Since its rise in the early twentieth century, fashion has been a skinny girl game. Well, it at least appears that way. Through editorial, models, and runway clothing, the fashion world prides itself a thin appearance. In reality, those who shop and wear the latest fashions look quite different. The average woman in the world is far from the size zero models we see in photographs, which makes some question who the industry is actually dressing. This disconnect with reality was addressed in the New York University exhibit, Beyond Measure: Fashion And The Plus-Size Woman.
The exhibit explored both the social, cultural, and retail reaction of plus-size women and their fashion. “The fashion industry has played an undeniable role in enabling the stigmatization of larger women’s bodies,” reads the exhibition’s website. “Despite consumer needs, plus-size fashion has traditionally been given little sartorial energy. Yet women of all physiques have had to clothe themselves, and thus have stood somewhere in relation to the fashion system.” Also discussed is the historical change of women’s shape in fashion overtime. From fetishization to a blatant dismissal by the fashion industry, Beyond Measure: Fashion And The Plus-Size Woman shared both the hardship and now growing presence of women sizes 12+.
Visitors of the exhibit were introduced to images of Nettie The Fat Girl, a sideshow character who was fetished for her size to the current winner of the American reality television show, Project Runway Ashley Tipton. Tipton is regarded as the first designer of plus-size fashion to ever win the show, which displays the growing buying power of the demographic.
Aside from the exhibition, there are other signs that prove that plus-size women are gaining a more prominent voice in fashion. Models like Sabina Karlson, Laura Wells, and Ashley Graham have been featured in high fashion magazines and commercial advertising. Beth Ditto, Melissa McCarthy, and Rebel Wilson, although to be noted all are Western white women, are all becoming figures in fashion, and there are an assortment of high fashion designer lines dedicated to plus-size styles. However, it is still a minority in both the retail and advertising world when compared to “straight” sizing.
Barbie has even embraced a more natural figure with their curvy line of dolls that is a part of a more diverse collection. “They’ll all be called Barbie, but it’s the curvy one,” remarks a Time article, “with meat on her thighs and a protruding tummy and behind—that marks the most startling change to the most infamous body in the world.”
Change is a wise word to note, for although this is a more inclusive movement occurring in fashion, it’s just another turn in the history of women’s bodies in fashion.