Ideal beauty is a social construct. Right now, society tells us that body fat is shameful and high end fashion designers are refusing to make clothes for plus size women. Just because someone doesn’t fit society’s definition of beauty doesn’t mean they aren’t beautiful.
By neglecting to make fashionable clothing for plus size women, the fashion industry is essentially telling them that they are not suitable. “I felt weak and not good enough,” Andrea Kuchinski said to Washington Post. “Because I needed something, I walked myself over to the men’s section and bought a men’s t-shirt.”
A study done by Washington State University Professor Deborah Christel revealed that today in America, the average woman wears a size 18. Size 18 falls into the plus size scale, which ranges from a size 14 to 36. That means that there are millions plus size women in America that fashion designers are ignoring.
The famous fitness brand Nike offers around 1,000 different items in extra small sizes but less than 15 in plus sizes. Another popular brand, Victoria’s Secret, is not even trying to cater to customers in plus sizes, which agitates lots of women.
Change.com contributer, wife and mother Dana Drew started an online petition. “I love Victoria’s Secret so much that I even have their credit card,” Drew said. “My money and my credit are good enough for them, but the fact that I can only buy items like perfume, lotion and body spray sends the message that my body is not [good enough].”
Drew’s example shows how plus size women are forced to adapt themselves to the restricted selection of clothes and compensate with more accessible items, such as shoes, purses and other accessories. “As a consequence, retailers experience a lower inventory turn on (a poor selection of) plus size products,” says Business Insider, “which in turn discourages investment in creative and innovative plus size fashion.” Even if they do have plus size clothing, it’s usually priced higher than the similar sized male items, which is obviously unfair.
According to Bloomberg, fashion is a 108-billion-dollar industry with plus size sections contributing about 20.4 billion of that. This is a huge niche in a very fruitful market. Bloomberg also reported that plus size women’s apparel sales have outpaced total women’s clothing sales for the past three years.
Fashion is a tough field jammed with people who are not afraid to express their positive or negative opinions. World-famous fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld expressed his perspective to Spiegel Magazine. “Nobody wants to see curvy women on the catwalk,” Lagerfeld said. “[Those who do are a] bunch of fat mommies sitting in front of the television with their bags of potato chips calling skinny models ugly.” However, it turns out that leading brands reject plus size designing not just because they fear the depreciation of their image but producing plus size apparel tends to be more difficult and expensive.
It is not simple to create larger sizes of the stock clothes. There is a whole new system of pattern-making to follow. “The proportions of the body changes as you gain weight,” professional pattern designer Kathleen Fasanella explained. “We know pretty well what a size 6 woman will look like if she edges up to a 10; but if a woman goes from a 16 to a 20, you just can’t say with any certainty how her dimensions will change.” As a result, companies have to employ more designers and models, therefore spending more time and money in order to pay the employees and get the job done.
Another problem we face is that many clothing companies are still working with standard sizes which were originally established in the postwar era of the 1940s. That means there are huge factories that are not even set up for plus size manufacturing. In short, change is too expensive for the businesses and too painful for the proud designers.
The factories and expenses are only part of the reason why plus size women don’t have access to designer clothing. The most profound reason is something that we have woven into the fabric of the western society, and that is the “beauty myth.” The “beauty myth” is a social construction which emphasizes that women should have a thin and firm body.
Professor of Sport Science at University of South Australia Kevin I. Norton found that only 1 in 100,000 can attain this Barbie-like proportion that the western society admires. Social pressure for ideal perfection pushes millions of women into anxiety, depression and eating disorders which make them vulnerable for exploitation by businesses. “Advertisers are consciously reinforcing the negative social stigma of bodyweight in order to keep people in the chain of consuming,” Whittier College Professor of Sociology Jeff Gunn said.
“We just need to become more conscious as a community to only buy things that we really, really love, that we really want to wear and support those brands and tell them, ‘thank you so much for making this, here are my dollars,’” Jezebel blogger Sarah Conley said.
It is immoral that plus size women have limited options. This is a consequence of a serious social discrimination. We can’t keep pushing the Barbie look to be the norm. Acknowledging and embracing the various shapes of bodies should be the social norm.
“There is no reason larger women can’t look just as fabulous as all other women,” fashion consultant Tim Gunn said. “The key is the harmonious balance of silhouette, proportion and fit, regardless of size and shape.”
The art of fashion is not exclusive — the industry may be, but not the art. Everybody deserves to feel amazing in their clothes and I am sure there are talented designers out there who will help the millions of women awaiting change.