After being told at a model casting with a top UK modelling agency that, at just over 8 stone, she needed to lose more weight, British model Rosie Nelson has started a campaign to ensure agencies no longer demand their models to adhere to such strict conditions, questioning standards set by the modelling industry and adding to the discourse about body image.
A UK size 8, weighing 55kg, Rosie was told that the only thing holding her back was her weight. Bearing in mind that the average UK female size fluctuates between a 12-16, for most people Rosie’s body type doesn’t exactly scream overweight. She is currently petitioning for legislation to stop agencies hiring models who are unhealthily thin as well as introduce health checks to monitor BMIs, which she says will “protect young girls, and boys, who are put under pressure as models to be dangerously thin.” The idea that employing bigger models could see poor sales or damage a brand continues, however, to resonate in a fashion industry obsessed with the more slender frame.
Rosie is not the only one campaigning for change. In recent years, there has been much controversy about how body image is conveyed in the worlds of media and fashion, with many people speaking out in particular against ‘plus size’ exclusion. The never-ending argument about what denotes the cut-off point to becoming ‘plus size’ (ranging from the astonishing size 10 for models to size 16 in most high street stores) has caused many to call for it to be dropped altogether. A media campaign called “Drop the Plus” was launched earlier this year, for example, in an attempt to stop the use of this possibly self-esteem damaging label for those models who, at size 10, are deemed too large.
Indeed, is the ‘plus size’ label necessary for anyone? Why is it still a big deal that some stores choose to offer clothing in larger sizes? Should a separate ‘plus-size’ section exist or should it not just be a given that the size of female bodies doesn’t stop at a 16? In a practical sense, ‘plus sized’, along with ‘petite’ and ‘tall’, sections are meant to help us find the right clothes, but the implication that some women’s bodies are divergent from the “normal” body type surely doesn’t result in a feeling of empowerment, especially with regards to their weight. Whilst retailers may argue about the average size of their target market, or even the cost-effectiveness of stocking so many different sizes, maybe it is more important to consider and recognize that these sizes exist and should not be an afterthought, something that can ultimately undermine the confidence of the wearer.
Of course, these campaigns often face criticism of their own, with some people claiming they present the skinny body as something negative, in order to change beauty standards for larger women. Body shaming is not just directed at one body type and skinny-shaming is just as offensive as fat-shaming. Whilst Rosie’s campaign looks to criminalise the use of overly skinny models by modelling agencies rather than skinny models themselves, it will inevitably impact upon individual models before it impacts upon the industry and could elicit even more criticism of yet another body type. Whilst Victoria Beckham’s fashion show is being slammed for featuring models of tiny frames, London hosted the world’s third plus-size fashion week in September. A really positive step forward in the promotion of larger models of course, but nonetheless continuing the somewhat damaging “skinny-fat” divide and an exclusivity between sizes that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
And what of those who suggest that using, for example, size 16 mannequins, normalises obesity? Using a size 16 mannequin is not encouraging women to aspire to an unhealthy lifestyle; it’s saying that women should feel just as confident to wear beautiful clothes instead of fixating on their weight and comparing themselves to an unrealistic plastic figure. Mannequins that portray the diverse and realistic body types of modern society should surely only be seen as positive. It is the 21st century after all. Shouldn’t we at least try to be less hypocritical about the idea of going beyond physical image when assessing our fellow humans? “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover”, “Beauty is only skin deep”, or so they tell us. Shouldn’t a person be allowed to feel confident regardless of the size of their waist?
Instead of focusing on the negatives, it’s so much more important to look at the positives. Most of us are far from having a perfect body, and yet it continues to be a fixation in our society. Just maybe, the issue to focus on is not the fact that we exist in many shapes and sizes but is rather this otherness mentality, advocated equally in plus-size only or skinny-only catwalk shows and by labels in our high street stores, that allows distinctions to be made like this. It’s unlikely that these problems will be solved by one campaign like Rosie’s, but it does go a long way in continuing to challenge the accepted stereotypes of the model industry, and ultimately making people reconsider what they deem beautiful.