Size inclusivity is a growing topic in fashion. Expanding size ranges is top of mind for nearly every single one of my clients and just about every brand I follow. Typically plus-size mannequins are saved for plus-size only stores, or plus-size sections in a department store. In a non-plus-size specific brand store it is as if they do not exist, until now.
Nike, an industry leader valued at $32.4 billion and topped the 2019 list of most valuable fashion brands, has recently debuted plus size models in their stores. The response? There has been almost universal praise. Almost. If you ask Tanya Gold of the Telegraph, it is all just another lie that the fashion industry is telling women.
So, let’s try to break down this lie. Tanya is arguing that the mannequin is grossly obese, that she is not a twelve or 16, but a gargantuan body. She says that a woman this size cannot run and to model her in running clothes is a terrible display of cynicism. Has Tanya Gold ever been to an organized running race? Well, I have, and let me tell you, there are women and men of all sizes, shapes and even ages, that run. While I do not have the exact mannequin measurements, many women have taken it upon themselves to photograph side by sides with the mannequin to show that this is a realistic representation of themselves. These women are sizes 14,16, up and are runners, weightlifters and more.
Unfortunately, what Tanya seems to be picking a fight with is not really that plus-size mannequin in all its curvy glory. It is the fashion industry and the way it notoriously celebrates unhealthy body types, typically by way of the rail thin, malnourished juvenile models that they send down the runway as blank canvases on which to display their art. For decades, we have been inundated with images of mostly white, mostly stick thin images of what beauty and fashion should look like. Finally, consumers are demandingrepresentation and brands are obliging. This is hopefully a lasting phenomenon and not just a trend. Representation means reflecting society in your images and your models. Showing people of different genders, sizes, abilities and ethnicities.
Maxine Ali, a health and wellness writer pointed out that a 2017 study in the Journal of Eating Disorders found that more than 90% of female mannequins represented medically unhealthy, underweight bodies. So while showing concern about the health and well being of women is seemingly very caring, where is the concern for the countless women who suffer, and in fact die, from eating disorders triggered by the unhealthy and unrealistic images that are constantly pushed on women, basically from infancy?
What Tanya is expressing is her concern for the obesity epidemic, which has been linked to certain health risks no doubt, but she is doing so by generalizing and stereotyping. Weight alone is not the sole measure of how healthy a person is. People can be healthy, or unhealthy for that matter, at any size. There are women that are 100 pounds and immensely unhealthy. On the other hand there are women that are 250 pounds that are eating healthy and living an active lifestyle, even running marathons.
Let’s not forget that Nike is an active wear brand. What a contradiction to shame Nike for representing women of different sizes in their stores which one would likely go into in order to seek out products to enable an active, healthy life?
Tanya is claiming that the fight against obesity is now dead because brands are embracing and providing clothing options for larger sizes. Study after study shows that people in the western world are getting bigger. I have read reports of the average waistline increasing in American women 2.6 inches over 21 years. That brings the previous average of the 1990’s from size 14 to between a size 16-18 in regular misses standards, or a size 20W in plus-size standards. Now, don’t forget how averages work. Averages take data from the entire range, from the smallest to the largest, and find a median. That means a size 16-18 is the new “medium” essentially. Therefore, there are many people wearing sizes both smaller andlarger. What exactly are these women on the larger scale supposed to wear if brands do not have them in mind as well?
To point out another contradiction, Tanya is making it seem as though including plus-size mannequins somehow would contribute to more people being overweight. Studies on the other hand, show that encouraging weight-related stigma, like banning plus-size mannequins for instance, makes it moredifficult for people to lose weight. Separately, if what she is saying is true, then throughout the decades that we have seen mostly emaciated models on runways and super-thin mannequins set the standard norm in retail and advertising, wouldn’t we all be getting smaller instead of bigger?
Look, I am all for health. I operate my life in the most healthful way that I can at any given time. But again, simply looking at someone’s weight or waistline is not an accurate measure of their health. One way in which the fashion industry has been unhealthy has been by notoriously promoting and encouraging malnourished models. Showing representation of what our society actuallylooks like feels like a step into a more healthy direction to me.
What I hope that Nike is doing is not only creating bigger clothing sizes and larger models but also working on real solutions for bodies of all sizes. Running as a size 2 and running as a size 16 is a very different experience that needs different solutions. What would be great is if this attention makes brands realize that creating clothing, including active wear, for women of all sizes is important. When you run with larger boobs and curves it’s like a Ludacris song, “when I move, you move.” Yup, just like that. Active bras and clothing for larger size women need to perform and function. They need more thoughtful technical design. I believe including larger mannequins in the retail level is a step towards really thinking through all of the needs of this underserved group of women.
Fashion is not responsible for making people bigger. Fashion is finally responding to the state of our culture, which is big, small and everything in between.