Why it’s about time fashion normalised the mid-size woman

Grappling with one’s body image is almost a rite of passage for many women.

It’s not surprising, given the influx of media depictions of women’s bodies, encouraging constant comparison and critique.

What is surprising, and even harmful, is the lack of representation of diverse body types in the fashion industry.

While we have certainly come a long way from the time where ‘heroin-chic’ encouraged extreme thinness as the ultimate symbol of status and beauty, there is still much work to be done.

We are now seeing increasing representation of ‘plus-size’ models. This is encouraging, even if the term itself continues to portray larger bodies as divergent from the thin ideal, which we are falsely told is the ‘norm’.

Yet, it is troubling the way women are unceremoniously dumped into two extreme categories – extremely thin or ultra-curvy.

Firstly, this does nothing to dispel the idea that thinness is ideal. If two women are portrayed side by side in a fashion campaign, the thinner one is still more likely to be considered beautiful and aspirational.

By default, the curvier woman is more likely to receive the ultimate cringey non-compliment of being ‘brave’.

Secondly, these two categories completely ignore the wide range of beautiful shapes and sizes that fall between the two extremes.

The average Australian woman is about a size 14-16. These women make up the majority of our population, and yet are woefully underrepresented.

A child of the thin-obsessed 1990s, I vividly recall picking up my first fashion magazines and trying to figure out where I belonged.

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Upon realising I was neither a supermodel or a plus-sized girl, I assumed I had a choice to make: dedicate all my time and energy suppressing my natural body size to meet the beauty standards of the day, or embrace a larger body.

My experience was not unusual – girls as young as eight years’ old now commonly report poor body image and a desire to be thinner.

If young, impressionable minds don’t see portrayals of size 10-16 women as glamourous, stylish or fashionable, the unconscious assumption becomes that it is impossible.

Unfortunately, the shift away from ‘thinspo’ body standards has simply been replaced by an equally extreme, unrealistic body ideal. Many women today aspire to the exaggerated hourglass figures of Kim Kardashian or Jennifer Lopez.

This body type is still unattainable and unrepresentative for most women without access to dieticians, personal trainers and plastic surgeons to sculpt whatever body shape is currently trending.

Merely changing one impossible beauty standard for another does nothing to liberate women from toxic societal stereotypes. All it does is give us more ways to feel like we are ‘wrong’ or have somehow failed.

It is important not to gloss over the fact that even among the body positivity community, sizeism and fatphobia run rampant.

Larger women experience greater discrimination, even within the ‘plus-size’ fashion industry. The mid-size movement must not ignore these nuances, nor the intersectionality of size, race, ability and class.

Body positivity must be for everyone, or it helps no one.

Without true diversity and a realistic representation of the wide spectrum of ‘normal’ bodies, the fashion industry will continue to be a source of poor body image and self-esteem.

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