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How big is big? | Manolo for the Big Girl

How big is big?

Francesca’s last couple of posts, and the comments to them, leave her with an important question: For purposes of this blog, just how big constitutes big?

In recommending plus-size fashions, Francesca’s rule of thumb is that an item of clothing is fair game if it is available in a Size 16 and/or higher. Size 14 is often available in “regular” stores, albeit not as often as size 12, while Size 16 is usually the smallest size available in the plus-size stores. Francesca knows that one could write an entire blog on the travails of the girls who wear size 14, which is often considered too big for the regular stores and too small for the plus-size stores. But she has to make a mental border for herself somewhere. So, for this blog, size 16 is usually it. That is why she sometimes recommends clothing by J. Crew, who are not exactly known for catering to fat girls, because they do have an entire Size 16 section on their site (as well as fashions for the Tall girls, to whom Francesca sometimes wishes to nod and wink), though their failure to offer sizes 18 and up makes Francesca feel a bit squeamish about referring to them too often.

Then we come to the selections for the posts on “Big Girls in Art.” Several readers said that they do not believe that the woman (apparently Salome) in this painting is actually big:

Oh, oh, oh, now we have come straight into the hornet’s nest! For, though this woman  probably does wear a Size 16 or 18 on the bottom (she is a beautiful and voluptuous Pear, and very aesthetically pleasing, and probably has a hard time finding skirts and pants which fit her hips but are not too wide at the waist) Francesca fears, some readers may have looked at this image and thought “if that girl is big, what am I?” They may also have thought “Why is Francesca buying into the Big Bad Media idea that a woman with any fat on her is Big?”

Francesca will answer the second question first. In an ideal world, the Big Bad Media would not categorize people by their size at all. But the whole point of this blog is that our world is not ideal, and women’s whose hips or tummies or breasts are more than an arbitrary size are considered “Big” either in terms of where they can find clothes, or whether they are considered “too big” or “too fat” by others, or both.

The point of Big Girls in Art is to show that indeed that mysterious fault line (and Francesca chooses that term on purpose) is indeed arbitrary. There was a time when the woman with very generous hips was considered the ideal, and was celebrated in what was then The Media. There was a time when having a large butt was so attractive that women wore bustles to make theirs reach out to Indiana. In other words, Francesca wants to demonstrate that the problem is not us, it is this strange, arbitrary idea that thinner is better – an idea started, Francesca thinks, partly because thin women serve as better hangers on which to model the fashions on runways, and partly because having the time and money to maintain a perfectly flat belly indicates wealth in our age. The problem is not us or our genes or our class, it is the time.  Not so long ago, the woman whose genes made her predisposed to the waif-like frame was the one with the problem.

And in answer to the first question . . . if the woman in this painting is big, do you know what you are?

Beautiful.

12 Responses to “How big is big?”

  1. Mimi Stratton February 18, 2008 at 11:07 am #

    Judging from what I’ve read, I don’t think Salome spent too much time fussing with skirts and pants. Or other items of clothing, for that matter.
    Thinking about size, there is also a special hell reserved for those caught between the demarcation between size 14 in regular sizes and size 14W in plus-size stores. One is too small, the other is too large. Sorry, Goldilocks!

  2. Francesca February 18, 2008 at 11:41 am #

    Mimi-

    Francesca feels the pain.

    It is for just such women that God, in His wisdom, created the sewing machine and the seamstress.

    xoxo, Francesca

  3. dogmamaonly February 18, 2008 at 1:39 pm #

    First of all: that woman in that painting is HAWT.

    Secondly: It seems to me that couture, at least, considers anything above a size 2 too big. But I can’t afford those clothes, so whatever.

    Lastly: “I am beautiful, no matter what they say/Words can’t bring me down.” :)

  4. Patia February 18, 2008 at 2:05 pm #

    I confess, I had the same thoughts about that picture, although I didn’t comment. But you’ve redeemed yourself with that last line. ;-)

    May I offer up a few relevant suggestions, if you haven’t already see them? The book, “Zaftig: The Case for Curves,” is an incredible compendium of big beautiful women in art throughout the ages. And this ad is one of two that perfectly illustrate the fickleness of ideal body standards.

  5. kristin February 18, 2008 at 3:42 pm #

    Patia- I love that ad!

  6. Angel February 18, 2008 at 10:33 pm #

    Hmmm, I think plus size is “officially” size 12 and up. These plus size stores size like this: B and Lu starts at 14, Torrid starts at 12, Cherished Woman size 14, Svoboda 14/16, Lane Bryant size 14, Nordstrom size 14/16. Okay, so the consensus is plus size starts at size 14? I think there are many plus size models that are a size 12.

    The woman in the painting is certainly plus size by the standards of today. I’m sure when this was painted her body was luscious and revered. Just like ours would have been. So many gorgeous bodies in art. One just has to look at the paintings of Rubens to see some voluptous, strong women that would be considered obese today. Check out his painting Venus at the Mirror. That gorgeous blonde could be me sitting there. :)

  7. Violet February 19, 2008 at 3:05 pm #

    There’s 12 and 12, and there’s 14 and 14, is the thing. I wear a 12-14 (and an occasional 10 full-cut skirt or 16 trouser, depending … yeah, I’m built a lot like the Salome in the picture). Believe me, I’m frustrated often enough in misses that I’ve repeatedly gone into plus size stores or sections. What the fuck do I care? I just want something that’ll accommodate my ass and look good. But it doesn’t work. A size 12 or 14 in a plus line is built differently.

    So I identify as big, but not as plus, if that makes any sense. In the world of thin women I’m a whale; in the world of big girls I’m generally just one size too small to take advantage of what big-girl resources there are. God knows there are worse problems to have and I’m not that sorry for myself about it — OK, maybe a little ragey occasionally. But, FWIW, it’s not like being a 12-14 and being a 4-6 have much in common experientially speaking.

    (end inbetweenie blathering)

  8. De February 19, 2008 at 4:36 pm #

    Angel : when I was a size 8 I was ‘scouted’ for modelling work. (I think red hair was very ‘in’ at the time…) The scout told me I could do *plus size* modelling.
    And I quote “Models are supposed to be the ideal, see, so you’d be the ideal for a plus sized woman to aspire to.”

    I was offended then and I would be now too. Mostly because of this attitude toward me (that I wasn’t good enough for her to send me for ALL jobs…) I didn’t get into modelling. I’m glad.

    Now, I’m a 14-18 (depending on the brand), but I’m a busty busty hourglass and have always gone to the Plus or “woman” areas to find blouses/dresses.

    The only thing that bothers me is that the word ‘Big’ is still considered an insult or a dirty word. Too much emotion and projection goes into that word, I think. Why must we constantly compare ourselves? Why do we think in terms of -er and -est. Bigger, smaller, thinnest, etc.

    IF that woman is big, then what does that make me? Answer: Another woman’s size has no bearing on my own. It doesn’t make me anything.

    :D
    (Altho Beautiful is a given…muahaha)

  9. Jennie February 19, 2008 at 7:49 pm #

    Marilyn Monroe would be considered a huge woman by today’s standards. 8 to 10 use to be medium, 12 to 14 large, 6 to 8 a small, 2 to 4 extra small and 0 was considered unhealthy to the extreme and this was the time of Twiggy! 16 to 18 was extra large and plus started at 20. So, times change….

  10. Denise February 20, 2008 at 1:13 am #

    Thank you SO MUCH for the tall links.

  11. Gauss February 20, 2008 at 8:36 am #

    The woman in the painting has some of the most luscious hips I’ve ever seen.. And yes, she would be considered “big” today because she actually HAS hips, instead of just hip bones.

  12. leymoo February 23, 2008 at 2:03 pm #

    Hm.

    It used to be that anything that is fitted on the bust had to be an 18W for me.
    That said, I tried a 20 (16 in US) shirt in H&M and it fitted.

    Otherwise, I’m fine with a 14 (18 in UK I think – using H&M for the translation to US as their clothes have the US sizes on them)

    A lot of it depends on the manufacturer and other such things.

    Once upon a time, people could sew and make clothing that fitted just for them. Now things are standardised by shops there is always going to be a problem that x number of groups wont get catered for. :-(