Retailers embrace body diversity like it’s NBD

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

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.

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.

12 thoughts on “Retailers embrace body diversity like it’s NBD

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  1. I love ModCloth and think it’s so great when I shop there that I see plus sizes right alongside the other sizes. I’m not even plus-sized and it feels good!

  2. I wouldn’t mind the phrase “real women” if I was assured it meant “not airbrushed or Photoshopped.”

  3. Thanks Gette – I totally agree with you! That is, in fact, the literal use of the word, right?

  4. The term “real women” also doesn’t bother me. I more take comfort in that I take it as meaning “women who are not a size 0″… because, let’s be honest, most of us are NOT a size 0, but we’re still beautiful! We get faked out because we constantly see these beautiful pictures of women who are skinnier than a door nail, and think, “gosh, everyone must look like that, and I’m just a loser.” So we need a reminder that “real women” are not all a size 0!

  5. Thanks for your response, Christina. I see what you’re saying, but I don’t see why size-0 women should be excluded from the term “real women.” After all, what makes a woman “real”??

  6. What Tessa said. Keep in mind that shorter women are more likely to wear smaller sizes. If size zero wasn’t “real,” then I’m not real, right?


    Unless, of course, you mean size 0 not being a “real” size. In that case, then maybe we need to shift everything up again. In other words, what many brands label, say, size 00 today would be called size 2 (which it should, IMHO). That means someone who currently purchases size 14 from that brand would now have to purchase size 18. Vanity sizing can have a very negative effect on us (and anyone who doesn’t know about vanity sizing probably isn’t really into style/fashion/shopping).

  7. I think it’s important for retailers to use various heights as well. You don’t see that too much. And any stylist/designer/editor who tells you that taller people just “look better” in clothes is just as conditioned as those who believe that one has to be very thin. I feel like people always forget about proportion – a 5’3″ actress who wears size 2 “wider” than her 5’11” size 2 model counterpart.

  8. The ‘shape’ element and ‘age’ element in the ‘Best and Less’ page is FANTASTIC… ‘REAL’ men adore ‘REAL’ women…

  9. Hi everyone! Oh, I am 110% in support of women who are a size 0 being “real” women! They think and breathe and feel just like everyone else! It’s just that as someone who is NOT a size 0, I’m self conscious of how I look. I WISH I looked perfect in clothes like someone who is a size 0. So I degrade myself. But when I see advertisements with everyday women who are sized like me, it makes me feel better like–hey, others look like you and are beautiful too! IE, every size is beautiful–from 00 to 30W and beyond!

  10. Perfect? What are you talking about? Most of us don’t have “people” to do our make-up, style us, etc…and most people don’t get their hair “done” on a daily basis. Size 0 women are FAR from “perfect” – especially if we’re shorter (most size 0 women are petite in height). Looking “ideal” in clothing is about proportion. If you have a smaller waist in proportion to your bust and hips, you will probably fit look “ideal” regardless of size.

  11. OK, I don’t know what else I can say to try to explain how I feel about the issue. Didn’t want to offend, just being honest about how a lot of women my size feel about all this.

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