The Problematic State of Plus-Size Representation in Fashion and Media

Kat from Euphoria HBO
Source: HBO

A new empowering wave of plus-size representation has been in action for a while now. With beauty no longer tied to being a particular size, we -bigger girls- are thrilled to see ourselves by looking at those who resemble us in media.

Several high-end fashion brands, including Tommy Hilfiger, Christian Siriano, and Chanel, are leaning into inclusivity with diverse-looking women walking their runways. Sounds good, right? Well, not really.

The issue with the way plus-size individuals are portrayed in fashion and media persists, and the following are the reasons why.

Plus-Size still has Limited Options in Fashion

The Problematic State of Plus-Size Representation in Fashion and Media
US model Ashley Graham showcases designs by Jason Grech at Melbourne Fashion Festival.
(Photo by Naomi Rahim/WireImage) / Source: Raconteur

For years, women over a certain size range have struggled to find fashionable pieces that fit their bodies. With the new body-positivity campaigns era, we should be seeing changes to that by now, right? Wrong.

Only some names in fashion are doing this, and the majority are lacking.

Most ‘inclusive’ brands still have fewer “flattering” options. The idea does not lie in finding a piece of cloth to pull over our skins, but in items that fit the bare minimum standards of dressing up and comfort.

Options lie within a tight range a child-looking adult with florals and sequins or ill-fitting grandma-style pieces. The categorization of “curve” and “plus-size” is what provided space for this to be a thing. Does it end here? I wish, but no.

Looking beyond the issue of availability, most plus-size options overlook that body types differ, just as in ‘straight’ sizing. The variance in proportions should be taken into consideration.

The reason is -still- the lack of plus-size models walking the runway. For the longest time, we have failed to see bigger women in fashionable high-end pieces. As I have have mentioned, some brands support inclusivity; however, plus-size models are still the least represented in the fashion industry. Therefore, it is unfair for these brands to carry the weight of diversity representation while others stick to their one-dimensional views on fashion.

Provoking the ‘Unhealthy’ Representations mentality

The Problematic State of Plus-Size Representation in Fashion and Media
Source: Twitter

Remember the 2010s backlash at fashion brands for ‘unhealthily-skinny’ model portrayal? Topshop, Saint Laurent, Gucci, and countless more within that era suffered strong negativity, even resulting in some of their ads getting banned for representing “ill-looking” models, thus, promoting “unhealthy lifestyle standards.”

Truth be told, viewers have looked up to fashion models as beauty icons, going extreme distances to simulate their ‘role models.’ Accordingly, the 2010s were an uprising time of teenage anorexia trying to fit unattainable standards.

Now, what is being idolized as ‘inclusivity’ could fall under promoting unhealthy obesity. For example, Calvin Klein’s 2019 ad attracted a harsh backlash from several sides for an ad portraying a morbidly-obese model –in a medical sense-. There is nothing wrong with wanting to show more diversity and follow the general body positivity movement for support. Still, we need to remember its gigantic impact on the younger generation.

I look forward to breaking the stigma about being bigger than a UK size 12, but we need to keep the concept of idealization in mind. I don’t want to see kids and teenagers overeating to look like a certain model as much as I don’t want to see one starve themselves to look like another.

Before you get mad at me, yes, I am happy with the representation. However, there is a thin line between wanting to see more people who look like us on screens and runways and what could be argued as unethical.

Even in Drama, Pluss-Size is Still The Funny, Sad, Fat Side Character

The Problematic State of Plus-Size Representation in Fashion and Media
Source: Getty/NBC

Although many may now view it as problematic, I will not go through Friends, for example, as it was shot and aired in the 90s. One of the repetitive puns was how “fat” Monica, played by actress Courteney Cox, used to be, and several jokes were used, which, if used now, would be called body-shaming. Although the sense of humor was different during that time and was considered ‘okay’ and ‘funny,’ it has drastically changed. However, years after the show aired, these jokes still make me feel uneasy.

In early Disney movies, plus-size characters were portrayed as villains on several occasions, such as Ursula in The Little Mermaid.

Moving forward, throughout the 2000s and 2010s, we began to see more plus-size women in movies and TV series; however, not as we would have wanted. We have seen movies like Pitch Perfect, The Heat, Queen Sized, and even countless Egyptian movies like Habeby Na’eman, where protagonists and important side characters were plus-size.

The problem here is that it was almost impossible to see one where the character’s entire existence in the plot did not revolve around the weight of the essence, be it in a comical sense or just that the character lacked dimension other than being “fat.”

One of the viewers’ favorite plus-size TV characters is Euphoria’s Kat by HBO. In my opinion, Euphoria is one of HBO’s top series that are well-written, addressing topics of violence, substance abuse, shame, toxic relationships, and body image.

The Problematic State of Plus-Size Representation in Fashion and Media
Source: HBO

Kat, played by Barbie Ferreira, was a beloved and relatable character of how realistic she was. In a one of a kind character development scenario, we see Kat struggle with confidence, then proceed to explore, find herself, and become unapologetic for who she is.

Kat is one of my personal favorite TV show characters. When I first watched the series, I remember thinking, “Finally, a plus-size character with an actual personality and who dresses well.”.

Although we are sad to say Ferreira will no longer play Kat in Euphoria’s season 3, according to Vanity Fair, Ferreira said she’d be leaving the show as she no longer wanted to be “the fat best friend” (Full respect, queen!). She mentioned on various occasions that she loved Kat as a character and was unhappy with the writing for season 2, where they cut most of her lines and screen time.

With this being said, I feel the need to state the obvious; body-shaming is not okay. Shaming in any direction does not strengthen either side’s point. It is not a fight against one another. It is us against unequal chances, options, and insufficient representation. We are all beautiful, and women support women.

What do you think?


Written by Shrouq Fathy

I sleep a lot, write, and organize music events.

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