TOWARDS the end of April, in an appearance on Loose Women, Jamelia made some controversial comments about high street shops normalising obesity by stocking plus sizes clothes. In the same breath as saying she supports people being themselves and that everyone should have “access to lovely clothes”, she goes on to say that it’s not right to “facilitate” unhealthy lifestyles. She thinks that high street shops should stock a limited number of plus size clothes and that there should be an increase in specialist shops selling these types of clothes.
While many reactions have focused on her comments in relation to overweight women, it’s important to remember that she also directed her comments to people who are size 2 – the size that models tend to be. In fact she targets all women who fall into her idea of what an unhealthy lifestyle is – and yet she fails to define what exactly she means by “the average woman”.
I think it’s evident that Jamelia has never had to try and shop for clothes over size 16, if she had then she would be aware that shops already present a limited stock for larger women. If she did then she would know that shops already limit their stock of plus size clothes, and some styles of clothes especially certain styles of hot pants aren’t made for above a size 12. Women’s fashion also doesn’t really make sense size wise, as one size doesn’t fit all for women; all styles are different sizes depending on body type, and depending on the shop. A size 12 in Topshop isn’t necessarily a size 12 in somewhere like H&M or New Look, so when Jamelia is talking about the “average” woman she’s really oversimplifying the issue that some women have when buying clothes. Since anything over size 12 is technically plus size, by calling for plus size stock to be limited you’re probably going to end up putting unattainable limits on who can or cannot be classed as “average”.
Instead of shaming women for having body types that don’t fit into your view of what “average” is we should encourage women, particularly young girls, to be comfortable in their own skin and to be confident in who they are. Ultimately it’s important to let young girls know that they won’t always be the size that they are, and that it’s okay to seemingly put on weight as their body develops and grows. At the end of the day weight fluctuates; more muscular women will apparently be overweight according to the body mass index; and, curvier women will obviously weigh more than those who are smaller. The sooner we start normalising this idea, especially for young girls, the better.
We also need to stop trying to pressure young girls to look a certain way. It happens all the time, and by limiting the clothing options for certain girls will continue to undermine their confidence and growth. Demonising a portion of the population, who are already insecure and trying to grow, is not the correct way to help these women grow and develop. Teaching girls that they can’t be trendy if they’re not a certain size isn’t going to limit the amount of girls resorting to unhealthy practices as they struggle to be seen as acceptable in society’s eyes. Losing weight can actually be a really expensive and long process, which only becomes easier if you have the support of your peers and your family. It’s seen as unacceptable for young teenage girls to try and lose weight even if they have made the decision themselves, and yet here we are having a discussion about limiting the clothes available for girls over a certain size. Why are we telling girls to not diet, but at the same time we still encourage them to fit into a specific type?
Jamelia’s calls for specialist shops will only go to further alienate people who struggle with self esteem issues hinging around their weight and body type – something which not everyone can actually control. It’s not like there aren’t already certain shops out there that cater to larger people anyway. Specialist shops already exist for plus size women, like Evans, and they seem to often forget that the people who want to wear their clothes might want to be trendy.
This is just one example of the discussion about different body types and fashion, where overweight people tend to be demonised and everyone tries to impose this singular idea of a “healthy weight” or a “healthy lifestyle”. But what exactly is healthy? And why do we always try and fit women into one size that we label “average”?