Brought Up to Size: Plus-Size Representation in Fashion

As a white slim man, I have always been privileged in the world of fashion. The breadwinner, the dominant, heterosexual cheater, the workaholic, and the unemotional rock are just a few examples of the flattering male representations that fashion offers to the wider public. 

Fortunately, this is not always the case. Especially in the last decade huge improvements have been made to provide a more diverse array of models and clothing choices. Many fashion designers have finally understood the huge potential of employing people with different skin colours or belonging to the wide spectre of sexual and gender identities. So although there’s still room for improvement, when I look at fashion ads, I can normally find someone that resembles my identity and the image I want to present to others. I feel validated and good, as if society is telling me that I’m doing great, that I should keep being who I am without worrying about what people might say.

Although those sexy, topless Abercrombie models sometimes pressure me into thinking that I should finally join the gym, the expectancy and stress that men experience due to fashion ads cannot compare to the never-ending angst that brands offer to female buyers. In the still highly patriarchal society we live in, the female fashion industry has traditionally been characterised by the fetishization and objectification of the female body. The result has been the creation of unreachable beauty standards, designed to satisfy the desires of men.

This can be seen particularly in the range of sizes that are considered “average” and “common” on the runway: the notion of a “medium” is an American size 8 or 10, when the average size for American women is around size 18. A pitiless divide separates fashion from the actual reality instilling a strong sense of inadequacy in millions of women. Due to these standards, women feel they’re not worth it, that they can’t feel sexy just because they don’t resemble the photo-shopped images of goddess-like models we’re bombarded with every day.

In this climate of alienation and lack of models that recall the body types of most women, the demand for plus-size fashion lines has never been higher. Although the extremes-driven nature of fashion has often resulted in body positivity only being politicised and weaponised, some brands have been created to help women accept their weight and body shape as it is. Rihanna’s new lingerie brand, Savage X Fenty, is the perfect example of this. On the company’s website the singer states, “I want women to feel like themselves most of all because lingerie is just a decoration on the beauty that we already are.” This central philosophy of the brand is applied to every collection released so far. Its latest holiday collection 2018 is a Christmas miracle of inclusivity of different shades and shapes: the models appear to be confident in who they are and instead of hiding the curves that have normally been considered ugly or inappropriate, Rihanna’s lingerie is able to enhance them and make them a strength of femininity and sensuality for every woman.

“I want women to feel like themselves most of all because lingerie is just a decoration on the beauty that we already are.”

Plus-size women often face the struggle of having to wear watered-down clothing options just because what they really want is not available in their size. Gabi Gregg and Nicolette Mason’s collection Premme addresses this problem, offering women of all shapes the opportunity to dress according to their personal style without any form of limitation. The fact that most of its releases were sold out in a couple of days shows the opportunities and the demand for this kind of companies. According to a 2014 survey, 90 percent of women feel more confident when wearing an awesome outfit: whether it’s those red soled high heels or that beige plaid coat, fashion has this magical ability to empowering people, to make us feel good in our own skin and in front of others. Limited inventory, separate stores and out-dated clothes prevent plus-size women gaining the confidence fashion freely gives to smaller sizes.

Lots of clothing rules and prejudges can still be found attached to plus-sized customers. We can see from the varied reactions to the cover of Cosmopolitan last October issue: the model Tess Holliday sending a kiss while nailing an emerald one-piece. Although some have blamed Cosmo for promoting obesity and an unhealthy lifestyle, most readers have praised Editor Farrah Storr for finally opening up to diversity in terms of weight. By being on the cover of Cosmo in a bathing suit, Tess Holliday becomes an emblem of body positivity, of loving yourself and putting your mental health first. With her cover, Tess Holliday is not encouraging anyone to gain 300lbs. The simple fact that she’s there, on the cover of a magazine discussing sex, health, and beauty, is a crucial message of validation and acceptance. Feeling beautiful and being able to dream have always been the central goals of fashion. It’s about time fashion caters for everyone.

Banner image credit