In this op-ed, writer Gianluca Russo writes about the importance of a 30-second scene in Shrill and the importance of not telling plus size people to shrink into a smaller size.
Hulu’s Original Series Shrill is a landslide success for many reasons: It’s a truthful depiction of fat bodies, it has comical plotlines, and its star Aidy Bryant all contribute to why the series has quickly become a must-watch. Yet it’s often the simple details that set the series apart from others. One scene in the new season that at first seems to be surface-level truly unpacks an issue faced by all fat women and men.
In the sixth episode of Shrill’s second season, the main character Annie (played by Bryant) attends a female empowerment conference that soon proves to be a cash grab at false feminism. Before listening to the conference’s keynote speaker, she’s given a T-shirt by one of the employees. The (very thin) woman hands Annie a size small. When Annie asks if they have a double XL, the woman says, “We have a very generous medium. It’s like a dress on me.” Annie, clearly taken aback but too annoyed by the fake feminism of the conference, takes the medium and sits down.
The scene lasts only about 30 seconds, but in that time the writers of Shrill nail an all-too-common situation for plus-size people: being asked to shrink down and squeeze into a thin world.
This same situation has happened to me twice in the past month: In preparation for fashion week, a brand offered to gift me a jacket to wear (a common practice in fashion journalism, although it is very rare for me because often brands don’t sell my size which is, like Annie’s, a 2XL). I requested the garment in my size and was told it would be shipped. When I didn’t hear back, however, I followed up and was told my size was unavailable, but I could be sent a size down that should fit just fine because the brand’s clothing is — wait for it — very generous.
Two weeks later, the same thing happened with another brand. This time, after telling me they had my size and then retracting that a week later, they offered me two sizes down because the brand was — you guessed it — very generous in their sizing.
Similar situations have happened to me my entire life: when ordering cast T-shirts during high school theater, when participating in school events, when trying to find a jersey to wear during extracurricular activities in junior high. For the past 22 years, I have tried time and time again to squeeze my fatness by forcing pants to button when they clearly didn’t, leaving marks on my waist from the fabric rubbing against my skin.
This situation has a dehumanizing impact on plus folks and serves as a clear reminder that their body is not viewed as the norm in this thin-first world — but statistically, it is.
Despite the fact that 68% of American women are plus-size, the fashion industry largely caters to thin bodies. Fat women are left the scraps oftentimes with no access to trendy or stylish clothing. And while some brands have started to make the change toward being more size-inclusive, we’re still in the very beginning stages of that market shift.
Not every brand will design for plus-sizes, whether due to lack of resources or lack of desire. It’s a fact that many people — myself included — have accepted. Plus will not always be available, and that’s what it is. But what’s not okay is continuing to tell plus people to shrink.
If you don’t design for plus bodies, be up-front about it. Say you don’t sell our size. Tell us the truth. But don’t tell us that we can likely fit into a smaller size or that we can squeeze to fit your size medium. Don’t make us feel like we need to accommodate our bodies to your unrealistic view of what the norm in fashion should be. That has a lasting impact and reminds us that the world still does not accept who we are.
That 30-second scene in Shrill is a situation that so many fat people can relate to. Whether at a conference like Annie or at a mall, being told by a thin person that we can squeeze into their limited size range is precisely the reason so many in the plus community dislike shopping. I may not be able to walk into every store and find an XXL, but I want to know up-front who is catering to me and who is not. To be told that I can try to fit into a “generous” smaller size is not only embarrassing, but it feeds directly into the othering of fat bodies.
And for the record, no “generous” size medium will fit like an XXL.
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue