The body positivity movement has become one of the largest push-backs against a lack of diversity and positive self images in the fashion industry. In a nutshell, body positivity is the idea that all human beings should have a positive body image, and the body positivity movement challenges the way society promotes unrealistic beauty standards. The movement advocates for the representation of all body types, sizes, physical abilities, races, and genders.
For a long time, the fashion industry has mainly used white, skinny, young, and female models on runways, in magazines, to advertise new collections, and in brand commercials on TV or elsewhere. In the fashion industry, sample-sized garments are typically between a US size 0 and 4, which is not representative of the average body type. When research and statistics started to come out showing how people were being negatively affected by all of this, people started pushing back.
Approximately 80% of U.S. women don’t like how they look, and 70% of normal weighted women want to be thinner. In Australia, nearly 15% of men report an overvaluation of weight and shape. In the UK, 1 in 5 adults has felt shame because of their body image over the last year. Body image, a term used to describe how we think and feel about our bodies, is a big problem in many societies, and people who think negatively of their bodies are more at risk for experiencing depression, social anxiety, and eating disorders.
Some of the biggest contributors to low self-esteem are media outlets and the fashion industry. When companies and brands market their products with a certain type of model, it’s almost as if they’re telling people who don’t have a certain body type that they’re not good enough. One study even found that using social media for as little as 30 minutes per day can negatively impact how people view their bodies. One in five UK adults say that images on social media have caused them to worry about their body image. This just goes to show how much power the fashion industry has to either positively or negatively affect how people view and think about themselves.
The body positivity movement isn’t the first push-back advocating for acceptance of all body types. The Victorian Dress Reform Movement that happened between the 1850s-1890s was one of the first of its kind, and it aimed to put an end to the trend of women having to modify their bodies through corsets and tightlacing, and during this time women also fought for the right to wear pants.
In America in 1969, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance was created to help end discrimination based on body weight and to change the dialogue surrounding obesity and health. In the 1990’s, body positivity focused largely on giving people of all sizes a place where they could come together and exercise, and things like “Yoga For Round Bodies” started popping up.
It wasn’t until closer to 2010 and the rise of social media platforms that the modern “body positivity movement” really took off. Now social media sites like Instagram are being utilized as advertising platforms for the movement. The body positivity movement has even made its way to platforms like TikTok. Toktok Buddy on YouTube has a 7 minute long video that features different people showing how proud they are of what makes them unique. It’s purposefully titled “Normalizing Body Insecurities | Body Positivity | Self Love,” and it shows everything from body hair to surgical scars to cellulite. People are learning to accept themselves for who they are and stop comparing themselves to unrealistic images that circulate the internet or other media outlets.
Some people have built a career around the body positivity movement and are trying to show the general public that all body shapes and sizes are normal. It’s often individuals who start big movements, and when brands start to receive backlash for not being inclusive, they typically follow suit. Nike’s Plus Size Collection is a great example of a world-renowned brand that listened to consumers who were asking for inclusivity. Dove has been a pioneer in championing “real women” in its marketing. Other companies like Billie, which sells razors, started talking about things that no one else would from the get go. Billie’s marketing campaigns show women shaving toe hair in an attempt to normalize things that most people have, but never talk about.
The fashion industry is becoming more and more body positive as time goes on. This year especially has put a lot of pressure on brands and companies to be more inclusive. Model Jill Mercado rocked The Blonds runway from her wheelchair during New York fashion week in February, and earlier this summer Gucci released its latest mascara campaign starring Ellie Goldstein, an 18-year-old model with Down’s syndrome.
In the world of sustainable fashion, some brands are taking initiative to be as inclusive as possible, especially since the sustainable fashion industry doesn't have the best reputation for representing diverse groups of people. The activewear brand Girlfriend Collective has inclusive sizing that ranges from XXS-6XL, Mara Hoffman offers sizes XXS-2XL, and Eileen Fisher offers sizes up to 3XL. These are just some examples of how brands are finally starting to realize and listen to the fact that human beings come in all shapes and sizes.
Even though there’s been great positive progress in the fashion industry because of the body positivity movement, body inclusivity conversations still need to do a better job of including men and gender non-conforming individuals. A majority of male models are white, skinny, and able-bodied, and plus size men are rarely seen in the fashion industry. Because women have been more vocal about this issue, there has been more progress surrounding women. There’s still a taboo nature to the topic of male body positivity because society doesn’t create a comfortable space for men to express their thoughts and views about male representation in the media.
Body positivity is about promoting good self-esteem and accurately representing society. The body positivity movement and body positivity activists in the fashion industry play an important role in changing how people view their bodies. The more diversity in the fashion industry the better. When brands and companies operate with all body types, genders, races, and abilities in mind, then everyone is better off.
Hopefully there will be a time in the future when people are inherently loving of themselves and others, a time where everyone feels represented by the media and by the fashion industry. If media outlets and the fashion industry can have a negative effect on people's body image, then imagine the positive effect they could have with more movement toward being inclusive.
Jessy Humann lives and writes out of Spokane, Washington. When she's not writing about sustainability and why it's important, she loves to write poetry and do other types of creative writing. Her first children's book comes out next year.
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