in a store and I have met lots of people in all kind of shapes and sizes. Some are healthy, some are not. You can feel good being skinny or overweighted. And all of us need to dress.

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  • August 28, 2011

    CanadaJen

    If the designer is designing, showcasing, marketing and trying to sell clothing to everyday men and women then I think it should be a priority to have designs where the cut, drape and fabric of the garments actually look good on all shapes of men and women– thin or larger. I love following fashion but am sad to see that the majority of clothes out there (both in my price range and way out of reach) just simply aren’t flattering because no thought is being given for consumers who are a bit more rotund than your average model. There are of course many plus-size clothing options but I don’t think I am alone in thinking them for the most part shapeless and clunky- I did view the designs and models at the Australian show mentioned at the top and I didn’t see anything I would feel elegant in. What I would love to see are designers taking some of the beautiful designs they have already created and tweaking them just a little to make them more wearable by more people. A change in the fabric used, addition of darts, paneling and all the tailoring tricks designers already have at their disposal would make a huge difference not only in sales but also availability for larger people to actually dress fashionably!

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