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The Plus Size Double Standard and the Red Carpet

“So none of the girls here eat anything?” asks Andy in The Devil Wears Prada, “not since two became new four and zero became the new two.” Nigel replies. “Well, I’m a six…”, “which is the new fourteen.”

The fashion industry has a bad reputation. With issues like suitability and inclusivity being talked about and called-out more than ever, the meaning of what “fashion” actually is, is being redefined. A large number of people believe that fashion has an air of exclusivity surrounding it, meaning that it is only reserved for the uber-cool and the ultra-wealthy. A club that you need an invite for, and if you aren’t thin, you definitely aren’t getting in. It just isn’t made for you, especially not couture.

This reputation can be seen a lot in the media, with shows like Ugly Betty and the film The Devil Wears Prada. A token ‘ugly’ girl gets a makeover and defrizzes her hair, et voila! She is secretly beautiful and oh-so chic, just like that! Her super fashionable alter ego had been hiding inside her the whole time. Who knew?!

The issue with this trope is that we all know. We know that she is beautiful, really. The actresses used in these films or shows are conventionally attractive, white, and thin. The ‘ugly’ and ‘before’ elements from these makeover scenes come from her unstyled hair, outdated glasses, and weight. When she magically montages into her new, better self she becomes lighter, brighter, and liked more.

So, what about the red carpet?

Red carpet events are, however, seen as nights of real life transformation. The magic feels so alive, and so real at these events. Money, stylists, and time don’t seem limited so transformation is expected, even required – as model Ashley Graham stated “You can’t just show up in jeans and a T-shirt.

The fashion seen at these events is revolutionary and is discussed all around the world. Every time the Met Gala is held, it trends globally on Twitter. It seems much more authentic than what we are used to seeing in fiction. Real people get these amazing makeovers for the red carpet, people that we look up to and admire. It is aspirational for so many, because it is real.

But, when you think of red carpet looks, who first comes to mind? Is it Rihanna’s 2015 canary-yellow Met Gala dress? Or Arianna’s grey tulle Grammy’s dress? Is it a plus size woman that you first think of? Probably not. Fat is not seen as synonymous with fashion.

Many plus size models have reported that they struggle with being dressed for red carpet events as designers just don’t cater to their size; Ashley Graham stated that no designer wanted to dress her, so she was put ‘on hold’ for events; ‘I couldn’t get a designer to dress me…’.

When you don’t fit society’s ideal of classic beauty it is hard. You can feel invisible. You get picked apart and criticised for things when conventionally attractive women (a.k.a thin women) wouldn’t be. Recently, actress Nicola Coughlin was criticised for wearing a black cardigan at this year’s Golden Globes.

The host of The Fat Calf podcast tweeted ‘The fat girl from Bridgerton is wearing a black cardigan at the Golden Globes, bc no matter how hot and stylish you are, if you’re a fat girl there will always be a black cardigan you think about wearing, then decide against, but ultimately wear bc you feel like you have to. [sic]’ Referring to Coughlin’s choice of wearing a Ply Knits cardi over a yellow tulle Molly Goddard dress.

Coughlin replied ‘I thought the cardigan looked ace, Molly Goddard used them on her runway with the dresses that’s where the idea came from, also I have a name. [sic]’.

This was not a problem the actress Elle Fanning faced when she wore a mint-green cardi over a Rochas dress to the BFI festival. She was not picked apart, or accused of doubting her own relationship to her body in relation to what she was wearing. People weren’t tweeting that Fanning was obviously insecure about her arms, because she is thin. It was a style decision, not a choice rooted in insecurity. Plus sized women are subject to harsh double standards within society – the rules for thin women are not the same.

Another glaring example of this happened in January 2020, when plus size model Tess Holliday wore the strawberry midi dress by Lirika Matoshi to the Grammy Awards and made ‘worst dressed’ lists. When the dress became a TikTok sensation it was hailed as ‘the dress of the summer’.

One size does not fit all

“I like how this dress had me on worst dressed lists when I wore it in January to the Grammys, but now bc a bunch of skinny ppl wore it on TikTok everyone cares. [sic]” Holliday wrote.

The implication that fashion only becomes fashionable when garments are worn by thinner people is so damaging to the majority of people. In the UK the average women’s dress size is 18 and in the US it is size 14 (a UK 18), however, less than 20% of apparel is made in those sizes.

The idea that you can only be stylish when you are thin perpetuates dangerous precedents for so many. Plus sized people do not need to change who they are, or how they look to be accepted. Plus size women can be fashionable and they can definitely rock the red carpet!

The sooner that this is realised, the better.

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