From The Editor: The Straight-Size Wolf In Plus-Size Sheep's Clothing
The fashion industry is a fickle thing. Fat bodies have been demonised, alienated and denied by designers from the word go, and the demand for more size-inclusive fashions is now at an all time high with help from the voices who have made themselves heard. However, the industry's frontrunners' increased interests in plus-size fashion has come as a result of the likes of Ashley Graham and Denise Bidot snagging themselves some major campaigns. The industry want in because they're seeing fat dollar signs, rather than actually giving a shit about their fat consumers.
Don't get me wrong, there are brands out there doing good, but the hype of body positivity has the industry jumping on the bandwagon and releasing what they consider as a good enough attempt at catering to bigger bodies. Sadly, many of the brands having a go at plus-size ranges are just wanting a piece of the pie, still in denial that all bodies have a place in fashion.
The latest to face backlash is Athleta, the sportswear brand owned by Gap. Whilst they offer plus-sized products going up to 2x, the site has faced criticism after the site showed plus-size styles on straight-sized models, estimated by other sources as no bigger than a UK 4 or 6 (US 2 or 4). It takes no genius to work out that if you're selling plus-sized ranges yet not showing plus-size bodies, your prejudice against fat people shines out just as much, if not more, than if you didn't cater to plus-size bodies in the first place.
Whilst Athleta aren't the first brand to do this (and definitely won't be the last), it's important for these companies to be called out when they try to have their cake and eat it too. What I mean by this is when brands want to tap into a plus-size market for dollah, yet, aesthetically, still only represent the 'acceptable' bodies according to beauty standards. If a brand refuses to cast models who genuinely reflect their audiences, then you know profit is the only thing on their mind, rather than being inclusive and opening up their brand to everyone.
The majority of brands who use plus-size models to showcase their products still use those who are on the thinner side of the 'plus' spectrum, with many still too small for the clothes. For example, it's quite common to see brands featuring a UK size 14 model wearing clothes that start from UK size 18 and up. Casting a plus model that's too small (by multiple dress sizes) for the clothes she's modelling is just as bad as putting a UK size 2 model in something sample-size (generally a UK size 8); it's dangerous to consumers and further perpetuates damaging beauty standards, and consequently lowers body satisfaction rates in women.
There are a multitude of reasons for this, but the top two are fear and money. Funnily enough, both go hand in hand with each other. They play a large part in many ways: fear of change; fear of backlash; fear of people and/or companies pulling out; fear of being seen as 'promoting obesity' or some other bullshit; fear of 'alienating' the brand's initial target audience; even the fear of the job security of those who make these decisions, all essentially resulting in loss of money (the underlying fear of all companies). I'm only naming a few. These are the same kinds of concerns that magazines are also faced with, with the loss of advertisers being one of print's biggest fears (and killers).
Having said that, what is there, really, to be scared of? Who would you lose as a result of opening yourself up to a plus-size audience in an authentic way? An investor? An advertiser? A percentage of your original clientele? And for what reason? Because they're prejudiced? Because they don't wish to be associated with fat bodies? Because they hate that you're taking the focus off of them for a hot minute? Think about it, would you really want to be affiliated with those people any way? Would you really be sad if they left? I certainly wouldn't miss them.
It's also important to recognise what it is that sits behind these fears: beauty standards. Fear of the unacceptable body, fear of the un-beautiful. Do you think that when marginalised bodies of any kind are cast as models it's just a coincidence that the fat girl has a gorgeous hourglass figure, or the transgender woman passes?
When I look at the issue from this perspective, I think of the companies who make no bones about their prejudice. Take Michael Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, for example: he told the world he wanted only 'thin and beautiful' people shopping in his stores. Each store's staff selection reflects that, as does the limited sizing. Yes, it's an outrage - I have some pretty choice words about the guy - but at least he was being upfront and honest about the intentions of his company.
Brands who leave out bigger bodies (through lack of representation) whilst still cashing in on plus-size fashion need to be called out in the fight to create equality for all bodies in the fashion world. Fat bodies deserve to be taken seriously and are worthy of a true place in the industry. It's 2017 - when will brands realise that plus-size fashion is more than just a tokenised business opportunity?