Plus Sized Models – Is That Absolute or Relative?

In my full time job I work in the field of air. Pressures to be exact. I sell pumps. Vacuum pumps and compressor pumps. We are either reducing the pressure using vacuum or adding pressure and creating overpressure so we can blow things up (you know, like jumping castles) or blow things away (like saw dust or water).

We have a scale that we work with to tell our users what is happening with the pump they are using. That scale is telling the user how much less pressure is in their vessel when we are creating a vacuum inside, or how much back pressure is being applied when we are creating the over-pressure situation with a compressor. So you can see that we have an over and under situation.

For those who watch the weather reports at the end of the news, or those who use internet based or app based weather programs might recognise the figure 1013 mbar which is our atmospheric pressure in millibars. This can also be shown in kilopascals as 101.3 kPa, or in pounds per square inch as 14.696 psi and in America they might even recognise it as inches of Mercury which is 29.92 inHg.

robyn lawley
Robyn Lawley – Australian Plus Size model
Size 14 in Australia is not “plus size”
Photo courtesy of

Now if you’re still with me you might be asking what this has to do with the title “Plus Sized Models – Is That Absolute or Relative?” And that’s a very good question. Stick with me.

There are two scales that we work with in the field of air; absolute and relative. The absolute scale dictates that the absence of all pressure which would be 100% vacuum or close to a perfect vacuum must be represented by a zero. That is, suck out all of the atmosphere and show it as a big fat nothing. (Now there is no hidden meaning to me using the term “big fat nothing” other than that’s a standard colloquialism for zero, and I’m not going all PC and getting rid of that from my vernacular).

And if the total absence of atmosphere is marked at zero on our scale, then having 100% atmosphere (which is the 1013 mbar I mentioned earlier) is an absolute figure based on that scale. And any pressure that may fall between the total lack of atmosphere and the 100% atmospheric pressure can be marked on the scale with a figure greater than zero, but smaller that 1013 (but only if we are using millibars). So to give you a bit of theory; allowing 10% of atmospheric pressure to be present in a vessel means that you have 101.3 mbars of pressure, absolute…

The company I work for specialises mostly in the world of vacuum. That is our pumps work below atmospheric pressure taking away the pressure inside an air tank or using negative pressure to hold an item much like a piece of paper that would get stuck over the mouth of your vacuum cleaner hose. Once there’s a good seal it’s stuck. But what is more popular and commonly used by people outside of industry is over-pressure. When you fill up your tyres at the garage, that’s done with a compressor applying over-pressure. When you blow air into a jumping castle, that’s applying over-pressure. When you use a compressed air tool, that’s being operated by the means of over-pressure.

And again this is measured by a scale. But whereas the vacuum pressure is measured from the zero point on the absolute scale, compressors are generally measured by the relative scale. What that basically means is that the zero point moves from the 100% vacuum or lack of pressure point to the 100% atmospheric pressure point. Then, when over-pressure is applied we can use the scale relative to that point. Therefore if we want to double the amount of pressure in a tank from the atmospheric pressure that is currently in that pump, we apply a further 1013 mbar of over-pressure until there is 2026 mbars of over-pressure, or to make it easy we refer to that as +1013 mbar relative. And to make it even easier, and because the over-pressure is an endless and infinite figure (that is, it is possible that you could keep increase the pressure inside something for infinity providing the vessel could withstand that amount of pressure), we measure the over-pressure amount in Bars and seeing that one atmosphere is equal to one Bar, we can change the +1013 mbar for the figure +1 Bar relative.

Now there are so many paths this could go down. The heading suggests “fat” models and I’m talking about over-pressure which might be misconstrued with me talking about the model trying to squeeze into their jeans. That is not so. That’s not where this is headed.

Plus Size. That could also be written as + size. And now the penny should have dropped. For there to be a plus to a scale, there has to be a zero point. In Australia a plus size clothing range starts with size 16 in women’s fashion. What that means is, if we were using the air pressure scale, size 16 would be 16 absolute or +2 relative. Size 14 would have to be the zero point for this to be true.

Now in addition to calling that 10% of atmospheric pressure as I used above in my example 101.3 mbar, we can also call it -911.7 mbar (that is negative 911.7 mbar). You see, we can go backwards on the relative scale, and when talking about 10% as an absolute it is 90% below atmospheric pressure and therefore we can use the negative scale to give a reading.

Applying that logic to women’s clothes sizes, a size 12 in Australia therefore is actually a -2 (minus two) and size 8 in Australia is a -6 size. I checked a sizing guide online and it came back suggesting that size 4 is the smallest women’s size in this country. Whilst I have never seen a size 4 (size 6 being the smallest I’ve picked up off a rack in an women’s clothing store), if size 4 exists then this appears on the scale at -10 (minus 10).

Now, bell curves being bell curves, they are generally shaped like bells. There is often a smaller amount of the counted item to the left side of the bell and a smaller amount to the right side as well with the heavy concentrate in the middle at the top of the bell. Without doing too much research, I am sure that the bell curve of women’s dress sizes would look remarkably like any bell curve you’ve ever seen. And according to a recent news article in the Sydney Morning Herald the average dress size for Australian women is now size 16.

But size 16 is supposed to be “plus” size. If we assume the average is the larger figure on the bell curve, and the top of the bell acts as our zero point, then the whole dynamic of plus size has to change. And therefore, any model who is a size 16 or below cannot be considered a plus sized model. This pretty much means that all of the current flock of plus sized models now need to stop exercising and eat more, or they need to start getting work as a model. Just a model. Not a plus sized model. Not a larger lady model. But a model.

Our eldest son starts school next year. I know this is still the early days for his education, but he will soon be bringing home mathematics homework. I remember learning about integers. Remember that term? That’s what they call real numbers. The numbers 1, 2, 3, etc. plus 0 and also the negative numbers -1, -2, -3 etc. Now he’s showing signs of being a really smart young man, but I think that terms like “plus size” is going to screw with his feeble mind. With 0 being the starting point where we can count backwards using the negative numbers, or count straight up using the natural numbers, which for want of a better term are positive numbers.

And if we equate integers with the Body Image Movement then anything greater than the zero point is called natural and positive, and that’s got to be a positive sign, right?

Now to finish this off, I guess I could go back and equate the absolute scale, especially below atmospheric pressure with skinny models having a vacuum between their ears (yes, yes, we all know the old cliché), but there are plenty of nice and intelligent models these days and most are quite astute business people, so there’s no point in being dismissive of them. But the fashion industry as a whole has definitely created a void, a vacuum if you will. And that just plain sucks.

One thought on “Plus Sized Models – Is That Absolute or Relative?

  1. I think the modelling world has a different set of scales than the real world … in that a size 14 is considered ‘plus size’ in the modelling world, however in the real world and in particular ‘Australia’ this is in fact below average.

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