photos by Daniela Buvat

Breaking down the flawed way the fashion industry depicts how women’s bodies “should” look

“A lot of people are scared of the word ‘fat.’ I am fat. And I use that word proudly.”

Nicole Anderson has been “big” all her life. When she was younger, Anderson struggled with feeling comfortable as a “chunky little girl.” Now, she embraces and loves how she looks and hopes to help others feel the same by designing inclusive clothing for all body types.

“It breaks my heart when I see girls and they are devastated because they can’t find anything that fits them,” Anderson says. “I wore a lot of my dad’s t-shirts.”

Impossible Aisles

Being plus sized often means being excluded from popular fashion. Many retail stores only sell up to a size 14, even though the average American woman’s size is between a 16 and 18. So when plus-sized women, like Anderson, enter a store, it is likely they will leave empty handed.

As Anderson went through adolescence, this lack of representation took its toll. “I would go into stores like American Eagle and Buckle, and I wouldn’t fit into any of those clothes,” she says. “It made me feel like garbage because I couldn’t look and be like everyone else and fit in.”

The portrayal of what a successful and beautiful woman looks like is plastered everywhere throughout fashion. Raeann Langas — a self-defined body-positive influencer who blogs about inclusivity in fashion — says that the unchallenged standard of a 6-foot-tall, white woman who is a size double zero harms those who don’t identify with that image. “We’re taught at such a young age that that is the standard of beauty,” she says. “If you aren’t that perfect, ideal size, you start to believe that there’s something wrong with you or that you aren’t beautiful.”

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Taking Chances and Turning Heads

But there are companies aiming to make every size feel represented. Simeon Talley is a representative of Flyover, a Midwest-based company that aims to create a platform where fashion is more inclusive. The company’s mission is to promote this diversity by “focusing in on, working with and highlighting individuals and communities that are traditionally marginalized or underrepresented groups in fashion.”

Talley explains that some brands claim to advertise “plus-sized” models, but these models are often clearly smaller than a size 16. This is an attempt to tap into the greater demand for inclusivity, but falls short. “It’s ‘cool’ to be inclusive, without really being inclusive,” Talley says.

Anderson mirrors this stratified view of the “plus-sized” modeling industry. She believes fashion companies are losing out on millions of dollars by excluding plus-sized women because they actually make up a the larger portion of American consumers. Some designers refuse to dress models or actresses who are ‘big,’ and Anderson says this is because they are scared. “People say fat girls shouldn’t be wearing lingerie: Why? Why shouldn’t she wear lingerie if she wants to feel beautiful and feel sexy for her man or for her girl or whoever?”

“Why not take a risk?” she asks. “That’s what fashion is about.”

When Anderson designs clothing, she never shies away from taking those very risks. She knows what it feels like to shop without finding anything that makes her feel confident and comfortable, and that’s what drives Anderson to create fashion that is completely inclusive. “When I design things, I design them for all shapes and sizes,” she says. “It’s all about making your client feel good.”

Talley explains that the cultural instinct to marginalize and dehumanize people of different sizes comes from what she calls “fat phobia.”

“There is this idea that if you’re fat there’s something wrong with you,” he says. In addition, people often judge plus-sized individuals, deeming them unhealthy and thinking they don’t take care of their bodies — that they can’t possibly be happy. But Talley says, “You can be fat and be happy, and that’s your right as a human being to do so.”

Most people don’t look like the models in magazines or on TV, and Talley thinks the time has come to break away from that idealized and fictitious norm. “Once we start to break that down and build community about loving yourself and affirming who you are, which is not related to the size or type or form or structure or shape of your body, I think you start to see people love themselves.”

When it comes down to the future of fashion and its representation of all kinds of bodies, we need to stop putting people into categories or classifying them based on of their size. Instead of the battle between what sizes are considered what, Langas promotes discarding the molds we put ourselves in. “I see the future of the fashion industry being: ‘Let’s have models that represent women — women of all sizes, all shapes and all heights,” she says.

If brands and retailers start establishing more accurate images that depict all types of women, the question of ‘Why am I not skinny enough?’ may no longer haunt the female population. As Langas says, “We need to just represent women and stop trying to classify them into categories based on the number in their jeans.”