Why doesn’t fashion like fat girls? Yes, I fully assume my provocative title, thought out in every way to make you click on this article faster than on a video entitled “cute kittens with pink fluffy socks”. But is it really a provocation? For me, the word fat is not an insult, and should never have become one. Being fat is a fact. It’s like being small or being brunette, it qualifies a person, it describes them, but in no way humiliates or diminishes them. The problem today is that fat has become an insult. Worse, a category of outcasts, a label that most young women fear they will be wearing. The problem with the word fat today is the judgment that hides behind it like a little deceiver, and hits you in the face with all the violence of an insult when it is uttered.
And it’s because “fat” is an insult that fashion doesn’t use that term. It prefers the politically correct notion of “plus size”, or “grande taille” for the French. Women’s magazines will tell you about “pulpy” women, “harmonious curves”, and “curvy ladies”… And will try to sell you a new trick for a flat stomach and firm thighs a few pages later. If fashion needs so badly to label its models as “plus size”, it is because it considers without even hiding that there are “normal” bodies, meaning Kendall Jenner and other Kate Moss of modern times, and the others. The others are the big sizes. They are not, or rarely, worthy of parade and rarely make the front page of magazines (with the exception of the “diversity” specials, hello Vogue, or the “curvy women” specials, hello Glamour). Worse, they are significantly less paid than models considered “normal”, and will spend their lives explaining that yes, they are models, but “plus size”, everytime someone will raise an eyebrow, in doubt, at the utterance of their profession. In short, they are not the norm, they are the exception, and any opportunity is good to remind them.
But if “plus size” models, i.e. Models of a size other than XXS or XS, are not the norm, then why do they represent the majority of the population? Because yes, the average French female wears a good L, yet, the most produced pants size in France and most present on the shelves is S… Which concerns about 5% of the population. That’s absurd, you might say? Brands are losing money, you might ask. That’s cruel and stupid, you say? To which I will answer a big yes, yes, and yes again. Yet these are the facts. Then why? Well, because brands still prefer to lose money than to see fat girls wearing their clothes. Yes, you heard me right. And it’s not me who says it, but fashion itself… Karl Lagerfeld said in 2009 that «nobody wants to see big girls in fashion», because according to him, the world of haute couture is made of «dreams and illusion», not «fat women sitting with their bag of chips in front of the television who say that thin models are hideous.» Even more recently, in 2015, Patrick Couderc, Hervé Léger’s boss in Great Britain, said in an interview with the Daily Mail: «Fat or Lesbian? Then don’t wear my dress!» about one of the brand’s most iconic pieces, the bandage dress.
But that wasn’t always the case… For a long time fashion put forward a Marilyn Monroe body ideal, much more fleshy than Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell, who were among the first very thin models to walk runways and be the craze in the milieu. The slimness of the 90’s was so successful in the fashion world that the industry is now forced to ban certain models from fashion shows and introduce strict health control rules for them. This is the goal of the agreement signed between the two global luxury giants, LVMH and Kering, in 2017. A good initiative, but one that does not solve anything.
First, because the control criteria do not detect an eating disorder in a model, because they are based almost exclusively on their BMI, which is very questionable in many cases… And ban sizes XXS, but not XS. But when you are at least 1.75m tall, a XS is a very, very small size… Second, because preventing models who are too skinny from taking part in fashion shows or shootings does not introduce more body diversity into the fashion world, and that so-called “plus size” models do not remain less anecdotal. The models who walk and pose will remain mainly thin, tall, and white… And thirdly (and above all), because pointing at one morphology more than another does not solve the problem. On the contrary, it makes it worse.
The major issue of the lack of diversity of bodies in fashion, and the promotion of slimness and a unique and perfect morphology lies in the complexes and uneasiness that this creates in the heads of all the young girls and women bombarded by these images on a daily basis.
In short, telling fat women that they are not normal and pretty is wrong. But telling tall, thin women that they are unhealthy and ugly is just as bad. It’s reversing the problem, not fixing it. And trying to cover up insults and injunctions to lose or gain weight with pseudo medical arguments is the icing on the cake. Because the new skinny is “healthy”, eating healthy, living healthy, breathing and sleeping healthy, it is the new Holy Graal of the fashion industry. And under the guise of encouraging women to take care of themselves and their health, we sell them slimming diets, allowing them to gain muscles and butt, in short, to correct what is wrong with you. Because it’s obvious, there will always be something wrong with you. They are no longer told “you are fat”, they are told “you are not healthy”. It’s no longer an insult, it’s an advice, we care about you, we take care of you, your health worries us… Well, it worries their wallets above all. Because deep down, all these matters of body, health and criteria, is often only a matter of money. It is well known that the worse women feel about themselves, the more they consume. And rather than selling you jeans in your size in which you would feel good and beautiful, we will explain to you that we no longer have your size in store… Implied “you are fat, you are not the normal size, you are not healthy, you are a disgrace to this company”. But since when did journalists and H&M salesmen become doctors? The only person who can tell you whether or not you are healthy is indeed your doctor, not the glossy pages of magazines.
Fortunately for us, some are understanding it, and minds are changing, «body positive» initiatives are multiplying. I already mentioned the delicious Ashley Graham, and her inspiring Ted Talk in my first article on feminism and fashion. But she is not the only one to commit and speak out in the community. The lingerie brand Aerie for example, launched advertising campaigns without photoshop, and with amateur models (meaning people like you and me). And guess what? The initiative is profitable since since 2016 the brand has seen a jump in its sales! Very avant-garde in terms of communication, the brand even plays with this bias, with a #AerieReal, and a slogan that could not be clearer: «The real you is sexy!» On their photos, a diversity of bodies as never seen before, with small, thin, round, stretch marks and women who seem happy in their lingerie. A recipe that is all the rage… And it’s spreading.
As I was finishing the last lines of this article, as recently as last week, I looked up in the subway, and to my surprise, discovered the latest H&M swimwear campaign. On the first poster there was an old lady, with wrinkles, real ones! And on the second, a fat girl laughing, lying in the sand. The last one, my favorite, showed a woman sitting, whose stomach rolls had not been touched up… And we’ve been so used to seeing images that aren’t real on a daily basis that we almost forgot that adorable little roll that everyone shares, whatever your morphology. Honestly, it made me euphoric, I immediately took out my phone, took a picture of the ads and sent it to a friend, with the caption, and all in capital letters, “OMG H&M PUT NORMAL PEOPLE IN SWIMSUITS”… And you can laugh. It shouldn’t shock us so much to see real people, and yet it does. But things are moving, I think, and God, it’s oh so good.
And for the final word of wisdom, I will let the magic of poetess Rupi Kaur sink in…
For in this world that constantly wants to change women, dictate their bodies and their ideas, the greatest revolution we can all undertake is to love ourselves as we are. For fashion to change women, no. But for women to change fashion, after all, why not?
Lucie Puche, young woman in charge of image in a Parisian advertising agency specialized in fashion. In love with clothing since the dawn of time.