What Exactly Is Plus Privilege?

by Gina Jones 2

When it comes to body positivity, it's beginning to feel like the world is finally changing and coming around to celebrating all bodies, be they fat, thin, or anything in between. But in their Nov. 2015 interview with Refinery29, activists and models Dounia Tazi and Mina Mahmood are tackling plus size privilege. In other words, the idea that people who toe the plus size line but are still able to wear some straight size clothing are privileged in a way that larger humans who can only purchase plus size clothing are not.

Lucky for us, the teen models are incredibly outspoken about their privileges rather than refusing to admit they exist. They recognize that although they are plus size by the fashion industry standards, they aren't the only kind of plus size that exists. As Dounia Tazi told Refinery29, "We need bigger women as the faces of what being plus size really is. We may be bigger than women you're used to seeing, but we still have access to clothing and spaces that authentically plus size women don't have access to."

Her words are part of a discussion that's been debated in the plus size community for a long time. According to fellow plus size model Alex LeRosa, the plus size fashion industry uses models sizes 8, 10, or 12 even "when sometimes the stores don't start carrying plus size clothes until size 14." To put it bluntly, the women modeling plus size clothes aren't always the targeted customer.

Although the label of "plus size" can include women who fit into straight sizes, the women who can only purchase plus size brands aren't always being represented by models who can comfortably fit into both. Recognizing plus privilege isn't about invalidating the experiences of women who are on the smaller end of the plus size spectrum, but acknowledging that these women aren't the only size that "plus size" can be. It's also about recognizing that the women who most need representation are usually at the larger end of the scale.

Mina Mahmood also told R29 that she is often "automatically labeled as a plus size girl" before her measurements are even taken. She goes on to admit that she can fit into a straight size medium. But this revelation isn't meant to be a bragging point by the plus size teen. Instead, she feels disdainful towards an industry that perceives a medium — an otherwise average size — to be on the plus spectrum. She continued, "I can still wear just about any piece I find and like. Women who don't have that need a bigger platform, and it should start with modeling."

However, I feel it's important not to allow the debate about plus privilege to derail the ultimate message of body positivity: Inclusivity, visibility, and acceptance for all. Based on their interview, it seems Dounia Tazi and Mina Mahmood feel the same. The pair is straightforward when discussing the fat shaming they suffer through on the daily. "On a regular day, I'll get at least 50 comments [on Instagram] just saying 'fat,' as if I don't know what I look like," Mahmood said. "But those comments are the ones that stand out to me, because it shows me our society's deeply ingrained hate for fat people."

Personally, I also feel privileged in that I can still fit into straight size clothing. I can walk into an H&M or Topshop or Zara and find clothes that not only fit me, but that fit me comfortably. I don't possess the proportions of most plus size models, but I'm also definitely not as fat as many (if not most) members of the plus size community.

If I go shopping with my mom, for instance, I can fit into the large sizes in fast fashion stores and the smaller sizes in plus size ones. My mom, on the other hand, can only fit into the plus sizes. It's unfair to her (and to all women like her) that ladies even smaller than me are showcasing the clothes supposedly made for her size and shape.

Recognizing this sort of privilege within our online debates and body positive discussions is arguably just as important as understanding thin shaming and all the layers of privilege within traditional beauty standards. Tazi and Mahmood should be congratulated on their willingness to start this dialogue. While it's important to recognize one's privilege, being told you're not "fat enough" to identify as "plus size" when you've experienced fat shaming and grown to embrace the term is also invalidating. Questioning someone's identity because they don't fit into one's own perception of size is unnecessary, if not cruel.

By addressing plus privilege for what it is, we can hopefully band together instead of turning on each other in order to focus on taking down a society, media, and fashion industry all designed to rob fat people of their humanity. And as for us on the cusp of being plus women? We need to use our space and voices to promote larger people in the plus size community, rather than just those who look like us.

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And listen to the latest episode of Bustle's The Chat Room, where we discuss the reaction to Ashley Graham's Sports Illustrated cover:

Images: Courtesy dounia; bae.doe/Instagram