Size inclusivity is one of the hottest topics in today’s fashion industry. From creator trends on TikTok to full-blown brand transformations — like Old Navy’s Bodequality campaign — this idea is popping up all over the fashion world. While there is a clear connection between fashion and size inclusivity, this is a conversation that brands in all industries can and should be engaging in.
Read on to learn how and why size inclusivity has become important to many fashion brands, as well as how non-fashion brands and their customers can benefit from incorporating size-inclusive strategies, tactics and creative.
A revolution in the fashion industry
There’s been a revolution in the fashion industry over the last 15-20 years. In the early 2000s, many retailers offered clothing sizes only up to L or occasionally XL, and the plus-size stores that existed (e.g. Lane Bryant and Torrid) were few and far between. This was back before “body positivity” and “real beauty” became buzz words, back when it was rare to see models over a size 0.
Fast forward to today and size inclusivity is woven into the fabric of many fashion brands. Budget-friendly brands like Target and high-end fashion brands like Christian Siriano have evolved their clothing lines to include more sizing options for consumers. The global plus-size clothing market is worth $178 billion, while the US market is worth $24 billion, according to Vogue Business.
When it comes to size representation in advertising and marketing, fashion brands are embracing diversity more than ever. Two brands we admire in this space are Thinx (check out their Instagram channel for inspiration) and Aerie (shoutout to the #AerieREAL campaign).
It’s important to note that size inclusion in the fashion industry has traditionally focused primarily on cisgender women, although some brands like Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty — which spotlights plus-size male models — have started to change that. We’re excited to see how brands will evolve to better represent people of all sizes and genders.
What happened in the past few decades to bring size inclusivity to the forefront of fashion?
Much of the work being done today to promote size inclusivity has its roots in the Fat Acceptance Movement, which began in the late 1960s. Since then, an increasing number of people have been advocating for size inclusion. Size inclusivity is also part of a larger movement for more diverse representation of bodies that intersects with race, sex, disability, gender, and more.
Social media has rapidly propelled the movement for inclusivity. A 2016 article from Adweek sheds light on this point:
“On platforms like Instagram and Twitter, women who have for so long felt ignored by mainstream fashion are finally able to have a voice. They’re sharing body-positive selfies and hashtags, following plus-size bloggers like GabiFresh and Nicolette Mason (whose massive audiences have led to magazine columns and designer partnerships) and letting brands know exactly what they think.”
Social media has helped publicize the desire for representation and has given consumers an interactive platform they can use to ask brands for it directly.
In addition to advocacy and social pressure from consumers, many fashion brands have begun to engage with size inclusivity because of the financial benefits. In a 2018 interview with Elle, famed fashion designer Christian Siriano said that adding plus sizes to his line tripled his business. And as previously mentioned, the US market for plus-size clothing is worth $24 billion.
But the rising popularity of size inclusivity in fashion goes deeper than advocacy, social media or even finance. Size inclusivity is powerful because it resonates with a universal human truth: People want to feel like they belong. As co-founder of Body Confidence Canada said in a BBC interview, “Being able to walk into a store and find your size makes customers feel they are seen.” Feeling seen is a powerful emotional response. It’s the kind of thing that can positively impact someone’s personal life and their purchasing decisions. From this perspective, size inclusivity is a win-win.
All brands should care about size inclusivity
If you don’t work with or own a fashion brand, you may at this point be wondering how size inclusivity applies to your brand. Clearly, there’s a connection between fashion and size. Clothing items are almost always differentiated by this characteristic. But what if you sell a product or service that’s less clearly related, or appears to be completely unrelated? Should size inclusivity still factor into your marketing strategy?
Yes. The reality is that people of all sizes drive cars, wear perfume and buy houses. People of all sizes travel the world and go to concerts. Someone who wears a size 0 is no more or less likely to need glasses than someone who wears a size 24. Muscle mass doesn’t determine your taste in toothbrushes. So, why is there such a small range in the bodies we see in advertisements for these products?
Addressing popular arguments against size inclusivity
Argument 1: Showing bigger people in the media promotes poor health and glorifies obesity.
In an article about a Sports Illustrated fashion show that included plus-size models, BBC News quoted Dr. Brad Frankum, president of the Australian Medical Association in New South Wales, saying:
“If we send very overweight or obese people down the catwalk modelling clothes, what it is saying, in a way, is that we are celebrating obesity. I think that is dangerous because we know it is a dangerous health condition.”
This argument is erroneous for several reasons. First, it’s impossible to determine someone’s physical health by looking at their size alone. Size does not tell us how often a person works out or what their diet, blood pressure, etc. is. Second, this argument fails to take into account healthy reasons for weight gain. Someone might gain weight as the result of switching between antidepressants or trying to work on an eating disorder. Some disabilities are also associated with weight gain, and that’s certainly not a good reason to exclude someone from representation. Third, while there is no strong evidence to support the idea that representing larger bodies is “dangerous,” there is ample evidence to show that size stigma has harmful effects. Examples can be found here:
Argument 2: It’s not fine to be fat.
This language is taken word for word from the headline of a 2018 opinion piece from The Guardian. Journalist Lizzie Cernik writes:
“…as we move away from the skinny goals of the mid-2000s and embrace different shapes and sizes, one group of campaigners has taken things a step too far. Fronted by plus-sized models and social media influencers, the fat acceptance movement aims to normalise obesity, letting everyone know that it’s fine to be fat.”
Who gets to decide which bodies are “fine” and “not fine”?
Cernik presents being fat as a moral failing. This ignores the reality that size varies for so many different reasons. It’s also body shaming, which never feels good to the person being shamed, and has proven negative health side effects, like increased rates of depression and anxiety.
As advertisers and marketers, is this the attitude we want to show towards our current and potential customers? We think not.
But let’s remove emotion from the equation for a moment. Consider the average American consumer. What do they look like? The CDC states that 73.6% of adults ages 20 and up are “overweight, including obesity.” If we do not include overweight and/or obese individuals in our marketing and advertising, we are excluding almost three-quarters of American adults from representation. This does not seem like good business sense.
Argument 3: Beauty matters and straying from beauty norms in a brand’s marketing will negatively impact the perceived attractiveness of its products.
We agree that beauty is often important in advertising and marketing, and we also believe that beauty takes countless shapes, forms and sizes. Only viewing beauty through societal norms is limiting.
Additionally, beauty trends and perceptions are changing all the time. Renaissance paintings portray very different body ideals from magazine covers. These days, “thick” figures are popularly seen as attractive. Dad bods are celebrated. Un-Photoshopped belly rolls are lauded. Size inclusivity is in.
Argument 4: My customers don’t care about size inclusivity.
Tennis legend Billie Jean King said, “You have to see it to be it.” If people can’t see themselves in our campaigns, if they can’t relate to the people we show using our products and services, how are they supposed to connect with our brand? And if they don’t connect with our brand, why would they want to buy what we’re selling? More and more consumers are looking for authenticity and connection, and diverse representation is one way to achieve this.
- Use size inclusive stock imagery and footage. Intentionally search for images that include people of varying sizes. Check out AllGo for free plus-size stock photos. AllGo also offers inclusive design consulting services.
- Work with models of all different sizes. Unsure where to look? L’Officiel has a great list of inclusive modelling agencies. IMG models recently created a division called Brawn that represents plus-size male models. You might also consider scouting models on social media by searching popular hashtags like #SizeInclusive and #InclusiveFashion.
- Partner with influencers who reflect a range of sizes. Again, using relevant social media hashtags can help with your search.
- Consider talking about size inclusivity on social media (if it feels on brand and authentic). If your brand has a good track record of being size inclusive with its products, services or representation, consider sharing why it matters to your brand on social media. Another way to join the conversation is to kindly but firmly shut down body shaming when you see it in the comments on your social posts.
- Stay on top of size-inclusive trends across industries. Don’t be afraid to look to other brands for inspiration! While the fashion industry is a great place to start, there are also brands in other industries putting out great size-inclusive work (shout out to Sephora).
- Avoid body shaming and weight-related jokes in your campaigns. No matter what your intentions are, body shaming and jokes about size are almost guaranteed to offend someone. And since the majority of Americans are now considered overweight, as previously mentioned, you could end up offending a lot of someones.
- Think about how you can make your workplace more size inclusive. This might look like offering more sizes for company clothing or choosing office furniture that accommodates higher weight limits.
In the past few years, many brands have made efforts to increase representation in their marketing and advertising campaigns, but few outside of the fashion industry have made size inclusivity a priority in these efforts. Can your brand help lead the way?