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Fact: the fashion industry is completely horrible when it comes to positive body image. The models we see in magazines, on television, or in shopping adverts are a whopping 23% smaller than the average woman, often closer to a size 2 or 4 with an average height/weight of 5’10 and 122lbs. A far cry from the median for your average American woman sitting at 5’3 and 165lbs. In the UK the average weight isn’t that much different, sitting at about 154lbs.

Several British women, all weighing 154lbs, magically have completely different bodies!

The plus size world isn’t exempt from it either. Robyn Lawley, for example, is a famous plus size model– at a size 10.

French Elle, 2011

There’s nothing wrong with being any of the above shapes and sizes– or even thinner. There is no size that “real women” are. Real women come in all shapes in sizes and should never apologize for their bodies regardless of what their shape is. But to take one or two of these shapes, like the above image, and make it the plastered image of what’s acceptably plus size does two very damaging things, amongst many others:

  1. It teaches their audiences that this is the only acceptable visible representation of plus size or fat women.
  2. It teaches the average size 14 woman that anything above a size 10 is fat, as further exemplified that you’re lucky to find anything higher than a 14 in your average clothing store.

Given the negative connotations our industry tacks on with the fat label, they’ve pulled off a brilliant sort of shell game: they get to shame you for being fat without shaming you for being fat. “Okay ladies, you don’t have to look like one of these super thin models, but just so you know if you look like this you’re plus sized.”

But this isn’t news. I accept that when I browse plus size clothing stores, like my thinner brethren, that I’m going to see women that range on the lower end of the plus size spectrum. Very rarely will I see models that actually look like me, or really  vary at all when it comes to sizes and shapes.

One of my favorite online shops has always been ASOS’s Curve line. Instead of just sized up like a lot of lines do, they actually adjust their patterns to accommodate for a wider waist proportionate to hips, larger chest sizes, and have enough varied patterns to flatter almost any body type’s figure. Plus they have amazing sales and are a really good quality, especially for their price (though it should be noted that I exclusively shop their sale section). They also let us fatties wear clothes that are currently in fashion instead of sticking us with the same “body flattering” cuts ad nauseum (thanks, Lane Bryant).

Naomi Shimada, also a size 10, pretty much the average size you see in plus size clothing stores.

But recently I’ve seen a new model pop up on their website. A new model who seems a little– well. See for yourself.

The new ASOS plus size model.

By no stretch of the imagination is this woman plus sized. One of the other appeals of ASOS Curve has always been that while their models were on the low end of the spectrum, at the very least they weren’t just images of thinner people wearing clothes that were sized up for us fatties.  It’s hard enough to imagine how these things would actually look on my body; this wasn’t helping.

I knew I couldn’t be alone, especially not in the FA community. A quick poke through the blogosphere found a few letters from others who were equally as disheartened as I was, but like most folks my faith in companies — especially when it comes to being responsible with body image issues — is, pardon the pun, slim.

Color me surprised when ASOS Curve actually responded.

Curvettes we hope you all had a nice weekend.

We just wanted to write a post about our models, as we know there have been some un-happy bloggers writing posts and also comments on here.

In the plus size industry a plus size model is considered anything from a size 12 upwards, silly we know but then the models used on main range are a size 6, and [let’s] face it only a small percentage of the world are a size 6, so shoppers of a size 16 have the same problem as some of you face with visualizing the style on themselves. Curve has always ensured the models used on the site are around a size 16, admittedly some do look just under but happily some over too.

We do appreciate though the new model recently used is far smaller than the standard we set. She is beautiful we know, but we will not be using her again as we do not think it sent out the right message to our shoppers, and we hope we did [not] offend any of you.

Thank you to everyone who filled in our on-line survey, and please be assured we take into account all the messages on here too. We are very happy with the regular models we use, and also our new model we used on our Premium range as we feel all of these offer a plus size look. We do agree though this is an area we can improve on as many of you would like to see clothes on a size 20 model. We hear you but unfortunately this size model is not a standard in the industry and therefore not very easy to find, however this doesn’t mean we don’t try. We really do listen to you, so watch this space x

There was a lot of feedback when this came out, both positive and negative. I tend to lean towards the positive, eternal optimist that I am. I found that the reply simultaneously acknowledged the issues with using thinner models to portray plus size lines without ripping into the model for being “too skinny” either– something the fat acceptance community can often be pretty terrible about.

That’s not to completely absolve them. I guarantee you there are hundreds of size 20 girls who are gorgeous and would love to be a model. I know there are thousands of us who’d buy clothes fashioned on one. But for me the bottom line is though I’m sad this model lost her job (couldn’t they have just moved her to their regular line?), I’m both pleased and surprised to see ASOS respond in a way that implies that they’re willing to put larger models on their site. If they live up to this response, dated just two months ago, it could be a pretty big deal when it comes to the visibility of fat models in major fashion lines.