MONA AHUJA | 31 JULY, 2017
Fashion is often associated with impossibly stick-thin models, bringing with the stereotype extremely unrealistic beauty standards. Add to that the advent of technology and the ability to photoshop away wrinkles, cellulite, skin discolouration -- or anything natural -- and you have a very real crisis in the fashion industry.
In the last few years, however, there has been an attempt to offset the size zero phenomenon, with ‘plus size’ models being a real thing. The most famous amongst this new crop of model is Ashley Graham, who cemented her status as a supermodel this year at Michael Kors Collection by walking with Carolyn Murphy and Joan Smalls while wearing Kors’s glamorous sportswear. Others include Candice Huffine and Marquita Pring, who too featured on the runway this year in Prabal Gurung’s feminist influenced collection.
Across the pond in Europe, a few shapely figures made it to Dolce & Gabbana’s show, most notably Alessandra Garcia-Lorido. Katy Syme and Stella Duval strutted their stuff in Paris at H&M’s see-now-buy-now show. “The world over designers are now walking the talk, no pun intended,” says Shruti Joseph, a design student. “Fashion has forever been at a complete disjunction with reality, with models representing impossible standards. This is slowly changing, and it’s refreshing to see this change play out on the runways of the biggest fashion weeks in the calendar year.”
So what exactly is a ‘plus-size’ model? Interestingly, the models who qualify for this tag are average weight and size in the real world. They are generally a size 12-16 -- which is the average size of women in most countries across the world. ‘Plus size’ models are also required to be over 5 ft 8 inches, and the very fact that they are referred to as ‘plus size’ is an indication that the fashion industry isn’t ready to transform into a more diverse and/or exclusive enterprise.
“Plus size models represent everything that’s wrong with the fashion industry and the beauty standards the industry sets, while pretending to be coated in the veneer of diversity and change. Fashion continues to promote extremely unhealthy beauty standards, and in fact, has made this all even worse by labelling women who are average size and weight as PLUS SIZE,” says Swati Mehra, a New Delhi-based lifestyle writer. “It’s like saying that ‘normal’ is size zero -- and women who conform to that size are considered regular models -- and anything a couple of sizes bigger is ‘plus size’, whereas in real life plus size models are just average size healthy women. I don’t understand how people can be naive enough to think that this tag represents a form of progress in the fashion industry.”
The move toward inclusivity and diversity in the fashion world culminated in a Vogue cover recently, where models such as Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid shared space with Ashley Graham, Liu Wen, Adwoa Aboah, and Vittoria Ceretti and others. The cover, instead, met with backlash, with social media commentary focusing on the fact that putting one plus size model alongside other stick thin models does little to promote a healthier beauty standard. Comments also focused on the fact that the women -- although from different ethnic backgrounds -- failed to represent a truly diverse population. “Vogue is "democratizing fashion" by not including a single woman darker than a paper bag in an "inclusive" spread,” read one comment. “While they may be different ethnicities, they all have the same facial features & structure so is that even real diversity?” noted another.
The real question that needs attention by influencers -- models, designers, publishers, editors, journalists, bloggers and others -- in the fashion industry, is why the need to push for diversity by creating different labels? Why can’t Ashley Graham and other shapely women just be called ‘models’? Isn’t the tag ‘plus size’ model perpetuating the notion that regular models need to be stick thin and tall? And women who are different shapes and sizes are hence either ‘plus size’ models or ‘petite’ models and so on?
The fashion industry has faced a lot of flak for being exclusive and rigid in how it identifies and celebrates beauty, with designers often speaking openly about how their lines are only aimed at people of particular sizes, class background or even race. There was a time when this was accepted, but in recent times, brands have faced consumer flak for promoting an image that is non-inclusive. The fashion industry has responded with an attempt to be more diverse… including in its line up ‘plus size’ models, models of different ethnicities etc. However, one look at the roster of it-girls and you can’t help but notice that they all look the same… same features, same height, same build, and even the handful of successful ‘plus size’ models fit neatly into this very uniform fashion type. Like the token third friend from a minority background in teen comedies of years gone by, ‘plus size’ models seem to be a piecemeal attempt by the fashion world at being more inclusive, whereas in reality -- the same impossible and unrealistic beauty standards remain at the centre of it all.