By Sarah Turnnidge
We all know how it feels – there’s a top that catches your eye while you’re skimming through an online shop in your mid-week lunch break, and it’s perfect for that party on Friday night.
Excitedly, you press order, and spend the rest of the week half-running as you get onto your street in the evening, wishing, hoping for your parcel to be there. And then one day it is, and you rush to your room, forgetting to open the plastic packet delicately because you’re sure that this is the top you’ve been waiting for.
And then, with a niggle that starts at the back of your neck, you realise that something isn’t quite right – the cuffs of those beautiful fluted sleeves are hanging over your fingers, the uncompromising satin material is stretched close to breaking point between your shoulder blades, that subtle crop is doing a great job of showing off your underwire.
The truth is, online shopping can be a disheartening experience at the best of times – after all, the people wearing the clothes we optimistically buy are professional models, mostly graced with an appearance that matches society ideals. The ‘standard size 8’, 5’10 model has become such a mainstay of our experience with clothing stores that it is easy to forget that for the majority of us who don’t meet this standard, clothes just won’t look quite the same.
Last week, the news broke that ASOS are beginning to roll out pictures of different size models wearing the same item of clothing on its mobile app, bringing with it showers of praise for the forward-thinking move. The inclusion of different size models was hailed as a victory for campaigners, who have spent years petitioning for a more representative picture of how the fashion industry relates to the lives and bodies of the people that wear the products.
(Images from http://www.asos.com)
The new releases feature models ranging between a size 6-8 (i.e. the size we are most commonly presented with as the standard when online shopping), a size 10-12, and a size 14-16. In a statement, ASOS said: “We’re always testing new technology that can make our customers’ experience even better. In this case, we’re experimenting with AR to show products on different size models, so customers can get a better sense of how something might fit their body shape.”
ASOS has made important changes to the way fashion is marketed over the past few years, particularly in their refusal to photoshop ‘flaws’ such as stretch-marks and cellulite out of their images. Such a decision, in a world where so-called ‘candid’ Instagram snaps are photoshopped to shrink waists and remove blemishes, is a notable stride towards promoting a more relatable body image.
This move towards representations of body diversity and inclusivity coincides directly with the blossoming of an online, seemingly organic, marketing culture that can and must react quickly to the viral trends emerging every moment on social media. The impact of a more democratic input into fashion via social media cannot be understated with regards to its importance to the reshaping of the fashion industry.
The above is a chart taken from Google Trends, depicting the clear upward trend of the number of internet searches for ‘body positive movement’ carried out worldwide over the past five years. A search for #BodyPositivity on Instagram quickly yields more than a million-and-a-half posts. There’s no denying that ‘body positivity’, letting go of narrowly defined stereotypes of beauty and embracing your imperfect self, is in vogue.
But it’s important to remember that not so long ago, the prospect of seeing a group of racially diverse models walk down a runway in underwear with their thighs rubbing together was little more than unthinkable in the world of high end, or even high street fashion. Until recently, models of different weights, heights, and skin tones were considered to exist on the peripheries of the industry, barely visible and hardly acknowledged.
These margins still exist. The mainstream they are excluded from dictates to us what we should be striving towards, from the images broadcast on glossy commercials to subtly airbrushed photos on more insidious platforms such as luxurious Instagram accounts. Just as plus-size models took a battering ram to the walls that kept them out of mainstream fashion and have now (as ASOS and other brands have acknowledged) made great strides towards diversity of representation, we need to keep pushing to make sure more people have the chance to browse online and see someone who represents them.
The representation of different body sizes is great; the steps away from damaging and unrealistic photoshopped images are important, but let’s not forget that there is so much more variety out there than we are shown on shopping websites.
We can’t be complacent. We can’t let three ‘beautiful’, socially normative, socially desired bodies become our new ‘standard size 8’. We need to demand a space for more diversity of colour, disability, age, gender, and so many more identities that make up the cultural fabric of today’s consumer society. Is what ASOS has begun to implement a good thing? Yes, I think so. Is it enough? No. Body positivity isn’t palatable, neatly packaged, a product ready for sale. As long as our culture of fast fashion, aspirational consumerism, and insistent advertising persists, we probably won’t ever see true diversity. But that doesn’t mean we should stop asking for it.