Open Letter to the High Street Fashion Brands

I am fat by all standards. I have always been fat by every possible standard. My BMI is higher than normal, I suffer from chafing of thighs if I happen to wear skirts, as they are too big and the thigh gap is something I will never achieve in 7 lifetimes, I have a hint of a double chin and more often, I have been “complimented” by friends and family alike that I should lose some weight to “look my best”. I have a muffin top and a significant waistline. See? Fat by all standards.

Since my childhood, I have had body image issues. I used to be scared of health checkups in school as they used to measure every kid’s weight, and I, even at that age when weight and body shape should be the least of a kid’s concern, used to be so conscious of being teased for my weight which used to be higher than a lot of my classmates’. However, the school uniform was still a solace as I never had to feel and realize my shape in the same blouse and skirt (and later, a salwar kamiz) I wore for several years of my life (Plus, not having to wonder what to wear every morning is a blessing in disguise for all the Indian kids, I believe!) Still, I, like every other school kid, used to believe that life post school would be better.

Came college, and I realized that I finally needed to have a wardrobe which I had none of during my school years. Came the time to buy all the jeans and tops and fancy stuff to wear to the college. But with the same chubby body, how could I wear those figure hugging jeans? Plus, my issues with my body still remained and I resorted to wearing kurta and jeans for the first year of my college. At least the kurta helped me hide my big thighs and my even bigger insecurities! Rest of the college years passed in buying most of my clothes from the streets of Janpath, Sarojini Nagar and some Indian stores in the neighbourhood mall. In the third year of my college, I accidentally lost weight due to a bout of jaundice, and for the first time I tried wearing tees and jeans and sleeveless tunics with a lot of confidence. How happy I was! (And how foolish too, because yeah, I had fallen sick, which is never a reason to be so happy…!) I remember clearly that the mall scene was growing in those years and high street brands were beginning to open and establish themselves in the larger, hip malls of posh locations in Delhi. While I had known these brands by name (Zara, Marks & Spencer, Forever 21 were the ones I knew after reading the interviews of celebrities), yet I had never yet stepped into one, as my pocket money was definitely not significant enough to afford these highly fashionable yet quite expensive brands. And of course, my priorities used to be different in those days (pharmacy books were expensive, mind you, and so was McDonalds and Pizza Hut and the occasional pirated novel bought in the streets).

The college ended and I began working. I started earning my own money and yes, had to wear good quality formals for meetings and in general, be well dressed. So I had my initial tryst with the high street brands in the coveted malls. I began to notice how your designs are pretty much rip-offs of the international designers making haute couture accessible to the masses who, anyways, can never afford a Gucci or a Prada outfit in their lives. I found it all very interesting! And hence, I began to visit your websites more often, checking out the look-books, seasonal collections and just to admire the beauty that lies in fashion. I bought my first ever winter parka from Zara when I still hadn’t gained back all my pounds that I had lost to jaundice, so I was able to fit into the Large size quite easily.

In the next year or so, I gained back all my lost weight (working a desk job to be blamed here too), but now, I was no longer an insecure teenager. I was a working woman who had travelled, read more, met people from all over the world, and grown more as a person, not only in my weight, but also in my brains. And one fine day, I realized that I was no longer fitting into the bottoms that Forever 21 or Zara stocked. It was hard to find a biker jacket that didn’t tug at my now chunkier arms, or find a skirt that didn’t threaten to burst at the seams. Buying your bralettes and too-garish-to-wear crop tops was out of question. I realized that the brands which are adored and almost considered premium wear in my country are not really doing anything for the “so-called plus sized woman”!

My childhood insecurity with my body image, my problems with my own weight, my fear of health checkups had now changed form to frustration at not being able to find clothes my size! Despite being a confident, independent woman, willing to spend money to look and feel her best, you guys ensured that I remained frustrated and continued to feel inadequate in my shape and size because YOU do not want to produce clothes for a person of my size! The problem is not me, the problem is YOU!

You are not producing clothes in a greater range of sizes.

And. Your marketing material is just not relevant enough.

Image source: Creative Commons

A lot of you produce sizes only till “large”, or some of the more generous of you till “XL” (which, mind you, is NOWHERE close to being XL). It is only a handful of British high-street brands that stock larger sizes as a part of their regular line. It was because of this reason that I began preferring Marks & Spencers and Dorothy Perkins, and now all my bottoms are bought from these two brands. Most of you, if at all you are producing larger sizes, put them in the category very conveniently labelled as “Plus Sized Clothing”. I never see a category for the other end of the sizes, for the overly thin, something like “Minus Sized Clothing”. Then why a “Plus Sized” label for some real women of curves? To make us conscious that we are “plus” and fat and hence differentiated from your regular category? Is this just a way of subtly hinting to us that the plus-sized woman is abnormal? Why not just conveniently stock more sizes under your regular line of clothing? Is it too much to ask for?

I have never seen a curvy model wearing your jumper or jeans and proudly showing off your designs in any of the look-books or product catalogues. Never can anyone see a more average body shape as a model for any of your products. Because the world renowned brands, the Zaras and H&Ms and Forever 21s, even in 2018, have not embraced other body types in their advertising.

I know how fashion works. I know that clothes look better when displayed on thin bodies, but there are real women who will buy these creations, and want to buy these creations, to be worn to work or to a party or a brunch with friends. The real woman comes in all shapes, sizes and colors. I see you have started to show more women of color and ethnicities other than Caucasians in your catalogues. But why are you stuck up using models of the small size only when you DO produce larger, more average sizes? What scares you, incorporating an Ashley Graham lookalike in your catalogues generally filled with Kate Moss clones?

And, why do I have to be a certain size to be able to pay you guys to wear your creations? Do you realize that it is always the larger sizes that always run out, especially in my country (by the way, I have never seen even a single Indian model in your catalogues…)? Is it not a major hint at the fact that a large proportion of your valued customers are actually larger in size? Do you also realize that there are real differences in the body structures of people from different ethnicities (Indians are never as tall as Swedish, Americans are taller and broader in general, for example). You, very conveniently, stock the same products all over the world without considering the size and shape differences that exist among different populations.

How does it sound as an idea to use models other than the painfully thin white women when your target consumer is a full busted brown Indian woman? Why don’t you have an inclusive line-up of models of all sizes from all over the world to do your photo-shoots? Now that you are getting color inclusive in your catalogues, why not be size inclusive too? I hope you are realizing that times are changing and teenagers of today’s times are seeing and wearing your products much more than 10 years ago, all thanks to social media and your clever advertising. Why not take some constructive steps so that an impressionable teenage girl does not feel the pinch of regret or guilt for having thighs larger than those of your models?  Having the global reach that you guys have, don’t you think you owe it to the mental well-being of millions of vulnerable girls with body image issues? I think you can help. And you should.

Fashion is powerful. And it is time that you guys wake up and not create another body-conscious insecure teenager like me. You can empower millions of young girls by expanding your regular product lines and being more inclusive in your marketing strategies. I hope you listen.


Poorva Sadana

A Body Positivity Endorsing Confident Fashion Blogger from India

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