Dear HuffPost, Here's What Plus-Size Women Really Prefer to Be Called

by Sarah on October 8, 2013

HuffPost Women posted this article last night about what “plus-size” women prefer to be called, and I think it got a lot of things wrong. I’d like to straighten some of them out.

The caption they used on Facebook reads, “60 percent of American women now identify as plus-size — it’s probably time to start listening to them.”

But the poll cited in the article doesn’t seem like it’s doing a great job of listening to these women at all.

From what I can discern from the results (PDF), the creators of the survey were asking questions with a very specific goal in mind. The poll appears to have been done by an online retailer of plus-size clothing, owned by Lane Bryant, and I would imagine what the administrative and marketing geniuses behind it really wanted to know was, “How can we get plus-size women to care more about fashion and therefore spend more money on our clothing?”

Because these retailers only sell sizes above a 14, they’re trying to find out which language is least offensive to their target market.

The options on the poll for the preferred term?

Curvy, plus-size, and full-figured.

When presented with three bad choices, most people will pick the least heinous of the options. In this case, the “winner” was curvy.

This doesn’t mean that “plus-size” women want to be called curvy.

It just means that if you’re going to insist on sorting people by their clothing size, women who wear size 14 or over may be least horrified by the word “curvy.”

Of course, the results for the three terms ranged between 25 and 28 percent, so with a sample size of 1000 and a 3.1% margin of error, I’m not even sure that the results could really be said to express a preference.

On the other hand, When given the option to suggest an alternative word they would like to be called, the respondents offered things like, “normal,” “average,” and “beautiful.”

What this survey is really saying is that “plus-size” women want to be referred to as women.

We want to be treated like human beings and not categorized by our waistbands.

We prefer to be seen and heard and understood as individuals, just like everyone else.

We’re tired of being told we’re different, with different stores and different clothes and different styles than “straight-size” people.

And as for what we’d like to be called?

Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I prefer to be called by my name.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Karen J October 24, 2013 at 3:53 pm
Sarah October 26, 2013 at 1:53 am

Thanks, Karen! <3


Noga October 14, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Totally agree with you!! such an important post!

(I have a “minus-size” problem… but your words concern all kind of issues, and I think it’s brilliant!!)


Sarah October 14, 2013 at 4:47 pm

In traditional need-to-clarify style, my next post will probably be a much deeper (and therefore less popular) discussion of the flaws on this article… but thanks, Noga! I think it’s an important place to start questioning our thinking at least.


Karen J October 14, 2013 at 8:43 pm

You know that I’ll be reading it (and contributing, eventually), popular stance or not! 😉


Paddyish October 10, 2013 at 6:11 pm

How dare a clothing company try to distinguish physically larger people who would require a different size from others by giving them a label! This is a complete outrage!


Sarah October 10, 2013 at 6:20 pm

Hi Paddyish – I have no problem with companies labeling sizes, but why is there a category dividing line at size 14? Many women fit into clothes on both sides of the divide depending on cut, brand, etc. It makes shopping especially confusing when one’s top half can shop in straight-size stores and one’s bottom half has to go to plus-size stores. I also know many women who’s bodies span 2-5 sizes of clothing because women’s clothing sizes are inconsistent. All that labeling anything of a 14 or above as “plus-size” is doing is trying to make people feel bad. And the survey was trying to find out how to make these people feel less bad while still making it clear that they are “different” from other people.

For contrast, there’s no arbitrary line between men’s size 40 and 42, or 44 and 46, or 36 and 38 or anywhere else. They’re just numbers which reflect a measurement of the waistband. This makes a lot of sense, and there’s no need for the creation of any fake categories – just a straight continuum of waist sizes and inseam lengths. Logical.

That’s all I’m asking for.


Karen J October 11, 2013 at 12:52 pm

OTOH ~ not all stores can possibly carry all possible sizes – there has to be a place for adjectives, in order to describe the niche (however broad or specialized) they’re targeting.
Somewhere there has to be a happy medium – so 5’5″ me doesn’t waste time going to a store that caters to Stephanie’s sizes, and she isn’t overwhelmed by my sister’s XXX-talls!

Hugs to Everybody who’s sensitive around this!


Ally October 10, 2013 at 3:14 pm

The men’s equivalent of plus-size is big and tall; I don’t think it’s just a female issue. That being said, I would be delighted if the women’s fashion industry did away with vanity sizing and just sold 26s or 58s or whatever was appropriate. Walking into a store to buy a pair of jeans shouldn’t take two hours because you have to try on every pair within two sizes of what you think you are.


Sarah October 10, 2013 at 6:23 pm

Agreed! The sizing system is such a nightmare. I’m sure it would be a bit challenging for many of us to suddenly have to look at pants with numbers in the 30s or 40s or 50s, but it makes so much sense and would be a lot more logical. There are so many issues with women’s jeans because of the different cuts – for hips/butts/thighs/etc. as well as boot-cut, straight-leg, etc. I’m not sure just sizing by waist/inseam would be enough, but I’m sure there is a smart person somewhere in the fashion industry who could figure out a reasonable system.

Also, this is definitely not just a women’s issue, but I did write it with gender-specific language since it was a response to a post in HuffPost women and the survey was done by a retailer of women’s clothing. These issues affect people of all genders.

Thanks for your comment!


Nancy Norbeck October 8, 2013 at 9:52 pm

Not only would we like to be referred to as women, we’d like people to recognize us as, you know…human beings. As worthy as *any other* human beings.

So to the clothing marketers and department stores of the world, this means we have had enough of you shoving us in the back corner on the second floor behind the electronic gadgets and between the home furnishings and the customer service desk where you think no one will ever see us because you’re ashamed that we are even seen in your stores. And where you provide exactly ten different styles of anything because we obviously have less need of good-looking clothing as women who wear smaller sizes do.

But mostly, stop hiding us in the back. Stop being ashamed of us, and even ashamed *for* us. Because when you do, I walk out of your store and I don’t come back. If I’m one of 60%, and if I’m not the only one who finds the door (and I’m sure I’m not), then I don’t think I have to be a mathematician to point out that that’s a helluva lot of your potential customers telling you that you have an attitude, that we recognize that attitude–and that that attitude stinks.


Sarah October 8, 2013 at 10:12 pm

Yes yes yes yes yes!! I almost included that in the article but didn’t want it to get too long. I used to refer to the “Women’s” (as opposed to “Misses”) section at my local department store as the dungeon because it was in the basement near the housewares. I stopped shopping there.

I think this idea that there’s an arbitrary dividing line at a size 14 waist is just about the dumbest thing.


Sydney October 8, 2013 at 9:40 pm

This is brilliant, Sarah! Have you ever heard of a man being referred to as “plus size”? No, because men aren’t really judged by their physical appearance like women. It sickens me when a size 12 woman is referred to as plus size, when that is the average size of women in the country. Kudos to you for this post. One of my favorites!


Sarah October 8, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Amen, Sydney. It’s really terrible. And the fact that now 60% of people fall into this fake category of “plus size” (in part because sizes keep getting smaller)… it makes me think it’s just a way to make us feel bad about ourselves. It has to stop!


Stephanie October 10, 2013 at 12:09 pm

As someone who is petite, I have actually noticed that sizes have become bigger. I used to wear a 0 back in 2008 at Aeropostale, then in 2010 I was a 00, and now in 2013 I am a 000. Yes, they actually offer a 000 and I have not gotten any smaller (this is going from junior high into college). Unfortunately it’s bad on both sides (big or small-the rare one’s who are ‘in between’ are lucky) because stores do not offer enough sizes for women who are ‘curvy’ or ‘petite’. However, I will say that the plus-size section in most department stores have grown and taken over petite sections entirely and many stores (department and non-department) have either removed smaller sizes entirely, added larger sizes, or pushed vanity sizing (which is why a size 0 is now a 00/000 and a size 4 is now a size 2) into the market. I cannot speak for the entire United States or the entire retail market as a whole, but I believe that there shouldn’t be labels for sizes (petite or plus size) and these sizes should rather be included within the straight sizes as well.


Karen J October 11, 2013 at 12:43 pm

I can’t say I’ve paid much attention to the petite selections, Stephanie (because that’s not my focus – I have long legs and 50-ish hips), but my daughter has a dickens of a time finding clothes: she’s 5’2 AND “curvy”. And not 20 anymore – her kids are teenagers!


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