Yesterday, Amy Schumer got pissed at Glamour magazine for calling her “plus-size.” Schumer wasn’t pissed because the lady mag exaggerated her weight—she didn’t care about that—but rather was alarmed that the magazine allegedly referred to her body as an example of what plus-size looks like, on the cover of its recent issue aimed at women size 12 and above. As Schumer noted in both a tweet and on Instagram, she fluctuates between a size 6 and a size 8, and while she thinks “there’s nothing wrong with being plus-size,” she’s worried that if she’s listed in a magazine as plus-size, girls and women will look at her and think a size 6 is on the bigger size of what’s acceptable, and that’s just not true.
After Schumer tweeted her discomfort at being lumped in with women like Melissa McCarthy, Adele, and Ashley Graham—all of whom are lovely women that Glamour says should serve as plus-size inspirations—she used Twitter to ask for thoughts, most of which seemed to be in support of her assertion. Elite Daily published an article called “Sorry, but Amy Schumer is definitely not plus-size” in which it supported its headline but also noted that the Glamour piece raised an issue of agency. As Elite Daily put it, “If I were Amy Schumer, Adele, or Melissa McCarthy, I would prefer my body not be labeled with such words—plus-size, skinny, thick, or anything—without my consent. While it’s wonderful Glamour promotes these ladies as inspiring, none of these women labeled themselves “plus-size” in the past, so why should Glamour be allowed to categorize them?” Schumer’s Twitter followers responded pretty much in kind, with Schumer retweeting the following two thoughts:
For its part, Glamour denies that it meant to lump Schumer in under the “plus-size” distinction, telling People:
The cover line on this special edition—which is aimed at women size 12 and up—simply says “Women Who Inspire Us,” since we believe her passionate and vocal message of body positivity IS inspiring, as is the message of the many other women, of all sizes, featured. The edition did not describe her as plus-size. We are sorry if we offended her in any way.
Indeed, inside the magazine are pieces about a number of curvy but not technically plus-sized women, including Christina Hendricks, Meghan Trainor, Kelly Osbourne, and Lena Dunham. (It is worth noting that every single piece of advertising in the special edition is paid for by plus-size retailer Lane Bryant, who must have forked over a ton of money to Conde Nast in order for this thing to even exist.)
So what’s the big deal? Is it that Schumer should have been consulted before being lumped in with other “inspiring” women? Or, rather, is it that plus-size women have to be called “inspiring” at all? I lean toward the latter, simply because the very nature of the term “plus-size” tends to create a sense of other-ness. Given that the average woman in the United States wears a size 14, and plus-size clothing is generally considered to start at either a 12 or a 14, depending on who you’re asking, the average American woman is, in fact, plus-size. Doesn’t that just make her average? Or, if you want to talk the most basic clothing sizes, arguably a medium, if medium means “average”?
That’s probably a matter of the market, which has changed dramatically over the past 50 or 60 years. In a recent piece on Slate, Julia Felsenthal notes that garment sizing has its roots in a depression-era government project to study the female body, in “an effort to instill a method to the sizing madness” at the time by sending a pair of statisticians to survey and measure nearly 15,000 women. That study failed, and it wasn’t relaunched until 1958, when the National Bureau Of Standards set the “Body Measurements For The Sizing Of Women’s Patterns And Apparel,” in which, as Christopher Ingraham at the Washington Post notes, “a size 8 woman had a bust of 31 inches, a 23.5 inch waist, and a weight of 98 pounds.” To put that in perspective, Ingraham writes that, “A size 8 dress today is nearly the equivalent of a size 16 dress in 1958. And a size 8 dress of 1958 doesn’t even have a modern-day equivalent—the waist and bust measurements of a Mad Men-era 8 come in smaller than today’s size 00.” In other words, no, Marilyn Monroe was not a modern size 16.
Today, sizing is set by each manufacturer, meaning that while The Gap might say size 12 jeans have a 31-inch waist, Kmart might say that’s a size 8, and Marc Jacobs might call that a 16—a size that company doesn’t even make.
The trouble with othering plus-size women, aside from the fact that it makes shopping challenging, demeaning, and annoying for most of us, is that it also makes the average woman think she’s a minority—a practice that’s already shoved on women in general. Considering women make up 51 percent of the population, they’re by definition not a minority. And if the average woman wears a size 14, she’s not plus-size. She’s normal-size.
By telling women like Adele, Melissa McCarthy, Ashley Graham, and, yes, Amy Schumer that they’re different—that their bodies are other than what they’re supposed to be—it sends the message that there a right and a wrong way for a woman’s body to be. Then those body shapes are basically ignored on television and in movies, save for people like the aforementioned McCarthy and the amazing Aidy Bryant, who, incidentally, tweeted at Schumer that Glamour should have known she was available for its cover.
So, yeah, it’s a problem, and not just because Amy Schumer isn’t a size 12. Until we recognize the importance of not only the plus-size market but also the plus-size woman—and stop using the word “plus-size,” damn it—we’ll be continuing to reinforce the idea that if you’re a fat woman, you’re different, you’re weird, and you’re less than. And while it’s nice of Glamour to shine a light on big, beautiful women it thinks are spunky, fashionable inspirations to us all, it’s not enough.