Does The Label “Plus Sizes For Girls” Send The Wrong Message?

Earlier today I watched a segment on the Today show about the current effort by retailers to provide plus sizing for girls at most ages (including toddlerhood). The question: is this labeling the wrong way to go? 

Look, it’s clear that there are a variety of body types at all ages for girls. There is, also, the current obesity epidemic in this country that is requiring that more and more girls need larger sizes. So providing size choices at all ages – in stores and online – makes sense. Retailers are there to sell clothes, and kids (and parents) don’t want to be restricted in terms of what styles they can choose from.

But from my vantage point, do we need to use the phrase “Plus Sizes”? To me, it sounds like the fashion equivalent of doing a bad job of “mainstreaming” – you’re just like all of the  ”normal” girls, except that you are a “plus size.” Do we need a “Too Skinny” section too?

I get that the retailers want to be sure that parents know that there is a concerted effort going on to be sure any girl can select from any style in most stores. But couldn’t a marketing campaign simply state that there is a full range of sizes available? I think most parents are comfortable sorting through either numeric sizing or abbreviations. I wonder if retailers like Sears consulted with developmental experts – rather than just marketing professionals – who might have helped them craft a better message. Yes, I’m guessing that retailers don’t really think through the deeper issues for kids, and focus myopically on target audiences and sales potential, even though a more suitable balance could be achieved.

If you saw the segment on the Today show, you heard an articulate 11-year-old (who purchases “plus size” clothes) who seems much wiser than the retailers these days. (If you didn’t catch it, check the Today show website and see if it is posted there). She said that she likes being able to go to the mainstream stores and be able to buy what all the other girls can buy (which wasn’t always the case). She also suggested that stores can simply rely on sizing and not the “plus size” labeling. And she plans to launch her own line of fashion someday that avoids unnecessary, and potentially undermining, labeling. I hope she does!

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  1. by rebecca harrison

    On September 5, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    I hate the plus size concept! I really don’t see why we can’t go to the Euro type system of clothing sizes. They don’t use plus or petite, but rather base sizing for kids on measurements and have a wide variety of numbering systems for sizing, that while initially confusing for those of us used to small, medium, large catagories, are actually pretty clear and easier to get the right fit. They dont give arbitrary labels to tell kids or adults you are extra extra large or extra small. You wear what you wear, and there is no perceived social judgement attached to the labeling of any size.

  2. by Melissa

    On September 5, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    The term “full range of sizes” is simply too generic (are there slim sizes available? plus sizes?). And that is probably why you don’t see marketers using it. I wouldn’t want to take my slim kid to the store thinking slim sizes were available, when it was only plus size.

    The problem is that “plus-sized” clothing is proportionally different than regular sized clothing. Clothing is typically modeled off of one size and then the length/width are scaled for larger sizes. But extra width is needed for plus size clothing. Say you have two girls who are the same height, but one is considerably heavier. The heavier girl doesn’t need a longer pair of pants, but she does need extra width. Therefore instead of a 7 regular, she needs a 7 plus size.

    I do not know of a way you could number the plus size clothing in the same range as the regular clothing without differentiating it somehow. It would just be too confusing to the customer. And yes, some lines (Gap for example) do carry kids’ clothes in “slim” sizes. I actually think “plus-sized” is a pretty good euphemism for “larger-sized”. “Too Skinny” on the other hand, is a fairly nasty way of referring to slim kids. I don’t think any of us wants to see “Too Skinny” and “Too Fat” sections, do we?

    I think we just need to encourage all kids to be happy with their body size and type. If they need a different size than other kids, so what? And if they’re unhappy because they’re over- or under- weight, help them do what they need to do to fix it. That’s our job as parents.

  3. by rebecca harrison

    On September 5, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    I think numbering it to differentiate sizes is pretty easy… Look at Men’s clothing… it is pretty obvious that a 30×36 in pants is for someone skinnier, while a 40×36 is for someone who is heavier. In shirts, you are looking at arm and neck measurements, and the assumptions for chest size follow the neck sizes (They assume if you have a bigger neck, the chest needs to be proportionately larger as well). While the system isn’t perfect, it works pretty darn well! Several of the Euro lines that I have purchased use similar setups. I just find it astonishing that for men in the US, we leave out the judgement and just provide sizes. But for women, we have set up the “ideal proportions”, sized clothes accordingly, and developed such harsh stigmas.

    Oh, and if you don’t think being called “plus sized” carries a stigma, watch the looks on Sales Women’s faces when someone plus sized asks for help in the regular ladies department. There is definitely a stigma!

    And frankly, I don’t like the implication that some department stores have made that if you are under a size 12, you are a “Lady” but over a size 12, you are just a woman. I find it very condescending to be told, “Oh, this section is for ladies, you need to move on to the Women’s department to find plus size selections.” I know that the concept of a “lady” is simply another social stereotype, but I think it is a term most of us grow up striving to earn. And just because I am overweight, it does NOT make me any less of a lady!

  4. by John

    On September 25, 2012 at 10:23 am

    obese, fat, gorda, call it anyway you want it, all mean OVERWEIGHT=YOU ARE CARRYING TOO MUCH WEIGHT. who are we trying to kid? ourselves?