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Retailers embrace body diversity like it’s NBD

By August 22, 2013 12 Comments

Recently, there has been an interesting spate of retailers using a diverse range of body types to model their clothing.

An image from ModCloth’s Stylebook.

An image from ModCloth’s Stylebook.

It’s not like we haven’t seen this in the past, but usually the advertiser or magazine editorial will make a point of it, like: “Look at us! We’re being soooo amazingly inclusive! Aren’t we cutting-edge?”

Or, my most hated expression: “Real Women” (as if there are some women who aren’t “real” just because they are skinny/models/celebrities? Come on!).

In these recent examples, the advertisers are more like: “Here are some people wearing our clothes. Yes, they’re not all skinny models. So what? No big deal.”

Well, we noticed.

ModCloth, the online retailer and social shopping community for all things vintage-inspired, features women who wear a range of clothing sizes on their website. Some of these are employees and customers, who model looks from the brand in their creative campaigns.

ModCloth has recently expanded their plus-size range, but rather than being cloistered in a separate section on their site, the larger sizes are simply offered alongside the smaller ones.

A page from the Best & Less catalogue featuring women of different sizes and ages.

A page from the Best & Less catalogue.

This no-fuss attitude is refreshing, and draws attention to the brand while simultaneously trying not to draw attention to their plus-size offerings.

There are numerous other examples of high-profile brands that are putting a range of diverse bodies out there. Although some of these can border on gimmicky, one-off novelty special editions, I think they are worth commending for at least attempting to push the conversation in the right direction:

• In a recent catalogue, Australian clothing retailer Best & Less featured models of not only different sizes, but also of different ages. Although they did have a headline mentioning that grating phrase, “real women,” the images do celebrate these women in their various appearances.
H&M used a plus-size model for their beachwear collection, without identifying it as a plus-size collection.
BUST Magazine regularly aims to show women of different shapes and sizes in its pages.
ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue this year also featured a range of athletes of different ages.
• Even Vogue Australia is becoming more aware of the importance of focusing on exercise, nutrition, and models of a range of sizes and ages.

These are all, definitely, refreshing steps in the right direction. Don’t you think?

Tessa Needham finished her PhD in Performing Arts at the University of Western Sydney (Australia) in 2008. Her thesis explored the potential of performance to provoke change, and part of her research was Bodily, a solo theatrical performance about body image. She loves technology and the creative arts, and is passionate about the different cultural forces affecting the body image of girls and women. She teaches computers and does freelance creative work: www.tessaneedham.com.