What defines a movement, hey?
The making of a social movement
Is it the number of people stirred up? Activists and campaigners rocking up on the street and protesting for a cause they burningly believe in? In this day and age, you’re as likely to measure the size of a movement by the number of hashtags shared and snappy tweets as you are a representative “minority” putting their feet to pavement in support of some social change they just HAVE to see. Heaven knows, the liberal youth of America were chuffed to bits with themselves for coining #feelthebern. (I may also be a small fan).
Source: The Odyssey Online
Is it the media coverage earned, maybe? How many column inches given over to the actions of passionate dudes, and the context and culture surrounding a group of angry citizens, does it take to legitimise a movement? Bloggers, clickbait articles and interested liggers sharing talk pieces on social media ALL contribute to the noise surrounding a movement in the 21st century. Who knows how quickly the Arab Spring protests against corruption and autocratic rule would have caught fire without Facebook to give it air?
Detractors count too, surely? The number of naysayers, academically backed arsewipes and out and out trolls surrounding a movement show there’s something to fear. A change to the status quo, some loss of long-standing privilege or simply an easy (and often creepily anonymous) opportunity to make yourself feel better at the expense of someone trying to bring about equality are all hallmarks of a building movement. Yes, even if there is overwhelming evidence in support of a cause. #blacklivesmatter protesters being painted as opportunistic thugs is case in point.
Body positivity activism in play
The feminist backed body positivity movement has all the classic markings of an increasingly organised cry for change. Rolling and gathering moss in its current form since 2014, the rumblings of women calling for body acceptance and representation for all shapes and sizes is growing louder. The term BOPO – some might say cringeworthily (cough) – has been put to use and the word “fat” is being reclaimed. Memes do the rounds assuring women its OK to love their flat chest or flaunt their armpit hair. With the norming exposure and bodily assurances it provides, we’re all the better for it.
Plus size bloggers abound, sharing where to best to shop for those once hard to find fashionable size 16+ clothing ranges. Once harder-to-spot-than-unicorn-shit models – all curvy AND racially diverse – are now walking catwalks (albeit high street as opposed to high fashion) and campaigning that brands #droptheplus as a defining term. The Women’s Equality Party are also calling on the industry to recognise that #nosizefitsall on account of the media’s profound impact on women’s body image. Glorious stuff that gets mainstream media coverage too.
Naturally, detractors have joined the body positivity feast too. Using health as a skinny stick with which to prod non-conforming women, larger ladies in particular have been publicly put to task by righteous health advocates. In fear of fat people glorifying what they see as poor health, using only physical appearance to judge and making no attempt to understand the root causes of a person’s supposed weight issues, they simply add to the overwhelming noise provided by the media.
Source: Cody App
All this despite it being proven that fat shaming is more likely to cause people to put on weight than to lose it, yet in 2015, cards were handed out to visibly larger people on the London Tube calling out their assumed gluttony. Combining this with women’s slight and naked bodies being used to sell all manners of shite and the Daily Mail’s sidebar of shame – admonishing post pregnancy bodies and the slightest celeb weight gain – the body negativity klaxon is sounding out loud and clear for women.
Plus Size, Plus Points
But here’s the beef, loves. When it comes to body positivity and what we have defined as plus sized, curvy women aren’t the minority. No, miss. Whilst there’s a bit of scrapping over what size waistband plus size starts, over 45% of 16-24 year old women in the UK are a size 14, and depending on the report, the average sized woman (across all ages) is pitted as a size 16-14. Can you catch a fashion ad showcasing a thicker waist though? Actually, you can…
Source: A Perfect 14
Beyond stalwart brands like Simply Be, championing the plus size cause for years, we’ve seen Debenhams introduce size 16 mannequins in store so women could see styles reflected as they will actually be worn, and Evans partner with musical and plus size queen Beth Ditto to update their brand, product and flagging reputation.
Unsurprising, given “mainstream” and popular brands are working harder on their plus size ranges, with ASOS and River Island introducing mirror images of their “regular” ranges for their bigger customers. More choice, better availability and considerable strides in representation. What more could a (fat) girl want?
The Radical Norm
Here’s what galls though, lovelies. The plus size customer IS the regular customer. My very own size 14-16 frame isn’t what I see from the brands advertising their latest seasonal range, and to witness high profile brands present the average woman as a niche category, or portray advertising representing diverse women and larger frames as a radical position… well, it’s a big fat joke.
H&M’s much lauded AW16 ad campaign, “Lady” is case in point. Representing diverse ages, races, sexualities and body types amply, on the surface it’s a feel good piece of advertising, pitching H&M as a brand that understands women aren’t some polished, young and tiny mass. That combined with recruiting plus size powerhouse Ashley Graham to front their plus size campaign, all good in the Swedish brand’s hood, until you delve a little deeper, that is.
De-listing plus size from smaller sized New York stores on account of limited demand – despite 67% of women in the US registering a size 14 or over in the US according to Refinery 29 – means that the plus size community, AKA known as the majority, can no longer get their hands on H&M clothing in store. This is fairly common in the plus size community, with customers recommended to shop online to shop for what is often a limited range with poor availability. Poor effort, H&M.
Boohoo’s Bad Behaviour
A little closer to home, we have our very own Manchester fashion success story in Boohoo.com. As a city built on cotton mills and fuelled by progressive movements like the Suffragettes, and innovation in the building of the Co-operative Society, it’s unsurprising to see a digitally savvy and fashion forward local brand achieve the turnover and profits it has. The launch of its plus size and petite range – partnering with high fashion plus size model Nadia Aboulsohn to design the much applauded range – even helped rescue the business from a profit warning in early 2014.
Despite such good efforts, like many other brands entering the plus size market, their commitment to the plus size customer is delightfully half-arsed. Caught out twice this year, first for charging extra for plus size items priced for less in the regular range, then second for using size 12 models to showcase what they state as size 16+ clothes on their slick website, they are barely showing a commitment to a customer group that helped reverse their fortunes, never mind representing the average waist size of their core 16-24 year old demographic.
Whilst brands like Boohoo.com are waking up to the plus size market, pitiful token gestures made to capitalise on the body positivity trend, and crafty partnerships with champions of the movement to tap into their rapt audience, just don’t cut it. Wispy, pretty things running around in something sparkly don’t represent the average woman, and with the wash of the wider media combined with a body shaming society significantly impacting on self-esteem, food attitudes, healthy exercise and personal relationships , these fashion brands at the heart of both dressing, representing and bolstering (or battering) women’s body image have to seriously up their game.
Source: Richard Wilkinson
Body Positivity Action!
That’s why throughout the festival we’ll be hosting a range of workshops and talks to discuss the issues. Our Ladyfest MCR Workshops on Saturday 8th October will see a session on how we as consumers use our collective voice to demand change from brands and the media, and at our Self Care Sunday event the following day, will be hosting a panel of body positively advocates, plus size fashion bloggers, food and wellness influencers and LGBT representatives to discuss body image issues and their impact with the audience.
We want to challenge and change the attitudes towards and representation of body image, starting in our own progressive city. As a Manchester brand, we’ve been reaching out to Boohoo.com to join the conversation, but so far to no avail, but Manchester women, make sure you come and have your say!
By Lauren Coulman, Ladyfest MCR Digital Campaigner