Cape Town - Social media is buzzing with debates on what it means to be “plus-size” following an announcement by the organisers of Miss South Africa that plus size models are among this year’s finalists.
However, the contestants appear on the skinny side.
Beulah Baduza from Pretoria - who is currently studying law at the University of Pretoria, and Sasha-Lee Olivier from Johannesburg - who is pursuing a double major in marketing and psychology at Wits University, are the two women included under the plus size banner.
Olivier, 26, said industry standards have labelled her a plus sized model but she has never felt that way. “We need to speak about these issues because as humans we like to categorise things. But I’m lucky because I’ve always felt good about myself and never considered myself plus size.
“There are also models who do identify as plus size who might get irritated at the thought of me being included (in this category).”
She added: “If everyone stood together on this issue, it would never be an issue, and I want to make sure people know body positivity is by no means just for plus size women, it’s for everyone.”
Baduza, 23, said she liked none of the terms she has been associated with in her modelling career.
“I have been termed a plus-size because I’m not a size zero, and when you’re in the industry long enough you just accept it. I feel like labelling is so restrictive and borderline dangerous.
“People should stop commenting on other people’s bodies. I associate with being that (plus-size) because that’s my reality. But the people I associate with in my day-to-day life think I’m normal, beautiful, but unfortunately they aren’t the ones that give me jobs,” she said.
On Twitter, one user said Miss SA did not know the meaning of plus-size, while another accused the competition of trying to push the plus-size label to seem more inclusive.
Miss SA spokesperson Stephanie Weil said the organisation used the modelling industry’s terminology.
According to industry standards, any model above size 10 is considered plus-size.
“Every person in that industry is on a spectrum and profiled as such. So it’s not that we dubbed them; it’s how they are identified and by no means has anything to do with being overweight or anything like that.”
Former Miss SA contestant Marciel Hopkins said the pageant missed the mark with their wording.
“They should just have said they embrace more diverse body shapes and sizes as beauty can never be defined by your jean size, to start with.”
Hopkins entered the competition in 2016 and made it to the top 12. While taking part in the competition, she lost 14kg in four months and “never felt good enough” while taking part.
“I was the biggest girl in our group, so I always felt the pressure of losing more weight, training harder and eating less. It’s a very stressful competition if you are not naturally skinny.
“Miss South Africa was not a positive experience in helping me to be body-positive. I always felt insecure about my cellulite and my curves because it wasn’t something that the competition celebrated,” she said.
Hopkins dropped from a size 14 to a size 10 for the competition and her menstrual cycle stopped for 10 months because of her rigorous diet. She has since gone on to create a successful career in South Africa and on the European modelling circuit.
“From the moment I signed up to become a size 14 model, ‘plus-size’ was written all over every brief I was ever optioned for. Fast-forward three years and I am still being criticised for not being plus-size enough,” she said.
Model Charnelle Paulse has been a trailblazer in the plus-size market, becoming one of the country’s first plus-size models when she launched her career in 2013.
Paulse is the face of Donna, which is the biggest plus-size brand in SA.
Paulse said it was good that the Miss SA pageant was diversifying itself by allowing more women from different backgrounds to progress further in the competition.
“They have realised that the average women out there are relating a lot more to real sizes, which is plus-size.
“I think in the last few years people weren’t relating to the show because the truth is, the majority of South African women do not relate to the super-skinny-sized women. I’m so glad that the drive for diversity has started in such an elite pageant like Miss South Africa.
“We should promote body positivity not only by encouraging each other to be more accountable of our food choices and exercising regime, but we should also learn to celebrate our different shapes and sizes more often than not,” said Paulse.
This year’s Miss SA pageant will take place on Women’s Day, August 9, at Sun City.