“Beauty is not one size fits all”

Image description: three panels side by side, each a colour picture of a model on a catwalk in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit fashion show. Left is a curvy woman, tanned, with long dark hair, wearing a gold one-piece swimsuit. Middle is a slender woman of clour with short dark hair, a silver bikini bottom and a cropped loose long-sleeved top, bare midriff. Right is a smiling woman of colour with medium length dark hair, wearing a belted one piece with a scooped neck and capped sleeves. All three are in bare feet.

Image description: three panels side by side, each a colour picture of a model on a catwalk in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit fashion show. Left is a curvy woman, tanned, with long dark hair, wearing a gold one-piece swimsuit. Middle is a slender woman of clour with short dark hair, a silver bikini bottom and a cropped loose long-sleeved top, bare midriff. Right is a smiling woman of colour with medium length dark hair, wearing a belted one piece with a scooped neck and capped sleeves. All three are in bare feet.

Before I get into this, I need to emphasize the disclaimer that I’m not a big fan of the idea of a Sports Illustrated catwalk fashion show, where models show off the latest swim wear. Perhaps marginally less objectifying than the swimsuit issue itself (which is clearly not about the swimsuits but about the models and has nothing to do with sports), its emphasis still appears to be more on the bodies than the fashion.

But that aside, if you’re going to do it, then why not represent a diversity of shapes and sizes.  That’s what a Sports Illustrated swimsuit fashion show in Miami did recently. And it sparked a debate in Australia, as reported by the BBC news. Objecting to including plus sized models in the show, columnist Soraiya Fuda of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, wrote:

“If the fashion industry decides to stop using models who appear to have starved themselves to skin and bones – as they should – they shouldn’t then choose to promote an equally unhealthy body shape.”

The president of the Australian Medical Association also chimed in, comparing “overweight” models to models walking down the catwalk smoking cigarettes. His point: both send an “unhealthy” message.  We should not, in his words,”celebrate obesity.”

Professor John Dixon, head of clinical obesity research at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute advocates for body diversity among models. He says:

“We know the stigma associated with obesity is so strong that we should respect people who are obese for their ability to feel good, look good and dress well,”

The fact is, people come in all shapes and sizes. We have said a number of times on the blog that it is possible to be both fit and fat. And in any case, let’s be clear. fashion shows are not trying to represent “health” anyway. They set the normative ideals for our society’s conceptions of beauty. For a long, long time, the ultra thin beauty ideal is about all we ever saw in the fashion industry.

Clothes were made to fit thin, lean bodies. If you weren’t of the normative body type, it was (and still is) more challenging to find comfortable, stylish clothes that fit. Having a diversity of body types represented on catwalks is a win in the sense that it sends a message that beauty is not one size fits all.

To promote this idea in the most revealing of all items — the swimsuit — is a radical move. If the fashion industry doesn’t just represent beauty but actually has a significant influence on its construction, then presenting attractive swimwear for larger bodies and modelling it as such is an extraordinary break from past practice.

What are your thoughts on body diversity in catwalk modelling, particularly but not exclusively for swimsuits? (I recognize this as a loaded question because many of us have complicated feelings about catwalk modelling of swimsuits more generally)

About Tracy I

Writer, feminist, vegan, triathlete, sailor, philosopher, sometimes knitter.

4 thoughts on ““Beauty is not one size fits all”

  1. Surely the point of modelling – at a basic level – is to see how clothes fit and look on a human, so using varying body types is a good way of achieving this. As for using obese/unhealthy models (of which your two photo examples are not) I’m not sold on it being a good idea, just as using unhealthy-looking skinny models isn’t either.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fabi Blogger says:

    I’m all in favor of including models with all sorts of body types in fashion shows. If the idea is to show what clothes look like on a body, then why not include all kinds of bodies. Like you say, fashion shows aren’t about health anyway, so showing both slim and heavy models shouldn’t be an issue. We really can’t expect the fashion industry to promote health, but we should at least call for heavy and curvy women to be acknowledged as part of the market, along with slim and thin women.

    -Fabi at Wonder Fabi

    Like

  3. I am Aranab says:

    I am all against the fashion shit they put up on runway. To begin with who wears those stuff in day to day activity. But I am also tired of fat people going all proud and nasty online about shaming body shamers. I think it more than. It is about being healthy. Unless you have some chronic disease or disability I do not see why fat people should be proud to be fat. They should workout to become healthy. you do not have to be fit and trim but you have to try to lose the excess fat. It is all about self respect. I do not know a single fat person who is happy in their skin because internally they know their organs are fucked up. We need to create a comfortable space where when they try to lose weight everyone supports them. My point is we should stop encouraging fat people to remain fat and instead encourage them to be healthy.

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  4. drtanda says:

    Really sound good and is true about big people they should lose weight and fit in society

    Like

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