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A few years ago, a women’s magazine that shall remain nameless released a special issue aimed at shoppers size 12 and up. It promised fashion for an italicized you, imploring us to “shop here!” And perhaps it was in that spirit, the drive to sell as much as possible to underserved readers, that the cover model had been styled in not simply a wine-colored dress but also a large, body-obscuring coat and a purse strategically held over her belly. It might have been a purely capitalist impulse. But to us, it felt like some other bullshit.
Beyond the problem that a special issue was required at all (hi, welcome to our special issue about this same topic), this cover was part of a wider trend of magazines and brands pandering to women who don’t wear so-called “straight” sizes while staunchly refusing to show their actual bodies. But times have changed somewhat: Now we’re seeing a rash of brands using plus-size bodies in their ads; those same brands just don’t always happen to make plus-size clothing.
The conversation around clothes above a size 12 and the people who wear them has become more mainstream, but the contents of the discussion often feel divorced from the real issues. Progress can feel incremental. It’s exhausting to find a topic that affects people’s physical comfort in the world sidelined by bland and toothless exhortations to feel good about yourself. It’s tiring to say, “Thank you so much for using that model, now can you show her body? Thank you so much for showing her body, now can you make and sell clothing that could cover it?” There’s always something else that needs to be asked for, because somehow the needs of the actual majority of people cannot be anticipated by those in power without prodding.
So we’re here to prod, to move the conversation along in the hopes of actually getting somewhere (and showing up to that magical place in style). We’re here to talk about the representation that we’ve seen so far and what we need to see next. We’re here to ask brands that claim it’s very difficult to make plus-size clothing what the data on that is. We’re here to dismantle the conflation of the current body positivity movement and its radical roots in fat acceptance. We’re here to examine inclusivity, to name the phenomenon of size appropriation, and to tell fashion it should love us as much as we love it — without having to ask. (And if you’re wondering why, then, the bodies in the images in this package seem to cap out around a size 16 or so, it’s because we used stock images and images from the brands mentioned throughout — many of which are making strides, but not always, or often, enough.)
When we got the press release about that unnamed women’s magazine’s special size issue, we were angry that it asked Racked to join the chorus of outlets blindly offering praise for what we saw as an insulting half-measure. The question then became whether to take the publication to task or simply decline the invitation. We chose the latter; they just weren’t having the conversation we wanted to have. Now we have the chance to start that conversation, and we hope you’ll talk back.
—Meredith Haggerty, senior editor
A conversation with four women above a size 14 on how we talk about clothing and bodies.
How much it costs to make plus clothing, the measurements of the average American woman, and more.
How a movement intended to lift women up really just limits their acceptable emotions. Again.
“Size appropriation” gets brands the brownie points without doing the work.
Target, Walmart, and even Reformation are expanding their offerings, and members of the plus community hope that’s here to stay.
The power of dressing and self-expression is often denied to women who wear above a certain size.
Old Racked favorites and other stories we love about size. If you want to chat further, about this or anything else, come join us in the Racked Lounge on Facebook!
Editors: Meredith Haggerty, Alanna Okun, Julia Rubin, Eleanor Barkhorn
Graphic designers: Christina Animashaun, Javier Zarracina
Audio: Andrew Marino, Alanna Okun
Contributors: Amanda Mull, Lauren Downing Peters, Hilary George-Parkin, Nadra Nittle, Ariel Woodson, Darlene Lebron, Hunter McGrady, Ushshi Rahmen
Special thanks to Susannah Locke, Ben Pauker, Eliza Brooke, Andrew Marino, Kainaz Amaria, Christina Animashaun, Javier Zarracina, Julie Bogen, Nisha Chittal, Kristine Hsu, Nicole Bamber, Tanya Pai, Tim Williams, Bridgett Henwood, Ellie Krupnick, Britt Aboutaleb
Image credits, from top: Image: Christina Animashaun/Vox; Christina Animashaun/Vox/Getty; Christina Animashaun/Vox, Glossier; Christina Animashaun/Vox, Everlane; Image: Christina Animashaun/Vox, Universal Standard; Image: Christina Animashaun/Vox