Mainstream media and marketing used to focus on the exceptional—exceptionally thin and exceptionally, conventionally beautiful people were used to sell us on the idea that if we just had that one piece of clothing, then we too could be one step closer to being exceptional ourselves. But beliefs like these are now long gone, replaced instead with the principles of body positivity: the idea that all bodies are good bodies, worthy of love and celebration. The movement seemed at first to move painfully slowly, especially as its outcomes could already be considered long overdue. But, thanks to the continued efforts of body positive activists, the growing social media exposure surrounding the movement and the positive feedback garnered by early adopters within the fashion industry, the ubiquity of diversity is now finally taking off.
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
A body positive activist can take many forms, but it makes sense that some of the most often cited are public figures that we already know and love. For example, recording artist Alicia Keys, who has gone makeup-free for most public appearances since 2016 as a way to re-connect with and embrace her own natural beauty and encourage others to do the same through her #NoMakeup campaign. Or, Lizzo, who has always been an outspoken supporter of the body positive movement, even desiring to recoin it as the “body normative” movement to further normalize all types of bodies. Or, fashion model Winnie Harlow who has vitiligo and has documented the changes in her skin over her career, always encouraging her fans to accept themselves no matter what changes their own bodies go through. Additionally, Sinéad Burke, writer, lecturer and advocate for inclusivity in the fields of design and fashion, who was the first little person to ever be featured on the cover of British Vogue after giving a ground breaking TED Talk in 2017 that explained the impact that design has on people’s lives and why representation is so important. And Roma Torre, Amanda Farinacci, Vivian Lee, Jeanine Ramirez and Kristen Shaughnessy, perhaps better known as the five former NY1 news anchors who made headlines in 2019 for speaking out and filing a lawsuit against their former network for age discrimination as their airtime was cut in favour of younger talents, even though their male counterparts did not face the same treatment. All of these women, plus many, many more, have gone a long way in spreading messages of self-confidence and self-acceptance over the years, and continue to do so to this day.
SOCIAL MEDIA INFLUENCE
While celebrity activists got the ball rolling, the body positivity movement really began to pick up steam when social media influencers started joining in. Everyday people of different heights, weights, races, body types, ages and abilities were given a platform, and many have done inspiring things with this opportunity. Kenzie Brenna has been active on social media since 2015, posting regularly about problematic body image-related behaviours in society and promoting a healthier lifestyle and more positive mindset instead. The fact that she is just a normal person who is intensely relatable is what makes her musings and her posts so appealing, garnering her an impressive following of nearly four hundred thousand supporters on Instagram. What is truly heartwarming is that Brenna is just one of many social media influencers spreading the message of body positivity, whose collective followings are certainly in the millions and beyond. It is reassuring and inspiring to know that any time you may be feeling down, a supportive community can be found just a click away.
Social media has also become one of our foremost tools for advocacy. Nowadays, most brands, large and small, have their own social media accounts, often run by dedicated social media managers. This means that we can connect to brands more immediately and more directly than ever before, giving us an unprecedented amount of power when it comes to affecting industry-wide change, including within the realm of diversity and inclusion.
The representation we’ve seen through public figures and social media has been incredible, but nothing feels quite as satisfying as seeing the same principles applied to the fashion industry on a larger scale. Some of the most exciting examples in recent times have been the very first Savage x Fenty show at New York Fashion Week in 2018, which showcased models of all races and sizes, including pregnant models. The show was truly a masterclass of representation that the world fell in love with.
Another outcome of the body positivity movement has been brands increasing their size ranges so that no body would be left out. One of the most dramatic examples of this was when Universal Standard announced in 2019 that all of their clothing would be available in US sizes 00 to 40, making the brand the most size-inclusive ever. On top of that, the brand does not divide their straight- and plus-size designs—every item they make is available in all sizes. This addresses the complaint that historically, a brand’s plus-size catalogue has been less stylish and less flattering than the same brand’s straight-size catalogue. Universal Standard was aptly named, as it indeed set the standard for where size inclusivity should be heading going forward, and has been lauded by the public for its ongoing efforts in this regard.
For many, a lifetime of failing to live up to unrealistic standards has led to a damaging self-image. Luckily, the visibility of body positive public figures in traditional and social media is always increasing, as is the coverage around each new act of radical representation, which is becoming more and more frequent. The fashion industry and related media is finally adopting the perspective that human bodies are diverse, and that this diversity is beautiful and should be celebrated. It is finally acknowledging that there is another way to approach our bodies, not with negativity, but rather with acceptance and love. So here is to continuing to accept ourselves as we are, and may we continue to see our advocacy pay off with even more advancements to the body positive movement in 2022 and beyond.