It's hard to pinpoint the exact moment I realized I was fat. It might have been when I was 9 years old, changing clothes for gym, when a girl in my class told me I needed to wear a bra to cover my “fat titties.” Or, middle school, when “fat ass” was the insult spewed by every boy in my grade. Or, when my mom convinced my chubby 13-year-old self to join Weight Watchers and get up at 6 a.m. to work out to Sweatin' To The Oldies. I might have been the only 8th grader to have all of Richard Simmons' aerobic moves memorized, but neither my popularity — nor my weight — budged. I saw how my mom hid her bulging body in baggy peg-leg pants and droopy oversized blouses; I watched her count her worth in Weight Watchers points and dress sizes. It was clear that being fat was the worst thing possible, so I did whatever I could to lose weight. From downing diet pills (and not much else) to journaling about every morsel I ate, I focused my energy on downsizing at all costs. I was fat, and I knew I'd never be happy unless I was thin. It was worth more than anything else to me — even my health. Through extremely unhealthy methods, I finally hit my “thin” milestone, bought a pair of skinny skinny jeans, and almost instantly gained every pound back — and then some. Despite calculating every calorie and spending hours at the gym, the weight piled on; it was clear that my fat was not about to be shrugged off. As I sat crying in my closet, cocooned by too-small clothes that pinched my pudge, I realized just how miserable I was. I'd spent so much time and money trying to shrink myself, burdened with the weight of knowing how bad it was that I was fat. Society had told me so, through the bullies, the media, my fat-phobic friends, and family. Why had I allowed the fear of being considered fat to consume my life? In that teary moment, I decided to love my body — no matter what. I set out to find other like-minded individuals of all shapes and sizes; I desperately craved positive influences and people who also felt they were good enough, people who didn't determine their success or failure based on their clothing size. Like any good child of the Internet, I began my search online, where I quickly found a community of individuals who felt they were fabulous and fat. The idea of embracing my body — accepting and admitting that yes, I did have fat and I was still awesome — was so alien, but so appealing. I started a personal style blog called P.S. It's Fashion where I posed in bodycon dresses, crop tops, and bikinis, and published those pictures for the Interwebs to see, challenging myself to annihilate my comfort zone. I felt sexy and loved my thick curves. I stayed active and ate a plant-based meal plan, but for the first time in my life, I was truly doing those things to be healthy and not to shrink. When I lost or gained weight (which I could only tell by how clothes fit since I tossed my scale) my self-worth didn't fluctuate.
Maybe it was because I had adopted a more positive mindset, or maybe the world was evolving, but I started to notice that the fashion industry was becoming more comfortable accepting people in sizes other than sample. I've seen new, plus-specific clothing brands start up, existing clothing companies expand their size range, thicker models strutting next to traditionally skinny ones, and actresses who would have been cast as the awkward bestie just a few years before be considered leading ladies. But, as I embraced my “plus-size” descriptor, I noticed there were others who were aggressively opposed. Specifically, women who were significantly smaller than me were arguing against being referred to as “plus-size,” claiming that it was a detrimental and unnecessary label. Then, #DropThePlus was born. Created by Australian model Stefania Ferrario, the #DropThePlus movement claimed that the “plus” label was damaging and by removing the terminology it would promote body confidence for all women. Ferrario stated, “Unfortunately, in the modeling industry if you're above a U.S. size 4 you are considered plus-size, and so I'm often labeled a 'plus-size' model. I do NOT find this empowering.” It doesn't surprise me that Ferrario, a U.S. size 8, objects to being labeled something she is not. As “plus-size” is typically a characterization for women who wear a U.S. size 14 or larger — just like “petite” is a classification of someone 5'3” or shorter — Ferrario would not actually be considered “plus-size” by the general public or fashion retailers. Although women who wear size 14 and up account for 67% of the American population, the majority of clothing companies' sizes top out at 14. Without the plus label, how will those women know if a clothing line offers something for them? Until the clothing industry becomes completely inclusive, we will have need for these labels. Many women who identify as “plus-size” don't bother with companies who don't advertise their plus-sizes — why should they spend time combing through sites and stores that are fearful of the association? Whether it's brands that offer extended sizes online-only, or plus companies that hire models who aren't even close to their cutomer's size, there are too many who are happy to profit from, but not promote, the plus-size woman. Marie Denee, the blogger behind The Curvy Fashionista agrees: “I am not a fan of the whole 'Drop the Plus' hashtag movement at all. I find the 'Drop the Plus' both counterproductive and a bit self-serving. As someone who has been advocating for recognition in the fashion industry, I find that those who make money off the industry by modeling should not be biting the hand that feeds them. If you didn't mind taking the job, why now have a problem for the industry you are modeling for?" It feels all too familiar. People don't want the “plus-size” label because of what it truly suggests: That if they need to shop in those stores and buy those sizes, they're fat. Society tells us that's the most abhorrent thing to be. People still associate the f-word with something dirty and wrong, and those who stand proud and proclaim themselves to be “plus-size” or even “fat,” are challenging those norms. Those who accept their fuller figures, regardless of their BMI, are forcing others to acknowledge a marginalized group and helping to enact positive change. Those who encourage us to remove a label we've fought to accept for ourselves are adding to the negative stigma behind it. Instead of quibbling over language, body-acceptance icon Tess Holliday argues for seeing the bigger picture: “Debating about a term that's never been used in hate is a waste of everyone's time. Let's talk about seeing better representation for models of all sizes, all colors and races, more representation for disabled and trans people.” We couldn't agree more. Ultimately, both sides of the plus-size argument are fighting for the same things — acceptance in a world that's ignored us for so long.