Implications of the Term “Plus Size” in Fashion Marketing


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Welcome to February’s Self-Love Marketing Series: focusing on Body Positive brands, campaigns and messaging targeting the plus-size market. This is Part 3.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, right? Well, when it comes to the plus size customer, the matter of what to call her gets a little more tricky.

There’s been a huge groundswell from within the plus size fashion community to “drop the plus.” Models, like supermodel Ashley Graham, have come forward and called the effect of the term “plus size” to describe women over a size 10 within the fashion community “isolating.”

From the perspective of a model working in the industry, I completely agree. Being the “plus” girl on set amongst “straight” size models (a.k.a. “normal” model size, 00 – 2) can feel exactly that: isolating.

(Similarly, having to shop the back corner of Macy’s where the lighting is poor and the plus size clothes are tucked away next to the maternity clothes or the luggage, can feel isolating as well!).

But overall, I’ve had nothing but great experiences as a model who proudly embraces the label of “plus size.” The use of the term has also served to galvanize a community of underserved customers in America. And more importantly, it’s created a community for young girls and women to find connection, empowerment, and to be understood online.


I’ve addressed this argument before, in my piece for the Huffington Post, “Why I’m #PlusPositive”:

“The reality is that we live in a society that functions on labels. It’s our nature as humans to want to put a name to things, and we rely on these as frameworks to interpret the world around us. For women who are seeking to be comfortable in their skin, ‘Plus Size’ has given us a powerful community to engage with. It’s also allowed women in the fashion industry to organize around a central idea, which is why we’re now seeing so much more recognition of the Plus Size population in marketing and development of fashion brands.”


"The reality is that we live in a society that functions on labels. It's our nature as humans to want to a put a name to things"

If you’re a marketing or PR professional, you have to respect the power of this term in your messaging. But most importantly, if you’re going to weigh in on this conversation (regardless of your stance), you have to show customers that you’re about more than just lip service if you want to make a splash.

Some brands, like mega-brand Lane Bryant, have claimed the power of this term by folding it into their own social media initiative, #PlusisEqual.

The hashtag launch was complete with a rally in Times Square. They even created an online billboard app where customers can upload a photo to see themselves represented in a billboard photo template. And while the overall public reception of this campaign was extremely positive, some accused the effort of further “othering” plus size customers.


Other plus size retail brands remain neutral on the term. Online styling company Dia & Co. caters to sizes 14 and up. Recently, they launched the #movefashionforward initiative that almost makes the discussion regarding the use of “plus size” irrelevant.

“Style is not a size — style is an expression of identity,” say the co-founders, Nadia Boujarwah & Lydia Gilbert. This takes the focus of the conversation off of size altogether, and focuses the attention on fashion.

“We’re calling on the world’s top designers to dress the 100 million American women who wear plus size clothing. And we’re offering our support to those who are ready to move fashion forward,” say Nadia and Lydia in their online letter to customers.

By creating this powerful call to action they not only make the conversation about using the term “plus size” irrelevant, they actually remove many of the common excuses designers have made for not expanding their sizes. They are taking it a step further by offering designers access to the Dia & Co. the infrastructure to expand their size ranges.

There is no right or wrong answer to the question of whether or not to use the term “plus size” in your messaging. But if you’re going to enter into that conversation, you definitely need to formulate a point of view. You may be criticized either way. But by applying a thoughtful, considerate, action-oriented approach, you will garner devoted customers–and hopefully, see an increase in engagement from this customer segment.


About Melinda Parrish

Melinda Parrish is a Ford model that and body positivity advocate. Melinda is a regular contributor for the Huffington Post, Women’s Running, Gaiam’s lifestyle blog, and partners with brands like Expedia on creating fitness and wellness-related content.
She has her own hashtag, #healthyatanysize, and a weekly Facebook Live series called “Body Love TV.” She was recently written up in People Magazine for taking a stand for curvy women. In addition to being a model and an influencer, Melinda is a lifelong athlete and former Naval Officer.