When is a Catwalk Model “Too Thin” or “Too Fat”?

UK Plus Size Fashion Week just happened, New York Fashion Week is going on and London Fashion Week is not far away, so the media spotlight is well and truly glaring over the fashion industry at the moment and so are the body positive bloggers. As an angry fat feminist (or Feminist Whale, as one Twitter troll called me recently – Queen Feminist Whale to you babes), there’s been so many things that have irked me. I know what you’re thinking – “no surprises there Lottie, you could get pissed off at a paper bag if you wanted to…”

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When it comes to fashion and the fatties, professional Plus Size Models are usually between 14 and 22, typically hourglass shaped with flatter stomachs. There’s a few things wrong with this size range, and a few things right:

  • Most plus size fashion ranges start at 18. Already there are two sizes in that size range that fall into the “straight” size category – although to the modelling industry, they would be seen as plus sized.
  • Some plus size fashion ranges end at 32. Others tend to end around a size 24 (don’t even get me started on that). We’ve seen no representation of these sizes on any mainstream fashion catwalk – unless walked by bloggers or “Jane Doe” off the street.
  • Showing clothes for plus size women on just one body type is flawed – how can women like me aspire for something they will never attain? How can we make choices on what to wear if we know as a woman with a round protruding belly and big arse, that garment shown would look completely different on us?
  • However on the other side of the coin, if you look at “straight” sized fashion shows, they tend to use the lower end of the size spectrum to showcase clothes (something I’ll come onto a bit later) – so they are just following suite. Same with body types – if you’re a busty woman, say goodbye to being represented on the catwalks.
  • A few years ago, we didn’t have plus size fashion events. We didn’t celebrate fashionable choices for fat women and it was very much a “grin and bear it” time for us all. Events like UKPSFW have the platform, the media presence and the ability to shine positivity onto the plus size fashion movement, something we never had before which is a massive leap forward for fat fashionistas.
#stylehasnosize
Copyright – Getty Images

Throw things into the mix such as the extremely flawed #stylehasnosize campaign by Evans that used only one body shape for their recent PR stunt and the #PlusisEqual campaign by Lane Bryant in the US using the same spectrum of “smaller fats” and, in the case of Lane Bryant, selling their campaign t-shirts from XS to XL only – you can see we’re smack bang in the middle of a prejudiced revolution. Fat women should not be represented by clothing brands trying to make a fast buck – lord knows I don’t want my fat body to be used as a money making exercise.

Yes, we should celebrate that dialogue is being created about body positivity and fat positivity that simply wasn’t there before, but the whole debate needs to be radicalised. Okay, we’re getting more positive column inches, more empowered women and more clothing choices than ever before – but only for certain body types and sizes. But why does this have to be created by brands that just enforce that there is an acceptable level of fat? What about fat women who don’t fit into their acceptable sizes? Don’t all women deserve to feel fashionable and celebrated?

plus-is-equal-lane-bryant-campaign
Copyright – Lane Bryant

That last line got me thinking.

Recently, Victoria Beckham came under fire for using “too skinny” models on her catwalk. (article by The Guardian) People are suddenly concerned over these women being used for “thinspiration” for girls with eating disorders. Journalists are asking “what about the health of these women?” A genuine quote from someone on Twitter that The Guardian used was “Those girls are too skinny, I know they make clothes look good but real women wear clothes too.”

Is it just me, or is this sounding a bit familiar to you?

Victoria Beckham Skinny Models The Guardian
Screenshot of The Guardian article

Fashion shouldn’t be a fight over whether a person is healthy enough to display clothing on their bodies. Until the fashion industry test the health of models, both plus size and “straight” size, any speculation over the health of someone walking down the runway is just that – speculation.

In The Guardian article about Victoria Beckham’s show, Denise Hatton from YMCA England said:

“Healthy can come in all shapes and sizes. However, we do want to see the nation’s diverse bodies around us reflected positively in media, advertising and, yes, catwalks, including all kinds of sizes, shapes, ethnicities, abilities and more.”

But when will we achieve that? The “too skinny to walk” debate has raged on yearly. People have shown faux health concerns about celebrating fat bodies for years. If your body is too small, you’re vilified for being harmful to young women with eating disorders. If your body is too large, you’re vilified for being harmful to young obese women. Women cannot walk out of the house without being accused of glamorising obesity or becoming someone’s “thinspiration”. The world’s health problems will not be magically cured if we all pretend that women with varying body types don’t exist. Health issues do not disappear if you just close your eyes, neither do they magically get worse because a different type of woman is being used to showcase how clothing looks on their frame. The fight needs to come from our health services and mental health support services to provide support for women who are triggered by these kinds of extremes to educate and medicate – but this will only come if we fight for it and shift the “blame” as it were.

All bodies are good bodies

The sad fact of the matter for fat women, is that it is far more socially acceptable to be “dangerously thin” than it is to be “dangerously fat”. Fashion caters for the smaller woman more than it does the larger one. We’ll continue to have “straight” sized fashion weeks and plus size fashion weeks that display only one type of body until the industry decides to take a stand and showcase how fashion looks on all bodies, rather than enforce an ageing stereotype that only smaller women deserve to be role models.

Right now, the only safe spaces for women are those created by body positive advocates, communities and blogs that refuse to allow societal norms become the rulebook on how women can feel. The media and fashion industry, as well as mainstream society are not ready yet to take on the norm, but as these communities grow and become more vocal, IT WILL CHANGE. We’ve seen small changes already, it’s time to force them to make a big old leap!

Lottie L'Amour

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Plus-size, body positive, feminist, lesbian - ME. Lives in London, has a Nottingham heart.

6 thoughts on “When is a Catwalk Model “Too Thin” or “Too Fat”?

  1. A great post and certainly a sensitive topic to be talking on – so kudos for touching on it. As you’ve mentioned and let’s face it, being too skinny OR too fat is really bad and detrimental for your health. I don’t believe in being proud of your body if it’s at the expense of it being damaged.

    I’ve always wondered why BMI isn’t used more as the focal point for what catwalk models should be “vetted” against. Then, as they’re in the public eye, they’ll be positive role models when it comes to being fit and healthy.

    Again, great post 🙂

    Mark

    Like

  2. Hell yes! I loved this post. I couldn’t agree more and was verbally shouting abuse about the double standards that are constantly surrounding us in this industry, at my phone lol For now, until brands truly live up to their words of equality, I will do my little turn in every given catwalk that will have me and my wobbly belly and wear the clothes how my fellow fatties would. X

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  3. Hi Lottie, this is an amazing post that illustrates our reality. Criticisms are going to exist on this area forever, and one thing I realized, the connotation of being called “skinny” is not as bad as being called “fat”, although both names fall into the body shaming category.
    I’m thanful for this plus size community, although I’m quite new in the circle, I believe this is the way to make our voices heard.

    x Monica Mariz

    Like

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