From Size to Personal Identity: How Plus-Size Came to Be

Woman laughing

The industrial revolution led to the rise of capitalism as we currently know it, and with it came greed, consumerism, and the need to sell and produce goods in massive quantities. The birth of many “stereotypes” or social norms can be traced back to this socio-economic transition. For example, colors were assigned to gender so that “girl products” could be merchandised using pink, and “boy products” could be merchandised using blue.

The societal pressures women face to shave their legs and armpits, amongst other areas, because it’s been deemed “unsanitary” for women to have body hair, but perfectly sanitary for men to keep theirs, came from the depilatory industry wanting to make women believe buying their products was a necessity and not a preference.

A depilatory ad in Harper's Bazaar,  from 1992.A depilatory ad in Harper’s Bazaar, from 1922. Harper’s Bazaar

The term “Plus Size” which is generally categorized as size 14 and up also has its origins in the early 20th century and was largely popularized by the women’s clothing retailer, Lane Bryant. The retailer’s founder was Lena Himmelstein Bryant Malsin, a pioneer in the fashion industry, who created the first commercially successful maternity dress and one of the first retailers that catered to all size-inclusive clothing. The “plus-size” designation began to contribute to the labeling of bodies when the term gained popularity and more retailers started using it to market the clothing they sold to larger-sized women. Rather than label the clothing, they labeled the women as plus size instead.

And so, the plus-size section became a secluded category in most retailers and the term gained popularity as it was used to commercialize products. It also became something that was used to cement ideas into women’s heads that they should aspire to be a smaller size and avoid having to shop in the plus-size section.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when and why segregated areas for larger clothing sizes occurred, rather than just including the clothing in larger sizes for the same fashion. One clue is that larger-sized clothing on its face appears to be less fashionable, generally speaking, and a stereotype emerged that larger-sized clothing was more “modest” and couldn’t be form-fitting or have any structure to it. It’s likely that sheer designer laziness and bias against bigger bodies inspired clothing that resembled tarps with buttons.

A Lane Bryant catalog from 1954.Wikimedia

Not much has changed from the 50’s. While many brands are now trying to be size-inclusive, significant work remains to achieve actual size parity. A quick scroll through social media demonstrates the continued fight for size inclusion and the rejection of body shaming.

Models such as Ashley Graham and Paloma Elsesser have made waves in the fashion industry, and they have continuously been labeled as plus-size models when they are both a US size 16. Seeing models bigger than a size 6 in fashion shows is still a rare occurrence.

Ashley Graham walking a runway.

Images by: and Daniel Venturelli. gettyimages

After model Stefania Ferrario was featured in an advertisement where she was described as a plus-size model, she took to Instagram to ask her followers: Why is the label necessary? In her own words, “I am a model FULL STOP…This is NOT empowering.” She explained that she is proud of her body but didn’t understand why she had to be differentiated from her peers by being labeled plus-sized rather than a model like the rest. On the other hand, some activists believe the term is necessary until all retailers cater to all sizes.

Movie Star, Melissa Mcarthy has also called for the term to be discontinued. As she successfully launched her own line back in 2015, she challenged the industry by criticizing the use of the term, the segregation of plus size clothing into a separate category, and calling for its ban. In an interview with ABC Mcarthy explained that her vision for her own line was to, “Run the sizes as I make them and let friends go shopping with their friends. Stop segregating women.” she went on, “Women come in all sizes. Seventy percent of women in the United States are a size 14 or above, and that’s technically ‘plus-size,’ so you’re taking your biggest category of people and telling them, ‘You’re not really worthy.’ I find that very strange,” She ended the interview by stating that designers are over-complicating things by creating different categories.

Melissa McCarthy.Style.Mic

More recently, SavagexFenty by Rihanna began producing fashion shows that are truly inclusive of women of all shapes and sizes, and their merchandise runs in sizes up to 3X, proving that there is no need to create a separate category. All brands should take notes from queen Rihanna.

SavagexFenty Show Vol 2.SavagexFenty Show Vol 2.

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Picture this: the grand arena hums with the electricity of expectation and the clamor of a thousand voices, all waiting for the spectacle of the age-old Mexican tradition of Lucha Libre, a wrestling style born in the heart of Mexico in the early 20th century.

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Women in Texas at the National Women's March, rallying against deadly abortion restrictions.
Lucy Flores

The landscape of abortion rights in the United States has become more restrictive than ever in recent history, particularly in Arizona and Florida, where recent developments represent a major setback for women’s reproductive rights. On April 9, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in a 4-to-2 decision to uphold an 1864 law banning abortion from the moment of conception. The only exception is saving the mother’s life, but there are no exceptions for rape or incest under this law.

Just a few days earlier, on April 1, the Florida Supreme Court also ruled in favor of upholding a 6-week abortion ban, which will take effect on May 1. This further reduced the legal threshold for abortions in Florida, which used to be 24 weeks of pregnancy before Republicans passed a law in 2022 banning abortions after 15 weeks. Both of these rulings have sparked intense debate and outrage about their impact on women’s rights.

Overview of the Near-Total Abortion Ban in Arizona

The Arizona Supreme Court voted to uphold an 1864 law, a law passed even before the state officially was a part of the United States of America, that makes all types of abortion illegal, including medication abortion, from the moment of conception. Though there are exceptions in cases where the mother’s life is at risk, the ban makes no exceptions for cases of rape or incest and imposes severe penalties, including imprisonment, on medical professionals performing abortions.

Medical professionals have spoken out about how dire the situation will become for women with this near-total abortion ban. Dr. Jill Gibson, chief medical director of Planned Parenthood in Arizona, told CNN that this ruling will have “absolutely unbelievable consequences for the patients in our community.” She continued by saying, “Providers need to be able to take care of their patients without fear of legal repercussions and criminalization.”

Representatives from Arizona and other states across the country have also spoken up against this near-total abortion ban.

Video by Shontel Brown Member of the United States House of Representatives on InstagramVideo by Shontel Brown Member of the United States House of Representatives on Instagram

Image by Rub\u00e9n Gallego Member of the United States House of Representatives on InstagramImage by Rubén Gallego Member of the United States House of Representatives on InstagramImage by Rubén Gallego Member of the United States House of Representatives on Instagram

Until this Arizona Supreme Court decision, abortion had been legal in the state up to 15 weeks of pregnancy. The right to abortion via Roe v. Wade prevented the enforcement of the near-total abortion ban, but since a majority vote in the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Roe, those opposed to abortion rights had been fighting to enforce the 160-year-old 1864 law.

This new abortion ban in Arizona is not effective immediately as the court has paused its ruling for 14 days until additional arguments are heard in a lower court about how constitutional the law is. However, the law will likely come into effect in May, a few weeks from now. Planned Parenthood Arizona, the largest abortion provider in the state, will continue serving the community until the ban is enforced.

An Overview of Florida's Six-Week Abortion Ban

The landscape of abortion in Florida has also undergone a significant change with the enforcement of a 6-week abortion ban, replacing the previous 15-week limit. This ban, similar to Arizona's, severely restricts access to abortion care and poses a significant challenge to reproductive rights in the state. Providers are bracing for a public health crisis due to the increased demand for abortion and limited options for patients.

Practically speaking, a 6-week abortion ban is a near-total abortion ban because pregnant people often don’t even realize they could be pregnant by this early stage. Combined with Florida’s strict abortion requirements, which include mandatory in-person doctor visits with a 24-hour waiting period, it’s nearly impossible for those who may want an abortion to be able to access it before 6 weeks. Not to mention that fulfilling the requirements is particularly challenging for low-income individuals.

Video by theluncheonlawyer on InstagramVideo by theluncheonlawyer on Instagram

Moreover, this Florida law also restricts telemedicine for abortion and requires that medication be provided in person, effectively eliminating mail-order options for abortion pills. While exceptions for rape and incest exist in Florida, the requirements are also strict, asking victims to provide police records or medical records. For victims who don’t always report sexual violence for many different reasons, these exceptions don’t make a difference.

The consequences of Florida’s ban extend to neighboring states with more restrictive abortion laws. For instance, residents of Alabama, facing a total ban on abortion, and Georgia, with its own 6-week abortion ban, have relied on Florida for abortion services. That will no longer be an option, further limiting care alternatives.

The Road Ahead

These recent abortion bans in Arizona and Florida are a major setback for women's rights, particularly impacting Latina women who already face barriers to accessing quality healthcare. These bans not only restrict women’s reproductive freedom but also endanger their lives.

Efforts to challenge these bans through legal means and ballot measures are ongoing, but the road ahead is uncertain. While there’s hope for overturning these abortion bans, the challenges of conservative laws and legal battles are formidable. The November ballot in both states will be crucial in determining the future of abortion rights and access for all.