Through the past few years, the fashion industry has been increasingly scrutinized for its lack of inclusiveness in representation of race and size. Because of this backlash, old and new companies have marketed themselves as being more inclusive and vocal about issues which affect their audience and potential consumers. However, consumers have pointed out that they are more astute to shallow marketing ploys than fashion houses give them credit for. Specifically, fatphobia in the industry remains to be a pervasive problem without much discussion. Despite fashion brands claiming to be inclusive, it is clear from runway, web pages, and trends, that they are still not creating the space for people above a certain size to look fashionable.
To start, fatphobia is certainly not unique to the fashion industry- although it perpetuates it- and has roots in racism. From as far back as the barbaric trade of enslaved Africans, European women started to subconsciously and intentionally desire clearly demarcated identities from African women. Seeing that African women were curvy, much like many European women, they started to separate themselves by losing weight- making it desirable to be skinnier. The current face of fatphobia is still in our psyche and much of what we consume. From television ads featuring diet regimens to fitness gurus on Instagram urging weight loss, the narrative around the female body equates desirability to a lack of fat. The implications of this on the fashion industry are direct. When marketing new lines or trends, fashion houses aim to make their clothing look desirable to the buyer, causing them to perpetuate already present fatphobia. Although we see a slow change on the runway, it is clear that fashion houses still center thinness when selling their collections.
Fashion houses who claim inclusivity do it under the guise of body positivity to de-center fat women. With the implicit biases that people have against fat women, this strategy is clearly done in order to feign progressiveness while doing nothing for the cause. Companies that employ this tactic often call their practice body positivity and sprinkle in one or two plus-sized models, ensuring that they remain underrepresented but present. Further, the “plus-sized” models they use are often under a size 12, which ASOS recently admitted to on Twitter. This can also be seen on company web pages that center their thinner models and platform their plus-sized models in a back link on their website. Effectively, companies, using the body positivity movement created by fat women to celebrate and normalize their bodies, commandeered the movement to include already-represented thin models and marginalize fat models in their own movement.
We also see fatphobia in fashion trends. The most current example which comes to mind is modern day street style with baggy clothing and chunky shoes. This issue recently erupted almost a year ago, with a Twitter post pointing out there was a double standard for the apparel of tall, thin women and fatter women. When thin women wear baggy clothing it is considered a feminist revolt against tighter clothes. Yet, if a curvy woman were to wear baggy clothes they are seen to be frumpy. There is only room for the wearer to appear fashionable if they are thin. The exclusivity of fashion trends can be further seen on the runway. Jacquemus’s Spring 2021 line features his influential role in creating fashion for the “feminine woman.” His wild success begs the question as to why he hasn’t created the space for fat women. Featuring only a handful of plus-sized models on his runway, the designer known to embody desirability and femininity excluded fat women from the sultry trend. This is made even clearer when exploring his website and seeing his famous dresses only go up to a US size 14. In many respects, fashion trends were made for a select audience.
Worldwide, fatphobia has a traumatizing and harmful affect on the mental health of women. If companies were to make meaningful change, they would start centering fat voices and bodies in their collections and platforms. Further, designers must make a concerted effort to design clothing that flatters the bodies of plus sizes instead of including them as an afterthought; a plus-sized garment is not fashionable if the vision was only made for thin women to wear it. Individually, we can all make an effort to unlearn fatphobia by internally embracing the fat in our own bodies and listening to the voices of fat women. For further information and resources on this issue, we recommend following the content of https://www.patreon.com/blackfatqueer and https://www.yourfatfriend.com/.