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Rise of the plus size

Hanane Fathallah, a plus size fashion blogger residing in Jeddah is raising awareness about the plus size fashion movement. Her message to women all over the world is clear and simple: “Love Your Body”.
Arab News sat down with the blogger and below is an excerpt of the interview:

Why does the fashion industry ignore plus size women?
According to the fashion industry — high-end or high street fashion — plus size women have always been considered outcasts. Mass media has perfected and spread a concocted ideal image to which only women who fit into size 0 to 10 are marked as ‘approved’. This subliminal message hits young women at an early age; probably as early as picking up their first teen magazine. They are led into a world of extreme thinness and perfection, which causes turmoil to those who don’t succeed or can’t keep up.
Previously, the market used to be more limited. I wouldn’t say that the fashion industry is ignoring plus size women but rather procrastinating until further notice. Many brands took the leap and decided to expand their ‘standard’ lines into larger sizes. Plus size women deserve style, diversity and femininity too.
Some haute couture fashion designers made public statements about plus size women, saying that they don’t belong in the market and that, instead of ‘wining’, they should loose some weight. This vicious circle throws us back to misconceptions. Plus size women are not necessarily obese or overweight. Many plus size women wear bigger sizes but lead a healthy lifestyle. So, I would say there is more hate and ignorance than actual ignoring.

Growing up in the Arab region, how hard was it for you dealing with shop owners who thought wearing a size bigger than medium is considered as obese?
The standards sizes went from XS to XL. In my early teen years, I was taller and bigger than my girlfriends. In some shops, clothes in size XL would do the job. At that time, all I really needed were basics because I lived in the Kingdom and I spent most of my time in school. There wasn’t a need for ‘extra’ style. It was only when I moved to Lebanon for college that I found myself without any resources. The market was harsh and shop owners were worse. Sometimes, if I asked them whether they had a size 32 of these jeans or a size XL of that top, they’d look at me from head to toe and reply “Ouf! No! We don’t that size!” They make it sound like they haven’t seen young women “like me” before. I often got the ‘fat’ comment too — “nas’ha” (doubba in Saudi dialect) and it always left me feeling ashamed and insecure about myself.
The ignorance behind clumping together plus size and obese individuals is unacceptable. You can be a large woman — with a large figure and bone structure — yet still be healthy. Women come in all sizes. It was hard growing up surrounded by a society blinded by the mass media’s notion of corporal perfection and beauty. Ideals don’t exist. Women should just focus on their assets and embrace their natural figure. Work your poise with what you got.

Tell us about your blog Nounzilicious?
Nounzilicious is a personal blog that I launched in April 2013. It is a space where I attempt to spread awareness about the plus size fashion movement — especially in the Arab region — and have fun with fashion. The West has surpassed us: many plus size bloggers emerged, some of which became famous and influential personalities, thanks to perseverance and enthusiasm for change. I’m also repulsed by fake Arab women: they look manufactured by a plastic surgery circus, deflated by severe diets and drained out of their natural beauties. Not only do their physical features fade but their attitude shifts too: the vice of over-the-top luxury fashion (only), of narcissism and discrimination.
Women should come together and support each other. I rarely see that in contemporary Arab women. Only a handful of women can be referred to as inspirational. Another concern was that there is no public awareness about the plus size movement in the Arab region. There are no Arab plus size bloggers. Is it because women choose to hide to avoid a judgmental society or is it because they believe the now illusive male dominating society? The reasons behind the blog are many. Being Lebanese, I’ve always found it hard to adapt fashion wise, in this region. My figure was always a matter on a plate for hungry judges.
Nounzilicious increased my confidence and gave me the chance to interact with plus size bloggers and everyday women. My rules are to remain healthy, to embrace my figure and curves, to compel my surrounding to accept my self-esteem and to unite women of all sizes.

In the US and UK, there are plus size conventions and gatherings that take place yearly. When do you think we would see such activity in the Middle East?
Plus size fashion conventions, events, fashion shows and plus size bloggers get-togethers are very common and happen worldwide. There are even fun activities such as ‘swapmeets’ where plus size women bring unworn new clothes to the event and swap their clothes with others. It gives them a chance to mingle, to interact with different women and it is a great place where future businesses or collaborations are born.
The US, Europe and Australia are keen on social gatherings that promote body-positive attitude while enjoying fashion. I haven’t seen that happen in the Middle East yet. For instance, I noticed that there are Saudi women bloggers but they only promote luxury fashion, expensive accessories, model figures and all that comes under that category. The only problem with that is that not all women can afford these garments and not all women are size 0 to 10. It is very common to hear about a luxury brand sponsoring a gala dinner for the society women to attend. I’m not punching luxury fashion out of the way. But, in my opinion there should be a balance in everything. High-street fashion is looked upon as inferior. There aren’t many high-end fashion brands expanding their lines so for now we only have good high-street fashion brands applying the extension. I think the mentality of Arab women is configured in a way that they want to imitate celebrities. As for the quiet plus size majority, I’m not sure when they will sound out their fashion needs. Maybe by then, we will see more female unity and more conventions and gatherings that promote the plus size fashion movement.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about plus size women?
The biggest misconception about plus size women is qualifying them as obese. The term plus size is very delicate and somewhat controversial. Plus size refers to the extension of standard sizes providing clothing lines in bigger sizes. It usually goes from 14UK and above. Other designers might think the plus sizes start at 18UK so it’s quite a divisive topic on where to draw the limit. Like all women, plus size women come in different body shapes. Obesity is a medical term used to determine an excess amount of fat in a woman’s body. So, people are actually mixing two different criteria here, a fashion term with a medical term.
The plus size fashion movement does not promote obesity or unhealthiness. You can be big figured yet healthy. You can be skinny and lead an unhealthy lifestyle. You can be big, fat and tall but your blood test results all check okay. You can be thin and in good health. Plus size is a fashion term, led by a campaign for good body and soul wellbeing. It’s a responsibility for all to maintain a good lifestyle, regardless of our shape or size. I think people should look more in depth into this topic and be more tolerant and understanding rather than express mean comments. Everyone has a story or a reason why they feel or look the way they are. Whether it’s a phase or a constant, people shouldn’t rush into making judgments.

If you’re able to change one thing in the fashion industry. What would it be?
There should be more balance. In the Arab region, I think the consumption of solely luxury brands and the obsession about perfect bodies and fake beauties should lessen. Also, we should increase awareness about women’s diversity in body shapes. The global fashion industry is slowly expanding toward plus size lines. Why can’t any Arab fashion designers start up high-street fashion brands, good quality and affordable? Why are the Arab fashion designers only partaking in haute couture and designer scenes? There should be more Arab designers contributing to high-street fashion brands too. Setting equilibrium!

Any last words to our sisters reading this interview now?
A wish to start up a plus size community in the Arab region. As the Internet facilitates communication, we could begin with a plus size bloggers’ community and see where it goes. I hope that the Arab woman relies more on her natural beauty, accepts and embraces her body (no matter what size she is), lessens fashion and lifestyle extremes, avoids unhealthy and severe diets, nourishes her body and soul simultaneously, maintains a sense of satisfaction and confidence and lastly I hope that the Arab woman recollects her genuineness. This is not simply about a plus size fashion movement; it is a global unification of women.

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