What Plus-Size Women Really Want to Be Called

It’s “curvy,” not “plus size.” Got it? That was the top response among women size 14 and over, when asked about their preferred marketing term in a recent survey by retailer Sonsi. Other questions delved into body image, fashion influences and wardrobe essentials, with the results, released on Monday, providing great insight into the ways that curvy women perceive themselves. 

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“We really felt like, though the plus-size movement has made great strides over the past few years, there was still something holding women back from finding their inner fashionista,” Sonsi e-commerce director Kristin Mongello told Yahoo Shine. She added that a just-launched follow-up, the online Curvy Quotient Test, aims to help women determine the style they’re most comfortable with.

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For the survey, Sonsi questioned 1,000 women. Among the most interesting findings: While the vast majority of plus-size women (85 percent) say they believe that beautiful bodies come in all shapes and sizes, fewer than half (49 percent) say that they embrace their own curves. That, Mongello added, signals “a confidence gap among plus-size women.”

Angela O’Riley, a longtime plus-size Ford model, stylist and fashion consultant, told Yahoo Shine that she wasn’t surprised. “It’s deeply ingrained, this fashion thing. We’re all socialized from a very young age to look at fashion magazines, but nobody looks like us, so it’s exclusionary, and it sets up a vicious cycle of ‘I’m no good,’” she said. “It’s a psychological study when you make clothes.”

Regarding terminologies, 28 percent of those surveyed said they most liked the term “curvy,” mainly because their curves help define who they are.

“I actually prefer ‘curvy,’” O’Riley said. “It has such a positive connotation. If you used it to describe a friend, no matter what her size, you’d think, ‘Oh, she’s delicious!’ It’s empowering instead of diminishing.”

Still, 25 percent liked “plus size,” while another 25 percent went with “full figured,” with some great write-in choices including “normal,” “average” and “beautiful.”

Marie Denee, editor of the Curvy Fashionista, told Yahoo Shine that her preferred term changed depending whom she was speaking to. The survey, she added, provided a valuable tool in getting beyond industry assumptions. “If you did this same survey on straight-size women, you would find similarities. You have your fashion forwards, conservatives, plain Janes, and high-end fashion lovers,” she said. “The variety is what’s key here. The plus-size woman is not as monolithic in style as the department store buyers and retailers seem to think.”

Other telling survey results focused on:

Trendsetting. While 26 percent identified themselves as women who are eager to buy the latest trends, 21 percent said they wait to see those clothes on their friends first. And 54 percent said they don’t follow trends at all, with 43 percent saying they dress first and foremost for comfort. 

Dressing up. The women surveyed had mixed feelings about getting fancy. While 44 percent said they embrace a wedding, cocktail party or girls’ night out as an opportunity to show off their curves, an equal number admitted they “dread having to find a suitable outfit but do my best to put together something that’s suitable.” And 13 percent said they just “pull an old outfit from my closet and hope that no one notices me.”

Fashion influencers. Mostly, the women surveyed said they find inspiration from women who look like them, and ranked the sources with curvy friends and family topping the list (30 percent). Next came curvy icons (21 percent), plus-size pages in national fashion magazines (19 percent), bloggers (13 percent) and Full Figured Fashion Week runway shows (13 percent).

“I love that they are inspired by other curvy women,” O’Riley said. “Advertisers should take note of this.” She added, “Part of my job is to show up fashionable, and wherever I am, there is always somebody my size who comes up and says, ‘I like your whatever.’ It feels good. And I like it because I get the chance to say, ‘This would look great on you.’ It’s a great opportunity to tell them they’re beautiful.”

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