Melissa McCarthy is one of the funniest women in entertainment right now. But she's quick to get serious when it comes to calling out fashion's reluctance to accept women of larger sizes. When the topic of shopping came up in her interview with More magazine, the Spy actress said:
"It's an odd thing that you can't go shopping with your friends because your store is upstairs hidden by the tire section."
Joke aside, McCarthy hits upon an ugly truth. Women in search of stylish clothes in larger sizes face a series of hurdles: "Plus-size" clothing is often sectioned off in a different part of a store, comes in limited style choices, has a heftier price tag or is altogether unavailable. Unless, of course, you go to a speciality store designated only for "plus-size" women.
It's part of a constant mode of separation and "otherness" applied to women of a larger size.
False assumptions about "plus-size" women: If the "tire section" reference sounds particularly unappealing, it's because that's essentially how brands treat plus-size shoppers. Old Navy has faced scrutiny for charging more for plus-size clothing, while stores like J. Crew and Talbots often neglect to stock plus-size in stores, leaving shoppers to go online.
Behind the limited retail options are deep-rooted assumptions about the style choices that so-called "plus-size" women want; up until recently, most women's clothing above a size 12 was frumpy, unsexy or just plain ugly.
The latest example is Target's much-heralded Ava & Viv plus-size collection, which one reviewer at Jezebel recently called out for being shapeless and drab. It was as if the retailer thought larger women wouldn't be interested in more stylish clothing, she noted.
Such unflattering assumptions are often directed at overweight people in general, but perhaps most obviously within the fashion industry — as evidenced by the recent controversy over "fat shaming" sketches spied in a New York magazine slideshow of photos from the Lilly Pulitzer headquarters. (Coincidentally, Lilly Pulitzer also debuted highly successful line at Target earlier this year, though it offered its plus-size online only. )
Plus-size women are women too: But it's a matter of respect, as well as a shrewd business consideration. Just because a store doesn't carry above a certain size doesn't mean that women cease to exist or desire high-quality stylish clothes. Plus-size women are women too, McCarthy said, and a size is a moving target, not an ironclad "identity."
"I have experience dressing me as a 6, a 12 and more. And when you go above a size 12, you don't lose your love of fashion," McCarthy told Women's Wear Daily in 2014.
"People don't stop at size 12," she added, to More magazine. "I feel like there's a big thing missing where you can't dress to your mood above a certain number."
That's precisely why McCarthy is using her own clothing line to bring plus-size women into fold and give them the stylish clothes they deserve — without a separate tag or category. Her new line, Melissa McCarthy Seven7, will feature all sizes. Because, as McCarthy says, "Women don't, so why should clothes?" she told WWD.
It's a great first step coming from an actress who originally studied design, can rock the red carpet with the best of them — and isn't afraid to speak up when she and plus-size women everywhere aren't getting clothing that's worthy of them.