Edmonton advocate calls for more inclusive spaces for plus-size women

An Edmonton advocate is calling for fashion and online media to be more inclusive of plus-size women. She says that's just one of the ways the world can be inaccessible to people that exist beyond standard sizing.

Marielle Terhart says shopping locally is not an option with her size 22 body.

Marielle Terhart has launched a new photography service to improve body diversity in the media. (Marielle Terhart)

In a photo posted to Instagram, Marielle Terhart gazes into the camera lens, her plus-size body elegantly resting on a bed of crumpled sheets. 

It's the kind of imagery that has made the 29-year-old Edmonton photographer, writer and body inclusive advocate a hit on Instagram, along with her bold, eloquent prose that celebrate thick bodies and highlight all the ways society marginalizes them.

"When you start to be aware how larger bodies are discriminated and marginalized you start to think about all the situations that you kind of size out of being able to take part in," said Terhart, who wrote a column for CBC Edmonton about the lonely world for a plus-size body.

Born and raised in Edmonton, Terhart says her city has a long way to go when it comes to the inclusion of thick bodies, whether it's size of desks at universities or clothing options at local boutiques.

That's why she has her measurements memorized so she can order online.

"There aren't a lot of local boutiques or stores that carry garments in my size despite me so desperately wanting to support local stores," said Terhart, who describes her love for fashion as "ferocious."

"I would say that after XL, so at about above a size 16, the availability of being able to shop with ease in our city is almost non-existent."

Marielle Terhart says there is a lot of money to be made when women hate their bodies. (Marielle Terhart)

The roots of the problem can be traced to a multi-billion dollar industry that thrives on self-loathing, Terhart said.

"There is so much more money to make if we hate our bodies," Terhart said.

"There is way less money to be capitalized on if we just like who we are from the beginning. There is so much effort in media and marketing to basically create one singular type of beauty."

Anne Bissonette is an associate professor with the University of Alberta who has researched how bodies and clothes intersect. 

She said standard sizing hasn't changed much since it was created during the Second World War even though women's bodies have.

"It's really a problematic issue because people have changed. The way we eat has changed, the way we stand has changed. What we consider to be ideals of beauty is getting more diversified but the quote unquote standard hasn't shifted," Bissonette said. 

"It is a human right to be able to find clothes that fit you in some way."

Ethical fashion

Terhart's love for ethical fashion first inspired her to launch her account on Instagram where her fashion magazine-like images have attracted more than 16,000 followers.

But the love didn't appear to be mutual.

"I never saw anyone that had remotely close to my body wearing the clothing that I wanted to be investing in," said Terhart, who grew out of standard sizing into a size 22 in her early 20s.

She said brands are slowly expanding their sizing as huge companies demand it. Terhart recently had a chance to experience what a difference that could make.

As a consultant for an organization that connects women with ethical brands, Terhart was part of an online-plus-sized pop up last summer featuring sizes up to 28. Terhart hosted 13 models at her home for a photo shoot.

Instantly people were comfortable changing in front of each other, sharing items and trying things on.

"And for me it was just incredibly moving to realize this was an experience I hadn't had in the last decade where I could pull something from my closet and loan it to a friend and it fit them, and it fit them properly, because they were my size," Terhart said.

According to Bissonnette, many factors contribute to the problem of clothes sizing: Among them, she said, is the fact that manufacturers are reluctant to offer larger sizes that might alienate customers and properly-proportioned clothing requires research.

"It takes one solid company to think it and do it and prove to others that you can make a ton of money," Bisonnette said.

"Then, you know, money talks."