How to sell body positivity
Philip Ellison 02 June, 2015
When it came to fashion in the past, so-called ‘plus sized’ women were told to avoid prints and that was about it – but the value of creating products for this all-too-frequently overlooked market has since become apparent to brands. Take actress Melissa McCarthy, for example; a beloved comedy brand in her own right, she was inspired to start her own plus size clothing line after six designers refused to make her Oscars dress.
Then there’s online retailer Eloquii, which has made listening to these frustrated consumers an integral part of its strategy. “Plus size women have historically felt excluded from the fashion conversation,” says Marketing Director Kelly Goldston, “but social media allows them to engage with brands directly and ask for what they want… And what they want is real fashion.”
This is an area receiving more attention than ever before, with size 22 supermodel Tess Holliday recently signing to London-based modelling agency MiLK, and documentary ‘Plus Sized Wars’ taking viewers behind the scenes of an industry many had previously dismissed. And then there are plus size fashion festivals like Curve, which prove that there is widespread demand for new trends and styles to be made accessible beyond the size 0 to 4 range.
However, while there are many ‘plus size’ models and bloggers who have embraced the opportunity to help brands like Evans promote body positivity, the #DropThePlus campaign aims to show the fashion industry that it is, in fact, a harmful label. “Similar to ‘female comedian’ and ‘female pilot’ the term ‘plus’ dehumanises and marginalises models and people who are above a size 2,” says Mychal Balazs at Spylight, who placed ‘plus size’ alongside ‘wife beater’ in a list of fashion terms that should be banned.
Model Stefania Ferrario caused quite the stir on Instagram earlier this year when she posted a semi-nude photo of herself and maligned the fashion industry for throwing the descriptor ‘plus size’ at anybody over a size 4. “Stefania’s size 8 may be considered plus size by industry standards, but in reality many ‘plus size’ models are actually smaller than the average woman,” writes PopSugar’s Aemilia Madden.
According to the official #DropThePlus website, this disconnect between the average female body and what retailers describe as ‘plus size’ has the potential for a severe knock-on effect when it comes to the body image and self-esteem of young girls: “A young woman looking at a photo of a perfectly healthy woman with the caption ‘plus size model’ below it, is in danger of believing that her own body is bigger than it should be and not normal.”
The campaign is slowly beginning to gain traction in the fashion world; lingerie label Cosabella announced last month that it will no longer be using the ‘plus size’ label. Its new underwear range includes a greater variety of sizes for customers of different body types, although the name of the product line, ‘Extended’, doesn’t seem that far removed from ‘plus size’.
There has also been something of a backlash against the #DropThePlus campaign from plus size models such as Liz Black, who equates it with body-shaming: “People still associate the f-word with something dirty and wrong, and those who stand proud and proclaim themselves to be ‘plus size’ or even ‘fat’ are challenging those norms.” Tess Holliday simply sees #DropThePlus as misguided and pointless, saying: “Debating a term that’s never been used in hate is a waste of everybody’s time. Let’s talk about seeing better representation for models of all sizes, all colours and races, more representation for disabled and trans people.”
The important thing to take away from all this isn’t necessarily the belief that ‘plus size’ is a damaging or misogynistic term. Instead, it should be recognised that, thanks to social media-savvy brands like Eloquii, and popular campaigns like #DropThePlus, mainstream conversations about what constitutes healthy body image are finally taking place.