Women’s bodies have always been a sensitive topic of debate. Fashion-forward brands are finally listening to women and taking a positive approach to representing their bodies.
By Janice Stainton
Scrolling through Instagram it can seem like almost every woman has sculpted an ab crack, shot from the perfect angle. We’ve seen what was once a platform for authenticity evolve into a carefully curated aesthetic. A number of body positive models and campaigners are looking to change this. But with the projection of the perfect body everywhere to be seen, many women only see a body shape they relate to when they look in the mirror.
As a new generation of consumers call out to see models that reflect their own body shape and size, the majority of brands still adhere to using skinny-slim models. Plus-sized models that range from a size 12-and-up are reserved for Curve collections. Arguments like clothes fitting slimmer models better just don’t wash when consumers are telling brands what they want. After all, how brands choose to represent women’s bodies is as much a factor of who they choose to engage.
Dove was a pioneer in body confidence with the launch of their Real Beauty campaign back in 2004. Today a new narrative is showing models with tummy rolls, cellulite, stretch marks and curves. Brands are waking up and showing that products look great on a range of women’s bodies. It’s a refreshing break from the slender models and polished influencers that saturate the media. Most importantly it’s one that’s resonating with consumers.
The face of this movement is Paloma Elsesser, model, face of Fenty Beauty and Pat McGrath’s muse. With a 42-34-46 figure, Elsesser makes her money as a plus-sized model. She’s the first curve model to be chosen as a face of Nike, and is set on challenging the industry to be more inclusive. Having featured in American Vogue, she’s represented brands including ASOS, H&M and Levis. Elsesser even had a bra named after her by eco-apparel brand Girlfriend Collective.
Glossier, the fresh-faced cosmetics brand from Into the Gloss founder Emily Weiss, featured Elsesser nude in their latest campaign. When the Body Hero campaign launched Elsesser wrote on her Instagram that she cried three this before the shoot. Her caption reads, “I did this to show that fat isn’t a burden. Being fat isn’t ugly or shameful. To prove to one person that it isn’t BRAVE to be fat, but bountiful”. She shares how she overcame her anxiety for the young girls that digest the precarious and irresponsible versions of beauty every day. The campaign also featured a collective of women with different body types including pregnant ex-basketballer player Swin Cash, alongside Outdoor Voices’ CEO Tyler Haney.
This summer, he internet lit up when ASOS features images of models in swimwear with stretch marks. They received praise from their customers and the media for simply not photoshopping models. Whilst others were quick to point out how thin the models are. The brand’s corporate website upholds a body positive ethos, stating: “It is important for us to promote a healthy, positive body image and to fully represent our increasingly diverse and international customer base so that they feel their best.” They join an array of brands that have stopped retouching models including Missguided and Target. No doubt saving some precious time in post-production.
Getty Images are also going unedited with a new policy that requests freelance photographers do not manipulate images. This coincides with legislation in France to clearly label images where the size of the model has been altered. Since the conversation around photoshopping in the media has been going on for over a decade, this is slow progress. During that time manipulating one’s own image has become the norm. A backlash against so-called perfect bodies is overdue.
London-based, ethical fashion organisation Birdsong are taking a more radical stance. They work on a promise of no sweatshops and no photoshop. Their natural approach goes one step further than simply being inclusive. Street cast models don’t hide rippled thighs or less than flat stomachs. Founder Sophie Slater told The Pool that, “Women are continually under pressure to look a certain way and the accepted skinny aesthetic is not sustainable or healthy.”
The New Normal
As the movement shifts from Tumblr to the high street, will luxury brands be next? Dr Carolyn Mair, Professor of Psychology for Fashion, says “For too long fashion has normalised the very young, very thin, Eurocentric, perfected body, and in doing so, it has ignored the majority of its consumers. Bringing diversity, in terms of shape, size, skin tone, age, and ability to fashion, enables consumers to feel valued by the industry.” Brands now have an opportunity to prove that their products look and feel great on different body types. Yet ultimately it will depend on how relatable the brand aims to be. “Furthermore, inclusion enables consumers to understand that real bodies are diverse. In turn, this has the potential to improve body satisfaction and enhance self-esteem” says Mair. As for today’s new generation of consumers, flawless is no longer in fashion.