Brand Sauce: Where’s the Body Positive Movement Gone?

 In Insights
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Having just finished up a degree in fashion marketing, you can probably guess I’m a pretty avid shopper. I’m no stranger to the endless night time scrolling, browsing for new additions to my home and wardrobe until my eyes are sore. So what I still can’t wrap my head around is why we, as women, still aren’t having our bodies represented online and in stores, I’m very much over the token model of body positivity.

The Problem

On the surface, our society’s progression from 90s’ heroin chic to the body positive household names we see on screen and print, like Ashley Graham or Michelle Elman, you’d think we’re getting somewhere. However, I can’t help but feel the advertisements I’m inundated with feel cheap and inauthentic. Below you can see the trend guide just released by Boohoo, only featuring one curvier woman typically presented as the cliched tag along friend of the ‘perfectly proportioned’ model. When I say I want body shape representation, I want real commitment to it.

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Boohoo

Some people might be surprised to find out that skinny wasn’t always ‘in fashion’. The early renaissance era typically showcased curvaceous women and it wasn’t for a really long time until slimmer equaled more desirable. Part of the change stemmed from the end of the 18th Century where, in underground culture, thinness began to be an admirable quality, catalysed by the beginnings of romanticism. In the early gothic literature, thinness became a symbol of eroticism and forbidden practices. By the end of the 18th Century an excitement with Classical antiquity emerged, and looking to the Greeks and Romans, an infatuation with thinner bodies arose. So, not only is what we subconsciously think about body image and beauty embedded in history and literature from hundreds of years before, but it is more cryptic and ever changing than we realise. This adds to the confusion of what women are expected of themselves which in turn impacts body image, diets and depression.

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Primavera by Botticelli

It’s currently estimated that well over 1.6 million UK residents have an eating disorder, which is a truly sad statistic. But how can we expect to make real changes to our attitudes about our bodies without fashion brands talking a long hard look in the mirror and thinking about what we should be showing young women? High Street brands like Topshop and Urban Outfitters, who have huge influence on the younger generations, almost entirely show slim women on their social channels. We know the younger generations can’t seem to switch their Insta off, so showing such ‘aspirational’ body types 24/7 seems a little dangerous. 

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Topshop and Urban Outfitters Instagram

The brands that I feel are more responsible, and are particularly grinding my gears, are the fast fashion brands geared towards young women. I’m talking Boohoo, Misguided, Pretty Little Thing and Nasty Gal along with the host of other carbon copy brands out there like ‘I saw it first’ and ‘bluebella’. While I’m one of the lucky ones, in some respects, that it’s not too often that I feel weighed down by the models in the way some of my gal pals do, but it doesn’t mean I’m not immune. While scrolling through the product display pages on Nasty Gals swimwear I couldn’t find a single model that looked like me, or my friends. More than anything it’s frustrating when I’m trying to see how something online might fit me. 

So while it’s clear from just a glance at the website that there isn’t a variety of body shapes, lots of the fast fashion brands are trying to tell me they care. Boohoo might be one of the worst for lining up rows of more traditional models, and throwing a curvaceous girl into the mix to showcase their burning desire for authenticity in body image. It doesn’t sit well with me, primarily, because they are the source of the problem and have the capacity for change. 

Brands have always tried to show us an idealised version of what’s beautiful but they rarely hit the mark. Even in the last few decades the dream body has fluctuated from the washboard abs and Coyote Ugly style to small waists and large bums perpetuated by the Kardashian clan. Some brands are struggling to keep up with beauty standards, let alone showcasing a more accurate depiction of real women. A key example that springs to mind is the pink soaked, archaic ideals of beauty shown to us by Victoria Secret. It’s hardly surprising that the UK arm of the brand has fallen into administration when their notion of beauty is so outdated and so different from the culture today.

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Kim Kardashian Instagram, Out

Reason 1: The Movements Gone Quiet

Five years ago the movement was really gaining some traction, which led to the inclusion of some curvier women in fashion. However, it seems like as other movements gained real momentum we forgot to keep pushing our need for body inclusion in fashion. Commitment to sustainability is rapidly becoming a requirement, not an option. We see success in sustainably driven brands like Reformation and PACT but we as consumers sometimes forget to question other ethics involved with running a large business. By throwing light at one feature of the brand, we leave another in the shadows and in this case body positivity is left in the dark. 

We need to hold big brands accountable and expect more from them. Why are we still patting the likes of Boohoo on the back for making a minor change when they have the money and infrastructure to do more? We still have some great Instagrammers flying the flag for body positivity, check out Iskra Lawrence and Em Ford, but it does feel like the movements simmering down. 

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Iskra Lawrence Instagram

Reason 2: Changing the Message

Not only has the conversation steadied, but it’s changed. More articles are popping up stating that body positivity is a negative outlook, it skips difficult conversations for the reasons we may feel uncomfortable in our own skin and pushes young women to magically feel better about their bodies. As much as I agree that there are complex issues surrounding our relationships with our bodies, I also feel like this concern is just a question of semantics. By disregarding the movement because the wording doesn’t feel all encompassing of our journeys with self love we dilute the message. Whether it’s embracing our bodies or understanding that we might need to pursue an emotionally challenging pathway to reach that destination, we should be geared towards accepting ourselves. 

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Tess Holliday Instagram

This confusion might also be heightened by brands misplaced ideas around body positivity. Boots springs to mind, specifically their ‘let’s feel good about summer campaign’. Over the course of the advert they shrug off slimmer women and say that ‘no one looks like that’. To be clear, this is NOT what I meant by body positivity and commitment to representation. Swapping out traditional slim models for exclusively curvier models is not all encompassing either, I’m just saying I’d like a bit of balance. If you want to see what I mean, take a peak: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9-BP94DA3w

When brands catch wind that we’re not all on board with the message, it allows them to feel like they’re not needed to represent all of our bodies within their eCommerce, retail and marketing. If the message becomes confused our voice gets quieter.

Reason 3: We believed Brands for a Little Bit

Another one of the reasons the movements settled and the discussions slowed, is that we’re all guilty of buying into the brands little changes. There’s way more to consider than whether they’ve used a few more body shapes alongside a plethora of traditionally skinny models. I want to know why there’s still no women that look like me or my friends on product listing pages, I want to know if brands that perpetuate this body rhetoric support women in their own workplaces and I want to know if any of the immense amount of profit they generate is donated to charities.

While Topshop launched a campaign with CALM (a great charity FYI), it looked like the brand might be starting to understand their industry responsibilities. However, despite donating a portion of profits to the charity, they’re representation of body image on social channels hasn’t changed. This has the capacity to impact the way young people feel about themselves, so donating £5 per garment doesn’t correlate to real change.

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Topshop

To me, this would be like giving a fashion brand a gold star for using recycled paper. It’s a token gesture, it doesn’t make them sustainable and it definitely does not eradicate their contribution to pollution. Consumers need to get real and see the little changes for what they are, demand real change. We all need to demand that brands make consistent, coherent, omni channel changes across their platforms to promote all women.

Reason 4: The Old Boys of Fashion

The last point I want to call upon is the old boys of fashion. So many of our fast fashion top dogs are older men, which still strikes me as a little unusual. Lots of us have definitely experienced the fist clenching feeling of trying to get work signed off from higher up the chain, so we know these people have a huge voice and a big impact. I’d like to believe these ominous high ups get into high street fashion for the love of it, but I would guess it’s more for the big bucks. If these old boys of fashion are the ones with the capacity for change, then they need a really big insight into the effects of their decisions on consumers as they’re unlikely to be 16 year old girls. 

While many men have had great success and produced beautiful clothes during their careers, they have not necessarily strived for inclusivity. A famous Karl Lagerfeld quote that stuck with me was “The thing at the moment is Adele. She is a little too fat, but she has a beautiful face and a divine voice.” that was taken from the guardian. While he was influential in his field, he has no understanding of the way those comments he made so flippantly, gets under the skins and into the brains of teenage girls. While this seems a little distant from the world of fast fashion, it’s definitely not. Simmels’ theories tell us that trends often trickle from couture to highstreet and it appears that this relates to our depictions of women too.

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Zimbio

Influential figures in fashion in fast fashion have been known to be equally as destructive, take Phillip Green for example. What we need is top dogs who understand the need for representation of all women, whatever their shape. Here at Kiss we always demand authenticity so maybe it’s time we let the women at these brands do the talking, or better yet have businesses hold these values at their heart.

Let’s Get it Straight

These are only a handful of reasons why the body positive movements gone quiet, but they’re still important. We all need to speak up about brands that we feel aren’t representing us so we can start to see change, moreover we need to recognise when our voices are being pacified by token gestures instead of our bodies being promoted the way they ought to be. If we could just get some powerful women to the top of these businesses, women who understand the way that advertising can make us feel inadequate, we might start to see some concrete change and a shift in attitudes across the board. 

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