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Body image in the fashion industry: how far have we come?

ByBethany Taylor

Sep 28, 2017

“True beauty and power and born out of strength of character and defined from the inside out. There is no one standard of beauty.”

These were the words spoken by Beyoncé on the 6 September, as she announced that her Topshop sold sportswear brand IVY PARK was to have a new face for its autumn campaign: Laverne Cox. Beyoncé, when describing the appointment, said that she was aiming to “celebrate everyone’s uniqueness.” This is a clear attempt to spread a message of inclusivity and body positivity, a powerful step for an industry so long associated with the typecasting of size zero models.

This campaign mirrors the recent shift within the fashion industry, moving towards greater visibility of more body types both on the catwalk and in ad campaigns, with the popularity of plus-sized models such as Ashley Graham soaring.

As well as the increase in representation of more body types, there seems to be a growing awareness surrounding the problems posed by underweight models in terms of their personal health as well as the negative message projected to their followers. Following claims from model Ulrikke Hoyer that Louis Vuitton asked her to starve herself in the run-up to a catwalk show, the fashion houses LVMH and Kering have banned underweight models. Both LVMH and Kering, who also own Gucci and Dior, have stipulated that female models cannot be below a UK size 6 to walk in their shows. The models must also provide a medical certificate from their doctor and undergo a psychological assessment.

Additionally, May 2017 saw the French government banning especially skinny models altogether, with those flouting the rules facing fines of up to £69,000. These developments within the fashion industry seem to amount to a rejection of the androgynous ‘heroin-chic’ size zero look which was popularised by Kate Moss in the late ‘90s.

The steps taken by the fashion industry suggest that it has entered a new era, in which a wider variety of body types are celebrated and accepted. However, a recent study undertaken by UCL indicates that body image issues are a greater problem than ever before. The study found that 24 per cent of fourteen-year-old girls and nine per cent of boys suffer from depression, with many citing body insecurities as one of the major causes. These statistics contradict the conscious move made by the fashion industry regarding inclusivity of more body types. As social media becomes more influential than ever, the growing issue of body image in relation to young people’s mental health may be explained by the ‘Instagram age’, whereby the editing and filtering of images constantly projects an unrealistic and unachievable idea of body image, infiltrating the minds of young people.

Whilst the size zero look, so synonymous with high fashion is no longer idealised, a new figure has come to be revered. Celebrities such as Kylie Jenner who promotes an hourglass figure with an unbelievably tiny waist, toned stomach and a thigh gap has contributed to a new body type obsession of which some have labelled “slim thick”.  Although proponents claim that this embraces naturally curvier women and is less damaging than the image of the skinny supermodel, ‘slim thick’ is also neither a healthy nor realistic shape.

Very few people naturally fit this archetype, leading to many celebrities resorting to plastic surgery. Others use waist trainers, a product reminiscent of Victorian corsets which have been found to have damaging physiological consequences, such as restricted breathing. Others turn to expensive personal trainers and diet coaches; a luxury that many people cannot afford.

Rather than celebrating curves, ‘slim thick’ shames the completely normal elements of having a curvy figure.

The issue of body image isn’t just restricted to women. As men pose in gym wear, while advertising the latest protein powder, and whilst flaunting their sculpted muscles, the number of young males suffering from the pressures to fit a particular body stereotype is continually increasing. A look that requires total commitment, the average young male cannot afford to emulate this figure in terms of both money and time.

As images of unattainable figures constantly flood young people’s social media feeds, it is no wonder body image issues are on the rise. Despite the positive steps taken by the fashion industry to combat the idealisation of a size zero physique, the issues presented by social media remains a growing concern as Instagram and other online platforms continue to force images of unrealistic body types upon young people.


image: DanCristian via Pixabay

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