On the plus side…

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Published: Sunday 3rd May 2015 by The News Editor

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Jamelia faced a flurry of fury recently, after suggesting on ITV’s Loose Women that stores shouldn’t stock clothes for larger women, and that instead they should be made to feel “uncomfortable” about having an “unhealthy lifestyle”.

Channel 4 also waded into the great weight debate with their recent documentary, Plus Sized Wars (still available on 4 On Demand), looking at the fashion brands and models behind the fast-growing ‘plus size’ industry.

With 60% of British women now classed as ‘overweight’ and 25% as ‘obese’, according to government statistics, that’s a lot of people looking for ‘bigger’ clothes.

But what exactly do we mean by overweight and obese?

:: BMI brackets

Well, the Health & Social Care Information Centre’s report on obesity, physical activity and diet last year, defines them as follows, using the Body Mass Index (BMI), weight to height ratio: “In adults, a BMI of 25kg/m2 to 29.9kg/m2 means that person is considered to be overweight, and a BMI of 30kg/m2 or above means that person is considered to be obese.”

A ‘normal’ BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9.

:: And what is plus size?

On the high street, brands like Evans exclusively sell plus-size clothes, ranging from UK size 14-32, but on the catwalk, it’s a different story. Plus size is considered to be anything above a US size 4 (a UK 8), so if you’re a perfectly normal, healthy and – to many of us – a slim-looking size 10 or 12, you’re still considered ‘big’ in the fashion world.

France has just approved a law banning models with a BMI of less than 18, which would revolutionise catwalks.

:: Role model

Plus-size models are not a new thing, and were first represented by agencies in the Seventies, but things have started to snowball in recent years, and just this year, 29-year-old Tess Munster (on Twitter and Instagram as Tess Holliday) became the largest plus-size model to be signed with a mainstream agency.

Now on the books of London-based Milk Model Management, American Tess, who features in the documentary, is a UK size 24 and is 5ft 5in tall, has a mane of red curls and is adorned with tattoos.

:: A new campaign

Meanwhile, a more slender model, Australian Stefania Ferrario (UK size 12) is campaigning to #DropThePlus – and has set fire to the debate after she posted an image of herself in just a pair of knickers with the words ‘I AM A MODEL’ inked on her tummy.

She says the plus-size label is not empowering: “I’m NOT proud to be called ‘plus’.”

Tess, on the other hand, embraces it, saying: “To me, we’re debating a term that has never been used in a hateful context. I’ve always been called plus size. It’s not a negative thing. It’s what I am. It’s like saying I should be offended at being called a redhead. It is just a fact. No one is calling me a fat model.”

:: We need new labels

For Joe Bloggs on the high street, wouldn’t it be liberating not to have to go into a separate section marked ‘Plus Size’ – or even a separate shop – to buy clothes?

Press Association fashion editor, Katie Wright says: “While plus-size ranges are designed with larger figures in mind, it would be more democratic if retailers produced all lines in a wider range of sizes, thereby appealing to more customers, and encouraging a more accepting attitude.”

:: Is it healthy, though?

If we get carried away embracing our beautiful, big bodies, though, doesn’t that risk encouraging younger girls to overeat and face the health consequences?

Dr Marilyn Glenville, a leading nutritionist specialising in women’s health, and author of Fat Around The Middle (www.marilynglenville.com), says whether you can be big and healthy is “dependent on body fat percentage rather than weight”, and notes that being too slim has health risks too.

:: BMI isn’t a good guide

“A person’s weight cannot differentiate between fat and muscle, and an athlete and a couch potato can have the same BMI and yet have a completely different percentage of fat and muscle,” she adds.

“A woman can be bigger and healthy if she has the correct percentage of body fat [25-31%]. Too low, it risks her periods stopping, infertility and osteoporosis, too high then it risks heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.”

:: We need a happy medium

She believes the fashion industry should strike a happy medium, by embracing models who look like the average British woman.

“It makes it easier for the average woman to relate to the clothes that the model is wearing, and more likely to want to buy them,” she adds. “If the model is super thin, then the average woman will think they can’t possibly attain that without starving themselves, and knows that it is just not realistic for them.”

Copyright Press Association 2015

Published: Sunday 3rd May 2015 by The News Editor

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