The Curious Tale of the Midsize Queen
And introducing: It's Not NOT a Diet.
Heads up! Corinne and I are recording your March AMA episode soon. Send us all your questions here.
Disclaimer: You’re reading this column because you value my input as a journalist who reports on these issues and therefore has a lot of informed opinions. I’m not a healthcare provider, and these responses are not meant to substitute for medical or therapeutic advice.
Q: I'm wondering if you've heard of the "new" midsize trend (I'm thinking of that sound on Instagram that goes "Okay, so I'm a midsize queen...") and if you have any thoughts about it. I am what would be considered a "midsize" person and it can be uncomfortable to be in this space because I often feel like I'm in between straight-size and plus-size populations. For instance, straight-size brands usually go up to a large, which doesn't quite fit how I want it to, but the smaller end of the plus-size clothing also doesn't quite fit. And finding jeans is similarly tough. Why can't stores just carry all the sizes? The gap is frustrating!
On one hand I feel very seen by the midsize description because I have felt so out of place most of my life, but on the other hand, it just seems silly to have to qualify it that way.
Let’s start this column out with a content warning. I’m going to have to link to TikTok. A lot. And specifically to #midsizefashion TikTok which is a world I was blissfully unaware of until a few months ago and now I can never unsee what I’ve seen. Click through at your own risk, friends. We’re about to go on a dark and wild ride.
First, a definition: You are correct that “midsize” sure sounds like it would refer to bodies that fall into the gray area between straight and plus size clothing. And yes, this can be a frustrating place to shop, as Dacy Gillespie (literally, a professional shopper! And so, so good at it!) explained in a recent video. Retail garment fit is an opaque and inexact science, and if you’re the upper end of straight sizes and lower end of plus sizes, you’re likely to be fairly far off the dimensions of the fit models used by most brands, in both categories.
But this gray area is so gray that it’s difficult to get a clear definition of which sizes might even fall into the “midsize” no man’s land. According to “midsizequeen,” the original audio trending on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, and also a kind of uber text for this discourse, “midsize” is sizes 8 to 16. According to the New York Times, the modeling industry defines “midsize” as everyone larger than a size 2. Here’s where it gets confusing. Because yes, couture fashion believes bodies only come in size 0. But the vast majority of straight-sized mall brands stock up to at least a size 10, and it’s not unusual to find 12, 14, and even 16. Ergo, both of these definitions for “midsize” are describing… straight sizes.
By the way, this conversation gets even more fraught when you spend hours, as I now have, watching self-described midsized TikTok creators define the term. Conley Harris, of @harrishikers (“the outdoors + body positivity”) has spent a lot of time on this and concludes that “if you look it up on Google,” midsize means size 8 to 16.1 She’s annoyed with TikTok (yes, the app on which she creates videos that have received over 3.5 million likes) because “they kind of made their own definition. I don’t even know who ‘they’ is, like this toxic body positive community that isn’t even really body positive,” and it is this amorphous “they” who asserts that midsize should be between straight and plus sizes. Conley disagrees because again, to be clear, she uses “the internet definition.”2
If you now feel like you are drowning, please know that I’m right there with you! Don’t worry, it’s going to get worse!
TikTok credits the midsizequeen audio to Mary Mondlock, a queer actor/singer and body neutral advocate with over 215,000 followers. Mary has lots of videos celebrating the stretch marks (“if you look hard enough”), stomach rolls, cellulite and jiggly thighs of her midsize body. She talks about not dieting, about wearing the bikini and not giving a fuck. She doesn’t post her body measurements (as we’ll soon see, that’s an unusual move for the Midsize Queen community) and it’s impossible to tell someone’s clothing size from videos shot in selfie mode. But I feel safe saying that Mary has clothing options at the mall. Her body fits into any public space. She is not fat.
And when you start to scroll through the thousands of videos other creators have made using Mary’s audio, you get it: Midsized is not fat, on TikTok. It’s not even “between straight and plus sized.” It’s just thin people who are not a size two. It’s women who are tall and therefore “take up a lot more space”than thin women who are short. It’s women who have a self-proclaimed “big rib cage,” and need to reframe that as an evolutionary adaptation. It is many, many, many blonde white women with barrel curls and hourglass proportions.
It’s also worth noting that one article I found credited @midsizecollective over on Instagram with popularizing the term “midsize.” And the models featured there are marginally but definitively rounder than the TikTok Queens. I can see more of these folks falling into that true gray area between a size 14/16 and a size 18/20 or 1X. I am not here to defend Instagram, but it does seem TikTok is where the Midsize Queen goes to slim down.
And yet. The Midsize Queens of TikTok spend a lot of time justifying their midsize status to commenters who say things like “no ur literally skinny.” They aren’t literally skinny, they say, because they wear a dress size with double digits, because they have curves, because their selfies don’t show them in reference to their thinner friends, and if only we could see that sharp contrast, we would understand their plight. This leads to a lot of sharing of weights and heights, as well as bust, waist and hip circumferences. I’m not going to link to too many of those because these kinds of numbers can be very triggering for a whole variety of reasons, and if you’re in a vulnerable place, click the following link with caution. But I do want to link to this video by Olivia Freda, a Midsize Queen with over a million followers. Olivia shares her measurements on the screen while posing with immaculate hair and makeup in various outfits. The audio she uses3 is called Measurement Positivity Chain. It’s credited to another creator named Cassidy, who says, “sometimes I look at girls and I so desperately want to know if that’s what I look like to other people. Because my body dysmorphia can get so bad, I have no idea what I look like. Or what size I am.”
And now, I think, we are getting somewhere. There are over 600 videos from midsize queens using Cassidy’s audio to share their own measurements, and many more variations on this theme. Whatever its original purpose, #midsizequeen has become a kind of anchor for people who don’t trust themselves to correctly interpret their own bodies. That may be because of a diagnosed mental health condition like body dysmorphia or an eating disorder. Or that may be because in their particular orbit, their body does stand out as too tall, too curvy, too much. If your framework is cross country running, or cheerleading, or influencer culture, or insert-any-aesthetic-based-social-group-here, “fat” has a much broader definition and “thin” a much, much narrower one.
Look, I remember this feeling. I too, was once a Midsize Queen, starting in my late teens and off and on through my 20s and early 30s. This was decades before TikTok, of course, so I didn’t know to define myself as such. But I did struggle with the awareness that my version of thin didn’t quite measure up to the Gold Standard of Thinness that I encountered as a women’s magazine writer (and then, briefly, as a celebrity ghostwriter and that’s a story we’ll save for a world with no NDAs!). There was a particular kind of disorientation about my body back then, which actually did go away once I progressed all the way over into plus sizes, and an ob*se BMI, and could more definitively identify as fat. I use “small fat,” to stand both in solidarity with other fat folks (who created the Fatness Spectrum) and to acknowledge how I continue to benefit from thin privilege. (Here’s where Corinne and I discussed these terms in more detail.)
But what I didn’t reckon with then, and what the Midsize Queens of TikTok are utterly failing to reckon with now, is how you can struggle to appreciate your own body as thin and yet still be absolutely swimming in thin privilege. As Jeff Hunger said in our conversation about who gets to call themselves fat: “If we flatten body image struggles and weight stigma, we lose sight of who truly faces the brunt of interpersonal, instructional anti-fatness—and that’s fat people.” And when you take this conversation into a public space without that awareness, you can cause harm. Because every fat person who finds one of these videos on their For You Page is reminded: Their body is a Midsize Queen’s worst nightmare.
The harm is especially clear when Midsize Queens talk about intentional weight loss, which many of them do,4 despite Mary’s initial “body neutral” intentions for the song. But it’s also baked into their refusal to acknowledge their many body privileges; that they can access healthcare and fit into public spaces and not expect to be harassed in the grocery store for their food choices. And it’s incredibly clear in how they respond from feedback from actual fat people. Applying midsize to people who can wear straight sizes pushes fat folks even further out of the conversation, explains creator Isabella Dinn. And the casual anti-fat memes used by thin midsize creators reinforces stereotypes like the myth that fat people aren’t sexy or lovable, explains Jordan Underwood. Their followers further elucidate this criticism in the comments on these videos: “Midsize means ‘i wish I was thinner so id like a consolation prize’” and “midsize culture is just white women reassuring themselves they aren’t actually fat.”
But here’s our girl Conley again, furious that “these women” are “discrediting the struggles of thin people.” Note the text on screen: “Not ‘thin,’ just existing in a smaller body.” To Midsize Queens, this distinction will always, always matter.
Identifying as midsize lets the Queens distance themselves from the plus size community and ignore the struggles of people more marginalized than them, while also co-opting the rhetoric of that community. They are “raising awareness” about midsize bodies; they are “fighting back” against a world that tells them they aren’t good enough. But: The Midsize Queens dance in bikinis and show us their cute outfits because they want the world to know just how close they are to achieving true thinness. They can embrace their stomach rolls or jiggly thighs because they check so many other boxes of marketable beauty. This proximity to the thin ideal creates a dissonance that distracts from how unachievable that ideal is for everyone. It makes it much harder to reject. Midsize Queens aren’t thin enough, and therefore they struggle. But this struggle doesn’t open their eyes to the oppression experienced by people more marginalized than them. It keeps them at the center of the narrative. We scroll and scroll and their bodies are the only ones we get to see.
It’s Not NOT a Diet
Also ran titles for this new recurring feature included “Diet Culture WTF,” “Things People Email Me About,” and “I Can’t Unsee This and Now You Can’t Either.” So sorry not sorry for what we’re about to do. But a fact of this job is that I am regularly flooded with press releases, memes, weight loss ads, bad headlines, and all other manner of diet culture ephemera. And many of them are automatic deletes, but some, I need a minute to process. This is going to be a new paid folks only feature, mostly because I don’t want to give free advertising to any of the brands or individuals we’ll talk about here. I also don’t want to have to clarify every time that I do not endorse any of these programs, they are all absolutely, always diets, and particularly egregious examples of the form at that. So if you opt in to read this whole thing, I’m trusting that you know this.
Enough preamble! Here’s our inaugural It’s Not NOT a Diet nominee. The medium is a press release I received via email and the subject of said email is: End the Suffering: F the Food.
Because ladies, it is time to “trust yourself.” It’s time to “learn how to be resilient in life.” And the best way to do that is by…not eating?
Let us reckon, for a minute, with this book cover: