The Asian Plus-Sized Body

Surprise surprise, not all plus-sized bodies are the same!

I would admit to be rather slow in coming to this realisation. I partially blame the dearth of images of plus-sized women (I dislike the term “plus-size” but that’s for another post) in the media as I was growing up, and being the minority in any group of girls I happened to be in. I never participated in that “I’m so fat! (proceed to point out offending body part)” reciprocal complaining that non-fat people tend to indulge in, and my good friends usually wouldn’t have that conversation when I’m within hearing distance anyway. For many years I had absolutely no idea what body shape I was (and no, FAT is not a shape), and what silhouettes made me look balanced and ahem, less robust.

It certainly did not help that the only place I could buy clothes when I was a teenager was Marks & Spencer. Driven by sheer desperation and scarcity, I bought whatever fit my body (and budget). Hands up any other girl out there who have had salesgirls stretching out wretched looking pieces of clothing in front of our faces and screaming “GOT SIZE!!!!”, thinking that would entice us to buy (and how many of us broke down and bought those damned pieces of clothing, even if we didn’t like the colour, the style nor the quality).

Fast-forward twenty years and our options have broadened both in brick and mortar shops and online. Images of plus-size beauties like Ashley Graham (US Vogue March 2017, Michael Kors FW 2017/2018 fashion show, Marina Rinaldi ad campaigns) are more visible and mainstream. Let us take a moment and admire her gorgeousness right here:

But can I really look like Ashley Graham? Do these clothes really work for me just because there is enough fabric to button/zip up over my vital statistics?

After a few dud buys and intense analyses of plus-size models, I’ve come to understand that plus-size models are models, just with more flesh. The ones we see modelling plus-size clothes usually have hourglass figures with a defined waist, no visible rolls of fat (unless they twist around), they have proportionate or long legs in comparison to their upper torso and big breasts (if they stood sideways, their boobs stick out the most, not their tummy) They also don’t carry weight around their faces and necks, so they have slender necks with visible collarbones. If you look at their statistics, they usually are 1.75m or taller, so their flesh is stretched across a longer frame. Oh yes, and they are usually Caucasian, Latina or African.

Plus-size models look fantastic and in my opinion, sexier than regular straight-size models, but we have to recognize that they have “ideal” plus-size bodies for advertisements and catwalks. They are also possibly extremely airbrushed.  I see in myself and fellow plus-size women around me in Asia very different body types.

The Asian big beautiful woman is really not that big, objectively. We are usually petite, measuring under 1.65m, and with small to medium frames. If we were not fat, most of us would be built like our straight-sized sisters i.e.  More angles than curves (not much butt, not much chest, if they stood sideways, they are what you can term “paper people”), without a very defined waistline.

So when we do have that extra weight on our bodies, we put it on differently compared to the plus-size models. If we didn’t originally have dramatic curves to begin with (think Kim Kardashian), it is unlikely that the weight would go to our boobs and booty, spare our waist and turn us into Ashley Graham.

Asian plus-size girls do have curves, as compared to straight-sized Asian girls, but if we were to benchmark ourselves internationally, we usually are not that curvy. A question we should ask ourselves when assessing a piece of plus-size clothing online should include “Ok, the tummy should fit…but do I have the boobs/bum to fill out the rest of it?”

Based on my observation, we tend to put on weight like this:

  1. Carries weight mainly on her chest or tummy. Some may also carry the weight on their upper arms. No visible waist.
  2. Carries weight mostly on her tummy, hips and bottom. Seen from the front, she has a discernible waist.
  3. Carries weight equally on her chest and bottom. She has a visible waist.  

As we can see in the examples above, as compared to Western women (and especially plus size models), Asian women in general do not have high hip/waist ratios, or very big breasts.  While most of the plus-size fashion available to us now cater to the Western market, understanding which body shape we are helps us to make better buying decisions and relieves us of that crushing disappointment when clothes that should fit us (based on the size chart) just look wrong.

I hope this article has been useful to you, or at least entertaining. Have I missed out any other body shape? Do you have any insights on Asian plus size bodies? I would love to hear from you!