“It shouldn’t be okay for designers, who can make whatever they can dream up in their heads, to keep larger women out of their clothes or for buyers to tell us how we will and won’t spend our money.” Ashley Graham, model
“Plus-size, adjective, (of clothing or people) of a size larger than the normal range.” US English Oxford Dictionary
While skinny models may populate most of today’s magazines and media, emphasizing an unhealthy obsession with thinness, women have always been under some form of pressure to look a certain way — even if that meant being more thickset in the 1940s and 50s.
Through fashion different identities have been born or brought to the surface. We have an increased fascination and interest in diversity and using fashion as a platform for this, has led for different subcultures to be born or previous cultural taboos to be brought to light. Through different designers and their visions displayed on heavily publicized catwalks, these messages are so easily broadcasted through the media. The fashion industry as a whole continues to change and modernize into new trends and aspects; however, the Plus Size market isn’t being embraced as well as some would’ve hoped. As views on being plus size begin to change, it’s a topic becoming too big to ignore. I will be discussing how plus-size models have influenced the fashion industry in the past decade. I will be using three case studies to support this discussion, including Straight/Curve the Body Image Documentary, Beyond Measure: Fashion and the Plus-Size Woman exhibition and ………………….
Fashion conscious smaller sizes of the last decades are today’s size 16 women are becoming more confident and fashion aware, demanding a change in styles and sizing for all woman and all shapes. The ideologies of what is perceived as perfect are slowly changing into what is a realistic image to promote to the women of today. As for today, we are shown the image of a thin woman being promoted in magazines, adverts and on billboards, projecting the idea that being thin is promotes perfection and success.
During the 1800’s painters such as Peter Paul Rubens, a Flemish Baroque painter, was known for his portrayal of plump, sexy women. Up until the 20th century, curvy, fuller women were seen ideally beautiful in both the U.S. and Europe. Thus, the term “rubenesque” was used to describe a woman of ideal beauty — certainly more on the plump side than what we might expect to be revered today.
In the late 1800’s an actress and singer, Lillian Russell, was a representation of ultimate beauty. Russell had a big-boned, heavyset figure and was wildly popular amongst men. During this time, the female body image form was the “Gibson Girl”. A soft, dainty and graceful female with figure defined by a swan bill corset. The Gibson girl initially appeared in the illustrations of Charles Dana Gibson, who was defined as the “ideal female form” of American women as a woman with a thin waist, large bosom, rounded shoulders, and smooth neck. Gibson girls were “fragile” ladies who were voluptuous, but not lewd; progressive, but not too political; and they glamorized female independence but also didn’t stray too far from feminine ideals.”
The 1920’s was all about the flappers, it was all about bob haircuts and slender, lean bodies. Flappers didn’t conform with what was generally seen as polite and acceptable female behaviour. They smoked, danced, drove, took part in casual sex & listen to jazz. Woman were beginning to behave more like men, living recklessly.
The post-war era and into the early 60’s brought us the most iconic female figure; the curvy pin-up girls. Marilyn Monroe was the pinnacle of attractiveness during this time & still stands as an icon in American history. Throughout the 50’s women were under a lot of pressure to fit the perfect body. Pin-up girls were photographs were hugely retouched and stylized. Their legs were elongated, waists synched in and breasts plumped. Similar to the problems we deal with in today’s society, they were creating an unrealistic and unattainable human form.
Surprisingly, throughout this time society began to shame skinner girls in the same way fuller figures are shamed in today’s society. Advertising showed skinny women as hopeless in romantic pursuits and gaining weight was the only way to attract a male.
During the 60’s women approached a sleeker look. Women weren’t bothered about curves and adopted a thin, fashionable look like models like Twiggy & Audrey Hepburn who were icons of this decade.
The 90’s brought the Heroin Chic wave. Grunge was popular and heroin chic appeared as the new trend in fashion. Slender, drugged looks of models like Kate Moss embodied the essence of heroin chic. During the 90’s, there was an unhealthy obsession with thinness and Moss herself said “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”
The now: Throughout the history of body image in the U.S. decades have focused on what fashion and society deem as the perfect body. But through the body-positive movement woman are able to feel accepted and forget these outdated standards for woman and represent their bodies with all shapes and sizes.
“90% of women and young girls say they do not feel represented by the fashion industry or media, and the imagery they are consuming on a daily basis makes them feel ‘disgusting’ and ‘less than.'” (Straight/Curve, 2017)
Straight/Curve is a documentary about body image and the industry leaders challenging society’s unrealistic and dangerous standards of beauty. This documentary explores a series of different diverse models from older models to curve models & speaks to students and younger people on what they feel defines beauty.
The documentary beings with interviewing young students and how they feel the media represents them. The common comments throughout the classes is that children and teens hugely compare themselves to the models they see in magazines and in clothing’s ad’s. Some said, if they don’t look how the models looks in the same top she’s wearing, then she doesn’t feel beautiful or the majority of them agreed that they cannot see their skin tone, size or ethnicity represented in magazines throughout the fashion industry.
Bandura’s (1986) social cognitive theory posits there are three interrelated factors
that influence human behavior: personal, behavioral, and environmental. These three determinates play a role in how people perceive reality. This theory proposes that perceptions of reality are dependent on what people have learned through their own experiences or through vicarious observations of the behaviors of others. In order for these experiences and observations to have a motivational effect on the observer, the observer must be consciously aware of the modeled action and the consequences that can be expected if they model that action.
Furthermore, the observer must internalize and retain the modeled action as well as
attempt to personally replicate the model’s behavior. Motivation to continue the specific behavior is based on the positive or negative consequences that the observer experiences after they replicate the modeled action (Bandura, 1986). Consequently, the thin female social models, who are depicted as socially successful, in women’s magazines may be internalized by some women as the standard for femininity. Furthermore, this information may be retained as the ideal, female body standard that will bring positive societal outcomes; therefore, some women are motivated to imitate these thin social models to attain the perceived positive social results.
“This photo shoot was very challenging—our stylist got a lot of push back from brands and designers who refused to give us clothes because we wanted to feature them on plus-size women. Even shoe brands said no! We also received push back from agents who didn’t want their straight-size models posing alongside plus-size models, in case it hurt their image.” (McQuaile, 2017)
Throughout the documentary they were building up to a Photoshop; inclusive of diverse models. McQuaile, discusses how hard it was to get models, clothes and shoes organized for the photo shoot.
“…it is clear that the women depicted in the U.S. media have steadily grown thinner since the 1950s.” HARRISON, KRISTEN. “Body Image, Media Effect on.” Fact
With designers, agents and many others in the fashion industry treating plus size modes as they do, you’re not surprised as to why the models feel like outsiders. These designers use their clothing and power and make it into an exclusive group, only for the skinny.
“60% of U.S girls compare their bodies to fashion models” (Girl Scouts of the USA & Dove Self Esteem Fund)
Beyond Measure: Fashion and the Plus-Size Woman was an exhibition presented by The Masters of Arts Candidates in New York University’s Costume Studies Program. They explained “The exhibition will explore the shifting discourse surrounding the plus-size woman in relation to fashion and the body. Through a series of objects, the exhibit will examine the plus-size woman’s place within fashion and its defining entity, the fashion industry, from the perspectives of designers, manufacturers, the general public, and the individual women themselves.”
During the 18th Century paintings and portraiture usually showed the subject is a less that realistic version of themselves, many men were depicted with round paunches, while women were fitted with corsets that concealed and reshaped their mid-sections. The painting Madame de Saint-Maurice, by Joseph Siffred Duplessis was a seen at the time as a glimpse of a woman shown as her true self. At the time, this was realistic a historical moment in which the plus-size body is not antithetical to fashion, but it successfully combines with it. This was one of the first moments to which the plus size body was praised which can be difficult to find even in today’s fashion.
Plus-size in the early 20th century was seen as unfamiliar and undesirable and unfamiliar; this created a cultural bias against “larger” bodies. Larger women were shown in freak shows, such as Mrs. Frank Lewis, known as Nettie the Fat Girl. Viewers looked at her with morbid curiosity.
During the mid-twentieth century advertising had degrading themes towards women, which often touched on weight and body image. Men were predominantly the manufacturers of products such as Ironized Yeast tablets and tonics and weight-gain pills such as Wate-On and these supplements are aimed at being purchased and consumed by women. Capitalizing on the dynamic between sexes, these adverts delivered messages showing skinnier women who were seen as less attractive in comparison to the women taking supplements, to gain extra weight, portraying a curvier and more attractive figure that would attract men.
Effects of Exposure to Thin Media Images:
Evidence of Self-Enhancement
Among Restrained Eaters
“The effects of exposure to media-portrayed idealized body images on self-evaluation are frequently conceptualized in terms of “contrast effects,” a tendency to evaluate
more negatively one’s own appearance afterviewing highly attractive individuals (Thorton & Moore, 1993),
as derived from social comparison theory.” Mills et al (2002)
“Plus size” makes it seem like women who are size 10 and larger are different than the “standard” size smaller women, making more petite women the norm. But claiming that a size 10 is “plus” is bizarre when the average American woman wears a size 14. When online clothing retailer Modcloth surveyed their customers this year, they found that at 57 percent of their shoppers wear at least some clothing in size 16 and above. This idea that “normal” women are skinny and petite helps reinforce a culture where 97 percent of women have at least one negative thought about their bodies every day.