This originally began as comments in my post about Damn You Alexis by my friend Diana, who you may remember from here, and who took photos of me a few weeks ago. She’s a complete stunner as well as a fashion photographer herself, and she pointed out how uncomfortable she was that the model used looked significantly smaller than the clothes being sold.

I know there’s been a massive amount of debate on this issue, for example the ASOS Curve models, Crystal Renn for Evans after losing weight, and so forth. For what it’s worth: I have no problem at all with straight size models! What I do feel strange about is the continued use of models who just about, if you squint and tilt your head, could be considered “plus size” modelling for a specifically plus size line, and the ramifications of that.

Apparently, tons and tons of research has been done on this sort of thing – and every time a model size 20 or over gets used, it’s really unsuccessful. Allegedly. The word that gets tossed about is “aspirational” – women want to think these clothes will make them look their absolute best, but a model that is genuinely similar to their size – or, heavens forbid, even larger! – is too close to comfort and apparently puts them off. As for me, I wonder whether they’ve been styled well enough, or shot by a good enough photographer, but what people in the industry say is that no matter what, showing women who actually fit into the clothes is offputting to customers. So they use thinner ones.

Here’s Diana‘s response, detailing exactly why she thinks it’s problematic. Please note there may be some triggering language regarding body image, health and weight.

That notion of “aspirational” advertising is rubbish within this sort of context. There is nothing wrong with using models from the smaller end of a range, as it is a size 6 / 8 which ends up selling a range of clothes aimed at people who will generally sit in a size 14 – 16 because I understand that notion of “perhaps I’ll look like that if I wear it”. And if transplanted, the higher sizes of this range such as the 24 / 26, would work with the model being an 18. Even a 16, pinned slightly. It just makes me angry because the women in these photos wouldn’t be able to buy these clothes to fit in that way, which in my eyes makes it as much of a lie as an insult.

Just want to do a little pointing out here, as a lot of you guys will be like “OMG Crystal Renn for Evans after she got slim!” It turns out that Crystal had a contract with Evans to be the face of the brand for three years, and it expired recently. So if it seemed a little off that Crystal Renn started losing weight and was still modelling for them, that was why.

If I want aspirational images, like most people we all have our ideal selves in our head, whether it’s a bit bigger, a bit smaller, or pretty dam close to where we are but just with a new hairstyle. I don’t need a clothing line catering for a larger size to say “Oh hey, here are some clothes, but you know what, they won’t look that good on you so here’s what you could look like if you decided to put down the cheeseburger and visit a gym”. I find it patronising, annoying, and filled with so much bias and loathing and it sends out such an unhealthy message mentally. We already have people like Tom Ford and Karl Lagerfeld to pass comment and make people feel inadequate. However, their clients are almost entirely made up of people who will to an extent, share or at least adhere to the virtues of their personal asthetic beliefs. Although it’s unkind, it’s a different market so they can, in essence, pass as much judgement as they want and not damage their own market, and upset their potential sphere of customers.

However this style of advertising and thinking within the plus size clothing world is NOT ON. There is enough guilt and shame as it is. People should be allowed to feel beautiful, wear pretty clothes, and not be made to feel abnormal or subhuman in any way. Some people over eat. Some don’t. Some people have hormonal issues which cause weight loss or gain. Some people have wobbly arms, some people have legs which look like they’d break under the weight of a stocking. It is apparently ok to look underweight. Applauded even. But to be a few too many pounds to get rid off that muffin top over those skinny jeans, then ohmygod, you’re Satan in red lipstick to the very people who are selling to you. More than anything, this is what irritatates me.

FASHION IS NOT A QUESTION OF HEALTH. I cannot stress that enough. Sure, being overweight may be unhealthy. Being underweight can be massively dangerous as well. But… and here’s the irony… being in the middle; a healthy body, healthy bmi… it’s still not good enough for fashion. Because, it’s not about health. It’s about HOW THE CLOTHES LOOK. Health is what is pushed in the face of those “unlucky” (and I use that term with my tongue firmly in my cheek) enough to be carrying a bit of extra winter warmth on the body to shame us, but it all comes down to how the clothes look. Or else everyone on the catwalk would be 5’6″ and a size 10 – 14! Not 6’2″ and extremely lean – occasionally to the point of danger. And now, we get proof that plus size fashion feels the same way.

Personally speaking I’m quite lucky that in terms of my size, I kind of slot between straight and plus. I can wear an 18, and sometimes squeeze into a 16 if it’s the right material and I’m wearing an ohmygodcannotbreathcorset. But like many people, I have lots of body hang-ups and, yes, would like to be a smaller size, especially with the nature of my job as a fashion photographer. I am certain that there is at least one shoot in the past that I didn’t get in the end despite being the best photographer for it, not because of my portfolio, but because I wasn’t a cool looking, floppy-fringed, waif-like beauty. And it annoyed me massively. That was enough “aspirational” negativity for me to pretty much stop eating my already low-fat, low-everything vegetarian lifestyle, and add a whole load of other borderline bullimic ellements into the mix to lose weight that was only there because my body can’t get rid of glucose properly, not because I over eat.

I don’t need these kinds of ad campaigns rubbed in my face. And to be honest, if I’d been asked to shoot a plus campaign with a model that’s too small for the actual clothes, I would have told them in no uncertain terms to go to hell. Plus size fashion is far more body conscious than straight size, and has more politics and boundaries that need to be addressed.

I’m not stupid; I understand as a photographer that an idea and perception are being sold, just as much as the product itself. However I am not comfortable that within the confines of campaigns like this, what’s actually being sold is more akin to a lie and a lack of self worth.


  • http://www.curvaliciousfashion.blogspot.com Donna Sturge

    I totally 100%, wholeheartedly agree with this post! I recently blogged on a a similar topic myself. I hate the fact that items advertise are not modelled by what I would regard as ‘plus sized’ models. I would much rather see what the clothes were going to look like on me, rather than thinking ‘there is no way in hell I could get away with wearing that’
    I loved loved loved this post
    xx

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  • http://Www.pixieandmurphy.blogspot.com Debbie

    I have thought this for a long time & it is just as alienating as every other aspect of fashion which is only accessible to people size 14 or under. They may well argue that their models are plus sized if they are a size 16 or 18 but if they are also 6 foot tall, then that body size is skinny with their height!! Sophia Dahl is a case in point she was a 16 when she started modelling, but at 6 odd foot tall she just looked average sized.

    Some US fashion stores are better at this than we are.

    xx

  • http://amonkeyfatshionista.wordpress.com Monkey

    I could not agree more. Very eloquently put. Fashion should be about looking good -regardless of your size, shape or height. I think if a retailer is promoting a plus range then dont do it half arsed. ASOS curve is case & point of this – I’ve only bought items from there AFTER I’ve seen the items being worn by a fellow blogger – or even in a couple of case by people on the street. It’s a same coz the items are what I’ve been crying out for – something a but funky & outthere.

  • http://corpulent.wordpress.com Frances

    I don’t understandthe ‘aspirational’ argument because straight size women (though they are plus size models) don’t look good in plus size clothing. This is especially obvious with the ASOS Curve range; putting a garment that is at least a size 20 on a body that is no larger than a size 14 makes the garment look terrible. It’s not until I see them on bloggers that I understand how the garment is supposed to look.

  • http://reizende-rundungen.blogspot.com Katrin

    I agree with Diana, she is totaly right with saying that ad campains like this are selling lies, no meter if they are straight or plus size lies. And of cause I want the clothes to look good on a model, but , as in my case, if you do lots of online shopping you also want to SEE how the clothes look on a body like mine. Why do they also try to make us more dumb than we really are? I can see that the ASOS Curve model isn’t my size and that she actually isn’t a size that is available in the collection. Everyone with a tiny bit of brain would notice that, but still they think they could just pretend she is something like a 20 or 22.
    So just like the others comment: I am trusting more and what I see on other blogs than in what I see on their online store, cause I want to know what I can expect from that piece of cloth!

  • http://blogtobealive.com Val – Blog to be Alive

    I also agree completely with this post. Years ago when I discovered Torrid online I was amazed that they were using plus size women. It was so refreshing to see the clothes as they’d look on my body. They also had a wide range of girls and at least up to a US26. Unfortunately with Torrid going from “goth” to “pink”, it seems that they’ve also ditched the models.

    There is also a similar discussion going on on Facebook about One Stop Plus. They have a new commercial from France and there is a woman in her underwear in it. It says that: “fashion doesn’t stop at a size 42”. The woman is busty and curvy but not near plus size at all.

    I think the key with online stores is variety. Why not use 3/4 models of different sizes through the site?

  • Amanda

    Totally agree with this post. I wish plus size fashion would stop apologising for itself. The reluctance to use a range of sizes seems to mirror the general tameness of the clothes themselves. There is also that overwhelming feeling that whatever we all seem to be saying, us the customer, a lot of suppliers don’t seem to be listening. Another season of lacklustre clothes.
    I’m also apalled by this argument that crops up a lot, that giving us great clothes will only encourage us to stay fat and unhealthy. Maybe as more and more small suppliers make
    fashionable plus size and continue to grow this might change.

  • http://thestate-iamin.blogspot.com Elizabeth

    Totally agree. (Although as a side note, I think Diana, you lose your argument a little in the middle re: weight and health, this is a little problematic) Anyway, I agree with the post and the lovely ladies comments above. I find it far more aspirational to see a model around my size (really anywhere on the plus-size scale actually) than a size 16 or below. I want to be a fashionable fat lady! And having models who are fat too would be so aspirational! I think companies need to start using models who are actually plus-size, and a range of different sizes and shapes too, not just hour-glass.

  • http://fatheffalump.wordpress.com Kath

    Oh how I want to see fat women’s clothing on FAT WOMEN!

    I am a deathfatty. Up in the top end of the regular plus sizing range (22/24 on the bottom, anything up to a 28 on the top half). When I look at plus size clothing on models that are under a size 18, I have absolutely no interest in them, because that’s NOT what the clothes will look like on my body. I want an accurate representation of what clothes will look like on a fat body.

    This is why I use fashion inspiration from fatshion bloggers and regular fat women I see around the traps. Because I get an idea of what the clothes will look like on my body. Seeing what they will look like on a size 16 or below is of absolutely no use to me.

  • http://www.sweetfacedstyle.blogspot.com Anika

    Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamen! Thank you so much for this! I would love for lots more people to read your elequent and important post, hope you submit to IFB.

    <3 Anika
    http://wwww.sweetfacedstyle.blogspot.com
    Twitter: @AnikaSweetface

  • http://dollface-is-candysweet.blogspot.com/ alegra

    i agree with most of this, though i’m with elizabeth concerning the health issue. aesthetical and health related cricticism gets mixed up so much: i hate hate hate the first, accept the latter.
    frankly, i don’t care all too much about models in online shops or mags because i know there’s only one me and that, naturally, everything will look completely different on me. while i did notice how one particular model on asos was way to “skinny” for the curve clothes, it didn’t bother me much while shopping. probably because i’m conditioned to do so by the media. however, i think the thing with models, skinny or fat, is that they shouldn’t take the attention away from the clothes.
    at the end of the day, the problem mentioned in this post is the reason why i prefer going into the actual shop instead of getting stuff online anytime. shame we don’t have that option with asos and other shops that don’t exist in our home country.

  • http://diamonds-n-pearls-fat-girl.blogspot.com/ Naomi

    I totally agree!

    I have to admit, I love the ASOS Curve range, but they are a prime example of the model not fulfilling the way the clothes should look. I have always bought items from them after recomendation from the Plus sized community rather than ASOS’s own marketting tactic with ‘much to small model’.

    I also have to admit, I have never really been a fan of Renn, I was always (and I know this sounds stupid but) dubious of her stance on the whole plus size thing. I think its great that everyone should do what is best to make themselves feel great about THEIR body, but I just never felt she was right for Evans, in my opinion could have quite easily and happily used models such as the beautiful Bea Sweet, Stephanie Zwicky, Fluvia Lacerda, Rosie Mercado and I would have been more inclined to buy clothes from them, especially when like myself you are at the higher end of their size range, being a size 26-30. They were a massive step closer when they started using Ditto who is a confident, happy, and empoweing plus sized woman this is the image we need from the industry, whether you love Ditto or Loathe her, her attitude is the most bang on trend thing us plus sizers will ever have in the industry. Heres hoping she dosen’t get talked into the stereotype!

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  • http://fashionpearlsofwisdom.blogspot.com/ Pearl Westwood

    Such a great post, I was really shocked at seeing the Beth Ditton for Evans range model – she was a 14 at most! It just seemed an odd choice, especially when Beth herself looked amazing in the range. I mentioned in the post I wrote for it how shocked I was, I mean I just dont see the point.
    I also just have to add why can’t we have shorter models Im 5.2″ and have been a size 8-18 now somewhere in between and yo know what I have never been able to see how clothes hang acurately from models nor 6ft mannequins! I have to agree with many of the comments here, it is the bloggers who are the real deal for modelling clothes, so how about the fashion industry gave us more credit and let us have a hand in marketing strategies too???

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  • http://vindavindasonata.blogspot.com/ vinda sonata

    hey i think this post is amazing. i really enjoy reading this. so many great insights i have to agree with.

    fashion is an egocentric world where how clothes look matter more than bodies, that’s a common secret for everybody, i think. and about perceptions and ideal body images, i believe the society has been long influenced by the size-0 body of most female models, so to shift between perceptions (from underweight bodies to normal, size-6 or 8 bodies) is going to face some absolute challenges; as you said: in fashion, too-thin is considered ideal, and normal is not thin enough, and this perception is constantly published in posh fashion magazines with equally absolute force in the universe of fashion.

    personally i don’t think plus-size shots just won’t work, because most people won’t adapt to such “unfamiliar aesthetic”, which is obviously influenced by the common perception, of course, as i’ve mentioned above, the second factor is probably almost no one in this world would consider such body shape as an ideal standard. so, yes, you’re right about such ads being lies and even bear repelling effects to clients.

    i believe the world of fashion will never undergo drastic changes in which people of all sizes could be accepted, at least not in another 50 years. the perception of the ‘ideal body image’ for which clothes look good on has been way too vested for a shift between perceptions.

    health and fashion are two different matters.

  • vinda sonata

    sorry, to correct a line above:
    ‘personally i don’t think plus-size shots just won’t work,’ to ‘personally i think plus-size shots just won’t work,’

    thanks!

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