Author: Demi Duenes
For many years, plus-size women have been shamed for their figures. Despite this, many plus-size women have managed to break out into the fashion world as models. Women such as Ashley Graham and Tess Holliday gained world-wide recognition for being the first plus-size model to be featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and the first to be signed to a mainstream agency, respectively.
But despite an increase in plus-size model recognition, there seems to be no change in the way retailers cater to these body types. The average woman in America is a size 14 (generally considered plus-sized by the fashion industry), yet retailers mistakenly continue to ignore this group by not producing clothes in a size larger than a 14.
Because bigger women refused to be acknowledged by the fashion industry, they may internalize the idea that they are not important or worthy enough to be allowed the same clothing options as thin women. The dominance of stick-thin models in advertisements conditions plus-sized women to believe that they are not normal, not part of the in-crowd and that, because they don’t look like the models, they are undeserving of the same sexy and fashionable clothes.
According to Business of Fashion, there is a $17.5 billion market for plus-size clothing in the United States alone, yet it remains one of the most ignored sectors of the fashion industry.
Plus-size fashion is not given proper respect, it is rarely advertised proudly in shop windows the way standard-sized clothing is. Plus-size clothing will more likely be found hidden at the back of a store with limited options and styles, according to Hannah Nelson, frustrated plus-sized shopper turned designer.
This year, Dana Drew, an unsatisfied shopper, started a change.org petition asking Victoria’s Secret to offer items in larger sizes.
“I love Victoria’s Secret so much that I even have their credit card,” Drew wrote in her petition. “My money and my credit are good enough for them, but the fact that I can only buy items like perfume, lotion and body spray sends the message that my body is not.”
Like Drew, other plus-size women have started petitions calling out mainstream companies for not serving some of their most loyal customers. These women contend that stores and companies have the social responsibility to stop enforcing a toxic and unrealistic body image to millions of teens and women.
Consider Victoria’s Secret’s recent marketing campaign for their clothing and lingerie lines called “The Perfect Body.” Unsurprisingly, the ads featured the same body types — thin and slender. While the company ended up changing the name to “A Body for Every Body,” it was obvious that the original slogan wasn’t just a slip-up. Judging by society’s standards, the “perfect body” type is definitely thin.
[Using the overpowering force of social media, fashion and entertainment, society tells bigger women that if they don’t have a thin, “perfect” body, they are not desirable or accepted. The majority of mainstream retailers have purposefully excluded plus-sized women from their market to maintain the idea that the ideal woman is thin.
This discriminatory message sent by fashion retailers might be especially harmful for teenage girls who are in their developmental years. Teens are subject to various toxic societal messages, many of them focusing on body image and how important it is to have the “perfect body.”
Brandy Melville is a popular store that has single-handedly taken over teen retail. The Italian brand sells tiny crop tops, short skirts and tight shorts, but there is only one size, which essentially is a small. Placards are placed throughout the stores, with the message: One Size Fits Most.
The brand’s official Instagram page features ultra skinny models in small, tight clothes that would likely not fit most teenage girls unless they are size 00. Through companies like Brandy Melville, teen girls are conditioned to think that they are not skinny enough to look as good as the models, or worse — that they are not healthy. In addition, the strong emphasis that society places on physical appearance puts unnecessary pressure on young girls to fit unrealistic and unhealthy standards of beauty. For plus-sized teenage girls, it is even worse as they are already considered outsiders for not fitting “normal sized” clothes. Through various societal messages, these girls can develop low self-esteem and body image issues.
Yet there is no reason that the damage done by the fashion industry to bigger women can’t be repaired, even slowly. More retailers should be open to carrying plus-sized clothing so that everyone can have equal opportunity to find an item that fits them perfectly. It is the responsibility of companies to shape healthier and more realistic body images for adolescent girls. Also, the media’s focus on thin models should be disrupted immediately to include people of all sizes and shapes — this will then help stop the creation of negative body images and harmful dieting behaviors.
Despite more plus-sized models and women speaking out, retailers have chosen not to listen. With discrimination and negative attitudes, fashion companies have chosen to exclude a group of women that have every right to feel and dress beautiful beautifully.
Demi Escalante-Duenes is an undeclared sophomore. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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