The Beauty of All Shapes and Sizes

In this article, Alicia Sim explores how inclusivity, an increasingly popular trend amongst youths, is apparent in the local and global fashion industry through diverse body types representation.

Image from iStock

Main Editor of HYPE Issue #52

Published on
January 25, 2021

The fashion industry is known for its considerable influence on our perception of physical beauty. It is notorious for its lack of diverse representation of body types, skin colours and cultures. Often, consumers end up seeing a particular model type for fashion shows and majority of commercial fashion advertisements: Caucasion, fair shade of skin tone and a slim and toned physique.

From the models we see strutting down the runways to the mannequins posing in neighbourhood boutiques, it shows that the fashion industry’s extensive scale of influence.

As former Editor of Australian Vogue, Kirstie Clements, told The Guardian, “When it comes to who should be blamed for the portrayal of overly thin models, magazine editors are in the direct line of fire, but it is more complex than that. The “fit” model begins the fashion process: designer outfits are created around a live, in-house skeleton. Few designers have a curvy or petite fit model.”

This gives us a glimpse into how these unhealthy and borderline dangerous expectations lie intertwined all throughout the multiple stages of the fashion industry. It starts with top designers, then trickles down to fashion magazine editors and lastly commercial retailors. The designers and magazines usually have full control over the castings of their collections or showcases because they work with a specific “look” in mind.

While this seems like vicious cycle, I feel that because the fashion industry is unique in that it functions by and for consumers’ tastes. Now, there seems to be a divide between what the industry views as marketable and what consumers want. So, with customers being persistent about promoting representation of all shapes and sizes, hopefully, the industry will start to evolve for the better.

The Shift in Society’s “Ideal” Figure

Globally, many societies are trying to tackle weight-related health issues brought on by the progressive shift towards a high intake of energy-dense foods, prevalence of fast food and sedentary living to name a few, over the decades. According to Health Promotion Board (HPB) in 2016, “The prevalence of overweight (body mass index [BMI] ≥ 25 kg/m2) among all Singapore adults in 2013 was 34.3 per cent with 40.2 per cent of males and 28.6 per cent of females considered overweight.”

There is a disparity between reality and what is commonly represented in the fashion industry. So why are we still chasing to fit in the one ideal figure as perpetuated by the industry? Or perhaps, why is the industry still trying to sell us their interpretation of “average body type” when clearly, this is not the case?

If the former is true, it contradicts how inclusive brands like Good American is sitting well with society today. Good American was started by Emma Grede and Khloe Kardashian in 2016 that sought out to fit every woman with her perfect pair of jeans. According to a Forbes article, “Khloe Kardashian Are Building Their Size-Inclusive Fashion Line Good American”, the brand made USD$1 million in sales on their first day.

It is impressive to see the sheer demand for such a simple product, jeans, from women all over the world considering how well they were able to meet consumers’ needs. I suspect that it was because of their inclusive sizing, from sizes 00-24 that made women of all body types feel catered to. This could also mean that we are drifting away from social conformity, acknowledging that all body types deserved to be catered to, not just a handful.

Several modelling agencies have also started catering to a diverse variety of aspiring commercial models regardless of their physical dimensions, such as local casting agencies like Misc. Management and Everyone Management.

I believe that this gradual leaning towards a candidate’s aura and vibe over their body measurements is going to be a win-win situation for the industry and society. Knowing the influence and impact of their portrayal of physical beauty, the industry should be regularly trying to expand society’s exposure to a diverse cover of models with various body types.

Beyond modelling agencies, up-and-coming brands such as fentyxsavage and ivy park is are embracing diversity. Retailers like ASOS and Universal Standard are also working with both petite and plus-sized models to showcase their extensive size range which is heartening to see as it shows that incremental changes are taking place to accepting diversity in the modelling industry.

And it’s a good thing. More diverse representation means customers can actually visualise outfits on themselves better, it also makes them feel more represented.

The Challenge That Comes With This Shift

However, change comes with its own set of challenges, such as some people having reservations about inclusive modelling. A common argument is that this portrayal normalises or glorifies obesity because some believe that putting women of larger sizes enables viewers to believe that the proportions the models are portraying is still healthy.

But I disagree. The main reason models are needed in fashion is because they essentially are hangers for items of clothing and depending on a designer’s vision, an item should be shown off in a unique way based on a model’s proportions. Having a physique which fits true to a size 4 pretend to model a size 8 would not make much sense, would it? Especially since as we move to online stores over physical ones, customers no longer get to feel and try on clothes before buying them. Thus, consumers would want to be able to trust brands’ product shots of garments before purchases.

Additionally, some models are pressured to stay within a certain size and height as stated by their agencies or bookers, in order to stay relevant in the highly saturated industry. These parties then fuel the notion of an “ideal” physique that models need to adhere to, hindering traditional fashion brands from embracing this change to inclusivity.

Luckily, consumers these days are becoming savvier and more vocal about inclusivity and representation.  Take for example, Victoria Secret, a lingerie brand which skyrocketed to fame in the 1990s and 2000s, which received criticism over their lack of body diversity in their products as well as their famous runway shows. In 2019, after years of criticism from consumers, the brand had to cancel their annual runway show due to the overpouring criticism that the brand was not changing with the times.

What consumers are looking for is a variety of body types, instead of the usual slim models. From a different viewpoint, the industry’s role here is to provide a more realistic representation of bodies in each society. Yet, the industry is still promoting these models that lesser and lesser people can identify themselves with. This continually deepens the divide between consumers’ reality and the industry’s ideals.

If this continues, how can the industry expect us to lap up at their latest trends targeted to only a specific body type? I am not so sure that consumers are that easily tricked into following the lead anymore They will get tired, start coming up with their own trends leaving the industry, outdated and irrelevant to each passing generation of youths.ed on Apr 3, Hwee En was told her internship would be fully home-based.

My Takeaway

The fashion industry being inclusive of all shapes and sizes can be a reality, but it’s also up to us as consumers. If consumers can show how we’re confident and beautiful no matter our natural dimensions, the industry will have to follow.

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