Yes, "Plus Privilege" Exists. Here's What It Is

Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Sanchez.
Dounia Tazi, 18, and 19-year-old Mina Mahmood met on Twitter only a year ago, when Tazi stumbled upon a slew of Mahmood's tweets about the lack of diversity represented in American Apparel's campaigns. Fast-forward to only a few months later, and their digitally formed friendship has been formalized with two no-holds-barred Instagram accounts (@dounia.t and @bae.doe) that have garnered a combined 60K-strong following for their outspoken comments about body diversity, global politics, and feminism. They're barely legal, and they're already social media — and social justice — pioneers.

In the past month alone, you may have seen them featured everywhere from InStyle to Dazed (twice). And with the wild success of their viral hashtag campaign #MyFavoritePictureOfMe, their presence is rapidly growing. While many online personalities choose to become less polarizing, more vanilla, and more mass as they get more popular, these two outliers have stayed the course, which is why they're so compelling.

They're most vocal about the overall lack of diversity in fashion, a cause they've been behind since the very beginning. And their heads are in the right place: A study done by The Fashion Spot showed that of the 143 shows from New York Fashion Week last season, only 24% of the 3,727 runway appearances were women of color. "There needs to be a broader range [represented]. I wouldn't mind if they were racially ambiguous when it came to dark-skinned models, but it's always light-skinned, pale people that are racially ambiguous," Mahmood says. Tazi agrees: "It's as if they choose one ethnic model that represents multiple races for 10 shots, and then send them home for the day." To them, Lane Bryant is — at least, thus far — the most recognizable brand that actually practices diversity, in all senses.

When speaking of diversity, the twosome aren't just talking about race and ethnicity, of course. They're also talking about size — and they've seen those brands casting one token big girl: "You want to be revolutionary? You want people to care that you cast a plus-size model? You're choosing one. And just to say you did," Tazi says. "I need high-fashion to cater to big girls, because big girls can be fashionable, too. Fashion doesn't only come in sample size."
Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Sanchez.

It's as if they choose one ethnic model that represents multiple races for 10 shots, and then send them home for the day.

Dounia Tazi
When the two found themselves modeling, they realized that being on set was no different than being picked last in high school gym class. "When we're on set, we're called 'plus-size,'" Mahmood recounts. "But the average size of American women is a 14, which is considered plus-size in fashion, so it's a little crazy to us. I fit into mediums, but I'm automatically labeled as a plus-size girl without anyone ever asking me about my measurements or actual size. It takes up space that real plus-size women should have."

Tazi also thinks that the term plus-size isn't enough to describe the range of women who are not sample size: "We're very aware of our plus privilege. It's just as harmful," she confesses. "Those women are looking at us and thinking, Wow, they're small. I would never consider myself a plus-size model because of them. We need bigger women as the faces of what being plus-size really is. We may be bigger than women you're used to seeing, but we still have access to clothing and spaces that authentically plus-size women don't have access to."

They believe that, until designers begin hiring models of different sizes, the need for plus-size clothing that's "actually fashionable" will continue to be put on the back burner. "I can still wear just about any piece I find and like," Mahmood says. "Women who don't have that need a bigger platform, and it should start with modeling."
Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Sanchez.
She goes on to open up about the fat-shaming she faces on a daily basis, and how it works: "On a regular day, I'll get at least 50 comments [on Instagram] just saying 'fat,' as if I don't know what I look like. But those other comments are the ones that stand out to me, because it shows me our society's deeply engrained hate for fat people." The irony isn’t lost on her that she gets disparaged for the very same kinds of posts that garner positive feedback for thinner instagrammers. Think: #foodporn. "As a bigger person, I get backlash on any kind of food I eat," she continues. "When I want to take a picture eating pizza, people will drop 100 disgusted-face emojis on it. I've been accused of promoting an unhealthy lifestyle and [had people say] I'm a bad role model for girls for simply posting pictures of my body." But in the face of such hatred, Dounia and Mina don't budge an inch: They jokingly refer to themselves as "two fat girls in lipliner," or even "the two fats."

But as anyone who uses social media to promote social justice can attest, the messages aren't always well received. The two comment on a range of hot topics in between their selfies, including their thoughts on how the media treats different types of violence and Islamophobia. And their peers could certainly be more supportive. "You get more hate than love," Tazi says. "I was called a reverse racist for speaking about white privilege. I thought, Maybe I'm too radical? Maybe I'm too outspoken? But then I realized those groups of people who were so closed-minded never spoke up for anyone else out there." At a time when Instagram's most popular accounts are denouncing what it has become, it's refreshing to meet a pair as unabashedly outspoken as these two, who remain vigilant in their honesty in the face of some of the world's toughest critics — their peers.

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