Are Plus Size Models The Answer To Our Body Image Problems?

See Beauty

I cringe every time I read an article about how fantastic it is that some company decided to embrace shape and size diversity and use plus size models in their advertisements.

Well good for them. Aren’t they special. Someone should give them a gold star. 

I am unimpressed. First, why is this always about women? Second, I have yet to see a plus size model who hasn’t been photoshopped into merely a larger version of the classic model type. Where is the stomach? Where are the rolls? Where are the stretch marks? Call me when it gets real.

Having a marketing campaign that features women of all shapes, colors, and sizes should not be front page news. And it should not lead to free publicity for the companies that take the leap. It’s NOT a grand achievement. It’s the least they can do–the LEAST they can do!

Despite the positive PR, I feel certain there is no altruism in those ads. No one in those companies had an epiphany about treating all women with equal levels of respect. No one stood up in a boardroom somewhere and yelled

“Profits be damned, it’s time we start honoring all women around here.
Bring me all the size eighteens in the land!”

This was an economic decision. End of story. If the tide shifts those same marketing pros will abandon this tactic and follow the next trend.

The trick is we, the consumer, need to set that trend before they set it for us. What we demand they will promote. What we buy they will sell. What we condemn they will put on a clearance rack. We are not powerless here.

For years women have asked to be seen as whole and beautiful for who we are. We asked it of ourselves and now we are asking it of everyone else.

Look! This is a woman! We are three dimensional beings who are not interested in erasing parts of our body or blurring away our lines to fit some limited idea of beauty.

The Internet and social media has made it possible for us to scream that message in ways we have never been able to do before. Over the last few years our newsfeeds have been filled with the most amazing images of women unapologetically looking like they really look. Go! SEE!

  • The Shape of a Mother and its offshoot, This is a Woman, invites us to remove the veil of what we have been conditioned to believe about our bodies and challenges us to develop self-love with the hope that the next generation will only ever see beauty when they look in a mirror.
  • My Body Gallery’s goal is to help women SEE themselves more clearly in this world of weights and measures.
  • The Vagina Project is an incredible body image art project about the female genitals. Why does it exist? Because, yes, women have been told their labia are imperfect and something for which they should feel shame and embarrassment. (By the way, since society views the genitals as more offensive than, say, a knee cap, you may find The Vagina Projectimages graphic. It is NOT pornography but I suggest you follow the link at your own discretion…and probably not at work.)
  • And when our bodies are damaged and perfect gets redefined view The Scar Project. It features stunning portraits of young breast cancer survivors and allows us to see that beauty can exist in imperfection.

Companies, do you SEE? We don’t need your help defining what women look like–we’ve got that covered–but you need us to stay in business. We are not impressed by gestures. You may be trying to change for the better, and we quietly applaud you for that, but it’s not enough, not anymore.

Take the next big leap. Stop telling us we’re too fat, too thin, too pale, too curvy, too flat, too round, too hairy, too gray, too bony, too soft, too anything in particular, because we are all those things and more and we embrace it. As empowered women we look at your ads and marketing campaigns and wonder what the hell is taking you so long to see what is right in front of your eyes.

Why can’t you see what we SEE?

We are women. We are fat. We are thin. We are curvy. We are flat. We are round. We are hairy. We are gray. We are bony. We are soft. We live lives filled with purpose, compassion, experience, fear, love, pain, joy, recovery, strength, and value.

And now we are watching to SEE what you do next.

(What do you think of plus size models? What kind of diversity would you like to see? Fantasy has its place and point. Do you prefer the fantasy of the “perfect” model? Join the conversation.)

K.M. (Kelly) O’Sullivan is a writer, blogger, and unapologetic feminist mother living in the Midwest with her husband, their three boys, and the cats. Kelly writes about parenting, politics, feminism, body image, and more. Read more from Kelly at and connect with her on Facebook ( and on Twitter (

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