Plus-size model Iskra Lawrence promotes Aerie's body positivity movement, #aeriereal, in Aerie's store.
Tess Holliday, a plus-size model and mother of two, strives to imbue others with confidence. After growing up lacking self-esteem herself, Instagram has become the outlet she uses to inspire women of every size to embrace their bodies, while also realizing her modeling aspirations.
Holliday’s Positive Message
“The reality is, I was born to stand out, to make people question things they thought they knew, and to exist fearlessly in a space that we are told bodies like mine don’t deserve to be in,” Holliday wrote in her new book, “The Not So Subtle Art of Being A Fat Girl: Loving the Skin You’re In.”
That need to encourage led her to type out a revolution in hashtag form.
“#effyourbeautystandards,” created in 2012, embodied Holliday’s opinion of everything wrong with the fashion industry—lack of body diversity.
Fast forward to 2017 and Holliday, who was discovered as a plus-size model on Instagram, can be found gracing the pages of Vogue Italia, with the likes of other plus-size models such as Ashley Graham, Vogue’s first plus-size cover girl. Seven years may seem like a relatively short time for overlooked plus-size people to elbow their way to the front of the fashion industry—because it is.
Social Media Sparks Discussion
Spearheaded by technology, the body-positive movement continues to blossom over social media, leading consumers to bridge the gap in plus-size fashion.
For instance, Rebel Wilson, “Fat Amy” from the Pitch Perfect franchise, partnered with Torrid to create a clothing line that caters specifically to plus-size women.
With all this talk about plus sizes, what does the term “plus-size” actually means?
The fashion industry began tacking on the “plus” at size 8. However, according to the CDC, in 2014 the average woman’s waist size was 38.1 inches, which generally translates to a 16 in U.S. sizes.
Despite what designers seem to think, the average U.S. woman looks a lot different than the size 8 the industry dubbed as plus-size, not to mention the size 4-6 that has become the norm for high fashion/editorial models, according to modelmanagement.com.
Popular “plus-size” models including Ashley Graham, a size 16, and Iskra Lawrence, a size 14, actually portray the average American female. Tess Holliday, a size 22, represents the “not so average” side of the spectrum that some women view as truly plus-size.
Fashion Bloggers Inspire Change
Fed up with the nonsense classifications and stigma surrounding plus-sizes, fashion lovers have taken to the Internet to share and compare their own styles.
Twitter, Instagram, and personal blogs allow anyone to be a model or fashion guru. This encourages average women to show the fashion industry exactly what they wanted to see—people like them.
While Tess Holliday and Ashley Graham continue to inspire well over 1 million subscribers on Instagram each, fashion bloggers such as Callie Thorpe (from the Corners of the Curve) and Grace Victory (Gracie Francesca), who captivate 156 thousand followers and 126 thousand followers respectively, are both examples of consumers using social media to take control of their own plus-size representation.
Inclusion Promotes Profit
Businesses utilize the social media profiles of plus-size posters the same way that trend spotters in the fashion industry go out and capture images of people wearing new and unique things in the search of next fashion “trend.”
“What’s more, companies care about this feedback more now than ever. They feverishly track things like website page views, magazine sales, and returns on investments on social content in an attempt to make sure they’re resonating with the public and making content they want to consume,” Lauren Chan, fashion writer for Glamour magazine, said in a Q and A with Ed 2010. “And there you have it: That’s the recipe for the progress of body diversity in media.”
Companies are seeing returns on their financial investments, as well. For instance, the clothing company Aerie, a spin-off of American Eagle, launched an advertising campaign, #ArieReal, in 2014. The ads featured untouched photos of “average” sized women. The campaign boosted Aerie’s total sales in 2015 by 20 percent and 21 percent in 2016.
H&M also began embracing body diversity in 2016 when Ashley Graham became the face of their Studio Collection, a plus-size line only available on the Internet. In the first half of 2016, H&M sales increased 7 percent, according to Marketwatch.com.
Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with including plus-size models in public advertisements and magazines. Many people argue that plus-size models encourage an unhealthy, or even an obese, lifestyle.
“Ashley Graham may not realize that she promoted a little girl to eat more, because she is saying that being ‘thick’ is okay,” Maria Valdez, a contributing writer for the Huffington Post, wrote. Valdez goes on to say that Iskra Lawrence, a model below the average women’s size, can influence a teenager to accept their body as it is and to not exercise, which may lead to them developing diabetes.
However, a study published by the International Journal of Obesity explains that a person’s BMI (Body Mass Index), or rather size, does not indicate whether they are unhealthy.
The study also cautions against solely using the BMI chart to indicate health, but to also take a patient’s personal circumstances into account.
Despite some negative feedback, the plus-size community is gaining more visibility, and social media is definitely playing a part in making that happen. While companies are starting to take notice of the large consumer gap they’ve created by excluding plus-sizes, the fashion industry has a long road toward full diversity.
Luckily, Twitter and Instagram slid into the driver’s seat, creating a fashion community that “exists fearlessly,” and embraces every body