By Emma Denison
As you start reading this, let me ask you a few questions. How far away is your phone right now? How long has it been since you last scrolled through Instagram or Twitter? I can only guess the answers – less than a metre away and definitely less than ten minutes ago.
Maybe for those blessed with the skill of actually being able to multi-task, you are looking at it right now. The soaring use of smartphones and social media has not gone unnoticed by the fashion industry. Not only are models being cast on account of their ‘Insta’ follow count, but the colossal fashion industry is also taking note of what the 700 million monthly users of Instagram are after: Someone we can relate to. A life we aspire to have. Why hasn’t more effort been made to have a catwalk show filled with healthy models of all shapes, sizes and colours? Most people do not find the first of these two things in the traditional image of a runway model. In a recent bold move by Kering & LVMH, two of the biggest fashion conglomerates and host to the likes of Gucci, Dior and Saint Laurent, US size 0 (UK size 4) models have been banned from the catwalk. With the average size in the UK being a 16 (US size 12), one may feel this is a step away from the notoriously ‘one image fits all’ runway, towards a truer representation of the population designers, are supposedly providing clothes for. However, another question stands just as clear: is this legislation really a step towards diversity and away from body shaming?
This most recent ban – announced just before the 2017 London Fashion Week – is not the first time that body size has been a key factor in determining who can be involved in a catwalk show. Both France and Israel have previously prevented models walking in a show who can’t produce a genuine doctor’s note confirming their physical and mental well-being.
However, this most recent size ban is not based on any direct medical intervention or analysis. Without the support of medical evidence as to why a model is unfit to walk, the intervention has been noted by some journalists to seem more like a step backwards in preventing body shaming.They argue the ban serves to condemn someone for their body image being ‘wrong’.
Although it can’t be denied that the pledge is an effort to protect model wellbeing and to increase body diversity on the catwalk, why hasn’t more effort been made to have a catwalk show filled with healthy models of all shapes, sizes and colours? When talking to my friend Emma, a recent Durham graduate, about this article, she shrewdly noted that in relation to size diversity on the catwalk there seem to be only two options. “Everyone seems to be either Bella Hadid or Ashley Graham,” she said, “who, although absolutely stunning and amazing, is also larger than the average woman.” Where, in amongst this undeniably stunning collection of models seen in fashion weeks around the world, is the spectrum of sizes?
Although some have mentioned the fashion week shows this year have been the most diverse yet, it is still hard to find an article that actually demonstrates this change. This really struck home when Hannah, a second-year at Hatfield, sent me a selection of images showing what she struggles with when trying to find clothes that are “in style”. The picture that struck home the most was a screenshot of an article by StyleCaster entitled: ‘The Top 10 NYFW Trends for Spring 2017’.
The article was showing three models demonstrating the ‘Bra-Top’ or ‘Bralette’ – a trend that has dominated high street shops and Instagram images for a considerable portion of this year. However, instead of the bralettes themselves, what was most noticeable about the image attached to the article was the near-homogeneity of the bodies of those wearing the ‘trend’. “Clothes nowadays aren’t made for boobs!” was the complaint Hannah made, along with many other girls I have talked to, when asked how she felt about recent styles.
This is a grumble I myself made in a changing room just the other day when trying on a tie wrap-round dress. In fact, just as I am writing this, Sammi Maria (@samanthamaria) and Lily Pebbles (@LilyPebbles) – two fashion focused vloggers and bloggers – have engaged in a complaint on Twitter about the very same problem. “They pretend big boobs don’t exist – ugh!” Sammi wrote in protest about some high-street stores failing to stock bra sizes over a C.
Of course, I am aware that not everyone will have this ‘bust’ problem, but it is not the only region that has come up in conversation in relation to trend access – the cropped box top is another trend item to be mentioned a lot. The problem factors: height, body composition and the confidence of baring any region of the stomach. As Becca, a third-year sociologist from St Cuth’s, puts it: “I would feel uncomfortable wearing clothes that revealed some parts of my body because the beautiful, unblemished bronzed bodies of women in the media make my pale skin and scars feel inadequate in comparison.”
That is not to say there has not been any progress made in embracing different body types. Effort has been made, especially in relation to what has become referred to as ‘Plus Size’ clothing, a term which has always been a pet peeve of mine. “Embrace your flaws” is now a commonly thrown-around phrase. But as noted by Emily, another Hatfield second year, why is it that we refer to parts of our body as flawed, and not just different – or, in fact, as just part of who we are? Is being a size 12 or, as LVMH and Kering would have it, being a size 0, a flawed part of us, something we should be ashamed of?
I am well aware that the issue of size within the fashion industry is a minefield, but from just talking to a few students – of all different, equally beautiful body types – it seems that one thing is quite clear. Both the high street and the catwalk are still not fully representing the very audience they are selling to. To do so entirely is undeniably an impossible feat, but one thing – at least to me – is clear. Instead of just banning a clothes size, maybe instead more effort should be made on diversifying the size of models on the catwalk. Maybe then trends will appear that cater to all types of shape – with big boobs and small.
Photograph: Charlotte Astrid via Flickr