Clothing retailers recruit models in two sizes: ultra tiny, and for a few brands catering to a different market, plus sized. This state of affairs has always been vaguely annoying but now it is actually getting in the way of buying clothes. The problem is pretty simple. Making an informed online purchasing decision is impossible when the model in the pictures doesn’t accurately show how the garment looks on a body that doesn’t fit the retailer’s vision.
To solve the problem, retailers could shoot lots of models wearing the same item in all the different sizes it is sold in. But they aren’t. If only one would give it a go to see if the investment of time and money pays off in sales. I get that brands increase sales by promoting images of beautiful people and I’m as taken with Kendall and Gigi as anyone, but these stunning women are not the only beautiful there is. Truthfully, beauty doesn’t discriminate on size, only people do.
While my frustration might seem petty at first glance, there are larger issues at play. The skinny ideal is ubiquitous across all brands to sell clothes. They have perpetuated this narrow definition of glamour by flooding our retinas day in and day out (avoiding advertising in 2016 is probably not even possible in the Amazon). The small is beautiful message has been internalized to such a point where I don’t even feel welcome to buy the clothes, let alone wear them. In response, I have stopped giving over my credit card digits.
As a society we need to remember that it wasn’t always this way. I love looking at Botticelli’s Venus with her round belly and small waists like mine. If that model lived today she would take also issue with pants that fit in the leg but not at the waist. Even in the 1950s advertisers were paying to encourage women to gain weight rather than lose it. It seems so quaint now. Our western beauty ideals have been the same for too long and are causing mental illness like anorexia, that kill.
The problem is, our brain takes this visual information in without us even being aware of it. Our idea of what is right and normal and good is shaped by the world around us – the sky high billboards, the Instagram feeds, the MTV clips and sample-sized superstars. Even recognizing our perceptions are warped by what we see is a challenge when you are part and parcel of the society that created it. Despite backlash against advertisers and designers for years, there has only been token change. And it needs to be seen not only in the size of models, but gender, age and racial diversity too!
I wish it was as easy as saying I’m not buying clothes anymore. But that is not true. As a viewer or a consumer, or a citizen, I want the art I see, even created for commercial purposes, to better reflect all kinds of beauty that we see in our streets.