Fat fashion, while still leaving much to be desired, has definitely come a long way. I can remember going to Lane Bryant with my mom as a little girl and being horrified by the beaded, sequined, baggy travesties they called clothes. Now the travesties are poly-cotton blend! I joke; Lane Bryant is not my favorite plus size store, but they have improved 110% over the years.
While fast fashion chains like Forever 21 (their sub-brand Faith 21), Torrid and the UK-based Evans have heeded the call of the fat by offering more fashionable clothing in large sizes, the high-end designers have remained steadfast in their refusal to go above a size 8 in most cases. In fact, the mainstream fashion industry as a whole has been slow to catch on to the “fatshion” movement; only now are more so-called straight size magazines and labels showing plus sized models on their pages and in their runway shows. Even then, the acceptance has been limited to the smaller plus sizes, 12-14. You would think since (as the oft-repeated statistic goes) the average woman in the U.S. is a size 14, designers and fashion magazines would be more excited about tapping into this vast market. But the reality is, their business model is based on keeping women in the hamster wheel of constant dieting. Self-acceptance is bad for business.
The mainstream fashion industry includes the “women’s magazines” feminists know and loathe. These magazines promote the fashion culture, package and market it to women, and are intimately connected with every other part of the fashion industry. If you’ve seen The September Issue, you know how much power a big fashion magazine can wield. Marketing fashion is about desire and lack of attainability. You’re made to want these clothes, to feel like you need them, and they must be hard to obtain so you’ll be frantic to get your hands on them. In order to wear the clothes, you must be a certain size—so the magazines work in tandem with the weight loss industry to beat you over the head with articles on how to maintain/achieve the required slim figure. There’s also the barrage of images of thin, airbrushed models (wearing the clothes that you’re told to desire) to remind you of what you’re trying to obtain—the unobtainable. If you’re fat and you decide to accept your body as it is, you must be penalized by being denied access to the rewards promised to those running in the hamster wheel.
With the growing number of fat women stepping out of the wheel while demanding equal access to fashionable clothing, this business model is becoming unsustainable. Chinks are appearing in the armor of the fashion-industrial complex. This is in no small part due to the groundswell of “fatshion” bloggers (led by blogs such as Fatshionista, Definatalie, Musings of a Fatshionista and Fatshionable), the success of the fat acceptance movement and the reality that at least in the U.S., women aren’t getting any smaller. As I mentioned above, mainstream fashion magazines are starting to regularly feature average-sized models on their pages, and some have even started regular columns directed at fat women, such as Marie Claire’s Big Girl in a Skinny World. Saks Fifth Avenue recently announced that they would begin a pilot program selling up to size 18 of some high end designer labels like Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana and Yves Saint Laurent. Of course, cutting the plus sizes off at size 18 leaves a lot of fat women in the cold, so it is a limited victory. Considering the fierceness of the fight to get to even this point, however, it’s kind of amazing.
Clearly, the fashion industry can ignore this market for only so long. As fashion seeps into every part of our collective consciousness—from Project Runway to What Not to Wear—fat women want to be able to participate as consumers. It’s time to make the unobtainable nature of high fashion a thing of the past. Every woman deserves to be able to exercise her right to buy clothes that will be “so over” this time next year.