Are Plus-Sized Women Actually Clamouring For Better Clothes Or Merely Whining?

06/04/2011 11:01 | Updated 22 May 2015

The fashion world continues to argue the plus-size debate - as it is reported that women are 'clamouring' for decent, fashionable size 18 plus clothing - and failing to find it.

Indeed, the respected broadcaster, and Woman's Hour presenter, Jenni Murray, recently argued that women with bigger figures were "treated with contempt", and snooty shop assistants belittled her as she failed to find anything that fitted in tiny, badly-lit changing rooms she could barely turn around in. For their part, retailers are reported to be addressing the problem of the burgeoning plus-size market as it soars to a quarter of the population.

But hang on a minute. That means that three-quarters of the population aren't plus-sized and the that bigger girls are actually a minority. Am I being naïve to suggest that Ms. Murray did not find anything that fitted because they were made for the mass market, not her personal measurements?

It's not just big women who look bad in shop changing rooms anyway: we all do. As for snooty shop assistants, well, I've never met one, but maybe they were merely fed up of being paid a pittance to stand all day serving granite-faced, dissatisfied ladies of a certain age, dress size and superior bank balance who complain bitterly and loudly when the world doesn't bow to their demands for appropriate clothing?

Are plus-sized women actually clamouring – or merely whining?

As long ago as 1959 the quarterly Vogue Book of Beauty ran an article entitled 'Fashion Favours the Slim' which went on to explain that your figure is the basis for great fashion and as such we should tailor ourselves to the best look we want to achieve. Back then, fashion dictated our figures; figures did not dictate fashion. Unless you were very rich, not much was available beyond size 12, and thanks to the lingering restrictions of the War, women were slim and usually had just one 'best' dress shopping for clothes only twice a year. Even in the liberal, free-spending Sixties, we wore what there was and when fashion said 'slim' we ate less. Hence the popularity of crash diets: you couldn't just go and buy a new dress every time your weight shot up, so it was quicker and cheaper to diet for a week, lose the 7lbs, than scrimp half your wage for a new frock.

What is new is the retailer/customer dynamic. Nowadays we expect our shapes to dictate the fashion industry, and are up in arms the minute retailers do not slavishly follow our every whim, but how can they? This is not bespoke tailoring. And while plus-sized women are by far the most forceful, bitter and vociferous, their size is at least reversible should they wish (unlike those with special sartorial needs they can do nothing about such as the extremely tall or those with prosthetics or mastectomies for example).

Indeed, which among us is a standard size? I have never yet bought a jacket or coat that doesn't have sleeves covering my hands, a hemline down to my knees and buttons straining over my ample chest. Nothing goes straight on my back. I am forever at the tailor having things let out, taken up and eased in, but hey, aren't we supposed to celebrate our uniqueness?

As for the poor retailers, they just want to turn a profit and will sell anything if it brings results. And that's where the minority question comes in. Once people get into the 'oppressed minority' mood and egg each other on, there's no stopping them. A quick check round all the major stores, from the super-expensive to budget, revealed massive numbers of clothes above size 18, but you'll never please some larger ladies. Put simply, plus-sized women don't hate the clothes: they hate how they look in them.

Don't get me wrong: there's no law that says women should be a certain weight. I don't choose my friends for their looks, or dress size and I spend my working life being helpful to people who want to lose weight for whatever reason: I don't judge people personally. But, what I can't help judging is the antagonistic, aggression of many larger women, who when they feel their size is being criticised, are quick to turn on their thinner sisters and verbally beat them to a pulp without a thought. Thin women are hammered daily with abuse about being 'lollipops', scrawny, unsexy and not real – that's the nice stuff – and yet, they take it all with dignity.

So come on you larger ladies, be big about this. Stop complaining and do something. Show the retailers who's boss! Open your own shop! Sew your own, start a dressmaking business and make a fortune. Whatever happens you can't lose - and let's face it, getting the fashion of your dreams and showing off your curves in gorgeous clothes will be a weight off your mind.

Monica Grenfell trained as a food scientist and nutritionist before working in the NHS and a private practice. She turned to writing in 1992 and spent two years as health and diet columnist with the Sunday Mirror which was followed by 10 years at the News of the World 'Sunday' Magazine. Since 2008 she's been the diet expert and a columnist at the magazine Woman's Own.To find out more about Monica Grenfell please visit her website at


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