Above Average

Buenos Diaz, lovers! 

Earlier this week, I did a teary-eyed fist-pump when browsing through my Facebook timeline. I was pleased - no, ecstatic to learn that the beautiful Ashley Graham was named a Sports Illustrated Magazine cover model. Ashley has made history as the first plus-sized model to nab this coveted spot and I could not be any happier for her. Watching her reaction to the grand reveal gave me all of the feels; the tears, the incredulity, the jumping up and down in her inability to contain her excitement… it felt like a win for all of the curvy girls out there fighting the daily battle to have their beauty validated.

 Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images  Stunning!!

Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images

Stunning!!

In the same week, I accompanied my soon-to-be sister-in-law along with both of our mothers and the rest of her bridesmaids to pick out her dress and be fitted for ours. The appointment started out perfectly – the bride had already narrowed the choice down to two dresses, so we helped her make the final choice then finalized a few of the color and veil-related details.

Next it was time to pick out the bridesmaids’ dresses. We were given a few choices to pick between and came to an agreement quite easily. The gown is quite lovely if I do say so myself, long and somewhat ethereal in a great shade of purple. The gathered waist and sweetheart neckline each feature some delicate crystal beading that adds a sophisticated level of sparkle to the dress. All in all, a great pick across the board.

With the hard part behind us, we each waited to have our measurements taken. The bride went first and remarked how surprised she was at the sizing schematic, which can absolutely come as a shock if you’ve never purchased a bridal gown before. For whatever reason, your wedding/bridesmaid dress size is, in a word: bullshit. It’s your regular size all hopped up on steroids. I don’t know who decided that it was a good idea to make you feel like a cow during what is supposed to be a positive and memorable experience, but that’s precisely how I felt the first time I was part of a bridal party. My brother’s fiancé, for example, is regularly a size three or four; her wedding dress, rounding one size up to play it safe, was ordered at a size 10.

Now, as any of my faithful readers or social media followers undoubtedly know by now, this is not my first rodeo, or second or third or seventh. I’m a frequent flyer at this damn rodeo, I should have a punch card for a free dress at this point. So I was more or less prepared to have to order a dress in a size that would stir up visions of a circus tent. Whatever, I thought. It is what it is.

 Note: not all weddings pictured here. Side Note: No, I'm not kidding.

Note: not all weddings pictured here. Side Note: No, I'm not kidding.

Then I was measured. I was advised that my bust, waist and hip measurements each corresponded with a different dress size. To err on the safe side, I should go with the size dictated by the largest of the measurements; no surprise here, that meant my hips. Fine, bring on the larger size. Better to have to alter a dress to make it smaller in places than to get one too small and be screwed. I still instinctively cringed a tiny bit when she told me the size I’d have to order, but told myself to brush it off. That was until the sales consultant said the following: “So, we’re going to order the larger size. And just so you know, that’s a plus size and has to be custom made. So you have to pay extra and there’s nothing I can do about that. Ok! Did you want to prepay for the entire thing or just leave the deposit?”

My previously cheery demeanor immediately evaporated, making way for the resting bitch face for which I’m apparently well known. I handed over my debit card for the payment of the deposit only, embittered enough to find, however irrationally, some sort of victory in a partial payment. Sensing my palpable mood shift, the sales girl attempted to make bubbly chatter. She asked if I was married yet, feigned shock that I wasn’t and expressed most enthusiastically her hopes that I’d come back to the bridal shop to get my dress when it was my turn. I couldn’t stop myself from issuing a snarky “Not if you’re going to tack on a premium for my hips, but thanks!” It was bordering on rude in tone and I know it.

I quickly corrected my mood as soon as the bride, who with the possible exception of my mother is the sweetest person I’ve ever met, looked at me with big brown eyes full of consternation. I smiled big and wide and assured her that all was fine. Inwardly though, I was not only upset but embarrassed. I work hard to be healthy – I eat right, I exercise. It was disheartening to be made to feel like a giant red buzzer was going to be pressed as soon as my order hit the manifest, like sirens would blare all across the factory, sending seamstresses whose overtime I was paying for into a frenzy to make my epic-sized gown. “THIS IS NOT A DRILL! GET OUT THE REALLY BIG SCISSORS AND GIANT SEWING MACHINE, WE'RE GONNA NEED THE HEAVY DUTY THREAD FOR THIS ONE!!!”

Later that evening at home with a glass of wine in my hand, I took a break from writing to read up on Ashley Graham and perhaps give myself a little ego boost. I was highly annoyed to learn of the barrage of hateful comments being leveled at Ashley and at Sports Illustrated for choosing her. One idiot called the cover a disgusting effort to shove obesity and laziness down our throats, another said curves aren’t anything to be proud of and said you too could look like Ashley if you just eat cheesecake all day. One troll commented, “Eww, another fat Adele. Wouldn’t want to pay for that grocery bill! What a whale!” and picked fights with anyone who called him out for his cruelty. Ironically, lots of the vitriol I read seemed to be coming from folks who were in no position to call anyone unattractive. I hope they all step barefoot on tiny Legos.

I was quite astonished at a different kind of negative feedback. Many plus-sized women expressed their distaste for the cover because they felt like Ashley wasn’t plus-sized enough. So skinny people are calling Ashley a whale, and bigger folk are giving her the Gretchen Wieners you-can’t-sit-with-us because she’s not plus enough to kick it. What the bloody hell?

So let’s go deeper here. I have never been a big fan of the term Plus Sized, in the assigning of certain sizes as normal and any outliers as not so. It is bothersome to me for a few reasons:

Plus, but No Minus: Only the outliers on the higher end of the spectrum get a special label. While I’m glad someone went with Plus Size rather than Too Big, Super Size, or Biggie, Biggie Biggie, Can’t You See These Clothes Aren’t Meant to Fit You, You See?, I resent the fact that no one went out of their way then to assign a label to the sizes on the lower end of the spectrum. If I’m a Plus Size, why aren’t the size 0 girls of the world a Minus Size? And don’t give me Petites, because that’s more about height.

Law of Averages: I have read and heard for as long as I can remember that the average woman is actually a size 14 or 16. Honestly, I don’t know if this is the case or not. It’s a confusing statistic. For one thing, sizing has changed drastically over the years (a size 8 in the 1950s is now a 16 according to an article I read in the Washington Post last year). Size also varies significantly depending on where you shop (some places I’m a size 12, others a 14 or 16. Blah – there, I said it). If it’s true though, the whole concept of what’s plus-sized relative to what's "average" or "normal" is seriously out of whack.

Who Decides What’s Normal?  As far as what’s “normal,” what the hell does that mean anyway? In my family, for example, wide hips are common. One of my aunts and I often wear a pant size that matches exactly or is within one size of each other. She’s rail thin, I am clearly not. Who’s the normal one and who's the circus attraction? Are we both abnormal because we’re not a smaller size? Am I the abnormal one because I see a larger number on the scale though our hip circumference is similar? I get that clothing obviously has to be bigger if your measurements are larger – that’s called math, and I get it. But why normalize one size range and not another when they encompass so many different body types? It leaves a lot out of the equation.

This all brings me back to why I’m perplexed over the divisiveness of Ashley Graham. I love that she’s breaking new ground but hate that this particular ground was there to break in the first place. For everyone calling her a cow because she’s a double-digit size, shut the hell up. Quit trying to marginalize her success with your “stop trying to make fat people beautiful, they’re all unhealthy and have diabetes” nonsense. I get what you're trying to do here, and yes: I do believe that there is a fine line between body positivity and glorifying unhealthy habits. But sweetie, the girl isn’t sitting around shoveling spoons of lard into her mouth in between shots of insulin and begging you to love her. It is absolutely possible to be of a larger size and be in excellent health, as is Ashley. For those saying she isn’t big enough to truly represent plus-sized women, you too may sit down. It all has to start somewhere, and I think she is a perfectly stunning place to start.   

Where I’m choosing to focus, as I’m sure are Ashley and countless other women, is the positive response. For every hatred-spewing troglodyte likening Ashley to a barnyard mammal or aquatic beast, there appears to an exponential number of light-bearing, love-touting supporters in Ashley’s corner. It gives me hope that the tide may indeed be turning, that healthy, not necessarily skinny, will be the new goal; it’s like I’ve said before – beauty comes in all sizes and real women have mitochondria.  I am still pretty bothered at being told that my bridesmaids dress is going to cost me more because I’m not a certain size. Then again, my waist size is cool enough to grace the cover of a swimsuit magazine.

So maybe I’m just above average, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Bookishly Yours,

Vanessa