Size is body-positive news right now. High street and online retailers like ASOS and H&M stock plus-size ranges and the luxury runway – once the exlusive domain of size-six-to-zero under models – is slowly shifting to the clarion call for body inclusivity.
Bigger-bodied consumers are feeling empowered and they want to dress well, but we still live in a world that states slimness is more desirable, with influential luxury brands mostly promoting that reality.
It hasn’t always been this way. For a four hundred year period up until the turn of the 20th Century, physical excess was often in favour in fashion, as this New York Times article outlines. In many African and Middle Eastern countries, weight is still associated with wealth and health.
A cursory glance at Wikipedia‘s stats provides clear and startling evidence: Until the start of the 20th Century, life expectancy for most of the world was averaging in the thirties and only began to rise with improvements in diet and medicine.
In essence, prior to the 20th Century, size [and its – sometimes erroneous – association with excess eating] was a good indicator that you’d live longer because you had the means to eat well.
These days, in the west, we’ve pushed the opposite reality to its logical limit: food is readily available [for most], yet we work harder and diet and exercise ferociously to live longer. These are aspects of a relatively young movement that posits the body as a machine-like temple, and is perverted by even moderate weight gain.
In the 21st Century, perceptions have begun to shift again. The roots are in wokeness, and body positive proponents have pushed hard [and are pushing harder yet] for perceptual shifts and inclusivity. At its most radical, the movement takes the stance that fatness is healthy as determined by the individual, a position that has created heat online.
Shifts towards inclusivity in the premium and luxury sectors have been real, but the true extent of change is harder to read right now. Premium retailers like the Karen Millen and the fantastic Reformation speak the plus-size language, but at the luxury level, while brands like Chloe and Fendi are at the vanguard, true change is taking much longer.
Yes, there are more plus size models on the catwalk, but size-representation is often little more than tokenism [and good PR] on the parts of brand, with mostly slim models walking the walk, and some brands not even stocking plus size clothing despite representation in their shows.
That’s not to say that alternatives can’t exist. While convincing current Vogue editor Anna Wintour that she’s wrong on fatness, might be a feat to far, it’s to younger designers not just to battle for inclusitivity, but to convince the fashion buying public of what beauty is.
That’s a fight that has been raging for decades, but that has enabled radicals designers to make statements that run against the grain, whilst also wooing the establishment.