Glamour Magazine’s Big Issue: The Problem With Calling Amy Schumer Plus Size
It must be a funny thing, picking up an iconic fashion magazine only to see your name emblazoned across the front. How would you feel? Proud? Excited? Overwhelmed? For superstar comedian Amy Schumer, finding her name on the cover of Glamour's special edition plus-size-themed issue wasn't a welcome surprise.
To make matters worse, the Trainwreck star claims that the magazine, which partnered with retailer Lane Bryant on the issue as part of a special campaign, didn't consult with her before including her alongside Adele, Melissa McCarthy, and rising Sports Illustrated model Ashley Graham. Thus, a gesture that was likely meant to come across as celebratory and empowering instead came off as nonconsensual and offensive, ultimately perpetuating a false idea of what being plus sized looks like.
Let's get one thing straight: While Schumer's body, beautiful as it is, may not fit the typical Hollywood ideal, that does not make her "plus size." It just doesn't. That said, the actress was (understandably) upset when she found herself labeled as such — not because there's anything wrong with being plus sized, but because she doesn't consider herself part of that community.
"I think there's nothing wrong with being plus size. Beautiful healthy women," Schumer posted to Instagram on April 5. "Plus size is considered size 16 in America. I go between a size 6 and an 8. [Glamour] put me in their plus size only issue without asking or letting me know and it doesn't feel right to me. Young girls seeing my body type thinking that is plus size?"
When it comes to the fashion industry, the term "plus size" is a little murky. It's a thorny phrase, lacking a true definition with clear standards of sizing, and it carries a deep social stigma. As a young plus-sized woman, I'm perfectly comfortable in my body and happy and proud to refer to myself as such. Others may not be, and that's okay too.
The term itself is categorical and limiting: On one hand, it creates a necessary space for many shoppers, with shops like Lane Bryant and Torrid catering to a specific group of consumers with specific clothing size needs. On the other, it marks a firm boundary between "plus size" shoppers and "regular" shoppers, thus fostering a sense of otherness for those who don't fit the various sizes found in most stores. When a "straight size" shop does carry plus size items, these products are usually segregated into a small section of the store, and options — from silhouette to brand to price to quality — are often abysmally limited.
This, in turn, breeds exclusion. Plus size clothes are obviously necessary in the retail market. But separate categorization of 'plus size' tends to make it acceptable for many retailers and designers to either turn a blind eye or do the bare minimum for larger-sized customers, when these 'extended' sizes should really be found right on the rack alongside the size twos and size fours. After all, people need clothes, and people come in many different sizes, so shouldn't our clothing options reflect that everywhere?
Thankfully, the tides have been changing within the past few years, with more retailers and designers slowly but surely stepping up their plus size game, offering better options and taking plus size customers more seriously with targeted advertising, events, and programs geared towards reaching and empowering shoppers. Social attitudes have continued to shift as well, with increasing visibility for the plus sized community through celebrities, entertainment media, feminist culture, and more. But it's not changing fast enough.
Plus size representation in the media still primarily consists of hourglass-shaped white women, who typically fit into the smaller end of the plus spectrum and are but slightly larger versions of the idealized Hollywood body type. While any representation is certainly welcome — and I'm happy that Adele is one of the most successful music artists on the planet, and that Melissa McCarthy is a bonafide movie star — the lack of diversity is still cause for frustration. And the names of Glamour's cover demonstrates that.
By highlighting only smaller plus-sized celebrities (or, like Amy Schumer, stars whose bodies are shaped differently than most of Hollywood's elite), an issue that's meant to be inclusive merely celebrates what's already accepted. And by solely featuring white, CIS-gendered women as cover draws, the magazine continues to reinforce pre-existing heteronormative, homogenized views of beauty within the "plus size" lens. So I ask: Where is the beautiful Gaby Sidibe? Beth Ditto? Lea DeLaria? Amber Riley?
I understand that a magazine's bottom line is to sell copies, and that means slapping household names on the cover. But then: How is this different? How is this groundbreaking? How is this "inspiring"? And at $12.99 — over twice the typical price of a standard Glamour issue! — this certainly doesn't seem like a cost-inclusive initiative, instead almost comically reflecting the lack of affordable or low-mid tier price options for stylish plus size products. Once again, it becomes unreasonably expensive to exist as a plus sized woman.
To be inclusive means to include the marginalized, and while I appreciate the effort of Glamour to create another space for plus sized women, it's simply not much different than the limited resources many of us already have available. Considering it's a standalone issue — part of only two special edition books in partnership with Lane Bryant, and not included in the official annual cover lineup, which features Emilia Clarke as the May 2016 cover-star — it's not really all that inclusive. (I wonder if the mag will begin to include more plus-sized women and content within its regularly-scheduled monthly issues?)
A small part of me is happy and content to be acknowledged by a mainstream glossy like Glamour, even if only in the margins, in the external space that won't interfere. But for the most part, their effort weighs a little too heavily on me.
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