By Josephine Agbonkhese & Chris Onuoha
PLUS size women are generally socially frowned upon and openly shunned by people especially those in the fashion industry, modeling agencies and even in dating. In the African setting, obesity in women is endemic given that socio-cultural practices, carbohydrated tropical foods and other factors lead to it. In many cases, the ‘fattening room culture’ practiced by people of Efik/Ibibio descent in Cross River/Akwa Ibom states for marriageable brides comes to bear; while the Igbo and Yoruba people see huge waist lines in women preferable for tying wrapper.
Besides, African women have the tendency to blow up after child birth and in some cases, acknowledged by some as evidence of healthy living. Over time, plus size ladies have come to be psychologically ostracized and become a social issue and subject of discourse among health and well-being experts, giving room to debates and seminars on how to change the perception about being plump. Modeling agencies and fashion designers are not left out in this changing narrative redirecting the mind on how big beautiful and bold a plus size woman can be.
International music scene
The commercial view that all women seen as trendy should be very thin in order to be fashionable is fading as more women embrace their plus-size and curvy figures.
Celebrity: Celebrities who are plus size have fought their way to acceptance and recognition through resilience, boldness and creativity. Wunmi Obe is plus size and very proud of it as a singer and performer. On the international music scene, R/B soul singer and diva, Aretha Franklin never feels odd even in the presence of Diana Ross and the like. Onyeka Onwenu, who perhaps grew into plus size with age, stills feels and performs energetically and gracefully on stage. Nollywood plus size celebrities are proudly given special roles that mark them out.
In sports, plus size has never been a barrier and obviously is an advantage in shot put, wrestling, weightlifting and javelin throwing competitions. A Nigerian Olympic medalist, Marian Usman won a bronze medal in weightlifting during the 2008 Beijing Olympics in China with numerous awards from other contests. She is a plus size woman who is proud of her physique anytime any day.
Modeling: Recently, modeling agencies have come to terms with accommodating and featuring plus size women in their shows and fashion runways. Currently, it is fashionable to see a plus size cute model at events as ushers. Needless to say that there’s a new movement in the fashion industry – an industry that once shunned plus size and larger women is now expanding to welcome bigger and bold women to the runway while ladies on the other hand, saying, we are here to rule the world.
Who is Plus Size?
According to some fashionistas and social pundits, the definition of plus size depends on who is defining it. Some people believe that any woman whose size is over a 12 is a plus size, while others declare that plus size starts at size 16. As women age and gain weight, the plus size designation is changing. A curvy woman is not necessarily a plus-size woman. The designation of curvy and plump woman has to do with body measurements and the differential between the size of the waist and hips. Curvy refers to a waist-hip differential of .75 while plus size is above. If a woman has a waist size of 27 inches or less and a hip size of 36 inches, she is considered curvy.
A hip size of 46 inches and a waist size of 34.5 inches or less is also considered curvy. There are many beautiful plus-sized models who are also curvy. Women of any size can be curvy, because the designation has to do more with proportion rather than size. Plus size women can be curvy, and so can skinny women. Some people prefer to use the term “curvy” rather than “plus size” because it sounds less intimidating, but just getting rid of the term plus size would accomplish the same thing.
Curvy vs Plus Size: For Jennifer Enujiugha, the Anambra born Nollywood actress, model, choreographer and crowned queen, ‘Miss Curvy Nigeria Top Model’; “Plus-sized women and models are not appreciated as they ought to be in Nigeria. All African women have the tendency to be plus-sized. Even if they were skinny before marriage, when they get married and start having children, they become plus-sized. Generally, men chase after skinny models but things are changing now as the westerners are beginning to accept the fact that there should be a place for the plus-sized in every sphere including the fashion world. Most people who come to watch modeling shows are plump, but if in any case the shows are for skinny people, they wouldn’t be motivated. A lot of people don’t know, but plus-sized modeling is a goldmine that’s yet to be harnessed in Nigeria.”
Jennifer who fought her way into recognition added that plus size stigma did not in any way deter her from moving forward. “As a dancer, I got used to performing on stage and that helped me loosen up. I became comfortable dancing before large crowds because I used to be very shy. Choreography helped me out so when I got into modeling, I started doing runway shows. Most times, I’m the only plus-sized model on the runway or for a job. I usually fight the temptation to feel inferior because I’m the only plus-sized; instead I chose to take it as an advantage. An American plus size top model, Ashley Graham is doing well and getting more recognition for her roles. It’s high time African people embrace reality and believe that plus size is never a barrier to excel in any career.”
Speaking on health challenges, she did mention that working out in a gym is her way out of fatigue and boredom helping her keep fit. “Most problems plus size ladies encounter is usually the bone – the hip and knee bone might be fragile to carry the body weight. Also, chest pains can occur but it depends on individuals. Most plus sizes do lack appetite. We don’t eat as much as people think except in some cases of junk food intake which also depends on an individuals eating habit.” Jennifer said.
Fashion: Ronke Ademuluyi, founder, African Fashion Week in her comments said; “Plus size is adorable. For me, I think it’s a welcome development to see more of them in the fashion industry because of recent now, I have seen a lot of fashion shows incorporating plus size models on their runways. When we are doing African Fashion Week, we always make sure to include some plus size models. Western runways do not really reflect Afrocentricism. I think plus size models have got a place in the fashion industry. “Secondly, from our experience, the audience love and applaud them on runways because it shows we have not left out a section of women in the business. We are not saying that because you are big, size 20 or 25 that you don’t have the right to wear good clothes or be on the runways.”
Healthwise: Dr. Osita Ibenegbu, Consultant, physician and cardiologist said that there is nothing wrong in someone being big or obese especially when managed well, but was quick to add that obesity generally is not good for health because of its peculiar challenges. “As far as medical doctors are concerned, obesity is not an option but can be managed properly to avoid the seeming complications. We use an apparatus called BMI to check obesity tendency in patients so that we can counsel on how to manage the situation. Average BMI is 28 but when it gets above that number, the fellow is obese.
“ This comes with its challenges which is associated with some chronic diseases. A plus size person is prone to be hypertensive, diabetic and may have bone related issues like arthritis.
Enlargement of heart
This is because the knee and leg carries the entire body weight. You cannot compare a knee carrying 168kg body weight to that of 80kg person. The health disadvantage is that the plus size person will develop high Cholesterol. The complications are hypertension which may result in enlargement of heart, heart failure or attack. Kidney disorder may also result.
But all these are manageable. First of all, we have to understand that some people are created big by nature. Some people are big due to their own carelessness. Eating right is one big option. Plus size persons that adhere to healthy living instructions with regular exercise, less junk fatty food can be healthier than a less plus size person. Generally, people should avoid eating late at night especially carbohydrates.”
Girl next door: Speaking to Funke, a next door girl, she did not hide her feelings in saying her plus size is not doing her good. “At home my siblings although being nice to me, cannot hold back at times in making fun of my size. Whenever I enter public transport, the bus conductors will either scream at me or reluctantly ask me to pay for a double seat. Other than the unusual Jibbers from the public, I don’t have health issues and even my tailors don’t have problem making my dress since my plus size is difficult to get in markets. For my shoes, there are good sizes in the market but I have to search harder to get my match. I have never regretted my size as my boyfriend has not complained.”
It is obvious that the plus size narratives are fast changing. Many health talks, seminars and awareness campaigns are going on to give stigmatized plus size ladies a sense of belonging. Men generally have come to terms in appreciating plus size ladies as can be seen in many weddings recently. For the plus size ladies, it is a disadvantage turned plus advantage.