The sector, and some of the media outlets that support it, have a long history of promoting unrealistic standards of beauty, and to some extent continues to do so through its design, model, and marketing choices. This continues to affect women across our society. At best, it dents our self-esteem, and at worst, it can be outright deadly. A recent study showed that one in eight adults in the UK has had suicidal thoughts over their body image.
Thankfully, we are starting to see some attempts to turn the tide. The body positivity movement emerged in the early 2010s as a dedicated social media campaign to support and celebrate the vast majority among us who do not meet such narrow and inaccurate definitions of beauty.
People are taking selfies that celebrate themselves — whether they are plus size, gender atypical, scarred, or experiencing conditions that have generally caused them to be marginalized. The fashion industry has started to take notice, with some brands embracing the movement and making changes that reflect a new perspective on beauty.
However, this doesn’t mean to say that the fashion industry has reached the point at which it is always or often walking the talk. Let’s take a closer look at some of the areas in which body positivity is making an impact in fashion, and where significant work still needs to be applied.
Product For The People
Too often there is a sense of unattainability, and an elitism that presents fashion in such a way that many consumers are not able to relate to it. Companies utilize models and lifestyles in a way that gives a distinct impression that fashion is not intended for a percentage of consumers. This is bolstered by the fact that labels fail to produce products in the full range of sizes and shapes.
The body positivity movement has made strides in pushing brands to broaden their product range. Nike’s plus-size range is an excellent example here. In 2017, the sportswear brand took note of demand for plus-size products, and produced a range that celebrates the shape and ethnic diversity of women who are “stronger, bolder, and more outspoken than ever.” Nike bolstered this by introducing plus-sized mannequins into stores, demonstrating a positive attitude to sizes that are relatable to its consumers. This was not only a positive step with regard to the accessibility of the product, but it also sparked more discussions.
However, it can often seem as though these kinds of changes only arise when brands are pressured into them. Diverse thinking needs to play a part at the beginning of the design process, rather than being an afterthought. This means that the fashion industry must put more work into addressing the weight bias of its contributors. When designers discriminate against consumers of diverse sizes and appearances because of their negative, inaccurate perceptions of these people and their lifestyles, they perpetuate serious social damage.
Moving forward, companies must put investment into helping designers and workers understand how to identify their weight biases, how to critically assess them, and provide encouragement to adjust their working practices accordingly.
Behind The Scenes
The problem with utilizing popular social media-led campaigns to affect policy is ascertaining how deeply the changes go. In order to make a full, body-positive shift to the industry, there needs to be a culture of authenticity throughout each organization. To ensure this is sustainable requires the application of elements which include:
As long as brands’ employees and leadership all look the same, and come from similar backgrounds, any changes they make are likely to be superficial — even if they are ostensibly well-meaning. Different perspectives throughout the organization are needed to create change that is based on the empathy and empowerment that the body-positivity movement is based on.
When key decisions are informed by experiences and views outside of the normal bubble, there are opportunities for those choices to better reflect and represent a wider range of consumers.
- Accountability and Transparency
Problems occur when choices are made in an echo chamber. The body-positive movement has shown that the fashion industry is gaining ground by engaging with its consumers via social media channels, and making adjustments accordingly. However, the industry also needs to be equally encouraging in keeping itself accountable.
Designers, labels, and industry leaders must be more transparent about their processes, and allow stakeholders — workers, consumers, and the wider public alike — to hold fashion accountable for where it is failing to make progress. This shouldn’t just be limited to body-type inclusivity, either; brands must commit to being open to critiques regarding sustainability and ethical standards.
Building A Stronger Community
The fashion industry has always fostered a passionate and creative community — it’s one of the reasons for its longevity and ability to push boundaries. However, in order to remain both relevant and innovative, the business side of the industry needs to place more emphasis on ensuring that it nurtures the body-positive elements of the fashion culture.
Our contemporary landscape is enhanced by online channels; social media, blogs, and vlogs are some of the most relevant tools to reach audiences. As such, there needs to be a more discerning approach to developing body-positive influencers and brand ambassadors. We are starting to see more diversity in these areas, with brands promoting models who experience vitiligo, alongside plus-size and gender-atypical contributors.
Perhaps the most effective approach is encouraging user-generated content. While seeing diverse celebrities and models can be empowering, body-positive representations from members of the community allow consumers to recognize themselves and people like them as a key part of the industry. This is a point at which brands and their consumers can make deep connections. Helping community members to produce videos, or even just sharing the content via your brand channels helps to build important lines of communication, and strengthen trust throughout the industry.
The fashion industry can be a powerful force for creativity and joy, but that’s not to say that it is always on the right side of history. However, the body-positivity movement is a step toward demonstrating that biases and discrimination have no place in contemporary fashion culture. When the labels and the public work together, there are opportunities to ensure we all thrive in an inclusive community.