At the close of New York Fashion Week something is very obvious. While fashion has become “more inclusive” at the highest level with a few plus sized bloggers sprinkled in the mix at the cool fashion shows and one or two perfectly proportioned size 18 models slaying the catwalk, it is still not ok to be fat.
A recent Glamour Magazine article written by brilliant journalist Liz Black entitled “At New York Fashion Week, Being Fat Is Still Taboo” highlights a mural by artist Ashley Longshore proudly displayed at the entrance of Spring Studios, the heart of NYFW which states: “You Are Not Fat.”
This translates to: My mom says you can come to the party but you will never be one of us or belong.
While many major fashion companies such as Anthropologie have expanded their size range, the brands haven’t gotten to the core of the problem yet, or done the work to break down the barriers and create the shift in pop culture required to really evoke the massive change that needs to happen.
This change will not only result in a shopping spree for plus sized women all over the world but more importantly help heal the deep trauma they have endured at the hands of society for simply existing.
The reason these women are not shopping at full capacity is simple. Because of social conditioning, the vast majority of this population believes that their bodies are transient.
Many plus sized women only buy the clothes they absolutely need. They don’t invest in fashion because of the stigma surrounding larger sizes. They don’t want to believe that they are actually a size 22 or 24 or whatever because their self-worth has literally been equated to their size.
So they wait and wait for a day that never comes. They will buy something nice for themselves when they lose that pesky 20, 40 or 50 pounds of fat; when they live in a body that is deserving of being fashionable and beautiful.
Skinny being touted as the standard of health and beauty has had devastating societal and cultural repercussions. Plus sized women have been traumatized and systematically abused for years.
It has translated to this community being discriminated against and denied jobs and opportunities that they are clearly qualified for.
They have been raped by men they are “lucky to have sex with” and stuck in destructive relationships with loser partners.
They’ve not being given proper medical care or taken seriously by doctors because the medical industry teaches that all of their illnesses are related to fat.
Plus sized women have been shamed by their friends and families for being greedy, lazy, lacking will power and all the other damaging stereotypes associated with fatness, and told over and over again that their lives would be so much better if they would just lose that weight.
They’ve been bullied and used by skinny cool girl “friends” because they want to fit in.
These women have suffered from eating disorders, destroying their bodies from the inside out and at the same time told that fat people cannot be anorexic or have an eating disorder…and perhaps the saddest effect of all, deeply believing that their bodies make them unworthy of proper treatment and love.
As an agency signed plus sized model and body positivity advocate in New York City, I still get a sense of panic, shame and worthlessness when I walk into a store to look for something to wear. This is from years of not being able to find anything that fits while my skinny counterparts have so many options. Also, for many years being screamed at for being fat every time I tried on a piece of clothing that was too small and going home and crying.
I have Plus Sized PTSD. It’s burned in my psyche and I am not alone.
Pioneers of the body positivity movement have done great work laying a foundation and bringing attention to the fact that all bodies are good bodies, encouraging brands to expand sizing and include plus sized models in campaigns and on the runway.
Now it is time to get to the root of the problem, the damaged psyche of the plus sized woman.
It’s time to re-brand FAT. Through emotionally intelligent campaigns, content creation and marketing spend. It’s time to help plus sized women to realize that it’s really actually totally fine to live in whatever sized body they have and wear beautiful clothes exactly the way they are.
The onus is not only on brands to expand and offer larger sizes. A major shift in pop-culture must be strategically crafted and executed to create this change at a mass level.
As a jump off point, here are some ways brands that are expanding into the plus sized market can help women feel more comfortable shopping “IRL”:
- Teach sales people to be kind and non-judgmental. To treat customers with dignity and make them feel beautiful in the clothes.
- Place mannequins with visibly plus sized forms at the window front of the store.
- Select models for campaigns who are visibly plus sized.
- Include plus sized models on the landing pages of websites, and ensure each style is available and shown on a variety of bodies.
- Create enough space in the store for women of larger sizes to move around and be comfortable as well as chairs or benches that are large enough for everyone.
- Stop hiding the plus sized section away at the dark damp corner in the back of the store.
- Make plus sized women feel welcomed and safe to shop.
Businesses are about generating profits, and this market is writhing with untapped potential. 68% of women in North America alone are plus sized.
The company (ies) that gets this right will not only help heal the trauma of millions of people, it will translate into billions of dollars in the bank. It is simply stated a good business decision.
Over and over again plus sized women have been told by friends, families and the world that their bodies are wrong. That they are worthless. That fat is ugly and nasty and lazy and grotesque and stupid and undesirable and something to be lost and hated. That fat is the worst thing a human being can be.
What a terrible lie. It’s time to write a new story.