Of all the fights not to get into on the internet, the worst sort is when someone claims a particular label and you argue that they aren’t it. Whatever it is. Feminist. Fat. Liberal. Plus sized. Cyclist. Runner. Introvert.
The thing is when someone claims a label for themselves they’ve got more at stake than you do. It matters to them in ways you might not understand.
Here is one example from my life.
I say I’m a parent and I rarely identify as a mother. Gendered parenting roles aren’t my thing. I don’t entirely abstain from gender. I mostly wear skirts and dresses and I wear lipstick while cycling! But as a parent, my connection to my kids isn’t experienced (for me) as a gendered thing. There’s no “wait till your father gets home” around here. We don’t roll that way. You can correct me and say that technically I’m also a mother, as well as a parent. Fine. But you’re missing out on my perspective on my life. There’s information there that you don’t have. Labels matter especially when it comes to self identification.
Here’s two more that matter to me:
But here the issue is more complicated. It’s about who gets to claim the label “plus sized.”
You’ll recall in my recent blog post about the label “fat” I admitted that sometimes I claimed the label “fat” and sometimes I didn’t. One example of a time when I claim it is when people start opining about the possibility of being fat and fit. Then I stand up proud and say, over here. Look at me. “I weigh x number of pounds and just rode my bike y number of kilometers.”
When don’t I claim the label “fat”? When I worry that relatively smaller fat people like me are crowding out debates and discussion. There’s fat phobia out there in the world that I don’t encounter. I rarely need to seek size accommodation. Regular airplane seats and seat belts fit me just fine and pretty much all clothing stores sell things that fit. I’m fat, yes, but still pretty privileged in terms of my size.
But plus sized seems to me to be a pretty factual label, neutral even. Regular sizes run 0-14. Plus sized is 16 and up. That’s the dividing line in most stores. I’m fat, not plus sized.
So when a friend, a much smaller friend, described herself as plus sized I spoke up and corrected her. You’re size 8, I said. You’re not plus sized.
She pointed out that she feels plus sized. What does that mean? Well, a modeling company she’d spoken to about modeling said they didn’t need any more plus sized models. They saw her as plus sized. People name call her and she’s been bullied because of her size. She’s definitely not thin or skinny. But is everyone who isn’t skinny “plus sized”? Have we lost track of normal?
I’m reminded of a line from the TV show The Good Place about the need for a medium place, nor heaven or hell, but a place for the rest of us who aren’t perfect but aren’t evil either.
Heck, these days people are calling Rhianna plus sized. See Calling Rihanna Plus-Size Could Be The Conversation We All Need.
Here’s Rhianna’s response.
Anyway, the label “plus sized” means something to this young woman. Who am I to decide she can’t claim it? Why do I feel the need to tell her she isn’t plus sized?
What’s your take on these debates about who is and who isn’t plus-sized?