Fashion is a wonderful, complex form of art that each and every one of us experience every day. Even just picking out a simple t-shirt and jeans is an artistic endeavor.
However, fashion is notorious for encouraging disordered eating, unrealistic appearance expectations and other harmful messages.
According to Plus Model Magazine, the majority of runway models meet the physical criteria for anorexia nervosa based on their BMI (body mass index). While some of these models are naturally thin, and happen to have a BMI that overlaps with that of someone struggling with anorexia, it is still unhealthy to have fashion primarily represented by people with only one body type. People come in all shapes and sizes, yet we confine fashion models to a very specific and often unattainable look.
But what about plus sized models? Wouldn’t it be expected that plus sized models represent and empower women whose bodies don’t happen to match that of a traditional model? The average plus sized model ranges between a size 6 and 14 (Plus Model Magazine) — which is difficult to even consider as plus for the average American women wears between a size 14 and 16 (Jezebel.com).
Modeling is not the only aspect of fashion that is encouraging negative body image: in 2010, popular clothing retailer Urban Outfitters launched a cotton V-neck with the words “Eat Less” emblazoned across the stomach. Despite many complaints, the company did not pull the item from stores.
In another example, Mike Jeffries, the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch — a clothing brand already notorious for racism, ableism, and fat hatred — stated in an interview:
“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids, candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny.”
In addition to this maddening statement, Abercrombie sells t-shirts with slogans such as “Female Students Wanted For Sexual Research,” “Do I Make You Look Fat,” and “Who Needs Brains When You Have These” (written across the chest on a women’s blouse).
Abercrombie and Fitch and Urban Outfitters, two brands that market heavily to pre-teens and young adults, both make troubling statements in their clothing designs and marketing strategies. Neither brand carries clothing beyond a size 12, proving to be exclusionary for customers with a larger body shape.
What is society telling us through popular fashion? To rely on our looks instead of brains, or that only certain people are allowed to buy their clothing by providing a physical barrier to women who are over a size 12. How do we discourage negative body image and become comfortable with our bodies and ourselves when size 6 is considered plus, and we idealize and feature models so thin they meet the criteria for a deadly psychological illness?
Read Kendall Anderson’s earlier blog post: BLOG | Body Positivity: The Troubling Statement of the “FYI (If you’re a teenage girl)” Blog Post.
Anderson is the founder and co-leader of Mills Body Positivity Group and a regular contributor for The Campanil‘s health blog section. Check out the Body Positivity Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/555588184475032/.