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Why it’s about time fashion normalised the mid-size woman

Why it’s about time fashion normalised the mid-size woman

Grappling with one’s body image is almost a rite of passage for many women.

It’s not surprising, given the influx of media depictions of women’s bodies, encouraging constant comparison and critique.

What is surprising, and even harmful, is the lack of representation of diverse body types in the fashion industry.

While we have certainly come a long way from the time where ‘heroin-chic’ encouraged extreme thinness as the ultimate symbol of status and beauty, there is still much work to be done.

We are now seeing increasing representation of ‘plus-size’ models. This is encouraging, even if the term itself continues to portray larger bodies as divergent from the thin ideal, which we are falsely told is the ‘norm’.

Yet, it is troubling the way women are unceremoniously dumped into two extreme categories – extremely thin or ultra-curvy.

Firstly, this does nothing to dispel the idea that thinness is ideal. If two women are portrayed side by side in a fashion campaign, the thinner one is still more likely to be considered beautiful and aspirational.

By default, the curvier woman is more likely to receive the ultimate cringey non-compliment of being ‘brave’.

Secondly, these two categories completely ignore the wide range of beautiful shapes and sizes that fall between the two extremes.

The average Australian woman is about a size 14-16. These women make up the majority of our population, and yet are woefully underrepresented.

A child of the thin-obsessed 1990s, I vividly recall picking up my first fashion magazines and trying to figure out where I belonged.

Upon realising I was neither a supermodel or a plus-sized girl, I assumed I had a choice to make: dedicate all my time and energy suppressing my natural body size to meet the beauty standards of the day, or embrace a larger body.

My experience was not unusual – girls as young as eight years’ old now commonly report poor body image and a desire to be thinner.

If young, impressionable minds don’t see portrayals of size 10-16 women as glamourous, stylish or fashionable, the unconscious assumption becomes that it is impossible.

Unfortunately, the shift away from ‘thinspo’ body standards has simply been replaced by an equally extreme, unrealistic body ideal. Many women today aspire to the exaggerated hourglass figures of Kim Kardashian or Jennifer Lopez.

This body type is still unattainable and unrepresentative for most women without access to dieticians, personal trainers and plastic surgeons to sculpt whatever body shape is currently trending.

Merely changing one impossible beauty standard for another does nothing to liberate women from toxic societal stereotypes. All it does is give us more ways to feel like we are ‘wrong’ or have somehow failed.

It is important not to gloss over the fact that even among the body positivity community, sizeism and fatphobia run rampant.

Larger women experience greater discrimination, even within the ‘plus-size’ fashion industry. The mid-size movement must not ignore these nuances, nor the intersectionality of size, race, ability and class.

Body positivity must be for everyone, or it helps no one.

Without true diversity and a realistic representation of the wide spectrum of ‘normal’ bodies, the fashion industry will continue to be a source of poor body image and self-esteem.

Why it’s about time fashion normalised the mid-size woman

Rise of the mid-size: Why we need to normalise ‘normal’ bodies

Mid-size women are starting to understand and embrace the power they have to influence change.

Since they make up the majority of fashion consumers, brands can no longer ignore their demands for greater representation.

The hashtag #midsize has more than 2.5 billion views on TikTok, and is full of women showcasing just how stylish and fashionable mid-size women can be. These women are advocating for greater choice and diversity, and demanding that brands improve their size inclusivity.

It is ludicrous that the average sized woman will struggle to find a stylish outfit in a ‘straight-size’ store, and yet be ‘too small’ to shop in plus-size stores. It is unacceptable that the majority of women don’t see their body type represented in a positive light in fashion and the media.

The time for change is long overdue, and it may finally be on the horizon. Mid-size activism is attracting attention from the fashion industry, with unprecedented representation of sizes 10-16 at the 2022 Australian Fashion Week.

This may have been a result of public criticism of the lack of diversity for the 2021 Australian Fashion Week, and it remains to be seen if this will be a true cultural shift or merely a once-off, tokenistic display of performative activism.

Following any significant step forward towards more diversity and inclusion, there is often a sociopolitical backlash. Critics of the mid-size and plus-size movement claim it “glorifies obesity” and encourages people to be unhealthy.

These arguments reflect a great ignorance about the complex relationship between weight and health. Furthermore, it is ridiculous to say that simply showing real women with their real, natural body types is glorifying anything.

Contrary to the fashion industry’s insistence that showcasing larger bodies will negatively influence body image and population health, the opposite is actually true.

Exposure to idealised thin bodies in fashion and media is linked to higher rates of eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, which has the highest fatality rate of any psychiatric illness.

Resistance to greater representation is not about our wellbeing, but about the profit and prestige of powerful capitalist entities.

Women who are happy with how they look buy fewer diet products and tummy-sucking shapewear. They pay for fewer painful and expensive cosmetic procedures. They realise comparing themselves to airbrushed images of celebrities will only bring about misery.

Embracing your looks in a world that wants to make you hate yourself is truly a radical and political act.

The time for pretending there is only a handful of ways to be beautiful and fashionable is well and truly over.

The time for the full spectrum of women’s body shapes and sizes to be portrayed in all their beauty and style has come. Get on board, or get out of the way.

Emma Lennon

Emma Lennon

Emma Lennon is a passionate writer, editor and community development professional. With over ten years’ experience in the disability, health and advocacy sectors, Emma is dedicated to creating work that highlights important social issues.