Plus: Is it really positive?
When we were young, Barbie dolls dictated our definition of beautiful - white, slim, and tall. When we grew up, makeup brands defined perfect skin fair and spotless. Ramps dictated a perfect body - tall and size zero. Anyone who did not fit into these frames was made to feel less. The result was this, a study found that simply viewing a Barbie doll reduced body esteem in girls between the age of five to eight. Images in magazines influenced the concept of an ideal body weight for sixty nine percent of adolescent girls. After television became popular in Fiji, 11% of the adolescent girls reported vomiting for weight control. Brands have created a very unhealthy relationship between us and our bodies and now the same brands have latched on to new movements and woke concepts to sell us a whole new range of products.
The latest cover of the magazine, the first big black woman on the magazine. Oprah was the first black woman but she was apparently encouraged to lose 20 pounds before appearing on the cover. And now we have this one the new representative of body positivity who has trashed it as commercialized and she's right. Body positivity is the idea that you should be happy and proud of your body irrespective of its shape and size. Basically it means being happy and comfortable in one's skin.
Clothing and beauty brands love to sell this idea. They tell you to be yourself, love yourself, size doesn't matter but are they encouraging body positivity? Well they may be doing quite the opposite. Let's bring in some history at this point. Our society has had many such eureka moments when we realized body image issues and tried to fix them. The recent body positivity movement started in 2012, it challenged the unrealistic standards of beauty. Test holiday, a size 26 model was signed into a big European modeling agency, Instagram became the platform of choice for promoting body positivity. But the movement was soon hijacked by influencers. Today, #bodypositivity has 5.6 million posts, #bodypositivitymovement has more than 100,000 posts but most of them have nothing to do with the original idea. Body positivity has become a hashtag of choice for selfies, gym wear, vacation photos, and paid posts. Most of them are visibly thin women and there's nothing wrong in posting photos but these are way off the mark.
In spring 2019 fashion shows in New York, London, Paris, and Milan featured 54 plus sized models but in the fashion industry plus means eight. An average woman in the US is size 14. Plus size does not even start below 16. Fashion industry has reduced body positivity to curvy white women walking down the ramp or posing for magazine covers or ads. A Simply Be study found that 89 of the women feel their body types are not represented in catwalks. A study in the UK found that 74 percent of the women were not happy with the way they looked. 50 percent of 13 year old girls in America are unhappy with their body and by the time they reach the age of 17 the number shoots up to eighty percent. In Switzerland, seventy percent of adult women express the desire to be thinner. In Austria, sixty percent of elderly women are unhappy with their bodies. In the US, 11 percent of adult women reported body image avoidance. One study found that using social media for as little as 30 minutes a day can negatively change the way young women view their own body. So our fashion brands trying to fix all of this. They are in fact trying to enter new markets cash in on new trends.
Let me explain, the Florida state university conducted a research, women were shown photos of models ranging from plus to average and thinner bodies. The result was this, women recall plus sized models better which means if a woman with a body image issue is shown an advertisement featuring a curvier model, she's likely to remember that brand and perhaps add it to her shopping cart. This is what brands are cashing on and this is the reason they feature curvier models and try to pass it off as body positivity. This is what commercialization looks like and it's a very big market we're talking about. One third of women in the US identify themselves as plus sized, there has been an 81% drop in the number of US teens who buy from the junior size category. Those picking up plus size clothing shot from 17% to 42% between 2012 and 2019. In the UK, an average woman is size EU 46 which is size 16.
There is a genuine demand for plus size clothing. Brands have not been shy of catering to this demand. Most top brands today have a plus size collection but you know what, they do not share the same rack as other sizes. Brands have ensured supply but not inclusivity. Plus is mostly another section, another category, or another department if not another shop altogether. Plus is also another price range, if XS or L or XL is priced the same, why is plus different. Is there a fat tax? The global plus size market for women is estimated at 180 billion dollars, for men the number is pegged at 1 billion. In the US alone, the women's plus size market is estimated to have touched 24 billion dollars. There is huge money being made of plus sized people but there is no message of body positivity being sent to them in return.
All the so-called revolutionary ads and magazine covers later we remain a society that greets people with "wow!! you look great, have you lost weight". We live in a society that once cheered for Adele, her body positivity and now we are going gaga over her "beauty transformation". It is not about being plus or minus, tall or short, curvy or straight, none of these matter really. What matters is that you are comfortable in being who you are and you do not let fashion brands dictate your body image.
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